Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Create Desolation, Call It Peace--(the Proles won't notice)

The Wrong Type of Peace
Published On 4/14/2008 10:57:34 PM
Barack Obama would no doubt recognize the protest of the defeated Celtic chief Calgacus to the Romans occupying his homeland: “Atque ubi solitudinum faciunt pacem appellant,” that is, “They create a desolation and call it a peace.” The phrase is a famous critique of the type of peace armies and occupation can bring and has no been invoked in columns and essays to argue against the American invasion of Iraq from day one. If elected as America’s next president, Obama risks creating a different kind of desolation in Iraq, caused not by an excess of American power, but an insufficiency.

Obama is selling himself as the President to settle the peace, not continue the war. Yet some of the senator’s recent comments suggest he has far less of an interest in peace than in popularity. In an Associated Press interview from July 2007, Obama suggested that even the likelihood of genocide was insufficient grounds for retaining an American presence in Iraq. “If that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now—where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife—which we haven’t done.” Obama is implying America should bear as much responsibility for the security of citizens in a country we do not occupy as one we do. That is, none at all.

The irony is that Senator Obama has been a strong advocate of international intervention in Darfur, where a genocide has been raging since 2003. In 2006, Obama made a passionate defense of the use of the term genocide to describe the conflict. “When 300,000 people have been killed, 2 million displaced, I think that that is the kind of disaster that merits world attention and world action.” These are strong words from a man proposing to end the American military presence in Iraq by the end of next year.

By vying for the votes of 60 percent of Americans who believe the United States should make its exit from Iraq as soon as possible, Obama is guilty of the worst sort of pandering. In speech after speech Obama has elevated his opposition to the war into a platform for election. “I opposed this war from the beginning. I opposed the war in 2002. I opposed the war in 2003. I opposed it in 2004 and 2005 and 2006...And I am here to say that we have to begin to end this war now.”

Obama should be reminded that opposing war is very different from ending it. As bad as things in Iraq might now be, anyone can see that a total absence of American troops would have terrible human and strategic consequences: no Iraqi state government, a full-blown ethnic showdown between Sunnis and Shiites, Kurdish independence leading to conflict with Turkey, and the discourse of Islamic extremism would be vindicated. In addition, this ‘Iraq-sized’ no-man’s land reminiscent of Somalia, would be between Israel and Iran. Where the proceeds of the sale of Iraq’s oil—currently at $109 a barrel—would go can only be imagined, but funding regional and international jihad is a plausible guess. All of this composes a universally terrible outcome, particularly for the Iraqi people. The suggestion that withdrawing troops would bring peace is thus a dangerous fiction. Worse still is the suggestion that it would save lives or increase American legitimacy in the region. Withdrawal simply subjects Iraq to America’s imperial disinterest and will allow far more terrible forces of desolation to overtake its people.

Such a clever and evidently capable Democratic candidate can do enormously better on foreign policy, but until he proves otherwise, Obama should be identified as an isolationist and a threat to the many gains in security achieved recently in Iraq. As Obama argues, fighting a war “without end” in Iraq will not necessarily make America a safer place, even if it does forestall some very unpalatable outcomes. However, keeping boots on the ground between the Tigris and Euphrates will certainly make a positive difference to the security of Iraqis. Removing the occupying force will render Obama’s bold claim that he will “end this war” sickeningly ironic. The truth is he will begin one, and a national bloodletting far more intimate and ferocious than anything thus seen in Darfur—or Iraq—will be all but inevitable. The salient question is whether Iraqi humanity or American war fatigue should be privileged in the nation’s foreign policy. Obama seems to think it should be the latter.

American citizens should think twice about what will surely befall Iraq if they don’t oppose Senator Obama’s shotgun evacuation. A few more years of occupation won’t kill America, but Iraq would in all likelihood be spared the worst violence of its troubled history. That would indeed be a foreign policy of commendable foresight and a peace worth fighting for.

D. Morgan Potts ’08 is a history concentrator in Eliot House.

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