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Argument: The US has a duty to Iraqis to stay and minimize the damage it has caused

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The duty at issue is adumbrated in the claim that, were the U.S. to quit Iraq, sectarian genocide (or some lesser form of mass murder) would ensue. As prediction, this warning is highly plausible, given the incipient balkanization of mixed Iraqi neighborhoods and the great profusion of blood let therein. As ethics, the warning rests on an unstated premise that America has an obligation not to abandon Iraq to genocide.
This premise leaves unexplained the source of the obligation it contains. That lack of specificity in turn invites dissent from a certain type of conservative. Not all conservatives seek to minimize the role of moral obligation in foreign policy, but those who do so seek tend to call themselves conservatives. Such conservatives may think they detect, underlying the claim that the U.S. must prevent Iraqi genocide, the more sweeping claim that the U.S. must spend blood and treasure pursuing morally desirable outcomes, regardless of whether doing so advances American interests. If so, they are mistaken. The ethical case against withdrawal can be made without reference to any broader duty to choose ends for their moral worth.
This is so, first, because America is the cause of the Iraqi maelstrom. No matter what good--strategic or moral--has come or may yet come from toppling Saddam Hussein's regime, one cannot dispute that our decision to do so, and our subsequent mishandling of the occupation, created the vacuum into which Salafist and Khomeinist extremisms have been drawn, bringing with them an access of barbarity. This obvious fact implies a specific and narrow duty to repair the damage we have done. The average kindergartner could give a perfectly intelligible account of the operative moral principle here: When you make a mess, you clean it up; when you break something, you fix it; etc. The average congressman's capacity for moral reasoning may well be less developed.
[...]a country waging discretionary war ought to feel special concern for the consequences of its choice upon the enemy country. Determination to prevent the war from inflicting severe or long-term damage may even be a necessary condition of its justification. I believe that some such principle shapes our intuitions about Iraq. It is why many who advocated the war on strategic grounds felt compelled to note that it would also liberate an oppressed people from tyranny. It is also why the tragedies of post-war Iraq contribute mightily to the feeling that the war was not just."
  • Sir Michael Quinlan, a former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, now a consulting senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, said in 2007, "I think we ought to do what is best for the Iraqis, because we have made a mess of their country."[1]
  • Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at the University of London and IISS. - "Britain signed up for war with too few troops and too inactive a policy in the south. We have never managed to 'clear and hold' in Basra. The approach has been to muddle through and let the situation find its own level, which has resulted in anarchy, violence and criminality. Over the past four years this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy by the British top brass, who are responsible for much of it[...]"There is a lot of criminality and inter-faction violence in the British zone, but you could argue that it would get worse if British forces left. In my view we can't cut and run from a problem we have created."[2]

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