Sunday, November 18, 2007

Considering how to leave Iraq is your responsibilty too

If you are an American citizen of voting age, that is.

In the current issue of Mother Jones magazine the point is made that whether or not you were for the war from the beginning, or whether you changed your mind after the invasion, or whether you are still for it but realize that the U.S. can't (or shouldn't) sustain the occupation, the debate is still rooted in 2003. Most of the focus in public still an argument whether we should have gone, whose fault it is that things have gone a particular way, etc. To put it more bluntly:
For those of us who argued against invading, it is tempting to simply demand an end to "Bush's War" and wash our hands of it. But as General Anthony Zinni, former head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told us, "Your conscience is not clean just because you're a peace demonstrator." In other words, just because you weren't in favor of going in doesn't mean you're not responsible for what happens when we pull out...

There are no good options in Iraq, but the options narrow to the horrific the longer our leaders dawdle. Bush seems content—whether out of delusional optimism or cynical "strategery"—to run out the clock and stick the next administration with this mess; only 5 percent of Americans expect him to do otherwise. And the Democrats are playing the other side of the same game—content to let the GOP go down with its man.

So what is to be done?
To help focus the readers' collective attention, and as a means or surveying various anti-war groups with regard to this issue, Mother Jones came up with six questions for Americans who oppose the current occupation in Iraq to consider:

Q: After American troops withdraw, will the violence in Iraq escalate?

Q: Should the peace movement offer a contingency plan for peacekeeping?

Q: Under what conditions would you redeploy American troops to Iraq?

Q: What will prevent Iraq's civil war from flaring into genocidal violence?

Q: What will make the world stop genocide in Iraq when it didn't in Rwanda or Darfur?

Q: Is there any contradiction between supporting U.S. military intervention to stop the Rwandan genocide and opposing U.S. military intervention to prevent ethnic cleansing in Iraq?

These questions are not intended to persuade people to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, but to get people focused on the realities of withdrawing the troops. After all, if there is any way to lessen the suffering of the Iraqi people as we disengage militarily, do not the people who have been arguing about the damage and pain we have been inflicting on that populace have an obligation to fight just as passionately for the most humane process possible?

I find it interesting that in glancing at responses people have already given to this article, there is a common attitude in which "fault" and "responsibility" are seen as strictly synonymous. In my humble opinion they are not and I will explain why I do not believe they are and what relevance this belief has on how I see the agenda anti-war movement. Fault is the attribution of a particular form of responsibility, generally the point at which a pivotal failure or mistake can be identified which led to a particular undesirable outcome. Another way to think of it is "causal responsibility". A particular action or inaction directly contributed to a specific outcome, so we say the person or persons who carried out the action (including acts of omission) are at fault, and therefore in the causal sense they are considered to be responsible for what happened.

But there is more than just directly causal forms of responsibility. Hence in some cases when someone fails to meet an obligation, they may still be considered "responsible" for the failure even if the reason they failed cannot be attributed to a foreseeable and hence preventable set of circumstances leading to the failure. That is, you can be responsible for certain outcomes regardless of personal fault. This is particularly true when you are a part of a larger group. You may have opposed the decision of the group as a whole, but as a member of that group, you share at least some responsibility for its actions.

That is why voting and other forms of civic participation are so crucial, as we all bear some responsibility for what our leaders do in our names. And it is also why to use that tired old excuse "I didn't vote for the person" fails to miss the point. We are not a collection of individual autonomous polities interacting on the world stage, we are members of a particular society in a specific nation and as much as we may not always like to recognize it, we support and receive benefit from our connection as a nation and as a nation we exert influence on global policy regarding trade, the environment, war, etc, even when that influence is at odds with our personal beliefs and our work with charitable groups and NGOs.

So, then, rather absolving ourselves by saying it is "Bush's occupation", or the "neocons' occupation", or that because they didn't vote to cut off funding it is also now the "Congressional Demoracts' occupation", it is important we never forget that as Americans, even including Americans who have fought tooth and nail to oppose the invasion from the start, it still is and will continue to be "our occupation" too. It is eating though the mental and physical health and the lives of our service people, our taxes, our reputation in the world and on and on (and that's without reflecting on what is doing to the Iraqis).

Therefore I thank all of those who have, are, and will spend time considering how to end our occupation and how to do so in a way that gives the greatest odds for the best scenario for our military and for the people of Iraq, especially those who are taking action on these issues. Lest anyone think that I am writing this in a smug fashion, or that I have a better understanding of the situation, or that I have "done" more than you, please know that this is not the case. I am posing here an issue that I found compelling because I felt you might as well. To those who would ask me, "So what have you done about these issues?", I simply say, "Not enough."

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