Leaving Baghdad

The poison of terrorism has now ripped into the humanitarian work of the UN, with the tragic bombing of its Iraq mission's headquarters. Dozens of innocent people were killed, including one of the world's most accomplished peacemakers, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Predictably, President Bush re-stated his determination to wage war on terrorism. Other leaders declared that the UN should not abandon its mission. Yet the bombing raises political questions that demand answers. Rather than bolstering its military occupation, the US should leave Iraq, allowing the UN to continue its mission.

In the early 20 th century, empires could suppress restive populations. No longer. Nationalist and anti-colonialist ideologies, supported by growing literacy and political mobilization, have long since made imperial rule virtually impossible. This is especially true in the Middle East, where anti-colonialism mixes with religious fundamentalism. It was foolhardy for the US to think it could put troops on the ground in Iraq without an extended period of violence and bloodshed.

America's leaders believed that the US would be welcomed as liberators. The US government and many observers believe that if the US can just get basic services established in Baghdad, and perhaps catch Saddam Hussein, then the situation will quiet down. The goal seems to be to install a regime led by friends of the Pentagon, such as Ahmed Chalabi. That regime, in turn, is supposed to invite a longer stay by US troops, and to grant concessions to the US oil industry.

But such a regime will never have legitimacy, and will be subject to assassinations, political upheaval, and terrorist attacks. In the end, it will squander human lives--such as the brave and dedicated workers of the UN--not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars. Shockingly, the US is now spending around $4 billion per month to station its troops in Iraq, while at the same time President Bush fights like crazy to keep America's contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria to no more than $200 million for an entire year.