The Left

Iraq: where we can go from here

In the current debate in the US and the UK over policy in post-Saddam Iraq, there are two important constituencies, primarily on the Left, that are barely heard from.

One group is those who supported– primarily for humanitarian reasons– the invasion to oust the abominable Saddam Hussein, but who now are concerned about the blunders, missed opportunities and signs of naked greed since the major fighting ended. This group would include us at Harry’s Place.

The others are those who opposed the war for various reasons, but who now recognize the importance of helping the Iraqis establish free and democratic self-rule, and who understand the folly of ending the occupation now. They would include some of the regular and esteemed commenters at Harry’s Place.

While the two groups have their differences, I think its safe to say we have certain beliefs in common that we share with neither the top officials of the Bush administration nor with the “US/UK Out Now” crowd.

Is there enough of a common agenda to unite these two groups? Here are some off-the-top-of-my-head ideas of what we might agree about:

–An end to imposition of economic policy by the coalition authorities in Iraq. Decisions on privatization should be left to the Iraqis.

–More accountability on awarding of contracts to outside companies. An end to favoritism and profiteering. A requirement for outside companies to hire Iraqis whenever feasible.

–Protection of workers’ rights to organize free trade unions, to bargain collectively with their employers and to strike.

–Support for programs to promote democratic values, tolerance and women’s rights in the schools and the media.

–Encouraging volunteers with needed skills in labor organizing, education, media, civil affairs and other areas to go to Iraq and lend assistance.

–A transition from occupation to Iraqi self-government (including a constitution and free elections) as swiftly as the security situation allows. In the interim, Iraqis should be moved into positions of authority whenever possible.

Surely there are other points of possible agreement on which to challenge and prod the Bush and Blair governments, and to differentiate ourselves from those who want the occupation to end now.

In her article (free day pass required) on the state of the antiwar movement in the US, Michelle Goldberg quoted two liberals who identified the current vacuum– in though and action– on the Left:

George Packer, editor of “The Fight is for Democracy,” a collection of essays about America and its role in the world after Sept. 11, would like to see progressives put pressure on the administration to do more for the people of Iraq, rather than less. But Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says, “I see little evidence of any such liberal alternative that is serious and constructive for the people of Iraq, unfortunately.” Liberals who care about the welfare of Iraqis, he says, must “start to distinguish between their dislike of Bush and their recognition that the mission must succeed. That would be a big start, and the crucial one.”

“Hatred of Bush and the opportunism of Democratic politicians has created a tactical alliance between mainstream Democrats and the fringe,” says Packer, who writes about his own six-week trip to Iraq in a forthcoming New Yorker article. “It’s disappointing to see both presidential candidates and leading members of Congress really fail to see the importance of what’s going on in Iraq right now. You can object to no bid contracts, you can object to cronyism and waste as I do, without undermining the basic understanding that we are committed to this and we have an enormous obligation to the Iraqis. I don’t see why you have to choose between disliking Halliburton and supporting the Iraqis in their efforts to create a decent society.”

I realize that those of us who agree on these things are unlikely to be organizing demonstrations of hundreds of thousands any time soon– although that would be great. But certainly there are things we could be doing to make our views known and our presence felt.

Surely it’s worth thinking about and talking about.