Give Iraqis a Government Worth Dying For

August 1st, 2005 - by admin

Col. Chet Richards (USAF Reserve, Ret) / Defense News – 2005-08-01 08:42:21

WASHINGTON (July 26, 2005) — There is a principle of engineering that says that when what you’re doing isn’t working, and trying harder makes the situation worse, you may be solving the wrong problem. With the attacks on London proving that occupying Iraq is not making the world safer, it is time for a radically new approach.

Neo-conservative commentators are crowing that Iraq’s economy has now returned to prewar levels.  In other words, after two years of reconstruction, Iraq as a whole has reached the level of an economy decimated by 12 years of UN sanctions and Ba’athist corruption.  And even much of this progress is artificial since it reflects an enormous temporary infusion of American dollars.

There are varying estimates of what the Iraq operation will cost. Under one scenario, according to a February Congressional Budget Office report, costs could total an additional $458 billion over the 2005-2015 time frame.

By way of compassion, the Korean War cost $430 billion and the Vietnam War $600 billion in 2005 dollars, according to a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report, “Fiscal Year 2005 Funding for Military Operations,” published April 11.

Sadly, little of this money seems to be trickling down to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Saddam’s Iraq was a brutal police state where you kept your mouth shut or you got hurt. But we’ve managed to make it look pretty good.  People had jobs. There was electricity for air conditioners in the summer.  There was running water.  You could drive across Baghdad without encountering anything more serious than a shakedown from the local police.

In the prewar days, a person could have a beer without worrying about getting his or her head chopped off.  A woman could teach in a university without religious nut cases blowing her brains out, as has already happened to three female professors at the University of Mosul in northern Iraq. Ah, for the good old days of secular, fascist dictatorship.

What the Iraqis so obviously need is a government worth fight for. The elections turned out to be a census:  Kurds voted for Kurdish independence, which they will not get. The Shi’a largely voted for Shi’ite theocracy, which they will get. The Sunnis didn’t play. The only ones dying for this regime seem to be poor Iraqis who are risking their lives to take the only paying job in town, and losing.

The administration claims that there are 160,000 Iraqi troops equipped, trained and ready to go.  But the only question that counts is: Whom will they fight for? It’s worth remembering that perhaps half a million were willing to die for Saddam’s regime in the Iran-Iraq War.  It’s also worth reminding ourselves that we trained millions of South Vietnamese.  Ironically, the only Iraqi unit that seems to be in any way effective is the notorious “Wolf Brigade,” commanded by ex-Saddamists.

If they need a government to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity, and if we can’t give it to them, who can?  How about the Iraqis, themselves?  After all, our founding fathers didn’t hash out the U.S. Constitution under the paternal eyes of King George III’s army.

The longer we stay in Iraq, the more the various parties there will react to us.  Instead of working out their problems, even through civil war, as we once did, they will focus on gaming Uncle Sam and his thousands of troops and billions of dollars.

The process of creating new political arrangements may get messy, perhaps worse than whatever Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had in mind when he made his observations on democracy. But what’s going on there is now horrible and does not seem to be leading to solutions that are any better than what Saddam offered.

It is not difficult to understand how we got ourselves into this: We plunged a western, largely Christian army into the gut of the Muslim Middle East, left it there, and now wonder why people are attacking it.  Even if surgery is necessary, you don’t leave the scalpel in and expect the patient to heal.  Rather than do any more damage to ourselves or to the Iraqis, and rather than train any more terrorist cells that will attack our cities, it is time to leave and leave quickly. 

Although withdrawal may seem cruel, it is the sort of tough love that Iraq needs right now.  These are intelligent people, and left to themselves they are more than capable of solving their own problems.  As an alternative to spending another $400 billion on killing Iraqis, we can make it clear that once they have a government that truly does represent the aspirations of Iraqis of every stripe, or have instituted any other arrangement they find acceptable, we will generously channel that money into funding their renaissance.

Chet Richards, a retired U. Air Force Reserve colonel, served as the Air Attaché (Reserve) to Saudi Arabia. He writes for the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information, Washington.

Author(s): Col. (Ret.) Chester W. Richards, USAF