Friday, January 26, 2007


Why I strongly oppose the "surge" in Iraq

I am writing this in response to a friend’s wondering whether the veteran Iraq reporter for the NY Times, John Burns, might possibly be right in backing President Bush’s plans for a small escalation of the conflict by adding more American troops — his so-called “surge.”

So far, the longer US troops have stayed, the worse the civil strife. There is no reason to think that a small increment of US troops with a slightly different set of rules would do anything other than make things still worse. What the US did by invading was unleash ethnic tensions that had been building, possibly for centuries (exactly as many, myself included, predicted). As long as the US stays, the actual Iraqi government, being dependent on the US, will hardly be able to be strong enough or seem genuinely representative enough to forge any real end to the violence.

One could say the invasion freed up Iraqis to kill each other, and our presence just exacerbates such desires. Despite that, they — various Iraqis and groups of them are making the choice to kill and to support killing; it is in their power to make other choices. So why American troops— who after all volunteered to defend the US, not to pacify the world — should be sacrificed to step in between them I just don't see. Nor is there any real likelihood that the surge will do more than be the prelude for a bigger surge, etc., etc., etc., until we finally pull out, leaving Iraq a still bigger graveyard. We have no reason to suppose that pulling out will instantly create calm or anything approaching it. Still, only after an American pullout can the conditions for eventual healing — perhaps far in the future — begin to emerge.

It is conceivable that eventually, once some peace agreement between the various sides begins to emerge, that an international peace-keeping force might be of some help. Whether any country will be willing to supply its troops to such an effort should depend on the degree to which the warring parties are really willing to settle their differences peacefully. That in turn depends on the emergence of a common set of underlying understandings that peace is a better solution than war. The international community can certainly help play a role in helping make that clear, but we know that this is a very long-term, difficult process. We know because of such examples as the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir; the long set of wars between the more-or-less secular, more-or-less progressive side in Afghanistan vs. reactionary Sunni fundamentalism there; the Sinhalese–Tamil dispute in Sri Lanka; the long war between northern and southern Sudan, continuing conflicts in Congo and Uganda, the Tutsi-Hutu rivalries in Rwanda and Burundi; lengthy conflicts in Mexico between indigenous groups and the governing parties; similar conflicts in various central and south American countries; as well as the very long history of violence between various sides in Europe.

The effort to promote internatinal peace and understanding should not only go on. It should intensify. But “peace through war,” is as absurd a notion as George Orwell thought when he first articulated it.
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