Saving face: A problem, not a solution

There are seldom good reasons, but always excellent excuses, to save face. That seems markedly so in both politics and affairs of state.

Two generations ago the American citizenry was browbeaten by its political leaders, Democrats as well as Republicans, into believing, or at least accepting, that there was no way out of Vietnam … that we all had to be united and stay the course. Communism was then the excuse masked as the reason. Today, once again, we are hearing a similar tune being played… a catchy sound of a political “golden oldie” but with brand new lyrics. Terrorism, with WMD as one of its tentacles, is this time the excuse masked as the reason for our adventure in Iraq.

Is there a way out of Iraq ? One that is right and honorable for the US ? I posed those questions to my learned friends from a dozen countries that make up two weekly discussion groups in socio-politics, and there was a consensus among them that there is definitely a way… provided Americans have the proverbial will. It is the existence of the latter that most participants in my survey questioned.

Although my friends may not quite possess the credentials found in associates of many of our better known think-tanks, they probably exhibit more common sense and far less partiality in their “findings” than those who get paid to express their opinions. And even more important, they represent quite a mix in geo-political diversity.

The general accord reached for an optimal strategy to exit Iraq may be summarized this way:

  • US would turn over its roles of liberator, occupier and nation-builder in their totality to the United Nations.
  • Concurrent with that turnover, it would provide a plan for pacification and security of the country with recommendations as to the number and makeup of the military force (i.e.: 300,000 peacekeepers -25% from Arab nations and Turkey, 25% from US-NATO, 25% from other nations and 25% Iraqi nationals).
  • US would donate US$7 billion per month during the first year for the on-going reconstruction effort in Iraq . (Since only losers pay war reparations, such amounts would be deemed “gifts” from the American people to help Iraq emerge as a democracy.)
  • After one-year, if Iraq appears headed for democracy, the US would continue its help in the form of loans at the rate of US$3 billion per month for 2 years.
  • All economic development and reconstruction contracts would be governed by a special UN-Iraqi authority created to optimize results for Iraqis. Projects already contracted would be reviewed/re-bid to meet optimization criteria.

All the areas touched on above represent not only consensus but unanimity. The figures themselves, such as the number and origin of peacekeepers or economic aid required, are a compromise and have a wide range among the 34 individuals surveyed. There is also unanimity in the view that to call this an “honorable” exit for the US is a stretch since much damage has been done, and the best America can now offer is some reasonable expiation for the actions of an out-of-control, “fascist” administration. (Outside the US , America ’s brand of neo-conservatism, because of its status as a military superpower, is being viewed more and more as fascism.)

For me, these results not only have a face of diplomatic and political logic, but also a face of humanity. And if we wished to justify this action to the American taxpayer on economic terms, it could easily be done. Unfortunately, our politicians never put a dollar value to the cost of “saving face,” after all it is the rest of us who end up paying for all their mistakes.

Nations trying to save face retain neither the nuance of power, nor self-respect. But making unforced amends for past mistakes evidence character, fairness and, most important, humanity.

My friends are probably right, Americans lack the will to find their way out of Iraq.