Sunday, May 16, 2004

U.S. must get out of unwinnable mess in Iraq

By Thomas A. Idinopulos and Abraham H. Miller
Guest columnists

For more than 20 years, the two of us, professors and students of international relations, liberal and conservative, have disagreed about every major international policy issue. Yet today we find ourselves in the unusual position of agreeing about the war in Iraq. Not only should America now withdraw, it should have done so yesterday. Iraq is not worth another drop of American blood.

Appeals to staying the course because of the ensuing chaos wrought of American departure and the message to the international community sound appallingly like Lyndon Johnson's early cheerleading for continuing the war in Vietnam.

When Vietnam and the other remnants of French Indochina fell to the communists, America's security was not affected by an iota. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia were not invaded. Chinese hordes did not invade the beaches of Los Angeles, except, perhaps, 20 years later as tourists and investors.

The war in Vietnam was based on ignorance bred of the triumph of ideology over history. So, too, the war in Iraq.

In the Vietnam conflict we were guided by the insipid, ahistorical domino theory that was demonstrably proven false. The notion was that as French Indochina went, so too would the rest of Southeast Asia. In Iraq, we are driven by an equally stupid reverse domino theory. Install a democratic Iraq, and Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia will collapse, like so many dominoes, into the democratic fold.

A legitimate democratic government cannot be installed by an external power unless the previous society has been physically turned to rubble and all competing political ideologies have been suppressed. Post-World War II Germany and Japan are cases in point. When democracy is imposed absent such conditions, as in Weimar Germany, an imposed democracy becomes illegitimate and non-viable.

We are certainly not prepared to become an imperial power in Iraq. Nor should we - for such an imposition, whatever the consequences for Iraq, would decidedly change us as a society for the worse.

Iraq is a fictional country. The British created it from three separate, disparate and warring cultures. The brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein provided stability among these factions. Only a dictatorship, or the military victory of one group over the others, will return stability. Having freed Iraqis from an indigenous, secular dictator, it is not worth our blood and treasure to impose our own values upon his victims. Nor should we be paving the way for the tyranny of Baath socialism to be replaced by the tyranny of the theocracy of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.

At the expense of many lives and billions of tax dollars, we have attempted to free Iraq, but we cannot free Iraqis from their ancient hatreds, or from the perception that we are occupiers.

We went to Iraq to dismantle weapons of mass destruction. They were not there. We can talk about nation building from now till doomsday, but the reality is the Iraqis themselves have their own disparate and competing views of what that nation should look like.

Let the Iraqis create their own society in terms of their own political and religious culture. Let's go home.

When the Russians left Afghanistan, no one in the international community spoke of them being weak and vulnerable. We did not lose militarily in Iraq. We found ourselves unable to create a political order. If our departure causes chaos, it will be because the Iraqis themselves are incapable of setting aside their own legacies of hatred.

The war in Iraq was a mistake. You do not rectify a mistake by compounding the error with more troops, more American casualties, and more hapless, dead Iraqi civilians.

President Bush is said to be passionate about staying the course. But this is the passion of ideology. It is not a passion that can be grounded in an understanding of the Iraqi people and their culture.

Either we will leave Iraq, or come November the American people will tell Bush to leave the White House.


Thomas Idinopulos is professor of comparative religion and director of Judaic studies at Miami University. He is a frequent contributor to Christian Century. Abraham H. Miller is emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati and a former consultant to various government agencies on counterterrorism.

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