Top ten myths about Iraq ...

News & Politics

While we're on the subject of end-of-the-year lists, be sure to read Juan Cole's "Top Ten Myths About Iraq."

I want to highlight number 8:

Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get. No, it isn't. During the course of the guerrilla war, the daily number of dead has fluctuated, between about 20 and about 60. But in a real civil war, it could easily be 10 times that. Some estimates of the number of Afghans killed during their long set of civil wars put the number at 2.5 million, along with 5 million displaced abroad and more millions displaced internally. Iraq is Malibu Beach compared to Afghanistan in its darkest hours. The US has a responsibility to get out of Iraq responsibly and to not allow it to fall into that kind of genocidal civil conflict.
I have an enormous amount of respect for Cole, and I don't think he set up a straw man with this one intentionally. But having made a similar point here at AlterNet, I want to throw in my two cents.

I can't recall anyone arguing that the situation in Iraq is as bad as it can get, or dismissing the very real risk that its low-intensity civil war might escalate into a full-scale shooting war.

We point out that Iraq is already in an irregular civil war not because we believe a "precipitous" U.S. withdrawal would not matter, but to counter the rather triumphalist argument that our presence there is preventing a civil conflict from developing in the first place. The administration's policy choices set the stage for today's civil strife early on, and we need to acknowledge that fact, not use it to justify an occupation without an end-date.

What's more, we don't know that Iraq would turn into a shooting gallery if we were to withdraw, and challenging the certainty of those predicting that outcome is valid. There's no history of civil war among Iraq's various ethnic and religious groups, but there's also no denying that, today, sectarian tensions are alarmingly high. Instead of assuming that Iraq would devolve into chaos, let's have a discussion of how likely it is and whether and how it might be avoided without keeping our boots on the ground.

I think almost everyone who thinks we should leave Iraq at all agrees that we need to leave Iraq "responsibly." The question is what that would look like.

While there's a consensus that calling for "internationalizing" the force in Iraq is naïve given the status quo, it's the status quo that needs to be challenged. Setting a definite timetable for withdrawal can only sharpen the focus of the international community on the search for a better alternative than the morass of the current policy.

It may well be too late for that, but we'll never know without trying. Right now, countries have a choice of sending their kids into harm's way or sitting back and watching the U.S. get its comeuppance. If we announced we were withdrawing, their choices would be starkly different and the potential cost of sitting on the sidelines while Iraq burns would be far greater.

Changing that calculus would require the administration to give up its plan for bases, its dream of an economy serving as a laboratory for all manner of neoliberal policies and its cronies' control of reconstruction funds, so it simply won't happen as long as the Bushies are in power and the "opposition" party is as thoroughly cowed as it is. But that's the fault of what passes for leadership here at home, not some immutable law of nature. Let's call it what it is.

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