IRAQ: Saving face
Ben Tanosborn

There are seldom good reasons, but always excellent excuses, to save face – not least in politics.

Two generations ago, Americans were browbeaten by political leaders, Democrats as well as Republicans, into believing, or at least accepting, that there was no way out of Vietnam. All that was required, they said, was that America stay united, and stay the course. Then, the excuse masked as rationale was Communism. 

Today we are once again hearing the familiar tune, albeit with brand new lyrics. Terrorism, with weapons of mass destruction cited as one of its most deadly tentacles, is this time the excuse masquerading as rationale in the ongoing US adventure in Iraq.

Is there a way out of Iraq? One that is right and honorable for the US? I posed these two questions to learned friends from a dozen countries, who take part in a weekly discussion group on sociopolitics. The consensus was that there is definitely a way, provided that Americans have the proverbial will. And it was the latter of which most discussants were dubious.   

Although my friends may not possess all the credentials of associates in the better known US think tanks, they probably exhibit more common sense and far less partiality in their thinking than think tankers paid for their opinions. And more importantly, they represent a mix of geopolitical diversity.  

The general accord reached by my survey group on the optimal strategy for a US exit from Iraq may be summarized as follows:

US to turn over its roles of liberator, occupier, and nation-builder, in their totality, to the United Nations.

Concurrent with that turnover, US to provide a plan for the pacification and security of Iraq, including recommendations on the size and composition of its military forces (i.e. 300,000 peacekeepers – 25% from Arab nations and Turkey, 25% from the US/NATO, 25% from other nations, and 25% Iraqi nationals).

US to donate $7 billion per month during the first year, in support of ongoing reconstruction efforts. (Since only losers pay war reparations, such amounts would be deemed ‘gifts’ from the American people to help Iraq emerge as a democracy.)

After one year, if Iraq appears to be headed for democracy, the US to continue its support in the form of loans – $3 billion per month for two years.

All economic development and reconstruction contracts to be governed by a special UN-Iraqi authority, expressly created to optimize results for Iraqis. Projects already contracted out to be reviewed/re-bid to meet optimization criteria.

Each of these points was unanimously endorsed by our group. The figures cited, for example on the number and origin of peacekeepers or economic aid required, represent compromises between a wide range of views held by the 34 individuals surveyed. 

There was also unanimity that to refer to any exit along these lines as ‘honorable’ for the US would be a stretch, since the US-led invasion and occupation has caused considerable damage. The best America can now offer, it was felt, would be some reasonable expiation for the actions of an out-of-control administration. (Outside the US, America’s brand of militarily superpower neoconservatism is increasingly viewed as extremist.)

The proposals cited here have the merit not only of diplomatic and political logic, but also of humanity. 

And if action along these lines needed to be justified to the American taxpayer in economic terms, it could easily be done.

Unfortunately, however, our politicians never put a dollar value on the cost of ‘saving face’ – after all, it is the rest of us who end up paying for their mistakes.

Nations trying to save face retain neither the nuance of power, nor self-respect.  But making unforced amends for past mistakes is evidence of character, fairness, and, most important, humanity.

My friends are probably right. Americans lack the will to find their way out of Iraq.

Ben Tanosborn is a freelance writer