Thursday, September 23, 2004

A new way for me to think about Iraq

For the record: I had grave doubts about the Iraq war. I think even less of it now. I think war is one of the worst things humans do. I don't like GWB. But...

I can't get on board with the USA OUT OF IRAQ position.

In a situation like this, there will always be people who are so anxious to see the invader out of the country that they're willing to temporarily sacrifice the peace, security, and prosperity of the country in order to make them leave.

If 99% of Iraqis felt this way, there would still be a "war" on. I'm not sure at what point it stops being a war and becomes an insurgency, but in this case it was when the army stopped being a functioning entity and GWB declared victory.

Let's define "insurgents" as those Iraqis who still feel that way (ie, USA out at all costs). Everyone else is at least willing to tolerate us until we finish the rebuilding effort.

At what point would we consider the insurgency to represent enough of the population that we should get out of the country?
51%? 25%? 10%? 1%?

The population of Iraq is something like 25 million people, of which maybe 7 million are males between the age of 15-64.
If 1% of Iraq's population wanted us gone at all costs (ie, if 99% of the people didn't necessarily like us, but were content to let us stay there until we finished rebuilding), that would mean that the insurgency comprised 70,000 fighters (1% of 7 million).

And maybe it does. But if the number's that big, shouldn't we be seeing more bloodshed than we're seeing now? (If the insurgency was 10% of the population, that would mean almost 3/4 million fighters ready to blow stuff up and kidnap people. It seems fairly clear that it's not.)

And if 10% were the right number (ie, 90% of the people would rather have us stay for now), would that mean what is best for Iraq would be for us to withdraw? I feel we have a moral obligation to Iraq to fix what we started. What percent of the population has to want us gone for us to accept their word for it and withdraw, leaving them with damaged infrastructure, no established gov't, and most likely civil war? I suspect that if we weren't there, they'd be killing each other in far greater numbers than they are right now.

My impression is that
a) millions of Iraqis don't like us (big surprise)
b) but the VAST majority know that the war -- regrettable as it was, and whether they liked Saddam or not -- is water under the bridge. They are content to reap the benefits of the "occupation" rather than kick us out. They know we are providing what little stability there is in the region.

I think the insurgency looks (to us) like a far larger % of the population than it is, because their actions are what's on our headlines every day. Everything they do is worldwide news. Our media don't report things like:
- In Baghdad today, two schools were re-opened, and a new sewage treatment plant came online.
- In Mosul today -- a city of X million people -- nothing happened.
- In dozens of cities around the country, American patrols encountered no resistance, and enjoyed peaceful contact with thousands of citizens.

All we see is people getting beheaded and stuff blowing up. And granted, that's horrible. But it's not the full picture. And it's (IMO) too narrow a view to base policy on.

I believe there are over 50,000 fatalities in the US every year from car accidents. That works out to an average of somethign like 140 bloody deaths every single day. (We'll leave out the merely injured, just as the media seems to cover only fatalities in Iraq and doesn't spend much time on non-fatal casualties.) If the media covered car accidents the same way they do the insurgency, we'd be screaming for safer cars, or the withdrawal of all Americans from our own Interstates.

I talked last month with a Nat'l Guardsman home on 2-wk furlough. He said he's surprised at the news here -- that they have their issues, but the vast majority of Iraqis he deals with don't hate them. They're either glad Saddam's gone (read: the war didn't cost them family members or their home), or they like the stuff the US does: delivering water, supplies, building stuff.

According to him, the guardsmen now have to take cultural training, 99% of the time they don't bang down doors any more, they meet with elders in each city/village, they are well-received. There definitely *are* enemy combatants, but the fighting is mostly limited to a few hotspots -- the majority of the country is running more smoothly every day, and in his area it feels like many people like them and the insurgents are a tiny fraction of the population.

This is a kid from a white upper middle class family. He's not overly educated or sensitive about racial/cultural issues. But he speaks respectfully about the Iraqi people, and he seems fairly realistic and level-headed about the situation. Naturally his view wouldn't be complete, but it seems like a view that receives fairly small play in the national media. Mostly when we hear "Some good things are happening in Iraq", it seems like it comes out as a quote from conservative pundits or lawmakers, and is dismissed as right-wing rhetoric.

Or that's how it seems to me, anyway.


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