Antiwar movements don’t have to come across as isolationist and illiberal. Too bad America’s current one does.
A group of so-called “liberals” organized behind a worthy common cause quite simply shouldn’t be so ignorant of the plight of the Iraqi people. The American-led invasion of Iraq has paralyzed the country, leaving it destitute, lacking government and wracked by insurgency. And instead of asking for a coherent strategy that will both benefit the Iraqi people and end the war, the antiwar movement is calling for an immediate or hasty withdrawal of the troops. In doing so, they are harming not only the Iraqi people, but also their own cause.
America has a responsibility to the Iraqi people. The antiwar movement cannot consider itself a legitimate vehicle for better policy until it acknowledges that fact. In doing so, Moveon.org and Democracy for America wouldn’t be sacrificing their principles or caving to the Bush administration, but merely incorporating what should be a central tenet of liberalism into their argument: that the downtrodden deserve better. If it’s true in America, it should be true in Iraq.
The antiwar movement has fallen into the trap of asking the wrong questions and making the wrong demands. More than two years after the original invasion, the antiwar movement persists in questioning the (obviously flawed) rationales for going to war as if they are relevant to the counterinsurgency. And instead of insisting that President Bush create a plan for achieving stability in Iraq before departing, the movement calls for immediate withdrawal. By making unreasonable proposals, they’ve taken themselves right out of any intelligent debate on the Iraq war.
Americans who believe that their country should interact with the world in a peaceful way don’t have an organized voice in the Iraq debate. There are no organizations making noise on behalf of those of us who opposed the war from day one but believe that we would do the world a grave disservice to leave Iraq in its current state. There is no movement for those who truly want to make Iraq better not only for the sake of creating democracy, but also for the sake of bringing more troops home alive and fewer in coffins. Those of us who were antiwar and who are antiwar and who will continue to be antiwar — but who don’t want to leave Iraq a bigger mess than we found it — lack a voice.
When George W. Bush says we need to “stay the course” in Iraq, far too few voices ask “what course?” The antiwar movement should ask those questions loudly, publicly and frequently. The antiwar movement should call Bush to account for lacking a clearly defined set of goals for Iraq, for failing to anticipate the bloody insurgency, for not firing a Secretary of Defense who bungled the postwar planning and oversaw ugly scenes of torture. The current Iraq war is unwinnable because the Administration has failed to provide any concrete rationale behind our current presence. Iraq may never become a successful constitutional democracy. Iraq may never guarantee liberty to all of its citizens. The antiwar movement needs to demand that the Bush Administration establish a timetable for a set of clearly identifiable goals in Iraq. The antiwar movement should insist that Bush set goals for stabilizing the country and making it self-sufficient again. And once Iraq is stable, we must withdraw. American blood should not be spilled under false pretenses. But neither should Iraqi blood be spilled because America went to war on false pretenses.
It’s time for the antiwar movement to look forward, not backward. It’s time for true liberalism to reinsert itself into the movement, so that instead of appearing isolationist and callous, the antiwar movement begins again to espouse humanitarian principles. Peace is a humanitarian ideal. Let’s set some goals that will bring peace to Iraq. If we can attain those goals, let us pursue them with vigor and withdraw when they’re attained. I don’t believe that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated so far that it has become unsalvageable. But I do believe that unless the antiwar movement embraces liberal principles, the Bush Administration’s imprudent bungling of the war will continue without effective opposition, to the detriment of Iraqi civilians and American troops alike.
Xan White is a freshman in Calhoun College.