Bacevich: the U.S. should take in “millions” of Iraqis

Below is the key section of “What America Owes The Iraqis,” by Andrew Bacevich, Christian Science Monitor, June 27, 2007. It is followed by my comments. Randall Parker also has a forceful response to Bacevich at ParaPundit.

A morally acceptable approach to closing down the war will resolve this conundrum, ending the conflict in a way that keeps faith with ordinary Iraqis and with our own troops. In short, the war’s opponents must align their moral concerns, which are complex, with their seemingly straightforward policy prescription.

That alignment becomes possible if we recognize that America’s obligation is not to Iraq but to Iraqis. As a nation-state, Iraq—awash with sectarian violence and lacking legitimate institutions—can hardly be said to exist. We owe Iraq nothing.

In contrast, we owe the Iraqis whose lives we have blighted quite a lot. We should repay that debt much as we (partially at least) repaid our debt to the people of South Vietnam after 1975: by offering them sanctuary. In the decade after the fall of Saigon, some half-million Vietnamese refugees settled in the United States. Here, they found what they were unable to find in their own country: safety, liberty, and the opportunity for a decent life. It was the least we could do.

The least we can do for Iraqis today is to extend a similar invitation.

At various times, the Bush administration has described US strategy in Iraq this way: As they stand up, we will stand down. At present, a more apt formulation is this one: As we depart, they can come along. To Iraqis seeking to escape the brutality and chaos that we have helped create, the “golden door” into the New World should open. Call it Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

How many Iraqis will accept this invitation is impossible to say. In all probability, they will number in the millions. Accommodating this influx will be an expensive proposition, not least of all because we will have to identify and deny entry to radicals or other potential mischiefmakers. Yet given that the war currently costs $2 billion a week along with 100 or so American deaths each month, Operation Iraqi Freedom II might turn out to be a bargain—it will permit us to cut our losses while doing right by Iraqis and right by American soldiers.

Getting out of Iraq with clean hands is not in the cards. Yet getting out has become an imperative. By tending seriously to the moral issues involved, we may yet end this disastrous war while salvaging some semblance of honor.

I cannot help but suspect that Bacevich’s demand that America take in millions of Iraqis is driven less by a desire to do right to the Iraqis than by a desire to stick it to America for having followed a policy in Iraq with which Bacevich has disagreed.

I have approvingly quoted for years Bacevich’s February 2003 article in National Review calling for what I called “sensible, limited war aims” focused on protecting America from Islamic danger rather than on imposing our political system on Muslims. But after 2003 Bacevich moved to the hard anti-war right, contributing regularly to the magazine laughingly known as The American Conservative, a magazine the core editorial philosophy of which—typified by its editor and publisher, Scott McConnell—is that any persons or entities friendly to Israel (including America) are bad, and any persons or entities devoted to the destruction of Israel are good. Perhaps having imbibed McConnell’s pro-Muslim, anti-American fumes, Bacevich now advocates a policy that can only bring great harm to America: the importation of millions of Iraqi Muslims, and with them, their eternal internecine feuds and their hatred of America (not to mention their hatred of Jews and of Israel). Could anyone who takes seriously the Islamic threat to the West—as Bacevich once seemed to do—want to bring millions more Muslims into this country?

Bacevich’s underlying reasoning seems to be as follows: The effort to democratize a Muslim people was a horrible folly, because Muslims cannot be democratized; and so, in moral payment for this horrible folly, we must bring a large portion of that Muslim people to America. But if Muslims in Iraq could not be democratized, what makes Bacevich think that the very same Muslims brought to America can be Americanized?

I recognize that the U.S. by destroying Iraq’s previous despotic order and replacing it by “freedom,” i.e., by chaos, has inadvertently helped make Iraq unlivable for millions of its citizens. As reported in the New York Times Magazine a couple of months ago, to escape the violence unleashed by the U.S. occupation, two million Iraqis have left Iraq and another two million have left their homes in Iraq for other parts of Iraq. That’s four million refugees. And many millions more might be threatened by whatever events unfold in Iraq after we leave. The current Muslim population in the U.S. is about three million. So Bacevich is talking about, at the least, instantly doubling or tripling the U.S. Muslim population. To say, as Bacevich does, that the moral response to the ruin of Iraq is to ruin America is insane. Even if the Iraq mess were all our fault, we cannot as a matter of our national safety and survival afford to take these people in. We must not take them in. We must either find other homes for them in the Mideast, or lead a plan to partition Iraq so that the respective groups can live without violence, as Randall Parker has urged.

- end of initial entry -

Tom S. writes:

Andrew Bacevich is way off base here. Americans owe Iraqis nothing. The U.S. did not destroy Iraq, the Iraqis did. The U.S. got rid of a monsterous tyrant, poured billions of dollars of aid into the country, and gave the Iraqi people every opportunity to build a peaceful, prosperous society—and they decided that their ancient ethnic and religious hatreds came first, and proceeded to rip their “country” to pieces.

With all due respect, Bacevich seems to be longing for a Saigon-style humiliation, to drive home to the American people what a mistake the Iraq War was. As you aptly pointed out, Bacevich has moved close to the lunatic fringe on the issue of the war, and his seeming desire to replay the Vietnam catastrophe, complete with “Boat People,” seems to prove the point. Bacevich of course lost his son in Iraq, and I can understand his bitterness, but this nonsense is just over the line.

Besides, haven’t people like Bacevich been telling us that if we pull out of Iraq, Al Quaeda WON’T take over? If this is true, why should there be any refugees at all? Also, giving any Iraqi who wants one a free ticket to the U.S. in case of collapse is almost a guaranteed to lead to such a collapse, since it would remove much of the motivation for the Iraqi leadership class to make any sort of government work.

LA writes:

Here is another way to sum up Bacevich’s underlying reasoning:

If you give Muslims freedom, they will make their country unlivable. So, now that the Iraqis, whom we freed, have made Iraq unlivable, let us bring them to the land of freedom, America, so that they can make America unlivable too.

LA continues:

I recognize that there is an element of unfairness in my above argument, since obviously not all Iraqis contributed to the terror and violence in Iraq but have been its victims. However, my own bottom line in this discussion does not look for the escape hatch of blaming the Iraqis for what has happened in Iraq. My bottom line assumes the worst that could be said about America. That is, even if it were true that the U.S. were completely responsible for the chaos in Iraq, we cannot import large numbers of Iraqis to our country. Large numbers of Muslims would spell our ruin. We cannot make up for what we have arguably done to Iraq by wrecking America as well.

Maureen C. writes:

Let me get this straight: Bacevich recommends letting into the U.S. millions of Iraqis to “atone” for the U.S. invasion.

And what will be the result of Bacevich’s act of atonement? Whole areas of the continental U.S. will be turned into Shia-Sunni killing fields.

If Bacevich wants more Americans to die for our clueless CIA’s and Bush’s sins, let him go live in Iraq. He has no right to ease his conscience by endangering my life and moving the Muslim Civil War over here.

Tom S. writes:

Yes, you and Parker have this one nailed. I agree totally. It’s also ironic that Bacevich’s absurd proposal could delay significantly the outcome he desires, withdrawl from Iraq, just as the Vietnam War protesters probably prolonged the conflict, by convincing Hanoi that the war could be won “in the streets of America,” and by convincing Johnson and Nixon that a U.S. withdrawl would be a victory for “the hippies.” Most Americans are sick of Iraq, and would probably favor withdrawl tomorrow, if it could be done with a modicum of honor. But if Bacevich has his way, and withdrawl also means taking in millions of Iraqis, most Americans will probably figure, “Well, if that’s the price of defeat, we might as well try to win the damned thing.”

It’s also interesting that, even in the case of the South Vietnamese, who were our allies far longer, who showed far more commitment to democracy and freedom, and who had a larger population, we didn’t take in three million refugees. For Lord’s sake, that’s one-eighth of Iraq’s population! What on earth is Bacevich thinking of?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 30, 2007 01:26 PM | Send

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