I've come up with a sure-fire way to solve the Iraq crisis. Note that I didn't say "to end the Iraq War." It might be that my scheme will allow the war to burble along for years.
My idea addresses one of the things that bothers me most about this conflict, I mean besides all the death and destruction. That's the feeling that the people we are ostensibly helping--the Iraqis--don't want us there. So, we just ask them. We have a ballot with a simple question: Stay or Go? If the majority votes "Yes, coalition forces, please stay," we gut it out in the fashion we've done for the last five years. But if the majority votes "No, thank you," we bring the troops home.
After all, hasn't this whole thing been about planting the tree of democracy in Iraq? (More on this later.) To critics who say, "Well you couldn't trust a vote undertaken in such circumstances, the violence, the coercion," I say, "Yeah, but there have been several elections there already. If you don't think the Iraqis are capable of voting honestly in a fair election on this issue then the whole thing is a sham."
Voting will follow sectarian lines, pitting majority Shia against minority Sunni and Kurd. So what? Am I wrong in thinking that the continuing drip-drip-drip of violence in Iraq might just be exacerbated by foreign troops? Does the disaffection with an occupying army transcend tribal and religious differences?
An election puts American foreign policy in the hands of foreigners. Wouldn't want that! Wouldn't want foreigners actually having a say in actions that affect them. But seriously, I can understand this criticism. A superpower doesn't stay super powerful by putting everything to a referendum. But when it's something that supposedly is done for the benefit of another nation, that nation ought to have a say, especially when that nation's desires are used--ex post facto, admittedly--as a justification for war. (I wonder how the Vietnamese would have voted....)
If the majority votes for a U.S. pullout, things could descend to chaos--I mean, an even deeper, more chaotic chaos than we have now. Yes, that's a possibility. But to be cold about it, why should we care? Iraqis would have exercised their right to self-determination.
Ah, but what if Iraq then became a hotbed of terrorism? This would only matter if that terrorism was directed outside Iraq, at the United States or its allies. Isn't that really why we're there, to, as President Bush puts it, fight terrorists in the streets of Fallujah so we're not fighting them in the streets of Philadelphia? But I haven't seen any evidence that terrorists in Iraq have tried to mount any operations outside that country. That's proof, perhaps, that Bush's "strategy" is working, but if attacking us was really an aim of the terrorists (and I don't think they're the monolithic group that word suggests) don't you think they would have tried something already, just for the PR coup?
Yes, terrorists attacked the United States. But they weren't from Iraq. The subsequent plots that have been uncovered didn't involve Iraqis. (In fact, they mainly involved Americans.) The 7/7 bombers in London weren't from Iraq. I think the Iraqis are quite content to kill each other without worrying about us.
But that does get us back to what this war is really about. It's only after the fact that it's been advertised as being about democracy. It's been five years, and my memory is kind of hazy, but I seem to remember the invasion being about weapons of mass destruction. Okay, there weren't any. Then it became about stopping terrorism. But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Now it's about bringing democracy to those people.
If we really believe that, let them vote.
In Praise of Bush
The Guardian's Timothy Garton Ash lauds George Bush's diplomacy in a column today. He means the father, not the son.