Commenter bunkerbuster speculated recently about the possible aftermath of a US troop withdrawal in Iraq:
How many people would die in such a withdrawal? There is indeed a risk that fighting could escalate, though predictions of mass killing of the kind that’s gone on recent years are surely overblown. Why are people who’ve been insisting for six long, brutal, deadly years that we’re meeting with “success” in Iraq now arguing that a withdrawal would occassion a bloodbath. Can’t they see the contradiction?
And, as any child could tell you, there is a big difference between bad things you make happen and bad things you allow to happen. It’s called responsiblity and supporters of this war spend more of their time evading it than anything else.
I’m not sure why bunkerbuster states that those arguing we’re meeting with “success” in Iraq have been insisting on this for six long, brutal, deadly years, since the US action in Iraq began in March of 2003, closer to four and a half years ago. How could we have been insisting actions in Iraq were successful prior to the war?
My guess is that bb is instead choosing to make 9/11 his (I’m using the masculine pronouns for convenience sake) starting point. Why do this, since this was not the beginning of the Iraq war? Perhaps because it was the start of our so-called war on terror, the first action of which was the war in Afghanistan, the beginning of our military campaign in reaction to the 9/11 attacks.
I’ve said before that most liberals and the Left are extremely concerned with keeping their own hands clean. Bunkerbuster demonstrates this here by seeming to be especially concerned with the sins of the US.
Responsibility is a tricky thing, however, a complex hierarchy of intertwined perceptions, predictions, intentions, actions, failures to act, and consequences—including the realm of unintended negative consequences. There is a sort of hierarchy of responsibility in which, generally speaking, (as bb seems to be pointing out) the initiators of an activity bear the highest responsibility for their own actions.
Thus, the US is clearly responsible for directly and intentionally killing many people in Iraq. But who are these people? I think we can safely say the majority of them are what we might call the bad guys. It’s a shame it had to come to the deliberate killing of human beings. But I can’t see how the act of killing Saddam’s henchmen, or terrorists who would intentionally blow up innocent Iraqis in a marketplace, is to be morally condemned, any more than the police killing murderers in a shootout is to be condemned.
But then of course there are the direct but unintended consequences of our actions, those innocents we have killed through collateral damage. We are responsible for those deaths, but bear a reduced responsibility as compared to those who would (and are) killing such people intentionally. And do not forget that the collateral damage we cause usually stems from our efforts to prevent even more terrorist incidences from occurring by killing the terrorists first.
The Left argues that killing terrorists doesn’t work, that it just creates more. This is asserted as almost axiomatic, although there’s no proof for it. Whatever the case, it does seem to be true that, although killing terrorists most definitely puts those particular terrorists out of commission, it does little to stem the tide of new recruits to avenge the martyrs. This is part of the nature of jihadis; since they consider their mission a religious one, ordained by the deity, and that they will be rewarded in paradise, it is extremely difficult to dissuade them either by the fear of death or by any other means. It is probably different for those insurgents who are not jihadi terrorists but who are instead interested in more conventional although internecine political power struggles; they may more be more easily disheartened by the diminishment of their ranks.
Our current efforts against the both the counterinsurgency and the terrorists (there is, of course, some overlap between the two, but I think we can still make a general distinction) are meeting with greater success than the old approach. This is not due simply to greater numbers of our forces in Iraq at present, although that’s part of it. The greater part is that the Iraqi people have become more convinced that cooperation with us, and against both the terrorists and the insurgents, will actually lead to improvement for their country and its people. And the terrorists and the insurgents have inadvertently helped our cause through their own brutality, which seems to have already convinced more and more Iraqis that protecting them is most definitely not in the best interests of the country or its people.
Therefore it appears that the surge has begun to correct some of the errors of our past approach, and is decreasing the killings we should be most concerned with: those of innocent Iraqis and of our military forces. We can take moral responsibility for this improvement, which is in good part a result of the US action known as the surge, combined with the efforts of many Iraqi people in cooperating with us. And this responsibility would stand quite high on the hierarchy of moral responsibility we set up earlier, since it is a consequence of actions that are both direct and intentional.
This brings us to the killings bunkerbuster conveniently ignores, those occurring at the hands of Saddam when he was in power. Clearly, by far the heaviest responsibility for those killings must rest with Saddam himself. But some diminished responsibility must be borne by other countries of the world who actively supported him during the era of his worst excesses, which occurred in the late 80s during the war with Iran and also after the Gulf War failed to take him out. The US supported him during the Iran war; Russia and France supported and even protected him later.
The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 ended those particular Saddam-based killings, and prevented more from occurring. I’ve dealt previously and at some length with the question of the morality of US support for Saddam during the Iran war, and we are responsible for our choices there to consider him the lesser of two evils. Other countries are responsible their role in supporting him during the 90′s and into the early years of this century, when his nature was well-known.
But it is clearly the US and its allies that can take credit for his being deposed, and there is no doubt that this has kept him from continuing with his usual and customary activities in torturing and killing so many innocent people in Iraq. It’s impossible to say how many people might have been involved, but the number of innocent deaths prevented by his removal almost certainly exceeded the number of innocent deaths attributable to the direct action of the US in this war, including collateral damage.
Ah, but then there are the deaths bunkerbuster is probably referencing and considering to be our responsiblity, those caused by the insurgency and the terrorists in Iraq after our invasion/occupation. Once again, however, the lion’s share of responsibility for those deaths must be borne by the perpetrators themselves. The US does have a certain reduced but still-present responsibility, however, since its act of removing one source of murder in Iraq (Saddam) inadvertently created a set of circumstances that unleashed a different set of murderous forces.
Actually, especially early on, in certain cases the perpetrators were probably the same rather than different ones, since some were almost undoubtedly Saddam henchmen and supporters. In those cases it was not the US-led invasion that unleashed them, it was merely that the invasion did not remove them thoroughly enough. But we’ll leave that aside, because there’s also no doubt that many of the killers were new, either arriving from other countries and taking advantage of the relative anarchy in Iraq (terrorists), or emboldened by leaders such as al Sadr and the jockeying for power that the vacuum of Saddam’s removal caused (insurgents).
What should the US have done about these things? Beaten its breast—and then beaten a hasty retreat? No; whatever responsibility the US bears for these things (and remember, its responsibility in the matter is far less than that of the perpetrators themselves), its new responsibility was to be more effective in combating those murderous forces. This is what Petraeus and the surge have been attempting to do, with no small success.
That is why arguments such as bunkerbuster’s make little sense to me. If we do bear some responsibility for creating this situation or allowing it to happen, would we not then bear an even greater responsibility to do our best to stop it, to remedy it?
It’s wonderful sophistry to maintain, as bunkerbuster does, that predictions of mass killings on our withdrawal are surely overblown. There’s simply no evidence for this type of wishful thinking. But since the Left and many liberals are focused on the US as the cause of all sins, they no doubt believe (or want to believe) that it’s just that simplistic, and that if the US exits, the murderous forces in Iraq will magically be placated, since it’s the US presence that caused them in the first place.
Let’s ignore the fact that liberals and the Left often claim that the situation in Iraq is tantamount to a civil war. Civil wars, of course, don’t go away when occupying armies leave; they have their own internal impetus and drive. And whatever you call the internal fighting in Iraq right now—civil war or no—it is much bigger than a protest against our presence there.
As bunkerbuster himself has said, “there is a big difference between bad things you make happen and bad things you allow to happen.” But many liberals and the Left conveniently ascribe the deaths of innocent Iraqis (and among the US military) caused by actions of the insurgents and terrorists in Iraq to bad things the US has made happen, rather than those it has allowed to happen. Surely these deaths should be in the latter category instead, however—and remember that this “allowing” has occurred in this case despite well-meaning but previously ineffective attempts to stop them.
Withdrawal, on the other hand, would consist of our abandonment of a course of action that is proving itself capable of stopping these deaths of innocents at the hands of insurgents and/or terrorists, or at least greatly reducing their numbers. Withdrawal now would therefore be an abdication of our responsibility to stop those deaths in the face of a proven ability to do so. As such, it would be morally reprehensible.