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Leaving Iraqi Refugees in the Lurch

By Ivan Eland
June 12, 2007

Editor's Note: Among the many tragedies of the Iraq War has been the brutal ethnic cleansing that has driven millions of Iraqis from their homes. And like so many of these horrors, George W. Bush doesn't want to accept responsibility.

In this guest essay, the Independent Institute's Ivan Eland laments this latest failure of the Bush administration to do the right thing:

The Iraq War has made refugees of millions of Iraqis. They have been ethnically cleansed or displaced to other locations both inside the country, to neighboring countries, and overseas. Yet the Bush administration, the creator of the chaos and mayhem in Iraq, has done little to help them.

According to NBC News, since April 2003, when the initial U.S. military action was over, the United States has taken in a scant 535 Iraqi refugees. In contrast, European countries, many of which opposed the Bush administration’s invasion, have taken in 18,000.

One commentator noted that taking any more Iraqis would be an implicit admission by the administration that the war was not going well.

Well, guess what, the war isn’t going well—and this dirty little secret has been out for some time now. The U.S. government has a long tradition of remaining secretive about embarrassing facts that have long been obvious to everyone—sometimes with disastrous consequences.

For example, in the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, President John F. Kennedy didn’t allow the invading Cuban exiles, as they hit the beach, to have the support of their own air power or that of the United States, because that would have indicated that the invasion had outside help—read the United States—and was not merely an indigenous uprising.

No matter that the United States had a long history of overthrowing governments in Latin America, and American newspapers had already run articles exposing the U.S. training of the Cuban exile invasion force in Central America. Because Cuban leader Fidel Castro could read, he readied a much larger force, which was waiting for and defeated the invaders when they finally landed.

Similarly, no one any longer believes rosy Bush administration pronouncements on Iraq. Although even Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, still has trouble mouthing the “L” word, people with any common sense, including stalwart Republican supporters of the administration, has had that sinking feeling in their stomachs for a while now that the cause in Iraq has been lost.

Politicians don’t like to tell the American public what they don’t want to hear, but at least the administration could quietly begin to open the floodgates for Iraqi refugees. Many of these people helped the United States in Iraq and could be in grave danger once U.S. forces are reduced or withdrawn.

Alas, however, the United States, the melting pot of immigrants, has a surprisingly poor record of opening its borders to wartime refugees. A couple of examples are illustrative. The United States left far too many of its friends to a grim fate after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.

In addition, prior to and during World War II, the United States had a disgraceful record of taking in Jews being openly and viciously persecuted by Adolf Hitler. The United States could have saved many innocent lives if the puny number of Jewish refugees taken in had been significantly hiked. This abysmal record was one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s greatest failings.

The United States must do better in the Iraq case. Much of the violence in Iraq has been caused directly or indirectly by U.S. policy. The Iraq invasion was a war of choice against a former ally that had never instigated hostilities against the United States and was little threat to U.S. security.

The United States chose to depose an authoritarian regime that was the only thing holding together a fractious country, which already had had its social fabric torn by numerous wars and grinding international economic sanctions. The United States, with insufficient military strength to provide security for the country, then disbanded the only other forces capable of helping bring order—the Iraqi security forces.

With so much to answer for in Iraq, the Bush administration needs to own up to its colossal failure and help save Iraqis that have already sacrificed much to help the United States in its quixotic quest to bring democracy to that divided nation. Unfortunately for these Iraqis, in similar past situations, the United States has a very poor record, and the Bush administration is not good at even implicitly admitting mistakes.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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