Iraq and the Left: Real Solutions or Radical Posturing
Does the Left have solutions concerning the quagmire in Iraq? Does it matter if it doesn't? Some thoughts on the matter.
I attended a spirited debate tonight between Tariq Ali, the editor of "New Left Review," and author of "Bush in Babylon" and "The Clash of Fundamentalisms", and Gideon Rose, the managing editor of "Foreign Affairs," held at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in Greenwich Village, New York City, and sponsored by Verso Press and the Campus Anti-war Network. Primarily the debate was centered around the occupation of Iraq, but strayed far and wide. I attending to get a sense of where the authors were on "Where do we go from here? What's next?" The opposing arguments on this topic were generally the following:
Ali called for the immediate withdraw of American troops from Iraq, and an end to the occupation. Period. No time table was given, but it seemed as though he would order a withdraw beginning tonight, if it were up to him. Ali conceded that, sure, if the US withdrew right away, there would be a complicated situation in Iraq, possibly even a civil war. The Iraqis, however, must sort things out for themselves and learn from their mistakes.
Rose advocated seeing the occupation through to a time when we could be assured of a more stable political environment in Iraq. He argued that the United States had a moral obligation to not abandon Iraq prior to stabilization since we had played such an integral role in supporting the Saddam Hussein regime. For better or for worse, we invaded the country and have thrown it into turmoil, a situation which will certainly worsen if the sole apparatus of law and order, the occupying troops, were to withdraw, since the Provisional Authority disbanded the Iraqi Army. Abandoning ship now would create for Iraqis possibly a worse situation than they had under Saddam's brutal regime.
Sitting there listening to Ali's position, which I imagine is shared by a goodly portion of the Left, especially the hard/activist Left, I found it curious that here I was, listening to a speaker that more or less has an ally in the Bush Administration in fighting for an early (premature?) pull-out from Iraq. A withdraw of American troops from Iraq before the election would clearly give Bush a leg up in November, as he faces more and more criticisms about Iraq policy from the Democratic candidates.
For those that opposed the invasion to begin with, however, it seems the only tenable position, considering, as Ali pointed out, that supporting a protracted occupation after attempting to prevent the war doesn't make good sense. In a debate earlier this year at the New School, Christopher Hitchens of "Vanity Fair" backed Mark Danner of the "New Yorker" and the "New York Review of Books," the only panelist that didn't support the invasion, into arguing for more US troops in Iraq, in order to prevent the country from descending into choas. At least Ali had the sense not to fall into that trap.
I have seen two debates now on the state of the occupation and "where to go from here" and the two arguments proposed by the Left panelists both strike me as quite weak, and frankly, politically impossible in the first case, and completely undesirable in the second:
1) Cut and run, let the cards fall how they may, and face whatever repercussions may come, either in the region or elsewhere.
2) Squeeze as much as we can out of our already thinly stretched military resources, devote millions of more tax dollars into extending the occupation and have the prospects of an ugly long-term occupation which, I think all sides can agree, will be ugly, see more US troops and Iraqis killed, and war-time deficits ballooned even further.
Bringing the UN in to help occupy Iraq is touted by many progressives and by the current Democratic candidates as a third option (and, indeed, by Rose tonight). I have little hope that this will help to improve the conditions on the ground for the military forces. It is unlikely that the Iraqi resistance will lessen because the UN, who oversaw 12 years of sanctions that killed 500,000 Iraqi children, has now pulled their blue helmets out of the closet somewhere and is raiding Iraqi houses along with the Americans looking for resisters.
UN involvement may help to bring the United States back into favor with portions of the international community whom we alienated with our vulgar displays of unilateralism and contempt for international law a year ago. But, if a true international coalition were formed, we would have to grant some of the imperial spoils to the Russian and French oil cartels that were chomping at the bit to get in and exploit Iraqi oil before we preempted them, which seems unlikely considering their governments didn't quite step up when it was requested by the Bush-Blair team. We all remember the story of the Little Red Hen.
As one who neither supported the invasion nor supports the occupation today, I don't feel terribly responsible for coming up with a solution here. I'd rather let those that got us into this mess get us out of it. However, as we enter the race for the presidency, and the death toll on all sides continues to mount, the issue of what to do in Iraq becomes increasingly important for those on the Left who advocate and march in the streets for an "End to the Occupation" to consider.
If the Left in the United States wants to remain on the margins as a permanent outside agitator, attempting only to influence those in power, without actually taking any, then, sure, no creative thinking is really necessary. Just run around in the streets, get on the megaphones and pump out those bumper stickers "US Out of Everywhere." However, if the Left wants to be taken seriously as a force that actually can govern this country, then innovative ideas from an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist viewpoint are integral, because that's what America needs right now: solutions, not angry and rhetorical calls for the impossible.
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