The Iraqi mine has exploded once, and will explode again if the U.S. withdraws, but this time the explosion will be far worse. That's why the real question is whether the U.S. can withstand the moral implications of abandoning Iraq to a vicious civil war.
Those mentioning the regional implications of an Iraqi civil war are right: they would be devastating. Inside Iraq itself, there will probably be the kind of carnage we saw in Bosnia if the U.S. leaves too soon, unless Iraqis can come to a political agreement beforehand. But what about the moral dimension here? The U.S., for better or worse, is responsible for what is happening in Iraq today. If the Americans withdraw and leave a bitter conflict behind them, this would be catastrophic not only for U.S. authority in the world, but for the way Americans see themselves as embodying a liberal, even moral, ideal in the world.
On the same day the Virginia Tech killings took place, car bombs in Iraq killed many more people. What would it say about an America that regards crimes like those at Virginia Tech as terrible aberrations, to turn its back on what would be -- indeed what is -- a daily dose of Virginia Techs in Iraq? Nor is it enough to say: "It's the Iraqis' fault, let them deal with it." The point of the Iraqi enterprise, at least if we're to believe the Bush administration, was to bring to Iraq liberalism, prosperity and normalcy after decades of despotism. If that claim was hypocritical, then a U.S. departure abandoning Iraq to ever greater paroxysms of violence would merely substantiate that hypocrisy.
If Americans are willing to engage in such hypocrisy -- and remember, a majority of Americans and members of Congress supported the Iraq war at the beginning -- so be it. But then let's all agree that the U.S. should never again claim the moral high ground anywhere. With all the talk about how America must get out of Iraq, very little has been heard about the moral implications with respect to the Iraqis themselves, who have already suffered far more casualties than the Americans and their allies. It's time for that to change.
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