The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
As Troops Depart Iraq, Our Vulnerable Friends Remain

Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shiite cleric and vocal opponent of the American occupation, recently declared that all Iraqis who assisted foreign forces are now “outcasts”. When Britain pulled its troops out of Basra a few years ago, 17 such “outcasts” were murdered, their bodies dumped in the streets.

Today, there are thousands upon thousands of interpreters, construction workers, embassy workers, subcontractors, and so many more Iraqis who helped American troops in uncountable ways who remain in their country, under threat from their more nationalist countrymen.

In 2007, on the campaign trail, candidate Obama said:

We must also keep faith with Iraqis who kept faith with us. One tragic outcome of this war is that the Iraqis who stood with America – the interpreters, embassy workers, and subcontractors – are being targeted for assassination.

Keeping this moral obligation is a key part of how we turn the page in Iraq. Because what’s at stake is bigger than this war – it’s our global leadership…

And yet our doors are shut. That is not how we treat our friends.

What will become of those Iraqis now? Sadly, the answer appears to be que sera, sera. In order to resettle in the United States, Iraqi civilians, even the ones who have worked on American installations in Iraq, undergone background checks, eye and fingerprint scans, lie-detector tests, and much else — must embark on a layered bureaucratic process that often lasts a year and a half.

How is our government helping its Iraqi friends? Apparently, it is doing the bare minimum, turning its back and hoping everything works out. The fates of Iraqi refugees and civilians is not a campaign issue. The Onion summed up this feeling not long ago with the headline “54 Iraqis Die In Not Our Problem Anymore”.

Kirk Johnson, a former reconstruction coordinator in Iraq and founder of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Refugees, had this to say in the New York Times:

The sorry truth is that we don’t need them anymore now that we’re leaving, and resettling refugees is not a winning campaign issue. For over a year, I have been calling on members of the Obama administration to make sure the final act of this war is not marred by betrayal. They have not listened, instead adopting a policy of wishful thinking, hoping that everything turns out for the best…

And so our policy in the final weeks of this war is as simple as it is shameful: submit your paperwork and wait. If you can survive the next 18 months, maybe we’ll let you in. For the first time in five years, I’m telling Iraqis who write to me for help that they shouldn’t count on America anymore.

To abandon our friends is a shameful way to end this war. Our military did its job — it stayed the course and did not back down when the anti-war voices back at home reached a deafening crescendo; our soldiers never abandoned their task. They saw it through to the end. Can the same be said of our civil society?

“9/11 changed everything”, bureaucrats tell Mr. Johnson in Washington. To be fair, they have a point.  Resettling Iraqis in the US on a grand scale leads to problems. Two Iraqis who moved to Kentucky were recently charged with trying to send weapons back home. That case has removed all urgency from the project to resettle our Iraqi allies. But the situation of our faithful and now abandoned friends is not good. The Sadrist militias are known neither for their forgiveness nor their appreciation of American supporters.

Those who stand by the United States in tough times deserve our thanks and our help.  And from a totally selfish point of view it is important that people deciding how to align themselves in future conflicts know that the United States of America stands by its friends. Here is one case where our leaders need to lead; Congress and the White House must find a way to help and protect our friends.

Published on December 16, 2011 11:30 am
  • Jbird

    Nationalist is a much too generous term for al-Sadr and his ilk. It may not even be accurate as he seems much more dedicated to Iranian control than to Iraqi self-government.

  • Anthony

    For an interesting and related commentary on our investment in Iraq and its attendant consequences – fanaticism, sectarianism, refugees, etc. – see @guardian.co.uk (George Galloway). He also quotes “sometimes the enemy struggles mightily to lift a huge stone; only to drop it on its own foot.” Article’s title is “…death knell of the American empire” – speculation of limits on America’s power since 9/11.

    Additionally, AI contributor Richard Hass has related foreign policy article – The Restoration Doctrine – that adds more perspective to WRM’ above quick take.

  • Anthony

    Correction @2: last line should read …WRM’s….

  • Anthony

    Haste makes waste (among other things): AI contributor referenced @2 is Richard Haass.

  • Luke Lea

    And just why can’t these people be admitted into the US immediately under the rules of asylum? Because they can’t get here on their own? In that case to hell with technicalities.

  • Tom Holsinger

    This is bi-partisan Standard Operating Procedure. The Democrats did it in Vietnam and are doing in Iraq now. The Republicans under Bush I did in Iraq in 1991 right after Desert Storm.

    Iraq’s Kurds are determined not to let it happen to them again, and probably have the strength to ensure that. They better, because they’re on their own now.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    We should have permanent bases in Iraq, both Bush and Obama failed us, putting at risk all the blood and treasure we have spent there.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    “Nationalist is a much too generous term for al-Sadr and his ilk. It may not even be accurate as he seems much more dedicated to Iranian control than to Iraqi self-government.”

    Thank you. It’s [unattractive personalities] like al-Sadr that have always given us serious, authentic nationalists a bad name. In fact, if anything Moqtada probably qualifies as every bit as rabid and vicious an ANTI-nationalist as his late, unlamented counterpart on the Sunni side, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

    Notice that both kinds of political lunatic aren’t merely disruptive: they’re past masters at preventing their host countries from EVER stabilizing and functioning, even as they dare to blame the Americans for being the 900-lb gorillas sitting on their countries’ windpipes. If that’s not the most anarchic – and hypocritical – form of ANTI-patriotism I don’t know what is.

    But meanwhile these same thugs somehow manage to drape themselves in one flag or another of nationalism or patriotism. At least for the foreign press. And the awful part of it is that our American flamestream media largely buy into these definitions. On the Left they reason as follows: anti-Western extremist = nationalist = patriot; and since Third World patriotism is by definition a good thing, these schoolgirl-murdering, minority-terrorizing fiends are basically just well-meaning, slightly off-kilter idealists. On the Right they judge similarly but come to different conclusions: yes, anti-Western extremist = nationalist = Third World patriot; but since in this instance the only serious patriots are also murderous thugs, why, surely there must be something seriously deficient, retrograde, anti-growth, etc, in patriotism itself as a political sentiment. Unless, of course, it’s American patriotism, which merely involves subscribing to an abstract proposition and has nothing whatever to do with loyalty to or love of a People and a Territory.

    And who ends up being the biggest loser in all of this? Only that particular country in most desperate need of viable avenues of stability, growth, progress. Which is not to say anyone ELSE should care, of course. Our Globally Enlightened Age has already proven that countries themselves are crude, regressive, obsolete modes of social and political organization (as evidenced daily by the EU nations’ repeated failure to get scrunched closely TOGETHER enough on the same page – and far enough AWAY their democratic constituencies). So why worry?

  • rkka

    This outcome was baked in the moment the Army crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border.

    ” The Democrats did it in Vietnam and are doing in Iraq now.”

    The Democrats are following the schedule dictated to Cheney/Bush in 2008. The GoI do not want our troops in their country, and the reflect the will of the Shiite majority in this. To think that Obama, who shows no backbone in negotiating with Republicans, could have kept our troops there longer, is idiotic.

    The troops had tactical success, but the idea of invading and transforming Iraq was a political/strategic loser from the start. That is throw fault of Cheney/ Bush and all the war-cheerleaders.

    GEN Shinseki comes out of this with his reputation enhanced for sacrificing his career in laying out the magnitude of effort required.

    I don’t see anyone else who does.

  • Kris

    “If you can survive the next 18 months, maybe we’ll let you in.”

    And if you do survive, then you obviously do not need asylum. So spake Mr. Heller.

    From a cynical point of view, if we think that there’s a fighting chance for a good outcome in Iraq, then surely removing a sizable pro-American contingent isn’t helpful.

  • Kris

    Anthony@2: George Galloway? Really?