I was out to dinner last night with nice folks whom I’d never met before. As so often happens, the conversation turned political and philosophical and eventually I was asked, “Then, what should we do about Iraq?” I don’t know why this very simple question on this specific night seemed to throw me for a loop. But it did. And I’m still ruminating about it twelve hours later.
The question really requires a two part answer, for inherent in the answer must be an explanation of why I believe it was important to engage our military in the Middle East in the first place. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48) is a phrase reflecting both my personal religious values but also my inherently conservative values of accountability and responsibility. The United States has ascended to the zenith of global political and economic power. Our nation accomplished this on the backs of our resolve and unity under the visionary leadership of President Reagan and steady hand of President Bush seeing us to the finish line. However, this ascension carries with it enormous responsibility.
In a February 6, 2007, column, Dennis Prager rightfully laments that a problem with liberal thinking is its unwillingness to ask “what next” questions and see issues through to their conclusion. It’s easy to point fingers at the short sightedness of liberal philosophy, particularly in the examples Mr. Prager gives. But we conservatives must also evaluate our policies similarly. These are even harder questions to ask because they come on the heels of victory and success. But even successful outcomes require follow up and maintenance. For example, “If we win the Cold War, what happens next?” What happens is a need for a stronger and more visible United States throughout the world, not a less visible United States.
The global tension that kept families in the 60s busy building fallout shelters also provided a mechanism for global discipline and conflict resolution. The United States and the Soviet Union pressured allies to maintain regional peace to avoid conflicts which might escalate and fuel larger global disasters. But what happened when that tense juxtaposition disappeared in the early 90s? The United States then became solely responsible for overseeing the peace. By virtue of eliminating one part of the balance of power we became responsible for providing the entire balance by ourselves. Former Soviet allies who lived without open conflict became fertile ground for regional war lords and power brokers. The communist menace was defeated but our duties increased as we became responsible for filling the leadership vacuum created by the demise of the former Soviet Union. Other nations addicted to the comfort provided by a blanket of US security did not rise up to fill the vacuum themselves. Instead, they looked to the United States for an even greater measure of leadership.
The United States has been given much and we have used those gifts well. But our continued success demands continued sacrifice. It is this responsibility that compelled me to not just support a US presence in Iraq but to insist upon it. We went to Afghanistan to retaliate for 9/11. And it was expedient to rid the Iraqi people and the world of the genocidal maniac Saddam Hussein while we had a military presence in the Middle East. In fact, I believe it was overdue. Afghanistan was a necessary act to protect our freedom at home. A mission in Iraq was a necessary manifestation of our leadership position in the world. But our goal became too broad. The United States has never successfully created a democracy and to make that a goal in Iraq was a fool’s errand. The best we could do was to create an atmosphere conducive to democracy. But a democracy, as is evident by our own Declaration of Independence—must be a government “… instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Without that inherent belief and desire within the Iraqi people, a democratic state would be impossible without a constant US military presence to maintain it. And that kind of democracy is the equivalent of a high school class government with the appearance of a democracy and operation of a democracy so long as the principal and teachers allow it to do so. It is hardly sovereignty.
Furthermore, building democracies was significantly more important during the Cold War as a practical objective. The Soviet Union was trying to create communist states in order to advance its philosophies and extend its power. The counter to that was to promote and stabilize democracies which would ally with the United States. Not only was it good government but it was a defense against communist oppression. Supporting democracies would keep the Soviets at bay. Without the looming communist threat, the importance of creating democracies becomes solely philosophical and less pragmatic and, as such, makes it even more important that the governed commit their very lives to the pursuit of their own liberty. Liberty cannot be a gift it must be an earned wage.
And so we get to the second part of the answer—what to do today. The United States succeeded in retaliating for 9/11. The United States succeeded in removing Saddam Hussein. But the United States has failed to create a sovereign democratic Iraq and the Iraqi people have failed to demonstrate their desire for such a government. The question of what to do is one of philosophy. We will not be able to create a democracy in Iraq. We will not be able to completely eliminate terrorism by staying on the offensive. A dated withdrawal very likely will embolden terrorists. There is no perfect solution only a search for a lesser evil. If we withdraw we will have to fight terrorism on other fronts and we must anticipate that fight. We must fund the shoring up of domestic infrastructure and we must be willing to make sacrifices of personal freedom to prevent attacks here at home. There will be a substantial cost for a dated withdrawal. We will simply be trading military costs for domestic costs. Are you ready to make that sacrifice?
Or we can continue to pursue military options in Iraq. We can continue to take the battle to the terrorists and continue with the long and arduous task of nation building. Each choice has its costs and consequences. Neither option will return us to the good old days or allow us to wash our hands of this situation and get on with our lives. 9/11 had too profound an affect on all of our lives. Too much is demanded of our nation. We cannot shrink from our responsibilities.
So to my dinner companion I said this: we must restate our goal to be an atmosphere within Iraq in which a democracy could exist if the Iraqi people want it, and for that, the Iraqi people must demonstrate that such a government is indeed what they desire. If they don’t begin to manifest this desire, we will leave. We will help them but we will not carry them. We have made a commitment to them which we have a responsibility to carry out but they have a responsibility to participate in the pursuit of their own liberty, as our founding fathers did 220 years ago. The Iraqi people are not only letting themselves down but they are letting down the United States, the blood of whose soldiers replaces the blood of the Iraqi enemies of Saddam Hussein. If the United States leaves Iraq without leaving a democracy behind it is not the fault of our government or our military. It will be the fault of the Iraqi people.
Today, much has been given to the Iraqi people and much should be expected from them. They must participate in the pursuit of their own freedom or live under an oppressive government. It’s their choice. We’ve already won by virtue of being faithful stewards of our national gifts. But maybe it’s time to place the blame for not achieving our stated goal where it belongs—on the shoulders of the people who wish their liberty to be paid for by the blood of someone else—and bring an end to the belief that Iraq is worth the fight in the face of Iraqi indifference to the pursuit of a democratic government.