In December of last year, I worried that a precipitous exit from Iraq could create a Yugoslavia, With Oil. Recently I've been revising this horror forcast in my mind. After last weekend's violence, Rwanda-With-Oil no longer seems unthinkable.
It is ironic that opponents of this war who demand a quick withdrawal are advocating a strategy that will likely provoke the kind of humanitarian catastrophe that the Clinton Doctrine demanded we use American military might to prevent. As Clinton put it: If somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion, and it's within our power to stop it, we will stop it.
Writing in The New Republic, George Packer dwells on the potentially genocidal impact of an American withdrawal from Iraq. It is the kind of clear-eyed appraisal of the mass slaughter that our exit will likely provoke that you do not hear from the vast majority of the liberal lights advocating redeployment.
The course we're on is untennable. Iraq is in Civil War. But it seems destined to grow far more horrific if and when we leave. And the people first on the executioners' lists are those souls who tried in good faith to make this misguided American experiment work.
Packer's preferred historical parallel is not Yugoslavia or Rwanda, but Cambodia:
Withdrawal means that the United States will have to watch Iraqis die in ever greater numbers without doing much of anything to prevent it, because the welfare of Iraqis will no longer be among our central concerns. Those Iraqis who have had anything to do with the occupation and its promises of democracy will be among the first to be killed: the translators, the government officials, the embassy employees, the journalists, the organizers of women's and human rights groups. As it is, they are being killed one by one. (I personally know at least half a dozen of them who have been murdered.) Without the protection of the Green Zone, U.S. bases, or the inhibiting effect on the Sunni and Shia militias of 150,000 U.S. troops, they will be killed in much greater numbers. To me, the relevant historical analogy is not the helicopters taking off from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, leaving thousands of Vietnamese to the reeducation camps. It is the systematic slaughter by the Khmer Rouge of every Cambodian who appeared to have had anything to do with the West.
Anyone advocating a quick withdrawal from Iraq needs to grapple seriously with these issues. It's not enough to throw up our hands and say, "If the Iraqis are determined to kill each other, what are you going to do?"
America broke this country. We opened Pandora's box. We created the chaos under which religious militias are conducting pogroms. I don't know how we reasonably prevent this kind of slaughter. But we have every moral obligation to do so.
Here's the saddest truth: The "noble cause" that justifies continued American military presence in Iraq may now be as simple as: preventing a Killing Fields by the Tigris.
(cross posted from Rolling Stone's National Affairs Daily)