Jonathan Schell

Jonathan Schell writes in response to Lakshmi Chaudhry's 'Rethinking Iraq,' posted last Thursday. Schell is The Nation's peace and disarmament correspondent and the Harold Willens Peace Fellow at the Nation Institute. He is the author of 'The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People' (Metropolitan).

I'd like to respond to Lakshmi Chaudhry's characterization of my position on the war in Iraq in her article "Rethinking Iraq." She writes, "Many anti-war Americans support one simple plan for Iraq: bring the troops home." I am then named as one of these. Curiously, though, the passage of mine she quotes sets forth a different view, one in which I call for all possible help and assistance to Iraqis as the withdrawal proceeds. The quoted passage reads:
Let there be as orderly a transition as possible, accompanied by as much aid, foreign assistance and general sweetness and light as can be mustered, but the endpoint, complete withdrawal, should be announced in advance, so that everyone in Iraq – from the beheaders and other murderers, to legitimate resisters, to any true democrats who may be on the scene – can know that the responsibility for their country's future is shifting to their shoulders. The outcome, though not in all honesty likely to be pretty, will at any rate be the best one possible. If the people of Iraq slip back into dictatorship, it will be their dictatorship. If they choose civil war, it will be their civil war. And if by some happy miracle they choose democracy, it will be their democracy – the only kind worth having.
This is contrasted with her own proposal: "a plan that pushes for the phased departure of U.S. troops rather than hold out for a Vietnam-style dramatic about-face." But the "Vietnam-style, dramatic about-face" is a straw man, at least as far as my own position is concerned, as the passage above makes clear. It is also historically inaccurate. Nixon's draw-down of American forces – under the policy of "Vietnamization" – lasted almost four years.

In the above, Chaudhry appears to criticize me for positions I do not take, indeed for advocating the very sort of orderly withdrawal accompanied by American and international assistance that she also calls for, and that to both of us seems the best way to end the occupation.

However, I do have some actual disagreements with later passages in her piece. She charges me with holding the assumption that "a U.S.-led plan for a viable democracy in Iraq is simply impossible." I do hold this assumption. If there is to be any plan for democracy in Iraq, it must be Iraqi-led, with the U.S. in a merely assisting role – and this within the context of a fully internationalized plan of assistance. The success even of this plan itself frankly looks unlikely, but it would be worth trying. I am also in favor of any civil-society-to-civil-society connections (now woefully lacking) between American human rights and democracy advocates and like-minded Iraqis.

My disagreement deepens when I read that "We must take the president at his word and force him to deliver on the promise of freedom." To which I can only answer: Good luck with that! What is it exactly that "we" will "force" the president to do – even as at the same time we force him to abandon the policy of violence in which he so deeply believes? In any case, the president can't deliver on that promise because no foreign power, not even the world's sole superpower, can create democracy in Iraq. Only the people of Iraq can do so.

Read responses from Tom Hayden, Kamil Mahdi and Erik Leaver.

Lakshmi Chaudhry responds.

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