Let Iraqi Kids Grow in a Free Society
WASHINGTON, 5 December 2003 — The international community and ordinary Americans essentially want the same thing for Iraq: They want the Iraqis to be free of both Saddam Hussein and the US occupation.
Where they differ is in their ideas about the best way to achieve that, and achieve it durably. Is the best way for a lasting liberation from the US to support a constitutional process? Or will it come through support for the bombing of police stations? How may the world at large best help Iraqi families — through investment or impartiality?
Saddam may have perpetuated the myth of WMD, like the myth of the Republican Guard, to scare the world; he succeeded in scaring Bush. After Sept. 11, America was criticized for not being proactive enough in the Middle East. Now the US has deposed Saddam, it is being called hegemonic.
Few in the Middle East are willing to concede that the US occupation of Iraq may be capable of bringing accountable governance. But in Iraq the involved parties, unlike the international community, are committed to its success.
According to experts, US nation-building has failed or succeeded depending on the level of US commitment and a unified civil and military command: Japan, Germany, Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Haiti in 1989 testify to this. George W. Bush, for all his faults, appears very committed to Iraq, recently approving a military budget of over $400 billion, in addition to the controversial 87 billion specifically for Iraq.
Stunned by mass graves and widespread torture under Saddam, the American people are largely willing to pay with their blood, if necessary, for an Iraq whose children may one day live without daily fear for their lives. Since the US is giving money that is only indirectly recoverable, the occupation is unlikely to enrich the US economy in the short term. Similarly, the 1999 “illegal” US intervention in Kosovo did not advance US interests but rather sought to prevent a genocide of Muslims.
The Iraqi people appear committed to life without Saddam. The sentiments of the Iraqis toward the US remain mixed. In November 2003, 71.5 percent of Iraqis thought the occupation “necessary for at least a while”; only 42 percent had thought so in June 2003, according to Reuters.
The staff of the Yemen Times note that some Iraqi teenagers “cheer as American blood flows.” Ahmed Al-Jarallah of the Arab Times has remarked that some Iraqi schoolgirls are sporting shirts which say: “Iraq is not afraid of kicks by dying mules.”
But with the Iraqi infant mortality rate at 55 deaths per thousand, and the US rate of 6.75, Iraqi parents may recognize that American meddling will probably result in more living babies, possibly babies with political rights. While a small number have participated in protests, a genuine popular Iraqi uprising against the US has not happened. The response of the international community has been muted. The Iraqi police get more support and respect from the New York City Police Department than from their neighbors. The French Ambassador to the US, Jean David Levitte, still believes in “an early transfer of sovereignty” to the Iraqi people under the auspices of the UN. If French ideas are taken on board, France will assist in training the Iraqi Army. If not, the French will do nothing.
But legitimate opposition to US policies in other areas should not lead the international community to forgetting the immediate welfare of Iraqi children.
Regardless of who it was that brought about regime change in Iraq, the long-term outcome is likely to be a strengthening of civil liberties and the rule of law, circumstances with a demonstrable impact on the standard of living of populations around the world. The coalition forces say that their goals are security and stability. The aims of guerrillas by definition are insecurity and instability. These are the facts on the ground. Perhaps by getting tangled up in what should have been, the international community is losing sight of the challenges and opportunities now before it in Iraq.