Our obligations in Iraq

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Alphonse Karr, 19th century French journalist and novelist

By George Clifford

Months of anticipatory debate culminated two weeks ago in the anti-climatic reports to Congress by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Leaks revealed most of the content prior to the actual Congressional testimony. The GAO report, released at the beginning of September was even more negative. President Bush in his speech to the nation announced troop reductions in line with General Petraeus’ recommendations. The drawdown will commence when a Marine Expeditionary Unit with about 2200 personnel departs Iraq in December with no replacement.

Non-pacifist Christians who do not rely upon a direct word from God to tell them when to wage war have historically relied upon the Just War Theory paradigm for help with warfighting decisions. One Just War Theory criterion is proportionality, i.e., the prospective gain must exceed the projected cost. Without using that language, commentators and others have repeatedly emphasized this issue in recent weeks. Are whatever political and security gains the troop surge produced in Iraq sustainable as the U.S. reduces the number of personnel in Iraq? If not, how will returning to pre-surge troop levels sustain political and security progress in Iraq? If the answers to both questions are in the negative, as I believe, then the substantial cost in treasure and lives, Iraqi and American, of continuing to occupy Iraq exceeds any hope of progress toward justice and peace.

In northern Iraq, the Kurds have established a de facto state within a state, Kurdistan within Iraq. Symbolic of this move, only the Kurdish flag flies in Kurdish provinces because the Kurds have banned the Iraqi flag. Tensions between Shiites and Sunnis, from all reports, seem undiminished. Violence has diminished, in substantial measure, because of ethnic cleansing as Shiites and Sunnis move to homogenous neighborhoods. The Iraqi national government has limited effectiveness and does not have its own reliable armed force. Iranian arms and Al Qaeda terrorists continue disrupting progress towards a stable, unified Iraq. According to the U.S. Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, prepared under General Petraeus’ leadership, the U.S. would require approximately three times the number of troops currently in Iraq to quell the violence and set the stage for political stability to develop. In other words, continued U.S. operations in Iraq also fail to satisfy the Just War Theory criterion of a reasonable chance of success.

What is the obligation of the United States to the people of Iraq? Just War Theory answers that question for Christians: to minimize death and harm while expeditiously trying to create a stable situation and then promptly exiting. American presence in Iraq remains a lightning rod for anti-Americanism feelings and terrorism. Fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq certainly does not eliminate or even diminish the concurrent need to fight Al Qaeda elsewhere. Some of the non-Iraqi Al Qaeda volunteers in Iraq only want the U.S. to leave Arab soil; these individuals are unlikely to come to the U.S. to continue their terrorist activities.

Iran would like to expand its sphere of influence to include all of Iraq, or at least the Shiite portions of Iraq, which happen to have most of Iraq’s oil resources. The U.S. should set aside its own predilection for secular democracy and support imposition of Islamic law (Sharia) in the Shiite portion of Iraq, if that is what the people want. Many Iraqi Shiites do not want to fall under Iranian hegemony because the Iranians are non-Arabs. Current U.S. policies have had the unintended consequence of pushing Iraqi Shiites toward Iran, which the Iraqi Shiites see as the lesser of two bad choices.

The Sunni minority in Iraq does not want to live under Sharia or to form any alliance with Iran. The Sunnis, with good cause, fear Shiite retribution for the decades of abuse and worse that the Shiites suffered under Sunni rule (Saddam Hussein was only the last and worst of these rulers). The Sunnis are more secular than the Shiites, more attracted to democracy, and more closely linked to the Saudis and other Sunni Arabs. Unfortunately, Iraq’s oil reserves are inequitably distributed, predominantly lying in Shiite and Kurdish areas and not in Sunni ones. Iraq’s government remains stuck, unable for over two years to find an agreement by which to share Iraq’s oil wealth acceptable to the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

In sum, the future of Iraq, the nation whose boundaries Winston Churchill famously drew following WWI, looks very bleak. Western style democracy has proven a non-starter. “Staying the course” is immoral because doing so has no reasonable chance of success. No reason exists to believe that policies that have not worked for the last three and a half years will suddenly become effective. Conversely, simply demanding immediate U.S. withdrawal of its armed forces is also immoral. Such a withdrawal will create a power vacuum unlikely to benefit most Iraqis and likely to precipitate further U.S. military action. Instead, Christians in this nation must push for new ideas and new policies.

Three ethnically homogenous, largely independent provinces of a loosely federated Iraq may represent one option. Each province could choose its own form of government and decide whether to implement Sharia. Alternatively, Iraq might dissolve into three mostly ethnically homogenous nations, each with its own government and laws. In either case, the United States should withdraw its forces from any of the three in which a majority of residents opposes a continuing presence. The U.S. should follow the lead of Arab and Muslim nations in safeguarding this political settlement. This task does not require a military presence in what is now Iraq. U.S. support for Israel has helped to assure Israeli independence without garrisoning troops in Israel. Iraqis, like the Israelis, value their independence. Iraqis do not want to live in a de facto U.S. colony, a nation whose government, finances, security, etc., depend upon U.S. decisions, troops, and funds.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, with the Marine Corps, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains, on exchange with the Royal Navy in London, as the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and as the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School. He taught philosophy at the Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School.

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