After 5 long years with no end in sight, there are no winners. To quote the late Pope John Paul II, "Wars generally do not resolve the problems for which they are fought and therefore...prove ultimately futile." This U.S. effort to gain strategic control in the Middle East was doomed early on, as one U.S. Commander stated, due to the “inability of U.S. occupying forces to guarantee the security of the occupied peoples.” The costs are almost incomprehensible in terms of loss of life – 4000 US and up to 1 million Iraqi killed; tens of thousands of injuries to U.S. and coalition forces – both physical and psychological – with up to 20% of soldiers at risk for post traumatic stress syndrome, according to an Army study released last week; financial – now estimated at $3 trillion when added to the Afghanistan campaign; environmental carnage from munitions to toxic spills, cluster bombs and depleted uranium use, leaving a health legacy and risk for generations to come.
This “elective” pre-emptive war has failed to obtain any tangible goal save the fall of a dictator that we helped create with a previous failed foreign policy. What has resulted is the unleashed fury of a divided society erupting into a civil war with us in the middle viewed as an occupying force. Anyone allied with us will only be viewed as the enemy to the opposing sides – thus fueling more violence and outrage. This, in part, explains the rationale of suicide bombers. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago has studied most of the suicide bombings since 1980 and in his book “Dying to Win” identifies that the main reasons behind suicide bombings are to force the occupying forces to withdraw, and only then do these bombings cease.
How have we allowed this to continue? The U.S. population has strategically been disconnected from the sacrifice of this war. Except for the families and friends of our soldiers the rest of us have been insulated from their pain and suffering. Typically the fighting has been done by someone else’s family member – as our proxy without risk to us. Further, there has been no significant financial sacrifice as yet, as we are choosing instead to gift this incredible debt to the next generations. While these may be shrewd ways to protect a war effort, they are not sustainable in the long run as the “costs” can no longer be hidden or contained.
Clearly war is not the answer. War will not bring peace. So what can be done instead of war? Many peace proposals have been put forth from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, to the Iraq Reconciliation Plan facilitated by Global Exchange; ending the occupation and encouraging dialogue among the members of the “divided societies” free from outside interference is key.
Recent examples of warring and conflicted societies ending war and resolving their differences include the Northern Ireland Peace Accords and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission that prevented widespread bloodshed following the end to apartheid in South Africa.
Last September, leaders of these successful peace efforts were brought together with 16 delegates from conflicted Sunni and Shia groups to study successful efforts developed in their conflict resolution process. The seminar was organized by the Crisis Management Initiative and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. It was convened in Finland by the John W. McCormack graduate school of policy studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and facilitated by professor Padraig O’Malley. This approach took members of Iraq’s divided society to a neutral place. This provided a unique opportunity to hear each others' stories. According to professor O’Malley, "Governments can’t deal with divided societies, because they don’t understand them. People from divided societies are in the best position to help others from divided societies.” This conflict is rooted in basic human emotions of fear, mistrust, and prejudice. The Iraqis insist the conflict is based not on religion, but on influence and power – the control and distribution of resources and jobs. Individuals, not governments, hold the key to resolving the conflict. Self-determination and ownership of the process is crucial. After intense efforts the Iraqis made a commitment to work for a lasting settlement and to “consult further” on 12 recommendations based on the Mitchell Principles from Northern Ireland to begin reconciliation talks including resolving political disputes though non-violence and democracy. The plan has been called the Helsinki agreement and includes the following :
1 Resolve political issues through non-violence and democracy.
2 Prohibit use of arms while in talks.
3 Form independent commission to disarm groups in verifiable manner.
4 Accept results of negotiations.
5 End international interference.
6 Commit to protect human rights.
7 Assure independence and effectiveness of the law and courts,
especially constitutional court.
8 Full participation of all parties in political process and governance.
9 Take all steps to end violence, killings, forced displacement and
damage to infrastructure.
10 Establish independent body to explore how to deal with the past in
way which will unite nation.
11 Support efforts to make political process successful and to protect
Iraq's unity and sovereignty.
12 Participating groups commit to principles as complete set of rules.
This remarkable effort deserves our support and willingness to let it evolve on it’s own. It can only survive without outside interference. By encouraging this effort of dialog, it is possible to realize lasting peace even without us. At this time this ought to be our sincerest hope for the future.