11/13/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

An Awkward Question For Iraq War Hawks

Here's a question for John McCain, Sarah Palin, and anyone else who likes to say we are "winning" in Iraq and "victory is within sight." If conditions in Iraq are now in good shape and the bad guys are on the run, why is the US allowing thousands of Iraqis to leave their country and re-settle here?

On September 12th, a Reuters news story written by Susan Cornwell reported these numbers: 12,118 Iraqi refugees had arrived in this country during 2008 (as of September 12th, the date the story appeared) and a minimum of 17,000 more were expected in fiscal 2009, which runs from 10/08 to 10/09.

Why are no war hawks demanding an end to this policy? If victory in Iraq is within sight, shouldn't someone like Dick Cheney go into the Oval Office and tell the president, "Look, Iraq is getting back on its feet and these people need to turn around and go back there and help create a model democracy."

That won't happen, of course. Iraqi immigrants heading for the US are coming here because staying at home puts them in deadly danger. During the past four years thousands of Iraqis who worked as interpreters and gave other assistance to American forces have been murdered. The exact number of those victims may never be known.

Military victory did happen in Iraq, back in 2003 when the coalition forces defeated Saddam Hussein's army and toppled his government. But that victory could not sweep away longstanding social, ethnic, and religious rivalries that have been clashing violently in the region for centuries.

The war hawks shouted down anybody who worried about those details. They said everybody in Iraq would get along fine once Saddam's repression was gone and a secular, educated middle class would bring all factions together and create a model society for neighboring countries to emulate.

A lot of those middle class professionals gave it a good try. But again, the dilemma they faced has occurred over and over throughout recorded history. When one country invades another, locals who give aid to the outsiders risk being viewed by their peers as collaborators.

Each person who decides to help the outsiders needs to ask, "Are these people going to stay here for the rest of my life and and protect me? Or am I just setting myself up for revenge later on, when the outsiders go home and I'm on my own?"

In October 2005 I wrote a column for the Christian Science Monitor wondering about Iraq's future and one of the questions I posed was: "If conditions became intolerable for middle class Iraqis and they saw no alternative but to flee the country, how many would seek refuge in the US?"

And three years later, here we are. The Reuters news story of September 12th said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 2 million Iraqis have fled to Jordan and Syria, and another 2.5 million are displaced within Iraq.

So while the war hawks claim that victory is within sight, what can they say to all the Iraqis hoping to find better lives in this country? There seems to be no place for them in the new Iraq, but by coming here they finally get the chance to live in a truly free society.

Does that make them winners or losers?