It's post Valentine's Day blogging! Now that the bottle of white Burgundy (that's just so much fun to write) has worn off, the coffee has kicked in and the morning run has cleared out the cobwebs, maybe I can say something semi-coherent. Or as semi-coherent as anything that I write here ever really gets.
Anyway, in my last post
, I mentioned John Edwards' new proposal for Iraq
. I said a few things about the proposal, mostly just making stuff up as I went. Oddly, however, a couple of people took it seriously enough to write about, so I guess that I should say something in response. Matt
, writes in favor of setting a timetable for withdrawal arguing that
1. Do what the Iraqis want us to do. Not only is this our responsibility as an occupying force, but it's the only thing we should care about if we're doing this to "help" the Iraqis. 70% of all Iraqis think we should set a solid timetable for withdrawal regardless of the security situation. Um... so what exactly do we have to argue about?Scott
then points out that it would make a paternalist
of anyone not on board with Matt's suggestion. As Matt is objecting to my post, I guess that's Scott's roundabout way of calling me a paternalist.
I find the criticism odd, as paternalism is hardly what I intended. Indeed, I meant to be pretty much endorsing the same point that Matt makes. I'm in favor of phased withdrawals from Iraq. So when I wrote
If the options really are
- A: Low-level civil war for 12-18 months followed by bloody civil war.
Then I'd say that (A) is better.
- B: Low-level civil war for more than 18 months followed by bloody civil war.
what I meant was that a plan for withdrawal seems better than what we have right now. Maybe it would actually clarify things a bit if I included more detail. And more options.
- The George Bush Plan: Continue with the status quo. Maybe add a few more troops. Wait for liberal democracy to break out. Or at least for a new election.
- The Hillary Clinton/John McCain Plan: Continue with the status quo. Maybe add a few more troops. Add a stronger, more competent President. Wait for liberal democracy to break out.
- The Still Waiting for a Prominent Sponsor Plan: Set a timeline for withdrawal. Show the Iraqis you're serious by reducing troop levels immediately. Tie reductions to specific benchmarks.
- The John Edwards Plan: Set a timeline for withdrawal. Show the Iraqis you're serious by reducing troop levels immediately. Set an absolute leave-by date up front.
- The Dennis Kucinich Plan. Get out now. Withdraw the troops as quickly as is consistent with maintaining their safety.
I think that pretty much everyone is in agreement that (1) is a pretty lousy option. Unless GWB has a hidden supply of fairy dust somewhere, the gap between "continue what we're doing" and "wait for liberal democracy to break out" seems unsurmountable. And we all know how GWB feels about fairies, so that's really not too likely. I'm thinking that (2) doesn't really seem all that much better. Certainly I'd prefer McCain or Clinton to Bush in the Oval Office, but I don't think that their mere presence there will really make all that much of a difference.
At this point, I'm not sure how much difference there is, really, between (4) and (5), at least not in the specific incarnations I mention above. Massive redeployments (military speak for "Retreat!") do require some time if they are to be done safely. Lining everyone up to wait for helicopters courts trouble. Besides which, given the recent track record of our helicopters in Iraq, it's not clear that helicopter evacuation is all that much safer than dodging IEDs in a Humvee.
So really the only question is whether we ought to say, "All troops absolutely to be home by X" or "All troops home once Iraq has met condition Y."
Now Matt and Scott may well be correct that the latter is paternalistic, particularly if (as happens to be the case right now) polls show that huge numbers of Iraqis are saying, "Thanks so much for coming by. Let's do this again sometime, really. Maybe at your place next time." Okay, actually, they aren't saying that last part. Gotta be careful or the Office of Special Plans
will decide that my blog post constitutes evidence for another invasion. Still, the point is that Iraqis want us to leave. And not just some of them. A lot of them. Shouldn't that, as Matt says, be an argument for leaving pretty much right now?
Honestly, I don't think that I know enough about the specifics of Iraq at the moment to say for certain about that particular case. But I can answer the more general form of the question, namely, if most of the people in a country want a foreign military to leave, does that not imply that the foreign military ought to leave? And the answer is a resounding...usually. But not always.
The sorts of cases that I have in mind are those generally known as armed humanitarian intervention. Yes, I know that's something of an oxymoron. "Hey, we're here for humanitarian reasons, and we brought an ass-load of tanks with us." Still, in some cases it's appropriate. Such as those cases in which a sizable minority of the population is being slaughtered by the majority. Darfur, say. Or Rwanda. Oh, hell, a large percentage of Africa. If a nation is intervening to stop genocide, then it's justified in staying until the threat of genocide has passed. And, I think, it's justified in staying even if most of the residents of the country would prefer the soldiers to leave. Because in this sort of instance, the majority wants the soldiers to leave so that it can get back to the business of genocide
. That's democracy in action. But it's not a morally legitimate use of democracy. So, in that sort of case, it's not paternalism at all to refuse to do the will of the majority.
I'm not at all claiming that our presence in Iraq is all that prevents genocide. My point is only that the will of the people is not an automatic trump card. Nor is rejecting the will of the people automatically paternalistic. One must first show that the thing that people are demanding is something that they are morally entitled to demand. And that's why I think that Matt's analysis is too simple. If our leaving Iraq really would lead to the systematic slaughter of a whole people, then we should stick around regardless of what Iraqis want. I don't know the truth of that conditional, though. Until I feel pretty certain that Iraq won't end up in a genocidal horror, then I'm not all that concerned about what ordinary Iraqis want.
If that seems paternalistic, then so be it. I don't think that it really is; after all, paternalism is forcing people to do something for their own good
. I think that staying might be justified if it's about forcing people not to harm others. I'm pretty sure that liberalism allows that.
(NB: I don't favor an open-ended commitment; I lean more toward the benchmarks option. But it seems to me that 18 months might well be a reasonable time-frame for relevant benchmarks.)