One Iraq Issue That Should Unite Us All

To readers of my blog on The Hill's Pundits Blog:

This piece, published on July 19 by USA Today, co-authored by me, a critic of the Iraq war, and Michael Medved, a supporter of the war, is intended to focus everyone, whether anti-Iraq war or pro-Iraq war or somewhere in between, on one moral imperative: If we Americans have placed Iraqis in mortal danger by asking them to work for us, translate for us, be associated with our armed forces, et cetera, we owe it to them to allow them to come to America if they can show their lives are in danger because of us.

It's that simple. 

I would appreciate debate and discussion across the spectrum. But if you agree, please tell me — because legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.), S. 1651, that would help these vulnerable Iraqis. And comparable legislation has been introduced in the House by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).

I hope readers of this piece who agree with me and Michael Medved will communicate to the White House and the Congress — to Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives in Congress — to save these Iraqi lives that are endangered because we asked them to work for us.

We owe them that much — whether America stays the course or withdraws. The moral imperative, to me at least, is the same.

Please read this article and tell me what you think.


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One Iraq Issue That Should Unite Us All


Iraqis who have aided the U.S.-led mission are already targets. Once the American troops pull back — and they inevitably will — entire families will be left to fend for themselves. We still live with the haunting images from the Vietnam War. This country must not let history repeat itself in Iraq.

By Lanny J. Davis and Michael Medved

The war in Iraq has inspired bitter divisions — over whether America should have intervened, how we conducted the conflict, and how we should get out. But one issue should bring together all factions of the ongoing debate, and that is America's moral obligation to open our doors — immediately — to Iraqis who face danger and death because of their assistance to our forces.

Anna Husarska, a senior policy adviser at the International Rescue Committee, recently offered a chilling report of two Iraqis — a husband and wife team — who worked for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and were killed. As Husarska wrote, "A statement on the Internet made clear why: 'The swords of the security personnel of the Islamic State in Iraq ... are with God's grace slitting the throats of crusaders and their aides and lackeys.'"

Another young Iraqi was more fortunate. Several weeks ago, he lost his job as a contractor on a U.S. Army base. Security rules forced him to leave the base immediately. Driven from the safety of an American enclave within hours, he faced the likelihood that his association with coalition forces would lead almost immediately to his murder — if not by the anti-American insurgents then by his own family, who believed he had dishonored them.

On the other side of the world, a group of U.S. lawyers working pro bono for this young man (including Lanny J. Davis, the co-author of this commentary) learned of his dilemma and interrupted a sunny spring afternoon to try to save his life. SOS calls to congressional VIPs, including staffers of Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., produced a surprisingly quick response. Graham interrupted his weekend and called a senior government attorney in Iraq (late in the evening Iraq time) who had legal authority on this type of situation. A Washington lawyer close to U.S. Army senior officials reached top brass. The result: This Iraqi was placed in another job and allowed to stay on the base.

A constant risk

This loyal young man continues working at the U.S. facility in Iraq, but he can't leave or he'll be killed. That is because under current immigration policies, despite his service to our country, he can't find refuge in the land of the free.

Regardless of one's views on the Iraq war, all people of goodwill must recognize that we owe a debt to those Iraqis who risked everything to assist the U.S. dream of a pro-Western democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Recently, the assistant secretary of the State Department's refugees bureau, Ellen Sauerbrey, announced spots for up to 25,000 Iraqis who can qualify for refugee status, but most of those slots remain unfilled. According to Husarska, 11 were admitted to the USA in February, eight in March, one in April and one in May. Considering the direct peril to some of our closest associates among Iraqis, we need to improve on this pathetic record.

In 1975, we shared the revulsion of nearly all Americans at the awful scenes of Vietnamese civilians hanging on to the last U.S. helicopters, literally by their finger tips, as they took off from the rooftops of U.S. buildings in Saigon. We remember the images of women left behind, holding babies, crying hysterically, their hands reaching into the air as their American protectors abruptly departed. British historian Paul Johnson aptly observed that this moment symbolized "the most shameful defeat in the whole of American history. ... But it was the helpless people of the region who had to pay the real price."

In response to that shame, President Ford authorized the admission to the USA of more than 131,000 South Vietnamese refugees. So why not show comparable commitment to Iraqis who have worked closely with our troops and civilian personnel and face dire risks because of their association with the American cause?

Even if the Bush administration succeeds in its determined efforts to stabilize the current Iraqi government, an American departure could still put at risk some of the individuals most closely associated with our long-term role in the country. And even if a greatly reduced contingent of U.S. troops remains in Iraq on a semipermanent basis to battle al-Qaeda (as even the anti-war Senate Democratic resolution stipulated), those soldiers will have their hands full with other assignments without diverting attention to the protection of Iraqi families whose pro-American roles placed them at risk. These people deserve our support, regardless of our differing positions on ongoing disputes about the war and its execution.

Opening our gates

Last month, a bipartisan group of senators, including Kennedy, who is anti-war, and Lieberman, who supports the war, introduced legislation that would provide special refugee status for Iraqis who are in danger because of their association with the United States or its contractors. This legislation, or something like it, needs strong support from the administration as well as from citizens across ideological and partisan lines. As the experience with the young Iraqi described above proves, days, even hours, could mean the difference between life and death for people who did nothing wrong other than help Americans.

No one — not even the most fervent critics of the Iraq war — expects that an end to that struggle will bring an overall conclusion to the larger war with Islamo-Nazi terrorists. In the continued battle against jihadist fanatics, the admission to our country of Iraqi Arabs who courageously proved their support of the American cause can only enrich our resources for challenges to come. The language skills and cultural perspective of moderate Iraqis won't damage our society and could play an important role in helping to defend it.

Finally, we must consider our moral obligation here, especially for those who support an immediate or definite timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces. To deny that obligation, or worse, to ignore it, would tragically stain the legacy of another generation of Americans — whether pro- or anti-war — as did our passivity and indifference to the plight of Vietnamese allies left behind to suffer and die.