The Moral Argument For Staying In Iraq
The New Republic’s Lawrence Kaplan:
f all the lines of argument President Bush has used to rally the public behind the war in Iraq, few have elicited more howls of derision than his latest. “If you think it’s bad now,” he said at a recent press conference, “imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself.” To which a headline in The Washington Post offered this typical response: “bush’s new argument: it could be worse.”
Whatever its political uses, Bush’s new argument happens to be true. Yet the moral cost of abandoning a country we have turned inside-out seems not to have made the slightest impression on opinion-makers. To the extent that ethical considerations factor into the debate at all, it’s usually in favor of a rapid withdrawal from Iraq. Mostly, though, the debate over leaving has been conducted in the sterile language of geopolitics, credibility, and “misallocated” resources.
This heartlessness of the withdrawal argument responds to multiple needs that are largely unrelated to Iraq. It comforts the sensibilities of opinion-makers who have a distaste for this administration’s foreign policy and so don’t seem to feel much stake in its human consequences. It testifies to the consistency of those who, having opposed sending U.S. forces to Iraq in the first place, see nothing problematic about pulling them out today. And it offers assurance that, but for the bungled U.S. occupation, Iraq can only be better off. No one has espoused this last view more vigorously than Democratic Representative John Murtha. His summary of the situation in Iraq amounts to this: We are the problem. . . .
None of this jibes with the cliché that “redeploying United States troops is necessary for success in Iraq,” as Senator John Kerry has put it. But, for the likes of Kerry, what happens after the United leaves Iraq is beside the point; by then, the troops will be safely home. Withdrawal advocates who wear the position on their sleeves as if it were a badge of heightened moral awareness seem to forget that, as theologian Kenneth Himes wrote in Foreign Policy, “The moral imperative during the occupation is Iraqi well-being, not American interests.” Having invoked just-war tradition to oppose the war’s cause, they completely disregard its relevance to the war’s conduct–namely, the obligation to repair what the United States has smashed. The particulars of that tradition mean leaving Iraq with something better–or, at least, not worse–than what went before. That does not mean staying in Iraq forever. It does mean staying until Iraqis have the means to restrain the forces unleashed by our own actions.
Read the whole thing.
Kaplan makes the moral case for staying in Iraq perfectly, even if he’s a little long on the “we broke it so we have to fix it” stuff. I don’t quite buy that. Iraq was broken before America went there. We haven’t made things worse, we’ve made them better.
According to this article the Documental Centre for Human Rights in Iraq has compiled information on over 600,000 civilian executions in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime. That’s probably low as its just the executions we know about and it doesn’t include those who died because Saddam diverted money from the UN’s humanitarian oil-for-food program into his own coffers, but we’ll use it anyway. If we consider that Saddam Hussein was in power for 24 years, those 600,000 executions puts his yearly death toll at about 25,000/year.
According to the Iraq Body Count website’s estimates on Iraqi civilian casualties since the U.S. invasion a maximum of 46,537 civilians have died. We’ve been in Iraq for 3 years and six months (almost to the day), so that works out to about 13,296 civilian deaths per year. Of course, not all of those deaths were caused by U.S. action. The terrorists we’re fighting in Iraq routinely target Iraqi civilians for their attacks, so the majority of that death toll should be credited to the jihadists.
But for comparison purposes, there are about 12,000 fewer people dying in Iraq under U.S. occupation then were dying under Saddam’s rule. It’s an imperfect calculation because the deaths under Saddam’s regime are hard to quantify, but even using low-ball numbers for Saddam’s body counts shows that fewer Iraqis are dying in Iraq now than before the U.S. invasion.
So again, Iraq was broken before we invaded. We’ve made things better since we’ve invaded. They aren’t totally fixed now, but the situation is much improved.