- Sometimes, it has been said, problems must reach a critical
mass before they can bresolved. Medical conditions must become acute enough
to permit diagnosis. As in the case of smoking, recognition that death,
preceded by disability, lies surely in the future is the driver of a decision
to quit. The consequences of failure must be stark enough to make us change.
In the absence of such a moment of truth, we tend to bumble on, piling
error upon error. But there is surely enough damning evidence in both Iraq
and Gaza to tell us that the time is now.
- It is so easy to delude ourselves. In Iraq the side effects
of military excess have been accumulating since the first day of the invasion.
The "shock and awe" startup of the war left cluster bombs and
radioactive debris all over the Iraqi conflict zone. No amount of pretense
that the cluster bombs were carefully targeted on combatants will alter
the horrible truth that most fell on civilians and that children for months
or years will find these devices with their feet or hands and die or be
maimed by them. No amount of pretense will alter the fact that large areas
of the Iraqi conflict zone are contaminated with depleted uranium dust
and fragments that experts affirm will surely warp the genetics of Iraqi
children, curtail both the length and the quality of life for Iraqi men
and women, and damage the health of many more American service personnel.
No amount of pretense will change the truth that our leadership misinformed
us and the rest of the world about the need for this war, and thus the
damage to the reputation and credibility of the United States will take
at least a generation to repair.
- But our leadership deludes us in two other critical ways:
Both the administration supporters of the invasion and their Republican
supporters, as well as ranking Democrats such as Senator John Kerry, are
insisting that we "must stay the course" because to leave would
be harmful to Iraq as well as to our international standing. The notion
that continuing to preside over an Iraqi donnybrook will be good for our
reputation and the Iraqi people is simply weird. The assertion that the
Iraqis will be worse off if suddenly they have to deal directly with each
other, without a referee, can only be reached by ignoring the chaos the
occupation has created.
- Meanwhile, Bush himself, apparently most members of the
Congress, and the Kerry election team are behaving publicly as if there
is nothing wrong with Israeli destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes
and lives as the Israeli Defense Force prepares to leave Gaza. The best
face that can be put on this judgment is that the two leading US presidential
election candidates have subordinated any sense of humanity or the rights
of the Palestinian people to the needs of their personal election campaigns.
- On Sunday Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized
Israeli destruction of homes. However, he so far is a lone administration
voice and he stated only that Israeli actions are counterproductive to
the peace process. That is not the point. The Israelis are brutalizing
the Palestinian people in Gaza. The issue is human rights.
- The clearest conclusion to draw from reactions around
the world and particularly in Islamic countries is that Iraq and Palestine
are irrevocably linked as American policy failures. The images from Abu
Ghraib, now exceeding a thousand, show that our prison keepers dehumanized
the Iraqis. The truth is emerging that the Abu Ghraib processes had the
blessing of higher ups, probably all the way to the President. Our leadership
and most of American media have watched as the Israelis dehumanized the
Palestinians, took their homes, expelled them from their lands and brutalized
them in prisons, but criticism has been slight to absent. The pledges of
allegiance by both Bush and Kerry to Israel say, especially to Muslims,
that the future will be just like the past. And that judgment is a virus
that will afflict Americans and American interests everywhere for so long
as it persists.
- There is no choice but to change course, right now, before
the costs go any higher. We should commit to leaving Iraq now, then exit
gracefully, but as quickly as possible and completely. We should withdraw
any support from the Israelis for so long as they continue to bedevil and
to occupy Palestinian territory. We should extend to the people of Iraq
and of Palestine our willingness to assist them in any way possible, but
we should make clear that we will do that through the United Nations or
by invitation. The Bush team and any succeeding administration should reverse
a long-pursued process of neglecting or weakening the UN and start specific
efforts to strengthen it, beginning with backing its mission and funding
its efforts to help the people of Iraq and Palestine.
- Finally, we should stop referring to the people who try
to repel invaders from their territory as terrorists. Mossad regularly
sends people abroad to assassinate Israel,s alleged enemies, but we never
call the Mossad assassins terrorists. The Iraqis and the Palestinians have
every right to try to expel invaders from their spaces and to use whatever
paramilitary device a society without a recognizable army can muster. Calling
them terrorists is a verbal trick to dis-empower and dehumanize them. Pretending
that they have no rights and no reason to fight back is another de-legitimizing
tool designed to transfer the moral high ground to the invaders. Unprovoked
invasion of another country does not carry with it any moral authority.
The invader does not earn the high ground merely by subduing the population.
All of these issues are rendered more starkly in a situation of preemptive
- Our option is to back off gracefully and to honor the
fact that we made a mistake. The time is now.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome comment at firstname.lastname@example.org