As someone who was opposed to the war in Iraq from its beginning, I have watched with great interest the roller coaster of public support for it. A large part of the country went along with the administration as it went down the warpath, despite the absence of an Iraqi link to Sept. 11, evidence of Iraq’s nuclear threat and Saddam Hussein’s agreement to comply with U.N. regulations. Public support peaked as America declared war on Iraq, completely disregarding the U.N. Security Council’s lack of authorization and the weapons inspectors’ pleas for additional time. The inexplicable disappearance of all WMDs and the administration’s reselling the war around the idea of regime change did little to damage public support – Bush went on to win his reelection and secure his job for another four years.
It was only gradually – as U.S. casualties mounted and civil war escalated – that public support began to erode. Faced with the prospect of ridding the world of an evil Saddam and liberating the Iraqis, most Americans had few problems with sending troops into Iraq. But now that the job of post-war reconstruction and nation-building has started, everyone wants to bring the troops back home.
After meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff a few weeks ago to discuss the maximum troop increase possible, Bush announced his decision to surge the troop levels in Iraq in an effort to stabilize the country and quell the civil war. With the announcement, Bush’s critics have been forced to take a stand and call for the hastened withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq, even in the face of growing sectarian violence and instability.
Disturbingly, most critics are willing to write off the entire war in Iraq as one of Bush’s mistakes that America itself is innocent of and shouldn’t be held accountable for. The sad truth, however, is that the war in Iraq is just as much America’s responsibility. The president was democratically elected into office. Twice. The war itself would never have been possible without authorization from congress, the support of the public and the approval of leading Democrats like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. However unpopular the war is now, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t just Bush’s war – it’s America’s war.
With the rising number of casualties in Iraq, the desire to extricate ourselves from the mess is understandable. With the growing sectarian violence and threat of civil war, though, Iraq is in a very perilous situation. Even with 100,000 U.S. troops in the country, it is embroiled in civil war. Its capital is in disarray. And with the Iraqi army’s inexperience, the growing Sunni/Shia hostilities and the threat of Iran and Syria getting involved, the Iraqis are in no position to defend their newborn democracy.
An American withdrawal in the near future would almost certainly result in open civil war with body counts that would dwarf today’s numbers. The current democratic government would likely be replaced by a Taliban-esque regime, and Iraq would soon produce yet another Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden. The world would not be a safer place and the war against terrorism would face its greatest setback. Even more tragically, tens of thousands of more Iraqis would likely die in the midst of power struggles between Shia and Sunni extremists.
When India gained independence from the British 60 years ago, religious tensions forced a partition into two separate nations – India and Pakistan – and millions were either killed or made homeless in the process. There is no reason to believe that Iraq won’t suffer a similar fate if American troops start pulling out. With Iraqi civilian casualties already in the range of 100,000 over the past four years, America owes it to the Iraqis to ensure that such a fate doesn’t befall them.
With all the bad news that we hear from Iraq everyday, it is easy to write off the situation as being unwinnable. Such an attitude is inherently defeatist. With proper military security to quell sectarian violence, economic efforts to reduce unemployment and political efforts to foster goodwill among the Iraqis, Iraq can certainly be stabilized and promoted as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East.
The war in Iraq was a blunder from the very start, and Iraq has certainly been worse off for it. But now that the existing regime has been toppled, there are only two real options available – own-up to the responsibility and do what it takes to stabilize Iraq or admit defeat, bring the troops back home and wash our hands of the bloodbath that will follow.
Rajiv Prabhakar can be reached at email@example.com.