Sharansky on Cutting and Running in Iraq


Former Gulag resident, Israeli cabinet member and now think tanker Natan Sharansky has a provocative Washington Post op/ed about the consequences of a hasty U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. To wit:

As the hideous violence in Iraq continues, it has become increasingly common to hear people argue that the world was better off with Hussein in power and (even more remarkably) that Iraqis were better off under his fist. In his final interview as U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan acknowledged that Iraq "had a dictator who was brutal" but said that Iraqis under the Baathist dictatorship "had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school."

This line of argument began soon after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. By early 2004, some prominent political and intellectual leaders were arguing that women's rights, gay rights, health care and much else had suffered in post-Hussein Iraq.

Following in the footsteps of George Bernard Shaw, Walter Duranty and other Western liberals who served as willing dupes for Joseph Stalin, some members of the human rights community are whitewashing totalitarianism. A textbook example came last year from John Pace, who recently left his post as U.N. human rights chief in Iraq. "Under Saddam," he said, according to the Associated Press, "if you agreed to forgo your basic freedom of expression and thought, you were physically more or less OK."

The truth is that in totalitarian regimes, there are no human rights. Period. The media do not criticize the government. Parliaments do not check executive power. Courts do not uphold due process. And human rights groups don't file reports.

For most people, life under totalitarianism is slavery with no possibility of escape.

Sharansky cites a recent poll of more than 5,000 Iraqis finds that

…49% of those questioned preferred life under Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, to living under Saddam. Only 26% said things had been better in Saddam's era, while 16% said the two leaders were as bad as each other and the rest did not know or refused to answer.

Meanwhile, in recent polls in the United States, 77 percent of Americans say that the war in Iraq is going somewhat or very badly. And 66 percent want to reduce or completely remove all American troops in Iraq.

Sharansky also worries:

A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to a bloodbath that would make the current carnage pale by comparison. Without U.S. troops in place to quell some of the violence, Iranian-backed Shiite militias would dramatically increase their attacks on Sunnis; Sunni militias, backed by the Saudis or others, would retaliate in kind, drawing more and more of Iraq into a vicious cycle of violence. If Iraq descended into full-blown civil war, the chaos could trigger similar clashes throughout the region as Sunni-Shiite tensions spill across Iraq's borders. The death toll and the displacement of civilians could climb exponentially.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the political debate over Iraq is that many of Bush's critics, who accused his administration of going blindly to war without considering what would happen once Hussein's regime was toppled, now blindly support a policy of withdrawing from Iraq without considering what might follow.

Sharansky ends by urging that the U.S. government take human rights into account whatever it decides to do in Iraq. But he offers no suggestions about what to do other than trying to "maximize the chances" that the current "surge" of additional troops will succeed in stabilizing the situation.

One idea being pursued by some in Congress is that American forces withdraw to bases inside Iraq and allow the Iraqi military and police to take over internal security. However an unnamed official warned in another Washington Post article,

If the administration decided to have troops retreat to bases inside Iraq and not intervene in sectarian warfare, he said, the U.S. military could find itself in a position that "would make the Dutch at Srebrenica look like heroes."

The official was referencing the Serbian massacre of 8,000 men and boys that took place during the Bosnian war as Dutch soldiers stood aside.

Whole Sharansky op/ed here. Here's how a much chastened warhawk (me) envisioned an alternative to the current quagmire two years ago. And finally, here's the debate over "Forcing Freedom," featuring me, Christopher Hitchens, Chris Preble and Ivan Eland, over going to war in Iraq from the September 2003 issue of reason.