Samantha Power on Iraq

Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem From Hell, penned an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times in which she illustrates many of our fears about the United States’ presence in Iraq and how it will eventually lead to increased ethnic conflict and possible future genocide(s).

First, although it has a familiar and thus unsatisfying ring to it, the most viable long-term route to preventing mass atrocities is to use remaining U.S. leverage to bring about a political compromise that makes Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds feel economically stable, physically secure and adequately represented in political structures. This is consistent with the position of leading U.S. generals and the members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, who have stressed that there is no military solution to Iraq’s meltdown and urged the administration, the Iraqis and regional players to reopen broad-ranging political negotiations.

Instead of simply lining up behind Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s government in the hopes that it will one day decide to stop ethnic cleansing, recent withdrawal proposals in Congress use the leverage of the proposed redeployment to press Iraqis to reach a political solution. A plan put forth by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has come under neoconservative fire for setting a target departure date, but it provides for flexibility to suspend the U.S. drawdown if Iraqis meet the key economic, political and security benchmarks they have committed to achieve this year. The plan would also retain some U.S. forces in Iraq and the region to help deter atrocities by sectarian militias and aggression from Iraq’s neighbors.

However, if this political pressure fails and U.S. forces remain unable to stave off an ever-widening civil war, the U.S. should go further and announce its willingness to assist in the voluntary transport and relocation of Iraqi civilians in peril. If Iraqis tell us that they would feel safer in religiously homogenous neighborhoods, and we lack the means to protect them where they are, we should support and protect them in their voluntary, peaceful evacuation — a means, one might say, to preempt genocide in advance of our departure.

The administration must help secure asylum for those Iraqis — and there are millions who fit this bill — who have a “well-founded fear of persecution.” At the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ conference scheduled for April, which will be attended by Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the United States, the overburdened countries of first asylum (Syria is sheltering 1 million Iraqis; Jordan has taken in 700,000) must be persuaded to reopen their gates to fleeing Iraqis. And Western countries must dramatically expand the number of resettlement slots for Iraqis. Astoundingly, the U.S. took in just 202 Iraqis last year and, although the maximum for this year was recently raised to 7,000, this is still not sufficient.

Finally, if we are serious about preventing further sectarian horrors, the U.S. must send a clear signal to the militias and political leaders who order or carry out atrocities that they will be brought to justice for their crimes. That means offering belated U.S. support to the International Criminal Court, the only credible, independent body with the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity and genocide.

As I’ve written in the past, the fractured social structure and lack of stability in Iraq are perfect incubators for ethnic strife. With a crumbled economy and a lack of infrastructure, it’s easy to see the entire country sliding into an eventual genocidal rage.

While I agree that the only solution to a pending humanitarian crisis is refugee repopulation, I have trouble believing that the conservative movement will widen talks on US immigration for threatened Iraqis. I don’t argue against refugee support, I’m merely pointing out that I can’t see it actually happening.

3 thoughts on “Samantha Power on Iraq”

  1. Basically, I agree.

    First, the “surge” is an attempt to impose a military solution on a political problem. The conflict has developed into a civil war and the only political solution would involve all parites to the conflict, as well as neighboring countries, sitting down and working out differences. The only military solution is not to quiet things down in Bagdad, as this surge is projected to do, but for one side to completely crush the other which ultimately will result in no small amount of ethnic cleansing.

    Second, partition is not without problems (and I speak here of a “soft” partition under a federal system) but given the lack of security and how far these previously integrated communities have been allowed to disintegrate, it seems to be a very practical solution that is overlooked.

    Third, the international community needs to be involved and the ICC, as Ms. Powers suggests above, is a must. However, there needs to be even great international involvement becuase the United States alone has little credibility. The so-called “Coaliton of the Willing” did not amount to much at the beginning of this conflict and amounts to even less now as those other countries pull their troops out. The U.S. acting unilaterally is carrying on from a position of weakness both politically and militarily.

    Thanks for the thougthful post.


  2. Sadly, I agree with you that I don’t think much will be done, and Iraq will turn into another giant tragedy. People just don’t seem to care. Not very many people seem to read this blog; I just added a link to the top of my blogroll, but don’t expect that to add many readers.

    By the way, I just came across a reference to North Korea’s policy of deliberately removing autistic children to remote institutions. Their life expectancy once there is less than two years, as most of them starve to death. I hope you’ll visit my blog, check out the story I linked to, and perhaps write about this on your own blog.

  3. I think Powers has the wrong impression of the military. Every officer has at least a four-year degree and every one else has at least a high school degree. This is a skilled workforce (filled with doctors, nurses, engineers and mechanics) as opposed to a bunch of idiots with weapons. Not only are they skilled, they are trained in nation building, infrastructure building and teaching others. Powers things the problems in Iraq are going to go away when the Iraqis get together. Right now both the local enemy and foreign enemy forces are attacking the infrastructure such as the hospitals bridges, schools and the local police. The enemy doesn’t want to be bit players, they want full control of Iraq. So wit the skills the military offers, it can fend off the attackers, while improving Iraq’s infrastructure.

    Powers things somebody like Iraq’s version of Sen. Ted Kennedy is going to be out there every day defusing bombs, teaching children, building a hospital and passing a few bills. The real Ted Kennedy isn’t going to do it, and the Iraqi leaders won’t do that and the only reason the general Iraqi population is starting to do it is because the U.S. and it’s allies are providing the security, training, money and infrastructure till the Iraqis get on their feet. When will that happen? It took nine years to fix Germany and Japan after WWII. Reconstruction of the South after the U.S. Civil War took several years and there were still church bombings in the 1960s (and a few afterwards) from Southern sympathizers.

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