How, if at all, can the US discharge its obligations not only to the people of Iraq but to our own soldiers as well?
For the war’s supporters, confident that that the “surge” is working, the answer is clear: fight on, winning the victory that Iraqis and the troops both deserve.
For those opposing the war, it’s not so easy. However much they may want out of Iraq, few are willing simply to disregard the moral quagmire into which the nation has waded. Leaving Iraqis in the lurch certainly qualifies as problematic. Yet for those who see the war as wrong or ill-advised or merely lost, continuing to send American soldiers to fight and die in such a cause is equally untenable.
A morally acceptable approach to closing down the war will resolve this conundrum, ending the conflict in a way that keeps faith with ordinary Iraqis and with our own troops. In short, the war’s opponents must align their moral concerns, which are complex, with their seemingly straightforward policy prescription.
That alignment becomes possible if we recognize that America’s obligation is not to Iraq but to Iraqis. As a nation-state, Iraq – awash with sectarian violence and lacking legitimate institutions – can hardly be said to exist. We owe Iraq nothing.
In contrast, we owe the Iraqis whose lives we have blighted quite a lot. We should repay that debt much as we (partially at least) repaid our debt to the people of South Vietnam after 1975: by offering them sanctuary. In the decade after the fall of Saigon, some half-million Vietnamese refugees settled in the United States. Here, they found what they were unable to find in their own country: safety, liberty, and the opportunity for a decent life. It was the least we could do.
The least we can do for Iraqis today is to extend a similar invitation.
Related: Spiegel International on Iraqi refugees in Sweden, one of the only Western nations that has stepped up and done the right thing by allowing nearly 10,000 Iraqi refugees to settle within its borders post-invasion.