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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

To Be or Not to Be in Iraq?: “A Flawed Policy Wrapped in Illusion”

To withdraw or not to withdraw from Iraq? That is the terribly inadequate question that is once again haunting Democratic and Republican legislators in Washington. This question was brought to the forefront of congressional debate last week by Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, who called the Bush strategy in Iraq “a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion.” But this question is important only as a bridge to the deeper policy question that has been evaded ever since it was dismissed from public attention in the rush to invade Iraq: How can the United States best support the development of self-governing democratic governments and societies in the Middle East and the rest of the world? “To withdraw or not to withdraw?” continues to distract attention from the more substantive question that haunts the US presence in Iraq: Can the U.S. “build democracy” through military invasion, violent force, prison camps, and Halliburton? Or does building democracy require more sophisticated strategies, forged in cooperation with the rest of the world community, and with the common people of Iraq?

Opponents of the present US strategy will get nowhere if all they offer are arguments for withdrawal without any positive alternative for supporting the development of democratic Iraqi society and governance. If the US reverses itself to withdraw militarily without any compensating strategy for supporting the democratic development of Iraqi society, withdrawal will only further underline the shortsighted and narrowly self-interested logic that has been governing US policy in Iraq. This policy has led to what John F. Burns characterized in the Sunday NY Times, as “a march back toward the horrors of Saddam Hussein: police death squads, and shadowy militias, masked men and middle-of-the-night raids, bodies dumped by roadsides, and an archipelago of makeshift prisons.” Opponents of the current US strategy of state building by means of military force need to develop a clear alternative strategy dedicated to supporting the well-being of the Iraqi people. Such an alternative strategy should focus not simply on military withdrawal, but on the clear elaboration of a substantive policy of support and investment in the capacities of the Iraqi people to build their own nonviolent democratic future through the development of free association and small Iraqi-owned businesses. Or is this too much 'democracy' for the United States to handle?

One way or another, the Iraqis will find their own way to freedom. The real question is--Will the United States support the Iraqis in their quest for freedom? Or will the US continue to frustrate the hopes of the majority of the Iraqi people by continuing to support a failed policy of state building by military force? Democracy or Gulag State? That is the question.

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