by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
January 23, 2007
THE SELECTIVE CONSCIENCE OF THE LEFT
As editor of a publication in which political commentaries are almost always of the progressive variety, I make sure antiwar sentiment is well and freely spoken in The American Reporter. No nation has ever thrived by suppressing either dissent or the popular view, both of which characterize today's feeling against the war in Iraq. But the fact is I feel somewhat defensive when I try to enlist our readers in a different point of view, one that supports the war and even an expansion of our presence in Iraq.
What impels me to this view is the belief that we can avert a vast and terrible Islamic civil war by remaining in Iraq in a dual role. While we are now exclusively combatants, I believe we must become peacekeepers as well, and try to enlist as many other nations as we can in that task. We do not have the luxury of abandoning our posts in Iraq because the President and his advisors misled us in entering Iraq in the first place; we must start where we are, not where we should be, and face the realities that will attend any collapse of Iraq's newly-elected democratic government.
The progressives who demand we leave Iraq immediately if not sooner have not been able to mount the broad and powerful show of force that characterized protests against the War in Vietnam (in which I participated beginning in 1975, in the very first March on Washington), and there is good reason. Most Americans can plainly see that the violent, vicious daily assaults on civilians in Baghdad and elsewhere are of the same consistency and motive as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, albeit on a smaller scale. Only people who could somehow justify the murder of thousands of innocent Americans in their high-rise offices could also indiscriminately kill 100 people at a time with car bombs, or kidnap, torture and behead dozens of helpless young Iraqi men every day.
For me, the inchoate evil of the Iraq insurgency, fueled partly by our presence but mostly by religious rivalries and manipulators in al-Qaeda and Iran, all of whom are probably just as keen to control Iraq's oil wealth as we are, stirs again and again a question that has generated countless short stories, many essays and even films: If we had the chance to kill Hitler before he became the monster we all know, would we do so, even if he was then an innocent man? Millions of his victims' descendants have no hesitation in answering yes, as I think most people would. But if it were up to them to carry out the deed, would they? That's a different problem. No one I know is comfortable with the idea of killing an innocent man with their own hands.
In Iraq, with the immediacy of television jarring our consciences and sense of responsibility, we can feel that by our presence we are contributing to the death of many, many innocent people. It is a painful feeling, and we are right to cry out in that pain that we do not wish this daily toll of murder to rise any higher - in our presence. But what we do not ask ourselves how much higher the toll will rise if we are gone, and what responsibility we will share for that. Progressives are very slow to contemplate the realistic assessments and scenarios of withdrawal, and frankly, the Bush Administration has done a poor job - as always - of advancing them.
My personal experience as a Village Voice correspondent in Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, India and the southern Philippines in the 1970's still informs me about the consequences of a vacuum in leadership. British troops stayed on for 30 years in Northern Ireland trying to quell the sectarian strife between Protestants and Catholics, and few of us who were there during the Troubles doubt that they prevented the outbreak of a full-scale civil war that would have killed many thousands of Irish patriots.
In Ireland, Pakistan, India and Vietnam, bloody and dangerous conflicts followed partition that was hoped would end strife; in the southern Philippines, even in 1972, Muslim guerillas were being armed by Libya to fight the Christian Marcos government in out-of-the-way places like Jolo and Basilan, small islands south of Mindanao. All around the globe, one might say, religious and civil strife was fomented by past partitions and religious differences in wars large and small that in turn were tied to economic advantage.
In Iraq, where religious supremacy is the stated goal and untold wealth from oil is the real prize, partition is again being contemplated. Just this morning, I heard my own Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson speaking on CNN as though partition along religious and ethnic lines is the foregone conclusion to the despairing logic of Iraq. In three or four conversations with Sen. Nelson over the past three years, I have always found him a reasonably centrist and intelligent man, so if he is thinking partition is an answer, many others are as well. At the same time, in their longing for peace, no one wants to contemplate Muqtada al-Sadr ruling a smaller nation but one with tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues.
Perhaps it is the safe distance in time from the end of fighting in Vietnam, or the so-far peaceful resolution of the Irish Troubles that began with the Good Friday agreement in 1998, but the shock of hearing partition discussed as a solution for Iraq is not being felt in this country as it must be in the Middle East, where the experience of separation is still fresh.
Our own Civil War - which cost 500,000 lives - is far too distant to remind Americans what happens when one part of a country tries to leave another - or in Iraq's case, when Shia, Sunni and Kurdish people all seek their own states. Iraq itself was created by dismantling the Ottoman Empire after World War I in a 1920 partition that also ignored religious and ethnic identities and favored its Sunni leadership, but it is too late to right that wrong - just as it's too late to restore Ireland, or India and Pakistan, to undivided statehood. What is far more probable as an immediate consequence of our precipitous withdrawal is a consolidated Islamic empire that will be a far more dangerous threat to the world, and particularly to Israel.
And how convenient for Iran and the raving maniac who runs it that after a decade-long war with Iraq in the 1980s, the prize will be ripe for the taking as soon as Americans and British troops leave. Would the United States have to re-enter Iraq after withdrawal if Iran invades as an Islamic "peacekeeper?" As thousands fall in that war, and as the entire Middle East recoils in horror as brother Muslims fall by the thousands and destabilize nearby countries, will Americans ask themselves, as they did when Muslim Kosovo separated from Christian Serbia, "Must we let this slaughter happen?"
Probably not this time. Americans are far more likely to say, "Let them kill each other and not us." And that response will signal the ultimate decline of the idea of America that has sometimes distonguished us as the best and most progressive nation on Earth.
When Americans progressives are part of the chorus that will allow this human and geopolitical catastrophe to happen - a catastrophe that will ultimately lead either to the certain destruction of Israel, or to Israel using nuclear weapons in defense - I cannot be silent. That many Republican and conservative Members of Congress echo the views of the Left is regrettable when the political climate in which we find ourselves calls for an impossible courage to press forward towards a workable peace in Iraq.
We must not lose the relatively small war we are fighting now and let a much larger regional war erupt in the wake of our retreat. Iraq can be healed, with a firm hand that seizes Muqtada al-Sadr by the throat and strangles his powerful militias, with a gentler hand that goes about the business of constructing a democracy - and reconstructing a badly damaged nation - and that empowers Iraqi forces who can hold their own for the government against anyone they may face.
As wrong-headed, poorly prepared and foolish as President George Bush has often been, the plan he put forward to throttle al-Sadr - our modern Hitler-to-be - and rebuild Iraq is a good starting point. It is a sorrow to me that their antipathy to the President has blinded the Left to the realities of war we are fighting, and to the cost of the war and suffering we can prevent.
Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter.