Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Libya Does Not Equal Iraq

March 31st, 2011 No comments

In the short time since we became involved, there are already three big myths that are getting perpetuated about the U.S. and its role in Libya:

  1. That Obama was slow to respond to the situation.
  2. That intervention in Libya makes Obama just a repeat of Bush.
  3. That liberals are hypocrites for supporting intervention in Libya and not Iraq.

The first myth comes from neoconservatives, the second from leftist doves and right-leaning libertarians, and the third from conservatives in general. They are all false, and let me explain why.

Libyans on a Tank in BenghaziFirst, the idea of Obama as Hesitater in Chief is one that conservatives have been trying to pin on the President for a while. Many of the people pushing this perspective are the same ones that rushed us into the war in Iraq, using impressive sleight-of-mouth tricks to distract us from their constantly changing rationale. They are what I like to call the “Knee-Jerk Right,” who think the president should whack the big red missile button whenever an international event occurs. Obama does appear to enjoy thinking more than his predecessor did, but that being said, he responded quite quickly to Libya.

Within nine days of the outbreak of fighting in Libya, the Obama administration had already acted with the international community to freeze assets, impose a travel ban, and establish an International Criminal Tribunal. Compare that to Rwanda and the seven months it took for an International Criminal Tribunal, Bosnia and over a year it took for a travel ban & asset freeze (plus three years for a tribunal), and Darfur, which waited two years before it got any of those things. Within 31 days of fighting, Obama declared a no-fly zone in Libya. In former Yugoslavia, civilians were getting bombed for over a year before a no-fly zone was imposed. In Rwanda and Darfur, no such measures were ever taken to protect civilians. There was a long lead-up to the recent Iraq War, and even the First Gulf War did not see hard action until almost six months after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait (during which time Bush Sr. was working with the UN & the Arab League, and building a coalition). So the truth is actually that Obama responded so quickly to the situation in Libya that his critics got whiplash.

Second, because of Obama’s speed and decisive involvement, many libertarians and liberals are outraged at the thought that there was never any change to believe in, and that Obama’s foreign policy is just round two of Bush. Why they have decided that Libya is a repeat of Iraq rather than Bosnia is not clear to me. After all, before neoconservatism there was liberal internationalism – both believing in intervention for the sake of liberty, but the latter stressing cooperative, multilateral action through international organizations. In this light, Obama reminds me more of Clinton, or perhaps Bush the elder.

Simply put, Libya does not equal Iraq.

Yes, they both are Muslim, oil-producing countries. Yes, they both involved a crazy dictator. But no, Iraq was not in the middle of popular revolt against Saddam. Civilians in Libya rose up against the dictatorship of Gaddafi, and when triumph could not be realized as easily as in Egypt, they called on the international community for help. That is the difference between Libya and Iraq, and I think it should be as clear as night and day. The Libyan public asked for our help; the Iraqi public did not. Libyans were already fighting the regime’s forces; Iraqis were not. The president has vast international support in Libya; in Iraq he did not.

Sheesh, the French took military action before we did, for goodness sake, and are more supportive of intervention in Libya than Americans. That alone should prove that Libya is different than Iraq.

Lastly, liberals are not hypocrites for supporting intervention in Libya. This is because Libya does not equal Iraq, and because liberals don’t support intervention in Libya. Don’t get me wrong, some liberals do support the military engagement, but conservative talking heads have got to stop acting like Obama is the Pope of the American Left. Because, unless I missed the memo, Dennis Kucinich, Code Pink, and the antiwar protesters in NYC & San Francisco are all liberals. And they are all against the war. Broad brush generalizations aside, the liberals that do support Obama’s measures are still not hypocrites because of the stark differences between Libya and Iraq that I enumerated above.

Now, none of this means that Obama necessarily made the right call. I currently support the intervention even though parts of it make me uneasy, but hindsight will provide better reflection. Those against Obama’s decisions still have a right to question his disregard for prior Congressional approval, and still have a right to question his goals (and whether or not he sufficiently defined them). Others may celebrate Obama’s willingness to roll up his sleeves to help the people of Libya, but wonder “Why not Syria, why not Yemen, Bahrain, or Ivory Coast?” Those are legitimate questions as well, and I don’t have time to address them all here.

All I want to get across is that you mustn’t believe the myths. This is a complicated situation we find ourselves in, and a lot of interested parties are going to try to sell you their stories, whether they’re reasonable or not.

The US is not pulling its weight with the Iraqi refugee crisis

April 4th, 2010 No comments

Iraqis celebrate their homeland's soccer Asian Cup victory in downtown Stockholm. (Photo:

We could argue endlessly about how much the situation in Iraq has improved or worsened since the 2003 invasion. One thing should be made clear however: the Iraqi people are the best judges of the situation and the standard of living in Iraq. And we can easily measure their opinion through how they vote with their feet. Over 2 million Iraqis have been forced to internally migrate to safer areas, while another 2 million plus have left the country. The scale of this movement becomes apparent when one takes into account that Iraq has about 30 million people.

Unfortunately, most of the refugees have fled to neighboring countries in the Middle East that are poorly equipped to handle them. They are in desperate need of faltering aid as they are without adequate food, shelter, education, or a permanent place to call home. And few have returned to Iraq as very few can.

What about the United States? With millions of Iraqis having left the country, surely the leading juggernaut of the Coalition of the Willing must have been more than willing to accept many of these immigrants with open arms.

No. As of the summer of 2009, the United States has accepted about 30,000 immigrants since the invasion. That is equal to 0.01% of the total US population. Probably the most gracious western country to accept Iraqis so far has been Sweden, which currently has 49,000 recent Iraqi arrivals. Not only is this figure over 50% higher than for the US, but when you realize that Sweden’s population is a paltry 9,300,000—the sheer scale of Sweden’s help becomes apparent. That means that 0.5 percent of all people living in Sweden are recent Iraqi immigrants today. This would be the equivalent of the US having nearly 1,580,000 Iraqi immigrants—more people than who live in metropolitan New Orleans. Compare to the actual 30,000 figure, which is about the same number as the inhabitants of Kearney, Nebraska.

Funny, as Sweden was never in the Coalition of the Willing. In fact, it was deeply opposed to the invasion. But it’s liberal asylum laws and generous social welfare programs have made it attractive to Iraqis looking for a new home, while other European countries and the US maintain stricter controls on immigration.

The Swedish government is not amused at carrying much of a burden that they see others are not as willing to take on. The strain on social services is being felt, and apartments overloaded with over a dozen residents is not an uncommon sight. The small Swedish city of Sodertalje alone took in more Iraqi asylum seekers in 2007 than the US as a whole that year. Has the US made any efforts to increase the number of Iraqi immigrants into the country?

Sort of. For example in 2007 the US announced an increased target of 7000 Iraqi immigrants, but due to red tape only 1600 were admitted.

Iraqi refugees in Syria live in poor conditions awaiting to move on to a new life. (Photo:

Despite some improvements in the situation in Iraq, the millions in the refugee camps throughout the Middle East will not likely have a chance to return home. Many of them belong to religious minorities, such as the Christians, and would face discrimination, violence, or worse upon return. Thus many expect the number of asylum-applicants to continue to grow in 2010. The United States has a responsibility to further open its arms to these refugees. Not only because this refugee crisis would not exist if the US had not gone into Iraq, but because we went in with the pretense of liberating the country and giving Iraqis better lives, and we should take more concrete action for these people stuck in limbo to put our money where our mouth is. No one is advocating that we take in proportionally as many Iraqis as the Swedes, as there are limits to our resources, but would it be too much to ask to double, triple, or quadruple the current numbers we’ve let in?