Saturday, September 24, 2005

Children of Iraq

Anybody who argues that we should pull our troops out of Iraq must answer one question for me. Not only must they give an answer, they must show that the answer is based on evidence and sound reasoning.

What happens to the children of Iraq?

What type of world will the five and six year old boy or girl grow up in if our soldiers leave Iraq and come home?

Here are some possible answers that I have seen.

(1) “It does not matter. It is not our problem.”

First, we helped create this situation, and that makes it our problem. If we perform an action that puts a group of children at risk, then we have an obligation to remove the risk before we abandon the children.

Second, this answer has the same moral merit as sitting back and eating popcorn, watching while a neighbor’s child gets raped and murdered. Compare the moral character of the person who turns his back and says “It’s not my kid. It’s not my problem.” Compare that to the character of the person who gets involved for the sake of the kid, even at great personal risk. It is easy to see which person is worthy of the greatest moral praise. It is easy to see which is the better person.

The moral question here concerns which is the better person. The person who protects and defends children, or the person who ignores and abandons them. "They are not my kids; it's not my problem," is not the morally best answer.

(2) “The Iraqis were better off before we started this mess.”

Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t. It does not matter.

Assume you are driving to the airport, rushing to catch a flight. You find yourself in a traffic jam. Your passenger says, “If we had turned off on I-70 a couple of miles back we would not be in this mess."

Do me a favor; resist the urge to hit him. Simply try to explain to him that he's not helping. "Don’t tell me what we should have done 30 minutes ago, give me an idea of what I should do now."

It is appropriate to have the same attitude to the person who answers the question, "What about the children of Iraq?" by saying what we should have done -- or not done -- two or three years ago. I agree that the administration made some poor choices. Those choices got us into a serious mess. Still, the relevant question is, "What should we do now?" not "What should we have done two years ago?"

(3) “The Iraqis have a right to decide for themselves how to raise their children.”

This is certainly true. They have this right. However, that right has limits. Furthermore, a right has no value if people are not willing to defend it. Who is going to protect and honor that right, and who is going to trample that right?

My neighbors have a right to raise their children as they think best. They have a right to teach their religion to their children and other values without my interference. I have no right to dictate what they set as a curfew, or whether they allow their children to get their ears pierced or wear a tatoo, or what they allow their children to watch on television. I will not even force them to have their children eat their vegetables.

However, there are limits. If I view that my neighbor’s children are at risk of abuse and neglect – if they are being beaten and killed, deprived of an education, left unfed, have health-care needs that are being ignored, kept in cages, enslaved, or offered as prostitutes – then I have not only a right, but a duty, to interfere with how my neighbors are raising their children.

Will these children become the victims of suicide bombers? Will they become suicide bombers themselves, or soldiers in another religious war?

More importantly, will the Iraqis actually have a society in which they can raise their children as they see fit? Or will some faction imposes its will on everybody, dictating how children will be raised? What are the odds that some religious fundamentalists will be dictating standards – prohibiting women from getting an education (or from voting, or even from being seen in public)? What are the odds that some new dictator will rise up, slaughtering the children of those who belong to an opposing political or religious faction, the way Saddam Hussein gassed and slaughtered whole villages -- including the children?

If the Iraqis actually had the power to exercise this right, and they did not have options forced upon them, then, certainly, it would be time to leave. However, the question about whether we should leave may very well be the same as the question of whether the Iraqis have a system where these rights are respected and enforced.

(4) “Obviously, they will be okay.”

The question, “What will happen to the children of Iraq?” lends itself to a number of answers. Everybody can have an opinion. A quick cursory glance of what is going on in Iraq, some mental extrapolation, and any arm-chair general or political strategist can assert with confidence which road Iraq will take.

None of them really know what they are talking about. None of them are actually offering a believable account of what the future of the children if Iraq will be like. They are all simply pretending that they have a level of expertise they do not have.

The person who offers a serious answer will need to be able to draw on studies and research by those who are experts on Iraq. They will have to cite a mountain of statistics, and be able to show that they know what those studies actually say and their implications.

No protestor standing on the street saying, “Bring the troops home now!” has executed this responsibility. At least, I have not heard of any.

When you look at the average person with a blow-horn edging a crowd in an anti-war chant, he has no idea what will happen to the children of Iraq. Neither do those who follow them.

More importantly, none of them are the asking the question. It’s a good sign that none of them really care. This, in turn, brings us back to option (1).

Conclusion

Here is my position. I am not going to join any street protest to bring the troops home. I would join any street protest to put the project in the hands of somebody who seems competent to make wise decisions. Right now, this is not the case. Like FEMA before Hurricane Katrina hit, the Iraq War is in the hands of people who prove daily that they lack the basic skill set to do the job effectively. It is time to demand that they be replaced. We need competent leadership.

I certainly would prefer a leadership that has an expressed, moral drive to create a policy that fits the intelligence, rather than fixing the intelligence to fit the policy.

A competent leader is not necessarily one who agrees with "Bring the troops home now," crowd. A competent leader is somebody who has a plan for building the best possible future for the children of Iraq -- whatever it takes.

A competent leader knows that he does not have all of the right answers and listens to the advice of experts who have given the subject a great deal of thought and attention, with an eye to what is best for the future of Iraq. He is not one that listens to mobs who have purchased their opinions on a whim without doing their homework.

4 comments:

Tim R said...

You might want to remember that "what will happen to the children of Iraq" is not the primary concern of anti-war protesters. They are justified in protesting for other reasons, primary among which is the lack of a plan for achieving anything. The blood of our soldiers and of Iraqi civilians is being spilled to no discernible purpose.

My question to you is: Why should the future of Iraqi children be the primary concern regarding our policy in Iraq? Are not the adults of Iraq and our own people equally at risk as we "stay the course" that our idiot president advises? When (and if) our troops leave, is it not more important to influence the thinking of Iraqi adults who will determine the future of Iraqi society?

You wonder what the odds are that religious fundamentalists will dictate standards. If we do not succeed in building some form of secular public institutions, the answer is 100%, as can be seen from the content of the constitutional negotiations to this point.

Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that some form of realistic democratic republic emerges in Iraq under the guidance of US diplomats. At that point, whoever is president will declare victory and withdraw our troops. What guarantees that this government will endure? What sea change in the militant Muslim worldview do you expect to occur such that women will enjoy expanded rights and children will be raised free to think for themselves?

The key to the continuing insurgency is the worldview of the overwhelming majority of Muslim men. When you refer to fundamentalists, you should understand that by American standards, almost all serious Muslims are fundamentalists--meaning that they are Koranic literalists. The contents of the Koran are extremely inflammatory regarding the duties of Muslim men, who nearly all believe that they must spend part of their life fighting infidels. The Koran also teaches that Muslim society is always superior to any other, which is why the adoption of any equitable society by Iraqis is extremely unlikely in the long term.

Boelf said...

It is not entirely honest to attack the strawman “pull our troops out of Iraq”. Surely for most of us on the left this represents the likely outcome of a realistic assessment of the situation there.

As I see it the realists would pull together experts on the history, demographics and politics of all players in Iraq. They would then negotiate with all players no matter how odious. This might be formal, informal or back door as the situation dictates.

It is my opinion that the result of such a process would be:

1. End to torture and mistreatment of prisoners. We would need to identify all prisoners held, where they are held and why they continue to be held. All detention facilities should be identified, subject to inspection by the red cross, families and various Iraqi groups. It would also help to encourage the Iraqi government to adopt a similar policy.
2. End to large scale aggressive military operations such as Faluja and Mosol. Any military operations that are deemed necessary should be modeled on the Israeli removal of settlers from the Gaza. I.e. maximum visibility and sensitivity to the people in the affected area.
3. A fixed timetable to withdraw the bulk of our forces from Iraq. This would include the closure or handing over of permanent bases. I expect this date to be inside a year.

With the above understanding put me down for the “pull our troops out of Iraq” crowd.

Tim R, I don’t know your expertise on Islam. Can’t say as I know much about it myself. But making some allowance of poorer regions to somewhat more religious, I expect to see the same spread of religious feelings atheism to fundamentalism that you’d see anywhere else.

Martin Mapes said...

From The Nation, October 3, 2005: Our Two Gulf Crises:

"Those who argue that withdrawal must be contingent upon an immprovement of conditions in Iraq have it backward. Conditions will not improve, at least not fundamentally, until we establish a clear timetable for withdrawal and begin to rduce our military presence."

How would you respond?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Marty: I would respond by asking for something more than somebody's word on the issue. Simply withdrawing and expecting things to get better is no different than simply attacking and expecting to be greeted as liberators.

I would respond by asking for evidence that the individual has done his homework.