The Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the World Wars, the Vietnam War…..the Iraq War. Without diminishing the sacrifices of our soldiers and the vast sums of money expended, it’s hard to see Iraq as a war. A military action, an insurgency fight perhaps, but does it rise to the level of an actual war.
I understand why many thoughtful and humane Americans strongly opposed the Iraq war, but I would argue that the Iraq war ended several years ago, what we are facing in Iraq now is not a war. It is an insurgency largely funded and led by terrorist groups and their supporters. Frankly, I don't understand why so many thoughtful, humane Americans and politicians feel that we should now abandon Iraq by withdrawing all our combat troops and leave the Iraqis to deal with the problems that have arisen since the invasion that America led.
You may wonder what difference it makes what we call the situation in Iraq. Well, if it’s an insurgency and we don’t have the will to resist it, what does that say about our national will to resist terrorists and terrorism wherever we find it. If it is a war, then leaving it unitarily without a peace treaty can only be defined as surrendering. That means our enemies in Iraq can rightly claim a victory over America that can embolden our radical Islam adversaries.
There are only two countries in the world where we are clearly and directly fighting Al Qaeda and their allies-- Iraq and Afghanistan. We have withdrawn most of our troops from Afghanistan and have left the major responsibility with NATO, and now many Americans, including both the Democratic candidates for president, want us to withdraw from the only other place where we are directly confronting Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has made this confrontation quite clear by naming themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq, and making every effort to start a civil war that would leave the country so weak that they could take over. The Iraqi people have so far avoided falling into the this trap, despite the claims of some American politicians that Iraq is already in a civil war, but the ultimate outcome is still uncertain. The Iraqi people, like people around the world, have demonstrated a desire for a democratic society. Perhaps not modeled precisely on our American example, but nevertheless a society where people have an opportunity to control and improve their own lives.
If we look around the world it becomes clear that people desire democracy, and that democracy is a very difficult political system to create. These are two core Jeffersonian principles. As I indicated in an earlier post, Thomas Jefferson believed the desire for freedom and democracy was inherent in human nature, and he also believed that there were powerful forces of greed, selfishness and fear that made the practice of democracy and freedom difficult. We are seeing these principles demonstrated in Iraq, and it disappoints me greatly to discover how many Americans don't think the efforts of the Iraqi people are worth the loss of American money and lives. Of course, there needs to be some limit on our commitment to Iraq, but I don't believe we have reached those limits.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no war-mongerer. But I think there are still times and places in this world when taking up arms are necessary. Jefferson was considered a peaceable man, yet he supported the American Revolution. While president he did everything he could to avoid war with France and England, yet rather than pay a tribute he attacked the Barbary pirates, our first war against Muslim terrorists. All the Americans - including the men and women of the military forces who have suffered injury and death, the civilians who have risked their lives to help create a civil society, the businesspeople who have worked to rebuild the Iraqi economy, and the federal government officials and diplomats- who have served in that difficult nation deserve the support of the American people and government that would allow the possibility for their efforts and sacrifices to result in a new free society in the Middle East. The next generation of Iraqi people and all the generations after them deserve our best effort to uphold the responsibility we took when we chose to remove Saddam from power.
I recently heard a journalist on NPR talking about Iraq. He had been reporting on the country for over 20 years and unlike most commentators/ politicians regarding Iraq he clearly cared deeply about the Iraqi people. He believed if we left too soon there would be chaos, and instead suggested that we negotiate a peace agreement with the major groups, Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, agreeing on when and how we withdraw. This would provide us with an honorable ending, if this is indeed a war, not a surrender followed by chaos. But because the insurgency would likely continue, we would need to leave some soldiers to help.
In Iraq today America has an opportunity to stand up for what we value as a nation. We value justice, freedom, democracy, and human rights. These are the values that are at stake in Iraq. These values are cherished by both political parties and it’s too bad they can’t receive bi-partisan support regarding the Iraq conflict. The insurgents and terrorists do not share these values, and the Taliban in Afghanistan have demonstrated to the world what a nation would look like if the insurgency succeeded. Avoiding the oppression of women alone justifies our struggle against this perverted philosophy. The only way I can understand the unwillingness of the American people to see this struggle through to the end is that I assume that they believe we cannot succeed, or that the price will be too high. So far I don’t think the price has been too high.
I have heard it said that these people, these Iraqi people, can't create a free society. I've heard the argument that because they are a patchwork nation of different tribes they can't create a free society, because they are Muslims they can't create a free society, and because they have never been free they can't create a free society. Well, I say, if we understand the imperfect way that the United States of America came into existence we would realize that all those arguments do not stand up. The more we understand our own national struggles and heritage the more we will see the possibilities for democracy around the world. Jeffersonian democracy has spread and continues to spread around the world at an astounding rate, and there is no compelling reason to believe that it cannot find a home in the middle of the Middle East. But it seems apparent that it will never happen without the support of the American government and the American people.
The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, that we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good. 1790