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Post-war policies in Iraq

05/14/03 12:00AM By Ellen David Friedman
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(Host) Commentator Ellen David Friedman has been thinking about alternatives to the current U.S. policy toward Iraq.

(Friedman) In a democracy, history is written not only by elected leaders, nor by the official acts of government nor by the military. It is also written by us, regular citizens, in our reactions to events and in what we choose to say and do about them. Before the war on Iraq, many citizens - here and around the world - tried to shape history by calling for use of international justice over pre-emptive force. And, though this view didn't prevail, history will - I trust - note the unprecedented global effort that was made.

And now a post-war chapter of history is being written, and it too must be debated. Most of us, of course, want to see peace and stability in the Middle East, both for its own sake and to lessen the threat of terrorism. But what will help us get there?

First, we should not become occupiers in Iraq. We should not install leaders of our own choosing. Our troops must not kill civilians when they demonstrate against American occupation. They are expressing the need for self-determination, and that was the point, after all. Our soldiers should be taken out of harms way, and should not themselves be the agents of harm. This is both a political and a moral necessity.

We should bring the troops and weapons home and deploy, instead, armies of social workers, hydro-engineers and doctors. This deployment should be a public, not private, infusion of human assistance. War profiteering, with all its explicit and implicit corruption, is unfortunately becoming the lead export - and therefore the model - of our liberal democracy.

Finally, if we want to build a safe world, we can not at the same time pursue empire. Apologists for this war will say it was a necessary offensive of western liberalism over Arab fanaticism. In this, we can hear the echoes of racist justifications for war, genocide, and colonization that have accompanied the march of empires from the beginning of time. This thinking may well pave the way for U.S. expansion into Syria, Lebanon, Iran and beyond. How often has an empire excused its plunder of other nations, and its destruction of their cultures by claiming the right to "civilize the conquered." And how infrequently - almost never, actually - has a stable, democratic and self-determining state ever arisen from this kind of conquest?

Those seen as liberators today, can quickly turn into oppressors tomorrow. We are watching this perception grow in the Arab world. It is a perception that breeds both fear and hostility, and which leaves no one safe. Let us work to choose another path.

I'm Ellen David Friedman.

Ellen David Friedman is vice chair of the Vermont Progressive Party and has been active in the labor movement for 25 years.

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