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Satan and Iraq

Satan never tempts us with a suggestion to do something that is clearly stinking evil. Quite the contrary, he leads us astray by appealing to our better nature to do something apparently high-minded and good. The Devil is no fool.

Now, you may have heard that the United States has a moral obligation to remain in Iraq in order to put that broken country back together again. Itís a proposition put forward by people across the entire political spectrum. And itís tempting, very tempting.

Opponents of the war support the idea of our rebuilding Iraq as the only decent, fair and, well, moral thing to do. After all, they argue, we wrecked the country and created the conditions in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been murdered, and millions more displaced by the violence. Supporters of the war also see moral value in reconstructing Iraq. By doing that, they say, weíll be able to contain despotic Syria and Iran and establish a democratic Iraq, which was and is our nationís moral basis for the war. Otherwise, we will have squandered trillions of dollars, and sacrificed more than 4,000 of our servicepeople in vain.

A sense of right and wrong is surely the highest achievement of humankind. And though people often dispute what constitutes moral behavior, they do agree that a person can incur a moral obligation. But a nation is not a person. Nations donít get married and have children and die the way people do. We often talk about nations having friends, but thatís only a way of speaking. Nations donít have friends; they have allies. And nations donít have moral obligations; they have interests.

Itís known that the Devil can quote scripture. He can also quote the Geneva Conventions. The Fourth Geneva Conventionówhich the United States has signed and ratifiedóconcerns the responsibilities of a nation whose military forces occupy a foreign country. In a nutshell, it obliges the occupying power to see to the well-being of the civilian population. In a way, thatís what Colin Powell was warning the president when he famously referred to the Pottery Barn Rule: ďIf you break it, you own it.Ē

But the United States ceased being an occupying power and became an ally of the Iraqi nation when our proconsul, Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, handed the pottery shards back to the Iraqis in mid-2004. Itís true, the Iraqis had only limited sovereignty. And itís also true that Bremmer had decreed that no one who had been in the only political party that had administered the country could serve the new nation. But the Iraqisósome of them, anywayógot their country back. They wrote a constitution and held an election, and itís their country now.

In Satanís final temptation of Jesus, the devil took him to an exceedingly high place and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them and offered them to Jesus. It didnít workóyou knew that, right?óbut notice that Satanís ultimate test is the offer of power over the kingdoms of the world. A lot of people find that irritable, especially people in high places.

President George W. Bush has been asked many times to declare that the United States has no intention of maintaining U.S. military bases in Iraq after that nation is secure. He just canít get the words out. Heíll recite a slogan, such as, ďWhen Iraqi forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand down,Ē but thatís not the same as saying that the United States wonít keep a permanent military presence in Iraq.

The temptation to position U.S. troops deep in the middle of the Middle East is irresistible to some people. Itís certainly alluring to John McCain. McCain has said that heíd be satisfied to keep troops there for generations, ďas long as Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed.Ē At first hearing, that sounds a lot more reasonable than keeping them there under fire, which is what some of his wild critics have accused him of saying.

McCain has reminded his critics that weíve had troops in Japan and South Korea for decades. But letís get a better grasp of geography. The United States has troops in Saudi Arabia and a refueling base at Yemen. At Yemen, 17 sailors were killed and 38 wounded when the USS Cole was attacked by terrorists in a rubber boat. In Saudi Arabia, an Air Force barracks was destroyed by truck bombs, and in a separate incident gunmen stormed the U.S. consulate in Jeddah and fought a three-hour pitched battle with security forces. And those are secure and peaceful places.

The pragmatic rationale for keeping U.S. troops in postwar Iraq is that theyíd be a dreaded force against any neighboring nation that made a move against the United States or U.S. interests. That kind of bombastical thinking is typical of the neoconservatives who came up with the plan to invade Iraq in the first place. Keeping U.S. troops where they are, surrounded by hostile forces, simply protracts our current vulnerability. If our troops are stationed in Iraq as some kind of rapid-reaction force, U.S. foreign policy will remain hostage to anyone with a simple mortar tube and half a dozen cheap mortar rounds.

The argument for staying in Iraq to help glue the shattered country back together is based on the idea that Iraq is a typical Western European-style nation state. It isnít and thatís why itís in so many contentious pieces today. Maybe no Western description of Iraq can reveal the deep truth of the matter, but by now itís clear to all but the willfully blind that Iraq is inhabited by different peoples, or tribes, with opposed and mutually exclusive political agendas. The powerful factions in Iraq havenít come together to form either a more perfect union or loose federation because they donít want to. They have other plans.

President Bush and his confederates have maneuvered the United States into the bizarre position where warring Iraqis decide when U.S. troops can go home. The sheiks of Anbar Province, the Shiite factions of Basra, and Al-Malikiís so-called government determine how depleted the U.S. military becomes, how empty our treasury, how filled our cemeteries. Indeed, the Iraqis determine how well we can battle elsewhere on the globe, whether in Afghanistan or Africa.

Another name for Satan is Father of Lies. Itís best not to listen to lies. Itís far better to get out of Iraq.

óGene Mirabelli


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