What if the "surge is working" in Iraq? How should those of us who have opposed this war from the start respond? Jewish Currents
is currently working with the Workmen's Circle and the Shalom Center to organize a November 23rd activism conference, "Jews Uniting Against the War and to Heal America," at Central Synagogue in NYC. I'm excited by the organizing effort that's going into this event and by the prospect of helping to make ending the Iraq war a national Jewish priority. But the question — what now?
— needs the attention of those of us who hope to constitute a Jewish peace movement.
In this week's New Yorker
, for example, George Packer — who consistently supported the invasion way back when and has been somewhat chastened by the chaos that has ensued since — writes about "Obama's Iraq Problem" as follows: Iraq, "despite myriad crises, has begun to stabilize. . . . The improved conditions can be attributed, in increasing order of importance, to President Bush's surge, the change in military strategy under General David Petraeus, the turning of Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda, the Sadr militia's unilateral ceasefire, and the great historical luck that brought them all together at the same moment." Obama's original 16-month withdrawal plan, Packer continues, might "revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, reenergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia's recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse." Obama should, therefore — and is likely to, says Packer — pursue a "conditional engagement policy," with troop withdrawal depending on "political progress and on the performance of the Iraqi Army" (which, I might add, is essentially John McCain's position).
A couple of months ago in the Atlantic Monthly
, on of their staff writers (I think it was Jonathan Rauch) added another element to the pot: a precipitous withdrawal and the likely chaos that would ensue in Iraq, he said, would be interpreted by the right-wing in America, Rush Limbaugh and company, as a "stab in the back" by liberals. It would hurt the political prospects of liberals and Democrats for decades, he wrote — therefore the withdrawal should be slow and steady and, again, conditional . . .
I think it was Colin Powell who warned about Iraq, If we break it, we own it
. And while I disagree vociferously both with George Packer and the Atlantic Monthly
writer, I do recognize that there are weighty moral considerations for peace activists to address here. We can no longer simply protest what has gone on in the past (this aggressive, hubristic war, fostered with lies; this terrible waste of lives; this cesspool of corporate graft and unaccounted-for billions; this exacerbation of tension with the entire Muslim world; this justification for torture, for secret wiretapping, for an aggrandized presidency; etc. etc.). We also have to analyze and address the here-and-now, and pose alternative scenarios to an ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq. Frankly, I find that hard to do in a way that emphasizes Iraq's well-being. But surely there are progressive analysts who could begin to pose such scenarios. As the Workmen's Circle statement about Iraq in the May-June Jewish Currents put it, "Withdrawal from Iraq will, no doubt, be a complicated business, both strategically and morally. The time has surely come, however, to contend with it as an inevitable reality and start making our plans."
One essential element for long-time critics of this war, I believe, is to state clearly that a stabilized Iraq, even if that were to come to pass, does not justify Bush's policy of preemptive military violence or justify the neoconservative strategy of forcibly "transforming" the Middle East. The ultimate "success" of this war would not make it acceptable. We do not accept America's "right" to refashion world politics through military violence; we do not accept the costs to our country of maintaining that level of capacity for military violence; we do not think war as an easy-resort tool of policy is acceptable; we insist on diplomacy, negotiations, deal-making, compromise as the better path to a stable world . . . But is there a way to weave all of this together in an idealistic package that will appeal to American sensibilities?
Way back in May, 2003, when public support was high, I noted in an editorial titled, "Challenging Bush, Challenging Ourselves," that "it is misguided patriotism as much as misinformation that has led a large majority to support this war. As long as Bush has missionary rhetoric, the support of most corporate media outlets, and military firepower to offer in response to wickedness in the world, while peace forces seem limited to demonstrating and protesting, American idealism will be Bush's to exploit. The left, including this magazine, must now deepen the conversation."