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July 23, 2007

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Speaking of Iraqi refugees who need asylum, and the U.S. moral responsibility....

Thanks for this, Sebastian.

Two brief things.

First, IMO "debt of honor" is by no means a pompous phrase, nor is it inappropriate.

Second, as far as I can tell George Bush and his crew don't, in any meaningful way, give a flying you know what about the fate of anyone other than themselves. Whatever help Iraqis who have helped us are going to receive is probably going to have to come directly from us, the American people.

I'm not sure how the mechanics of that will work out. Maybe some sympathetic members of Congress can make something happen, maybe it will have to happen through private effort. But it ain't gonna happen through the good will of the folks in charge.

This is not a conservative or liberal issue, it has to do with the personal character of the individuals involved.

Let's try to do our best.

Thanks -

Good catch, Sebastian. I think there are a lot of people who don't realize just what Iraqis risk by helping the Coalition.

This story was given to me by two separate sources, so while I cannot prove it I will relate it anyhow. Some of the details were different, but the basics were the same. Last week, an Iraqi guard at a base went on leave. His uncle had warned him twice not to work for the Americans, but he had told his uncle that the U.S. was trying to help Iraq and that he was going to do what he could to help as well. While he was home on leave, his uncle beat him until he was almost dead, then hung him from a ceiling fan.

It's too late for that courageous young man, but if the U.S. does pull out, variants of that are going to take place all over Iraq, and a lot of good men and women whose only crime was believing that maybe they could do a little something to help their country are going to die. I cannot see how anyone of good conscience can support not doing what is necessary to get these people out if the Coalition isn't going to stick around to try and protect them directly.

It's too late for that courageous young man, but if the U.S. does pull out, variants of that are going to take place all over Iraq

A couple of basic questions, offered in sincere good faith.

Do we protect them now? Or are these things already happening?

Will it be any worse for them if we leave?

Thanks -

"Or are these things already happening?"

It's happening; read about it here and the linked article, for one account of how terrible it is. And we do very little to protect them. Which is why we need to give them visas, immediately.

I was visitng an old lady acquaintance the other day and we watched TV together.

I never watch tv on my own so it was an adventure into an unfamiliar aspect of our culture.

I forget which station it was (CBS, I think), but they were doing a series called "Left Behind" about Iraqis who had helped the US and who were now in danger.

I am so grateful ( I really should havve noticed which station it was) that this issue is getting extended play on the national news. That's what needs to happen--the issue needs to be raised to the public in order to shame the powers-that-be into action.

"I forget which station it was (CBS, I think)"

ABC News, specifically World News Tonight, the evening broadcast.

There have already been more Titan interpreters (Titan is the main contractor providing translators to the army) killed in Iraq than British soldiers.

1. There has been so little honor associated with this enterprise that we could at least do this -- as Lincoln said, "care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and orphan." I imagine, also, that many of those we save (if we do) will become great assets to the communities they associate themselves with. We ought to do it anyway; but in many cases we may be glad we did.

2. It is always nice to see Sebastian posting instead of just lurking in comments looking to jam rebounds home (hockey reference).

Is there some sort of downside (political costs [because of the immigration issue or admitting the war isn't all candy and roses], al Qaida plant paranoia) that I'm not seeing? As noted in the post, this is the right thing to do for many views of "right", and I can't come up with even a stupid "wrong".

russell,

As the anecdote listed above makes clear, it is already happening to some extent. Units have to, for example, be careful of which interpreters they use where, so that the terps' neighbors don't recognize them and ID them as working with the Coalition. If the U.S. leaves, some will doubtless escape the net of suspicion, while others will be caught and killed. I just don't think it's right to ask any of them to take that chance for the 'crime' of working with the Coalition.

"Is there some sort of downside (political costs [because of the immigration issue or admitting the war isn't all candy and roses], al Qaida plant paranoia) that I'm not seeing?"

A) The governmental homeland security apparatus isn't precisely geared to respond enthusiastically to the idea of thousands of Iraqis being permanently admitted.

B) Yeah, focus on the need for Iraqis to get out is seen as 1) taking them out of Iraq where they're needed; 2) indicating a lack of faith that Things Will Be Much Better In Iraq In Another Few Friedmans.

The reason the collapse of South Vietnam was such a debacle for the U.S. wasn't because it came so fast -- although it did come faster in broad than had been anticipated -- but because the U.S. government -- specifically, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and U.S. Ambassador in Saigon Graham Martin insisted that overt moves to prepare for an evacuation would cause doubt about American steadfastness, and undermine the stability of the South Vietnamese government and ARVN, etc., etc. Americans started fleeing Saigon at the end of March, but Ford spent April talking up a pointless additional appropriation that would have done nothing but throw away money (ultimately to the North Vietnamese government).

Theiu resigned on April 21; within a week rockets here hitting Saigon, and a day later, Tan Son Nhut, the key evacuation point, was under constant attack; within hours, the helicopers had begun the panic flights. The last flight out was 3:45 a.m. the morning of April 30. The North Vietnamese flag was raised over the Presidential Palace in Saigon the same day. The war was over.

It was that fast: three weeks, or four, depending on when you start counting. (An American memo on March 5 predicted South Vietnam would hold out until 1976.)

And then it was too late for us to get many South Vietnamese out.

(And anyone who thinks that the $722 million that Ford wanted to spend, that the Democrats blocked, could have saved the day during those four weeks is quite insane.)

But, as I said, ordinary Americans saw it coming by March 31st, and started fleeing Vietnam on their own by then (beyond those who had already gotten out, of course).

That's how long similar dynamics delayed truly addressing the issue of getting out those who had helped us worked out in 1975.

We still have some months in Iraq, but who's to say how much or little time beyond a few months?

"Thieu," that is.

I think part of it is the desire to pretend that we aren't leaving any time soon.

That had occurred to me but I thought the answer was too simple: that our policy is to allow any Iraqi translator etc. to immigrate after n months of service or because of necessity. That's the right thing to do if we're planning to stay for 20 years, so there's no cut&run implied.

"...I thought [...] that our policy is to allow any Iraqi translator etc. to immigrate after n months of service or because of necessity."

I'm not sure I understand you correctly, but that's certainly not anything like our policy at all, as I've outlined.

No, I think he was saying that would be a super easy solution.

""We still have some months in Iraq, but who's to say how much or little time beyond a few months?"

Of course, there are certainly different views.

While Washington is mired in political debate over the future of Iraq, the American command here has prepared a detailed plan that foresees a significant American role for the next two years.
"No, I think he was saying that would be a super easy solution."

I think "beginnings of a first step in the right direction" is closer than "solution," but it certainly would be at least that. But not all Iraqis who have worked for us or favored us, or are their immediate relatives, are translators.

I'm much more comfortable with the pragmatic argument for visas for those who have worked for the occupation and their families -- and doing this does seem clearly in the interest of the U.S. government. I doubt it will happen for the reasons Gary lays out.

Framing this as a human rights issue, though, I rejet unless those who do so also accept our massive obligations to the people of Iraq in general -- those still in the country as well as the millions of refugees.

This kind of selective moral hectoring is what enraged me most on the part of liberal interventionists who supported the invasion.

I hope Iraqi food is good:
http://tinyurl.com/2y7lde

(And I admit that I gave Bush far too much credit.)

I'm not quite sure, Nell, if you're accusing me of not "accept[ing] our massive obligations to the people of Iraq in general," but if you are, I'm entirely unclear how I haven't done so. (If you aren't, apologies.)

Thanks for the heads-up, Sebastian: I'll write to my MP. Also to bloody Gordon Brown. Also will contact other Amnesty International members in my area and suggest we do a write-in.

Gary, I'm not accusing you or anyone in this thread of anything. (I'm also getting wary and weary of your tendency to assume various commenters' remarks are aimed at you personally).

I am warning that anyone who wants to cast the campaign to secure visas for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. in moral terms, as a human rights campaign, must be willing to exert at least that much effort to repair the lives of the Iraqis who did not do so.

Making it a human rights campaign, rather than a call for our government to exercise the most minimal prudence in fulfilling its implied obligations, is too much like the fuss that was made on CNN over the infant blasted by a U.S. bomb during the invasion who was brought here for medical treatment. Inadequate, tokenistic, guilt-displacing and -- worst of all -- an occasion for revolting self-congratulation.

I fully support efforts to get our government to issue visas and actually admit as many Iraqis as possible -- at an absolute minimum those who have worked with the U.S. government and their families.

Thanks a lot for this, Sebastian. I need to blogroll Obsidian Wings. Hope you're well.

I think Americans need to look at writing to their Congressmen (as a first step, anyway), especially now that Crocker has come out in favour of US residency rights for all Iraqis who have worked for Americans.

I understand you Nell, but if we hold up discharging one moral duty because we can't or won't discharge the other, then we've done no one any favor.

Yeah, but if the greater moral duty (simply because of the massively greater numbers of people affected) is not getting the publicity and support it deserves, while people instead focus on the lesser moral duty, then there's a problem. I'm not suggesting that there's an
inescapable causality between the two, but it's all too human that this happens. There are nearly 4 million Iraqi refugees and displaced persons already and I haven't read much about initiatives to help them.

It looks pretty like there is an active will to deny Iraqis that have served the US in Iraq from the start entrance by procrastinating and blocking long enough that they have been killed as collaborators before the process is finished.
http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/56397/>An example

Excellent post, Sebastian. Does anyone know if any NGO's are working on this issue, not necessarily getting visas for such brave persons to the US, but helping them get out to any country willing to take them?

Hartmut: It looks pretty like there is an active will to deny Iraqis that have served the US in Iraq from the start entrance by procrastinating and blocking long enough that they have been killed as collaborators before the process is finished.

I clicked on the link thinking you must be exaggerating, and finished reading, realizing that you are not.

I'm still working on my letter to my MP: I will include a paragraph to say that this should include asylum for translators who worked for the US forces as well as the British forces.

It isn't going to happen. We will not get any significant number of our collaborators out unless we stay well beyond January 2009.

There's reason to hope a lot of them won't get killed. The point of killing them (or their families) now is to persuade the survivors to quit and to make it harder for us to find replacements. (Plus of course the immediate loss to us of their services.) When we're gone, that purpose is gone and all that's left is revenge and long-term goals.

Are many of Saddam's old supporters getting killed now for their actions under Saddam? Torturers, secret police, etc? Possibly. More likely some of them get killed at random for being sunni, and others are considered valuable employees by whoever needs their skills.

Our translators can claim to have worked in favor of iraq. "I kept many people from being killed. I told the americans they were innocent, I told them what to say. I reported what the americans were doing, I was a spy and the americans would have killed me if they knew." It's probably true in most cases.

I don't have an statistics about how many of our employees get killed by the enemy versus getting arrested by us for working against us. That information is secret. If the ratio is too high, we probably don't trust many of them that much -- except we can't do anything effective without them, so we have to trust them. How many enemy spies do we want to give visas to, to come to the USA? None.

Oh yes, if we want a solid death sentence for our supporters, I can't think of what we could do that would be more effective than preparing a list of people who should get visas, and leaking it to the insurgencies before we actually give them the visas. If we actually did prepare such a list, we'd need to be careful to keep it secret from any iraqis -- since we don't know which of our iraqi employees are leaking our secrets.

J Thomas: How many enemy spies do we want to give visas to, to come to the USA? None.

My thought was: How many interrogators who tortured prisoners on behalf of the US military do I want to permit to come to the UK?

And then I thought: No. The fact is, we owe them. To treat this as a favor that we might give them if they can prove they're harmless is like arguing that the US has a right to hold innocent people prisoner in Guantanamo Bay because their own country doesn't want them, they can't be put back where they were captured, and the US is unwilling to take them in.

Yes, some of the people who are given asylum under these circumstances may turn out to be people who've done bad things who would not normally get asylum. That's a risk that we are obliged to take after what we've done to them.

Jesurgislac, the problem is that AQ and GOP have a functional alliance. It's in their mutual interest to drive the US public crazy.

If one of the first 500 or so iraqis who get visas here because they were US employees in iraq is involved in a successful plan to set off a truck bomb in the Holland tunnel, a million wingnuts are going to say it proves they were right all along. It shows that all arabs hate us, that we were too kind to iraqis throughout the war and occupation, that if we don't get them there they'll get us here, etc etc etc.

33% of americans still back our nation's strongest enemies.
poll

Americans generally suffer from an illusion that we're strong enough to do whatever we want. That's how we got into iraq in the first place -- we mostly didn't argue about whether we'd win, we argued about whether it was the right thing to do. Now we're agreeing about what the right thing to do is, independent of consequences.

It was 100% the right thing to save the iraqi public from the mass-murdering Saddam. If we could have gotten rid of Saddam and gotten a peaceful liberal democracy in iraq that loved israel and exported democracy to the rest of the middle east, and done it at reasonable cost, it would have been absolutely the right thing to do. (Apart from minor concerns like the UN constitution and our international agreements, etc -- which we could probably have finessed.)

It would have been the right thing, but we didn't do that.

Now we're talking about doing the right thing again, and I agree we should do it if we can get away with it. But I want to get it clear that trying to do it won't leave the USA to the tender mercies of the GOP for another 4 years. We aren't strong enough to do whatever we want, not any more. The USA is a lot weaker than we used to be and we have to consider consequences.

The GOP has charged up debts we can't pay. If we try to pay down the wrong debts and it leaves the GOP in control, we will have made a serious mistake.

J Thomas: If we could have gotten rid of Saddam and gotten a peaceful liberal democracy in iraq that loved israel and exported democracy to the rest of the middle east, and done it at reasonable cost, it would have been absolutely the right thing to do.

Like giving everyone in Iraq a pony.

Charley: if we hold up discharging one moral duty because we can't or won't discharge the other

I'm not advocating 'holding up' efforts to get the U.S. government to issue these visas at all. I support those efforts and have written my Congressman and Senators.

What I'm trying to discourage is self-congratulation or the any sense that such action even begins to discharge our moral debt to the Iraqi people.

The GOP has charged up debts we can't pay. If we try to pay down the wrong debts and it leaves the GOP in control, we will have made a serious mistake.

Let's just pass a law that any U.S. citizen can sponsor an Iraqi family for immigration, as long as they pay for it. Allows for the GOP ideal of private initiative.

Like giving everyone in Iraq a pony.

Jesurgislac, it would have been far, far, cheaper to give everyone in Iraq a pony . . .

Nell: "I am warning that anyone who wants to cast the campaign to secure visas for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. in moral terms, as a human rights campaign, must be willing to exert at least that much effort to repair the lives of the Iraqis who did not do so."

I can't agree.

First, the responsibilities are somewhat independent. If you start a fire that goes out of control and burns your wife severely, traps some kids in the fire down the street while giving them horrific burns, and creates smoke damge in the houses of other neighbors, you have responsibility to all of them. But saying that you can't repair the smoke damage doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to save the kids and if you can't do either it doesn't mean you should care for your wife.

Second, the way to 'make it right' for Iraq in general would be to put down both sides of the civil war and impose order. Whether or not that is something that ever could have been done is a debate long past its time. It is certain that Bush using his approaches to the war, cannot do so.

Third, as awful as a civil war in Iraq is likely to be when we leave, it is much more likely to be awful for these particular people. While certain individuals in different classes of people will be swept into serious danger, these particular people are going to be particularly targeted for helping us. They took great risks under the belief that the United States would do right by their country. We have not done right by their country--you can blame Bush and Cheney for that, but it doesn't make sense to blame them. We can and should avoid a situation where they get tortured and killed for taking that failed risk.

I recommend you read this link about a recent female translator killed. Don't misplace your anger at Cheney and Bush onto people like her.

"If we could have gotten rid of Saddam and gotten a peaceful liberal democracy in iraq that loved israel and exported democracy to the rest of the middle east, and done it at reasonable cost, it would have been absolutely the right thing to do."

Like giving everyone in Iraq a pony.

We didn't owe the iraqis ponies, but we owed them for Saddam.

Look at the history. Up until the Shah fell, iran was a US client and iraq was a USSR client. Iran had first-rate US military equipment, and iraq had second- or third-rate soviet military equipment. Etc. It was clearly better to be a US client than a USSR client.

So after we lost iran, iraq under Saddam tried to switch. We gave them lots and lots of support for war with iran, and we gave them secret promises. The war dragged out a long time and iraq suffered (while iran suffered more) but we kept supplying them, and giving them advice about how to use the chemical weapons we showed them how to make, etc.

And then iran/contra came out. A brilliant israeli victory. Note the results:

1. Israel gets money as a middleman, and loses nothing.

2. Iran pays israel a lot of money and gets military equipment with israeli marking that doesn't work, and their own people find out about it.

3. Iraq finds out that their secret ally the USA has been selling military equipment to their enemy iran, speficly to use against them. That our interest is not so much to punish iran or help iraq as it is to keep the war going and punish both sides and keep both sides financing their war effort by selling as much oil as they can cheap. Saddam finds out that being a US client state is not always a good idea.

4. The only negative is that their US ally also has a scandal from it. But it doesn't hurt israel when one US party suffers a scandal since both sides support israel unconditionally.

So Saddam stopped believing he was a US client, and made peace with iran, and we started smearing him for using chemical weapons. Our attacks on him since then have all hurt iraqi civilians worse than they've hurt Saddam.

If we could have gotten rid of Saddam for them and given them something better, it wouldn't have been like giving them free ponies. We owed them.

As it turned out, we treated them worse than Saddam did.

Now we owe the iraqis who work for us. If we aren't careful we'll treat them even worse than ignoring them, and it could backfire on us too.

Note that if we make a list of iraqis to get special treatment, and it leaks before we get them safe, that's much more of a death sentence than just paying them.

J Thomas, you're obviously not familiar with the ...and a pony! joke.

Not necessarily if the pony delivering contract had been given to Halliburton.

My comment at 11:44 referred to rea's at 11:36

Sebastian, as I said to Charley Carp, you are misreading my comments. Please stop. I am not 'misplacing (displacing?) my anger at Cheney and Bush' onto their victims.

I have explicitly said, more than once in these comments, that I support efforts to secure visas, now, for these workers and their families.

Your analogy does not cover the sense of my comments because a country is not a person, and there is a difference between interests and moral obligations. But, within the analogy, I do advocate saving the wife and those children.

Please stop attributing views to me that I have explicitly contradicted in this thread.

"I am warning that anyone who wants to cast the campaign to secure visas for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. in moral terms, as a human rights campaign, must be willing to exert at least that much effort to repair the lives of the Iraqis who did not do so."

I think this I'm misunderstanding what you mean with this statement, Nell.

What do you mean? If we can't stop a civil war, what does this statement mean?

@Sebastian: It means that I am not prepared to hear national-interest or budgetary arguments against massive reparations for Iraq from those who chose to cast the issue of visas for occupation workers and their families as a moral or human-rights issue rather than a matter of national interest.

Jesurgislac, I'm familiar with the "and a pony," joke. The fact that giving every Iraqi an actual pony would have been cheaper--and done more to combat terrorism--than what we did, is one of the reasons why the joke is funny, at least to my mind . . .

Heck, imagine if we'd had the forethought to cut every Iraqi a check for $20,000, rather than invade--we'd still be better off, even in monetary terms.

"It means that I am not prepared to hear national-interest or budgetary arguments against massive reparations for Iraq from those who chose to cast the issue of visas for occupation workers and their families as a moral or human-rights issue rather than a matter of national interest."

Ok, but that isn't what you were actually writing. You are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. We probably can't relocate absolutely every Iraqi from Iraq to Texas. And even if it were theoretically possible, you know that we aren't going to. So you *seem* to be saying that if we can't do the most, we shouldn't bother with the things we can do.

At least that is what: "I am warning that anyone who wants to cast the campaign to secure visas for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. in moral terms, as a human rights campaign, must be willing to exert at least that much effort to repair the lives of the Iraqis who did not do so." looks like to me.

Are you saying that if we allow people who helped us to resettle in the US if they choose, we must allow everyone in Iraq to resettle in the US if they choose? Because that seems very likely in practical effect to mean that no one gets help.

Where'd my comment go?

Again: Just for the record, I'd say that most of J Thomas' descriptions and characterizations in J Thomas' 11:42 AM comment bear little relationship to to the historic reality they grossly distort.

Nell: "I doubt it will happen for the reasons Gary lays out."

Followed by: "Gary, I'm not accusing you or anyone in this thread of anything. (I'm also getting wary and weary of your tendency to assume various commenters' remarks are aimed at you personally)."

Possibly you might want to quote what you're responding to, then; being surprised when you follow someone's comment with words that seem to be chastising them, as you disagree with them by name, otherwise seems apt to recur. It's usually easy to be clear as to whom one is addressing, though I grant it's equally easy to wander into a general rant, and that I'm no less prone at times than anyone else.

However, if I'd not addressed this to "Nell," and had simply written a comment that responded to your comment, and then made general conclusions and condemnations, I would not be surprised by your asking me if I was criticizing you, and if so, why.

In any case, I'm 100% for American reparations, and for helping all Iraqis, and I'm fine with admitting 500,000 Iraqi refugees to the U.S., so all the "selective moral hectoring" seems misdirected at me. Perhaps it would help if you simply named the individuals you wish to criticize, rather than repeatedly being "enraged" at unnamed people (who may be present? -- who may not be present?), and then being annoyed when someone asks you to clarify whom you are referring to.

"Are you saying that if we allow people who helped us to resettle in the US if they choose, we must allow everyone in Iraq to resettle in the US if they choose? Because that seems very likely in practical effect to mean that no one gets help."

I think that summarizes the downside Nell and I see in this campaign. Yes, we should help the Iraqis who worked for us, but this should be seen as one extremely tiny piece of what we owe Iraqi refugees in general. Or Iraqis in general. But what seems likely is that this incredibly tiny step will be all we do, and it'll be portrayed in self-serving ways.

Putting down the civil war in Iraq might involve killing a lot of Iraqis, including civilians. There are no reliable figures on how many Iraqis our troops kill. As I said in the other thread and in threads going back years now, there is a strange lack of interest in trying to find out how much violence our own side is directly responsible for in Iraq.


Here's a column about refugees in Jordan. It seems to me that our obligation to help this woman and her family is undeniable.

LINK

"I think that summarizes the downside Nell and I see in this campaign."

I think it would help me if you would explain how this is a downside of *this* campaign.

It seems to me like we are getting to an "and a pony" moment for your side of the discussion. Yes, it would be wonderful if we could ensure peace on earth and good will toward men. Or even just every single person indirectly harmed by our actions. But the fact that we can't, or even if we *could* but won't doesn't seem a very strong argument against any particular form of help.

From Nell's comments on the other thread, I suspect that Nell believes these people are especially *unworthy* of help for some reason, but I'm reluctant to pursue that further until I get more direct confirmation.

I do not believe any such thing, and in the face of my repeated statements that Iraqis who have worked for the occupation should be given help to resettle here, and that I have myself taken actions (long before this post) to urge this, I would ask that you not impute to me beliefs for which there is no basis in my comments, here or in the other post.

"I would ask that you not impute to me beliefs for which there is no basis in my comments, here or in the other post."

I've quoted you on both threads, and you don't seem very interested in dealing with any of your own quotes. And hilzoy misunderstood you for goodness sake--and she is unusually charitable for a human being.

But the fact that we can't, or even if we *could* but won't doesn't seem a very strong argument against any particular form of help.

How clear do I and Donald have to make it that we are not arguing against action to help Iraqis who have worked with the occupation (and their families)?

We are arguing against a mindset and set of attitudes that encourages people to give themselves big moral credit for such action.

This is all the more important a caution to people whose support for the initial invasion and continued support for the occupation was couched in terms of humanitarian intervention. Such people helped created a disaster, and an enormous moral obligation to the Iraqi people and nation, that so far has been used only as an argument to continue the occupation.

I think casting this as a human rights issue, even hypocritically, is more likely to help these people than to harm anyone else.

From Nell's comments on the other thread, I suspect that Nell believes these people are especially *unworthy* of help for some reason, but I'm reluctant to pursue that further until I get more direct confirmation.

Sebastian, Nell doesn't say that, quit putting words in her mouth. I agree with her, and don't say that either. I support this initiative, because of the urgency of the threat and the fact that it would take some bureaucrat only the stroke of a pen to help these people, because of their small number and reachability. That said, I don't see how they are in any way more deserving of our support than the 4 million refugees and displaced Iraqis. Half of them would also be immediately reachable because they are in Syria and Jordan, all of them are under a similar threat than the translators, otherwise why would they have fled. Maybe the US doesn't want to or cannot take them all in, but in this case it's now the time to talk about setting up safe havens or something alike, because things likely won't get any better for them after we have left. It's time to talk about planning for all the Iraqi civilians possibly under threat now and after a pullout. My fear is that people will be focusing on initiatives like this one, which are good but only benefit a tiny fraction of those in danger, while the larger humanitarian issue is not addressed.

It seems to me that these people are owed a slightly larger debt than other Iraqis. Interpreters are not drawn from some privileged class of Iraqis who would otherwise be perfectly safe if they didn't choose to work for the Coalition. They have volunteered to accept no small amount of additional risk in order to aid the Coalition and the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom. This, it seems to me, incurs an obvious debt from those governments to the interpreters.

To answer Katherine's question, this matters now because if current interpreters get a visa, then they'll be able to leave right then. They're not required to continue their service as interpreters until the Coalition chooses to leave.

I personally don't care how the issue is painted. I just want these men and women to get the chance to get out of Iraq.

"she is unusually charitable for a human being."

Easily explained. I am actually a turnip.

I don't get your point Sebastian, unless you're arguing for trying to help Iraqis by winning the war. If that's the case, you'll have the usual Obi Wi liberal and leftist pile-on to contend with.

Nell's point seems clear to me--I share it.

We should help the translators. Nell and I are saying that this is just the beginning of our humanitarian obligations and it shouldn't stop here, but should go much, much further, probably far beyond what is politically attainable in the US, but we should push for as much as possible.

If everyone here agrees with this, fine. I think many do. I'm trying to cut back on the number of arguments I get into with people who agree with me.

I'm trying to cut back on the number of arguments I get into with people who agree with me.

good one, lol

Gary, incredible as it may seem, I was trying to agree with you when I referred to a comment of yours:
I'm much more comfortable with the pragmatic argument for visas for those who have worked for the occupation and their families -- and doing this does seem clearly in the interest of the U.S. government. I doubt it will happen for the reasons Gary lays out.

First, I could and should have put a comma after 'happen'. Second, I could have specified the reasons you had laid out in an earlier comment, rather than just alluding to them. Since you had made more than one comment by that point, I should have. I was referring to your recounting in a comment at 1:36 am of the U.S. government's unwillingness in the last days of the Viet Nam war to take any action that would indicate withdrawal.

I apologize for not having gone into sufficient detail to avoid a perceived slight.

I was not referring to you as someone whose selective moral hectoring in favor of the invasion had enraged me. As a matter of fact, among those who I was referring to is George Packer, who as late as the fall of 2005 was still defending his support for the invasion and occupation on the basis of his noble intentions.

I agree with the action that Packer wants taken with respect to Iraqis who have worked with the occupation. I have taken action myself, prompted by his March New Yorker article. That does not mean that I agree with every argument he makes for such action.

If there's a practical reason that the interpreters are the only people likely to be let in, sure I agree. Otherwise, if we're being selective about visas then paid interpreters would be fairly well down my list (widows and orphans from American air strikes would be #1, I think).

"We are arguing against a mindset and set of attitudes that encourages people to give themselves big moral credit for such action."

So would that be anyone here? Or is that just a general comment?

Frankly, we are dealing with human beings. If, in order to get useful things done we have to allow people to live with certain delusions about their personal reasons for doing things, I'm ok with that in most instances--especially since I'm not super-good at figuring them out anyway.

So far as I can tell, no one is arguing that it would be a grand positive gesture if the United States allowed visas for those Iraqis who risked themselves working for us. More like the bare minimum that ought to be expected, and it is a scandal that it hasn't been provided for. So I don't see the problem *here*.

It may very well be that in order to cast a wide enough net to provide the required political support some appeal to human rights or some such might be necessary. I suspect that will be needed more for the extreme left than the extreme right. The extreme right is more likely to be persuaded by the idea that help will be needed by local people in some place at some time in the future, and that abandoning to torture and murder those Iraqis who help us now, would tend to make such efforts much harder in the future.

In short, unless you can at least vaguely point in the direction of this class of people you are alluding to, I don't understand your point.

Katherine: I think casting this as a human rights issue, even hypocritically, is more likely to help these people than to harm anyone else.

You are probably correct. I don't want to discourage anyone from taking action to see that they get U.S. visas and resettlement help.

I've counseled against purism in anti-torture activism in the past, so should take my own advice.

Sebastian, I've said all I have to say on both threads, and the answers to your question in this most recent comment are there. Also, Donald Johnson has answered your question as well as I could hope to.

Thanks for raising the issue in your post.

Sebastian, framing it as the 'bare minimum' is exactly the mindset that is problematic:

There are 4 million refugees living in appalling conditions, with no money, no jobs, no health-care, no hope, no nothing.

70% of Iraqis lack regular access to clear drinking water.

70% of the critically injured simply die in hospitals because of the lack of resources.

20% of Iraqi children are chronically malnourished.

There is barely any financial or practical support for these people, while the war is costing more than 100 million dollars a day.

And we are talking about letting a couple of thousand emigrate to the US, which is in itself a good thing and would be great for them, but a mere humanitarian gesture.

I don't think most Americans are or want to be aware of the humanitarian catastrophe the Iraq war has created.

OK, let's try an experiment. Can we all agree on the following:

(a) We have an obligation to try to get the people who worked with us out, and this is true in part because the fact that they have worked for us places them in real and serious danger over and above what they would face were they ordinary Iraqis who did not work for us.

(b) Were we to fulfill this obligation, that would not exhaust our obligations to the citizens of Iraq.

(c) If someone were to construe our thinking that we should help these people as implying that we had no other obligations to Iraqis, they would be wrong, and we should argue against them.

(d) If someone were to construe our thinking that we should help these people as implying that these are "good" Iraqis and other Iraqis are "bad" or "less good", they would also be wrong, and we should argue against them.

Because it seems to me that we all do agree on this.

What I'm trying to discourage is self-congratulation or the any sense that such action even begins to discharge our moral debt to the Iraqi people.

This I agree with completely, Nell.

WRT our moral debt to the Iraqi people, I'm afraid we're bankrupt. Only a monster would say that things may yet work out in Iraq, given the numbers already in the grave. In similar vein, I just don't see us as capable of going with a whole loaf on asylum. Or half a loaf. Or more than a slice or two.

Maybe once we're out, we'll be able to work off some of the debt -- through the UN and other non-DOD institutions -- but the notion that our continued 'borrowing' is helping pay down our debt is pretty dispiriting. (I know, Nell, that you do not hold that view -- it's the Decider's world, though, and we're just living in it for now).

Just for the record, I'd say that most of J Thomas' descriptions and characterizations in J Thomas' 11:42 AM comment bear little relationship to to the historic reality they grossly distort.

Gary Farber, it may be that a lot of the historical records I base that on were actually disinformation of one sort or another. Similarly, it is likely that many of the records you base your view on were disinformation with little resemblance to what actually happened.

So you have a right to your own opinions. You have a right to your own facts. You have a right to your own historical reality. But it's ridiculous for you to call your opinions "the" historical reality.

Just for the record, I'd say that most of J Thomas' descriptions and characterizations in J Thomas' 11:42 AM comment bear little relationship to my historic reality.

Fixed.

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