A savage-creating stubborn-pulling fellow. . . .
— Aristophanes, Frogs 405 B.C.
There are many unkind things one can say about John Boehner, all of them true, but there must be a limit. It is unfair to compare him to Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq or Hamid Kharzai of Afghanistan. Not that the comparison is not almost irresistibly tempting.
Because of Mr. al-Maliki’s intransigence when negotiating with President Bush in 2008, Iraq and the United States were unable to enter into a status-of-forces agreement that the two countries had hoped to arrive at by July 31, 2008. Mr. al-Maliki refused to agree to the terms insisted upon by the United States the most important of which pertained to granting legal immunity to U.S. troops and Defense Department personnel from Iraqi prosecution for alleged crimes. Mr. al-Maliki and his government were under great pressure to reject any agreement that was perceived to infringe upon Iraqi sovereignty. On November 27, 2008 the Iraqi Parliament ratified a Status of Forces Agreement with the United States that provided all U.S. combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30,2009 and all U.S. forces would be out of that country by December 31, 2011. In December 2011 U.S. forces withdrew. It all worked out as Mr. al-Maliki hoped but for one small detail. Iraqi forces cannot keep the peace. Since the agreement was signed and through September 2013, 10,864 Iraqis have been killed and 10,394 Iraqis have been injured as a result of conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites. During the first six days of October, 135 Iraqis were killed including 12 school children whose elementary school was attacked. On the 7th day of October 59 people were killed. No one has died because of Mr. Boehner’s intransigence.
It is not fair to compare Mr. Boehner to Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai. Just as Mr. Boehner and the administration have reached an impasse in their talks, so, too, have the United States and Afghanistan reached an impasse in their talks as to the future of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2013. Mr. Karzai wants U.S. forces out of the country in 2014 but wants the United States to guarantee the country’s security. If following the withdrawal of forces by the U.S. the Afghan forces are unable to control the violence or insurgents from Pakistan, Mr. Karzai wants a guarantee that the U.S. will return to help. Another sticking point is the U.S. insistence that it wants to continue to hunt down al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai doesn’t want U.S. troops hunting in Afghanistan unless specifically invited to do so by Afghanistan. He wants the U.S. to turn over information about al-Qaida operatives to the Afghan forces and let those forces deal with the problem. Those are the same forces that Mr. Karzai thinks will be unable to maintain peace and security in Afghanistan and, therefore, wants the U.S. to guarantee that it will return to help out if those fears are well founded.
Just as Mr. Boehner keeps going back to his Republican caucus to see what to do to resolve the impasse in the U.S. Mr. Karzai has announced that he will convene the Loya Jirga assembly of local representatives to see what he should do. Explaining his reasons Mr. Karzai sounds like Mr. Boehner talking about the Republicans in his caucus. Mr. Karzai said: “The people of Afghanistan are the rulers, the decisions of the country lie with the people of Afghanistan, so whatever the people of Afghanistan decide, the government will obey.” Mr. Karzai explains he will submit “all aspects” of the agreement to the assembly. Like Mr. Karzai, Mr. Boehner cannot make any decisions without consulting with his caucus. As Mr. Karzai explains when contemplating the possibility that NATO troops will all be withdrawn absent an agreement he said: “The agreement has to suit Afghanistan’s interests and purposes. If it doesn’t suit us and if it doesn’t suit them then naturally we will go separate ways.”
Mr. Boehner is also going his separate way. No one has died because of his actions. Of course more than 7,000 children enrolled in head start programs have no place to go, employees at those schools are left without incomes. If the shutdown lasts through November 87,000 children will be impacted. Michigan plans to eliminate cash and food aid to the poor. Nutrition aid programs for women and children in North Carolina have been closed. Those are just tiny examples of the effects of the shutdown. And, of course, none of that compares with the level of violence that will certainly hit Afghanistan if NATO forces pull out of that country without an agreement for its security in place. In the U.S. no one will be killed because of the shutdown. A few might starve but that’s a small price to pay for living in one of the best-run countries in the world. Just ask John Boehner.
Christopher Brauchli is a lawyer living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.