At 2 p.m. Saturday in the Davenport common room, a coalition of student groups representing three New Haven colleges will gather to voice a simple message: The war in Iraq must end. While a clear majority of Yale students — and a clear majority of the country — agree with the statement, it seems that citizen activism has taken a back seat in the last four years. As this war presses on, each day with more death and damage, we must replace our silent opposition with a loud, united voice for change.
The current war strategy is unacceptable. Before the war, defense analysts forecasted that at least 300,000 American troops would be needed to establish peace and order in Iraq. We sent about a third of that. The Bush administration, cheered on at every step by a Republican majority in Congress, and without objection from a shockingly silent Democratic opposition, mismanaged every phase of this war from the beginning.
This war is failing. Escalating it by 21,500 more troops won’t translate into success. The violence that we see every day in Iraq stems from religious, political and social tensions older than the United States itself. The escalation will only bring us to about the same number of troops that we had a year ago — not exactly a beacon of hope. It is clear to everybody outside of the Bush administration and the offices of Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman that this plan is not the solution in Iraq. No reasonable number of American troops will make Iraq peaceful and democratic. There is no military victory to be had, and so the American people are owed a plan for ending the war.
And yet, the war pushes on.
The president has not been responsive to the American people. In January, before he spoke to the nation about escalating the war, the president sat down with journalists to discuss the announcement. When he was asked why he thought this strategy would work, he responded, “Because it has to.”
Over 3,100 American troops are dead; an estimated 655,000 Iraqis are dead; there are over 100,000 American troops on the ground, and more are on their way. When the president is asked why he is sending more troops into battle, he owes the American people a better answer than “because it has to.” We all owe a better answer to our troops. Before this war is over, an even greater percentage of the thousands of Americans with loved ones in Iraq will have their worst fears realized. We owe them a strategy to ensure that our troops are as safe as possible. Escalation is not it.
As students, we can do something about this.
Of course, a bunch of college kids cannot, and should not, make defense policy, but we can put political pressure on leaders. When the country is not getting answers, the people must demand better. Critics of the campus movement will contend that gathering in the Davenport on a Saturday afternoon can’t impact federal policy, and thus is a waste of time. This logic of deferred responsibility has perpetuated a cycle of silent disapproval toward a policy that deserves intense scrutiny. Our politicians are not going to demand the answer we need until we demand it of them. We have the power of voice and the power of numbers, but we have to use them.
Our coalition does not advocate a specific plan to leave Iraq, though we do insist that our policymakers formulate a strategy. Our mission is simpler than that. For too long opponents of the war have been divided. Before we get caught up in how to end the war, first let’s make sure that we all start from the same premise: The war must end.
We implore Yalies: Come to the Davenport common room on Saturday and break the silence. There’s a lot of volume on this campus, and there’s much more on campuses around the country. On Saturday, we’re going to start the process of making sure that we’re heard. Come join us, and do your part to end the war in Iraq.
Ben Lazarus is a freshman in Berkeley College. Sarah Turbow is a freshman in Calhoun College.