by Peter Bearse Ph.D.
Like it or not, this is the question we face in Iraq. This is the hard nut question that we’ve all been trying to crack, for better or worse. I’ve tried to approach it from the standpoint of our overall, shared concern: What’s best for America? On this basis, I’ve come down to a conclusion that, while omitting some important details, can simply summarized: Declare victory, withdraw troops and rely on non-military aid. The latter also rests on the need to pay some attention to something that we all try to teach our kids: responsibility. We may have been wrong to go into Iraq but now, being there, we need to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences.
In particular, if our role in the world as a beacon and promoter of democracy is to mean anything, we need to recognize the need to honor democracy in action, not just words. Our intervention in Iraq has succeeded in establishing a new democratic government in that country; indeed, the FIRST democratic government in the Middle East outside of Israel. But it is a fragile one.
During the recent debate among Republican primary candidates, only one of them, Tommy Thompson, came out with any new ideas on Iraq. One of them is that we should leave Iraq if the new, sovereign Government of Iraq, asks us to. Yet, while recognizing that American withdrawal from Iraq is not just a unilateral, irresponsible “our way or the highway”-type of decision, he didn’t go far enough to honor the democratic idea that we have been working to promote. After all, it is not only Americans who have been losing confidence in the Iraqi government; at least one million< Iraqis have “voted with their feet” and left Iraq since the government was formed. Thus, what we need to do is to push the government to hold a democratic referendum on the key question: “America: Go or Stay?” The actual wording of the referendum would probably be subject be some negotiation. The question could also cite “how long?” and/or “benchmarks.”
Remember the three prior Iraqi elections – with Iraqi voter turnouts of over 58% and the purple thumbprints of voters who braved suicide bombers to exercise their right to vote? These inspired many Americans to support a stay in Iraq long enough to help establish a new, democratic government. Now that it has been established, it is time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. Failure of the government to hold a referendum on the “American: go or stay?” issue would itself be a signal that it is time for us to withdraw. The more democratic signal would be the result of a referendum. Are we prepared to accept a democratic result, or do we actually fear the democratic idea that we say we are promoting?
PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., Fremont, NH, author of WE THE PEOPLE: A Conservative Populism; 603-819-1408 and/or firstname.lastname@example.org.