With debate raging about what the US should do in Iraq, one thing is clear: nobody has a full solution to the horror that the US has unleashed. Yet, this week’s release of the Iraq Study Group’s (ISG) report offers some hope-not because the ISG is calling to bring home the troops quickly (they’re not) or because their recommendations will yield justice for Iraqis (they won’t). On balance, the ISG’s conclusions don’t depart much from plans emerging from the White House these days. The value of the ISG report is that it makes it official: Bush’s Iraq policy is a failure. That may not sound like much given the magnitude of the crisis, but sometimes a formal confirmation of the obvious is a turning point-especially when it comes from the heart of the Washington policy establishment. We can be hopeful that the ISG report will be the beginning of the end of the war.
Of course, hope is not the same as optimism: the end of the war could still be in the distant future, in part because the ISG calls for rearranging US troops rather than removing them. But there are other elements of the report that we can endorse and build on, like the call for diplomacy with Iran and Syria. As we sift through the many proposals and counter-proposals being put forward about what to do in Iraq, we should evaluate them not only for what they say, but also for what they leave out. The best policy options will likely dwell in those silences, not in the “findings” of the ISG’s recycled cold warriors, or the generals, TV pundits, or presidential hopefuls.
Whatever steps the Bush Administration takes next, it’s crucial that they embody principles that we wish to see driving our foreign policy. If we can reassert those principles-even in the absence of an ideal solution-we have a hope of eventually creating a more peaceful world.
Here are four principles that any new US policies should reflect, along with a few examples of what those principles might look like in practice.
1. Demonstrate accountability: Since 2003, the US has replaced a brutal, but stable and functional state with a brutal, unstable and totally dysfunctional puppet state. Whatever steps the United States takes next must recognize that after 16 years of bombings, sanctions, invasion, and occupation, the US is largely responsible for Iraq’s crisis.
. The US should pay reparations to Iraqis whose family members have been killed and whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed, and to those illegally imprisoned and tortured by US military forces.
. The US should pay to restore Iraq’s infrastructure-but not through the Bush Administration’s corrupt and ineffective “reconstruction” program. The US should supply the funds for United Nations Agencies to oversee and administer Iraq’s reconstruction, in keeping with UN Resolution 1325, which prioritizes the role of women in reconstruction efforts. Taking financial responsibility in these ways will not cost more than the $194 billion Congress is likely to approve for the Iraq war in 2007. The financial burden should be shared among members of the “coalition of the willing,” in proportion to the number of troops each country sent to Iraq.
. A formal apology to the Iraqi people is in order. The Iraq Study Group will never propose such a move, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be calling for it. When governments apologize for past injustices, they signal a clear change of course. When people feel that their grievances are acknowledged and redressed, conflicts can begin to be resolved.
2. Revive international cooperation: The Bush Administration’s belligerent unilateralism was a driving force of the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The US must signal a turn away from that destructive trend.
. We welcome the move towards negotiations with Iran and Syria-not despite US differences with those countries, but because of those differences. Whether Iran and Syria can help resolve the crisis in Iraq remains to be seen, but it will be better to see the Bush Administration engaged in diplomacy than in more threats of “regime change.”
. Inviting Syria and Iran into negotiations is a start, but how about negotiating about Iraq with Iraqis? The US must talk with representatives of the “insurgency” (who will be vastly weakened by a US withdrawal).
. The US needs to reaffirm its commitment to international law. Bush’s Iraq policy has entailed violations of the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Convention, the Nuremburg Charter, and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, just to name a few. When the world’s superpower scorns the rule of law, other countries follow suit in a dynamic that undermines the whole framework for peaceful international relations. One forceful way to reaffirm US commitment to international law is to impeach and prosecute those responsible for US crimes.
. The US must recognize the regional dimensions of the crisis and its underlying causes. That means supporting a just resolution to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land-a root cause of instability and hostility in the Middle East. 3. Respect Iraq’s national sovereignty: At its broadest, this means that the Bush Administration should publicly renounce the arrogant fantasy of “democratizing” the Middle East. The US has no monopoly on democracy: people everywhere want a meaningful say in policies that affect them. In the Middle East, a main obstacle to democracy has been US support for repressive regimes and reactionary social movements, like the fanatical theocrats that the US boosted to power in Iraq.
. US planners should formally can the idea of “federalism,” a euphemism for dismantling Iraq. Creating separate Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish enclaves would only reinforce ethnic and sectarian divisions. The plan would entail more ethnic cleansing because much of Iraq is still multi-religious and multi-ethnic. It would compound Sunni poverty and resentment by restricting Sunni political power to an area without much oil. And it would leave the Shiite majority at the mercy of warring and repressive Islamist militias.
. The Administration should stop building permanent US military bases in Iraq. The 14 “enduring” US bases (five of them the size of small cities) have been the only successful construction projects under US occupation. Plans to build these bases pre-date the invasion, a clear signal that the Bush Administration intended to disregard Iraqi sovereignty for many years to come.
. The US should agree to void all oil contracts signed under US occupation. These “production-sharing agreements,” drafted by the State Department even before the invasion, effectively privatize Iraqi oil. They deprive future Iraqi governments of hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues and promise US oil companies a rate of return 10 times higher than the industry standard. Renouncing claims to Iraq’s oil will help quell Iraqis’ suspicions that the US invasion was motivated by a thirst for oil.
4. Promote human rights: This should be the guiding principle of any US foreign policy.
. As the de-facto occupying power in Iraq, the US is obligated by the Hague and Geneva Conventions to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. But in practice, occupation and human rights are at odds: as the Israelis have learned, you cannot enforce a hated occupation without committing human rights violations.
. The nightmare scenarios that we are warned could unfold if the US leaves-civil war, ethnic cleansing, fundamentalist dictatorship, the establishment of a training-ground for terrorists-have already happened on Bush’s watch. Some ask who will protect Iraqi civilians from the violence if the US pulls out. But the question is misplaced: the US isn’t protecting them now. What the US is doing is fueling the civil war by giving one side-the Sunni-based insurgency-its raison d’etre, while giving the other side-the militia-infested Iraqi security forces-money, weapons, and training. Unfortunately, it’s rarely true that things can’t get worse, but it’s also true that in Iraq, the US can’t make any of it better. The best thing the US can do is leave quickly.
. The responsibility to uphold human rights resides, above all, in government. But the Iraqi government is a figment of Bush’s imagination. It is fragmented by nine different factions; political process is at a complete standstill; and Prime Minister Maliki-whom Bush is propping up-is powerless, corrupt, and murderous. Those who now control Iraq are not able or interested in upholding human rights or finding a just resolution to the civil war born of US occupation. The sooner we stop pretending that Iraq has a functional government, the sooner we can start finding workable solutions to the human rights crisis that has gripped the country.
. One option is proposed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is calling for an international conference to facilitate reconciliation among Iraqis. The US should support such a process without dominating it.
. A parallel international process should explore policies aimed at providing immediate protection to Iraqi civilians. One proposal, heard recently by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, involves an international peacekeeping force drawn from the region and funded by the US (at about two percent of the cost of maintaining the occupation over the same period).
As a new national consensus forms around the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we should seize every opportunity to promote policies that reflect our principles. And regardless of what the Study Group or any other Washington insiders recommend, we should continue to call for a quick and full withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
YIFAT SUSSKIND is communications director of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization. She is the author of a book on US foreign policy and women’s human rights and a report on US culpability for violence against women in Iraq, both forthcoming.