Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Future of Iraq

Ned Lamont's Senate primary victory over Joe Lieberman sends a clear message that Democratic voters—at least in Connecticut—are guided by their opposition to the Iraq war. So much so, that they're willing to unseat an enormously powerful Senator—and former vice presidential candidate—to underscore that point.

Clearly, battle lines are being drawn in the fight over the future of the Democratic party. This fight will in all likelihood determine the future of Iraq as well. If the Lamont victory is any indication, the Democrats may sweep to power in 2008 with a strong mandate to pull American troops out of Iraq.

I'll make a confession: I have no idea if that would be a good thing.

Clearly the Iraq war has gone badly. Massive incompetence and shortsightedness from the top echelons of the Bush administration have seen to that. Everything, it seems, was underestimated: the number of troops necessary, the tenacity of the insurgents, the underlying ethnic divisions of the country. The only thing Bush overestimated, apparently, was the patience of the American voter.

Would the Iraqi people have been better off had we not invaded? In the short run, purely from the perspective of body count, definitely. In the long run, it's impossible to say. Still, the question's moot. We did invade and our policy on Iraq must be based on that fact and not on a wish to turn back the clock.

The crucial question is: Would Iraq be better off if we pulled out now?

Some people argue that it doesn't matter. We've lost too many soldiers and we just need to act in America's self-interest. I can't possibly accept that reasoning because we have a moral responsibility, having screwed up the country, to do what we can to piece it back together.

The main fear is that by pulling out, we would doom Iraq to an epic and bloody civil war. Of course, by some accounts, that's already happening. And it might be our fault, at least in part. We didn't create the ethnic divisions in Iraq, but our ham-handed invasion and occupation certainly exacerbated them.

Furthermore, much of the insurgent violence in Iraq is happening precisely because we are there. Unfortunately, there's no crystal ball to tell us if violence would subside or increase with a US pullout. Would a pullout mean abandoning the country to al Qaeda, or would it lead to greater stability? Would Iran be emboldened to increase their already considerable influence in the country? Basically, we find ourselves in a huge quandary.

I firmly believe that the decision to leave Iraq should not be a political one. The government there needs to be stable enough and powerful enough to go on without the prop of American influence. But there is the distinct possibility that American involvement contributes to that government's unsteady footing.

As we go forward into 2006 and 2008, I hope that our politicians do the difficult thing and base their decisions on something more than ballot box pressure. Doing the wrong thing could easily lead to a (bigger) humanitarian disaster. Now they just need to figure out what that actually means.

Here's where that crystal ball would help.
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