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Taking Responsibility for Transforming Iraq

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Those who have questioned the moral or strategic merits of the Iraq War have largely been vindicated in the public eye. Prominent Republicans have broken ranks to join the vast majority of progressives in seeking rapid exit from the growing quagmire.

Often absent from the rhetoric in the anti-war camp, however, are concrete and constructive strategies to deal with the mess that America has created. The right generally wants to divorce itself from responsibility for creating the havoc, blaming it on religion-addled terrorists and ungrateful Iraqis. The left often wants to remain in righteous finger-waggling about the lack of justification of the war in the first place.

Neither side wants to take the truly mature route: face the truth that America bears collective responsibility for having created a hornet's nest of violence and that we have an ethical responsibility to help transform that situation.

President Bush's strategy of throwing more troops at the problem is exactly the wrong approach to such a transformation. By perpetuating a culture of fear, defense, aggression, and war, Bush's muscular approach throws gasoline on the fire. We need to end the war by first ending the psychology of war, which is built on enemies and opposition, destruction and violence. Reinforcing the antagonism towards Iraqis as the enemy perpetuates and increases the cycle of violence and the erosion of civilized behavior. Instead, we need to shift towards a psychology of healing, development, and support to end the cycle of brutality.

Our primary motivation in Iraq should thus no longer be war. It must be peace and civilization-building, which is a vastly different strategic objective, often best implemented by different players. To advance into the next phase, it is imperative that we shift our national psychology from one that is obsessed with "success" and "winning " the war – which ultimately are about feeling good about ourselves -- to one that is focused on creating a strong, peaceful, healthy, and prosperous Iraq – which is more about service.

Mesopotamia is known as the cradle of civilization. Iraq is thus an auspicious place to build a thriving and advanced culture. What if we began by collectively visualizing Iraq twenty years in the future with a thriving culture, peaceful population, efficient government, robust economy, and harmonious co-existence of religious traditions? What groundwork can we support now that would help Iraqis create a superb nation for themselves, one that we might someday want to visit just in admiration?

I suggest a few major strategies that would help accelerate this process:

1. Reduce the number of combat troops every single month. The psychology of war is now exacerbating violence rather than helping it. Gun-toting soldiers reinforce the sense of occupation, an affront to Iraqi pride. A complete power vacuum is unlikely to be helpful, but getting the troops out is equivalent to removing fuel for the fire.

2. Ramp up, every month, on the number of people who are in Iraq as civilization-builders: psychologists to help heal the scars of war, doctors, construction-workers, technologists, conflict-resolution experts, artists, entrepreneurs, even gardeners. This phase of activity needs to privilege a more nurturing, feminine way of interacting with Iraqis and to focus on helping them with their real day-to-day needs, which starts to dissolve the hyper-masculine psychology of opposition, occupation, and war.

3. Empower individual Iraqis with more opportunities in exchange for pledging to not use public or private violence. What if, for example, we offered a $100 laptop for free to every Iraqi who was willing to sign a commitment to non-violence? Prototypes of such a laptop have been developed by the non-profit One Laptop Per Child ( and can be run even in areas without electricity. With government backing, they could be put into mass production and shared with all Iraqis. In that way, we would be offering a positive incentive that provides a tool for learning and a way for them to create new social networks and leapfrog into a more advanced economy, all while building upon the traditional Arabic commitment to keeping one's word. Even if all 22M Iraqis took us up on the offer, the cost would only be $2.2 billion dollars, the cost of one week of wartime operations.

4. Make personal bridges – the population of Iraq is only 7% of that in the Unites States. What if we had an integrated program with a goal of having 2% of the United State population create a personal connection with a citizen of Iraq? Web translators could take letters in English and translate them into Arabic before being printed as a personally-signed letter, perhaps with photographs of family. Arabic speakers could be hired to help translate responses from Iraqis. Personal connections and bridges are the surest way to reduce stereotypes and cultural animosity, reinforcing our shared humanity rather than the more polarized identities of war.

5. Ensure that every man, woman, and child in Iraq has a stock interest in all oil production happening in the country. This mitigates the feeling that America is there to steal their oil and addresses the ownership issue in a way that avoids some of the wealth imbalances in other oil-rich countries.

While these strategic directions are only a start, they represent a way of shifting the rhetoric beyond wartime debate and towards collaborative, construction solutions to advancing Iraqi society and healing the wounds of war. Those on the left-wing in the United States need to offer their skills, time, and money in the service of this healing rather than simply expressing anger at Bush and his team for creating the mess. And those on the right must acknowledge that the military approach to this transformation is failing and that a more peaceful, civilization-building course is now required.

The project of healing and transforming Iraq thus has the potential to become a unifying national objective after the extreme divisiveness of war.

Originally published at

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Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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