Iraq and moral obligation

In the time before the war in Iraq, Colin Powell famously instructed President Bush in the "Pottery Barn rule." In other words, you break it, you buy it.

As we know, the administration couldn't have botched things better if it had tried. Let's presume for a second that the war was justified. The administration threw out State Department recommendations for the post-invasion phase and naively assumed that this period would prove a cakewalk. There's much more, including this week's report about a US probe of fraud involving billions of dollars in weapons for Iraqi and American forces.

It's no wonder that many Americans would just like the war -- or US involvement in it -- to go away.

Most of the attention about the recent first seasonal episode of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher has gone to actor Tim Robbins's excoriation of Cheney biographer Stephen Hayes. Yet another member of their panel, an NPR journalist, made a provocative point: that American liberals are selective when it comes to human rights, caring more about this subject in the US and some other countries than in Iraq. I think she was on to something.

In related news, the New York Times reports today on how few of the Iraqis who have aided the US in their country are reaching American safe havens:

BAGHDAD — Despite a stepped-up commitment from the United States to take in Iraqis who are in danger because they worked for the U.S. government and military, very few are signing up to go, resettlement officials said.

The reason, Iraqis say, is that they are not allowed to apply in Iraq, requiring them to make a costly and uncertain journey to countries like Syria or Jordan, where they may be turned away by border officials already overwhelmed by fleeing Iraqis.

The United Nations has submitted more than 9,000 Iraqis to the United States for consideration as refugees since the State Department announced a new resettlement program in February, but only about 5 percent of the applicants are former employees connected with the U.S. war effort, according to figures provided by the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration, the agencies processing the cases.

This year, administration officials began publicly discussing the special dangers faced by Iraqis working with Americans here and acknowledging the need to grant them safe haven in the United States. To that end, the Bush administration has set up a special program for a small number of Iraqis, which gives preferential treatment to full-time employees of the U.S. Embassy, currently about 125 in Baghdad, and to 500 interpreters by allowing them to skip the lengthy U.N. refugee process once they leave Iraq.

But thousands more Iraqis work for the United States through contractors like Titan, a subsidiary of L-3 Communications; DynCorp International; Parsons Corp.; and Triple Canopy. In all, 69,000 Iraqis work on contracts with the Defense Department through Iraqi and foreign companies, according to the U.S. military. They are cleaners, construction workers, drivers, security guards, to name a few, and although they face the same reprisals as anyone working more directly with the U.S. government, they do not fall into the special category.

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