Open Letter to Candidates

Neil Wollman and Abigail Fuller

electionsThus far, your debate on the war in Iraq–like the public and media debate–has focused mainly on the questions of progress in security and political reconciliation, with some limited discussion on the war’s effects on the U.S. economy and on our military preparedness elsewhere. The consensus seems to be that, yes, there has been progress in Iraq on security and in the political realm, with debate centering on how much. You seem to agree there have been some negative effects on the United States, with debate on whether the benefits of the war outweigh the costs.

But you seem blind to other criteria that should be as important in judging this war and guiding our future foreign policy. We speak of criteria that might generally be termed “quality of life” concerns: poverty, inflation, unemployment, the rebuilding of infrastructure (including schools and hospitals), the quality of the educational and health systems (including monitoring of childhood malnutrition and deaths from public health problems), ransom kidnappings and other crimes, and the brain drain of professionals, to give some wide-ranging examples. Unfortunately, such humanitarian concerns are treated mainly as peripheral issues worthy only of occasional mention, not major debate.

So why should you talk about these issues in the coming months as our citizens determine who will lead our country’s future foreign policy? If such a conflict were happening on our soil, you would certainly be discussing humanitarian concerns. If we indeed care about the Iraqi people–a major rationale for ousting Saddam Hussein–why aren’t we talking about their quality of life? Given the great human and material resources invested in this war, the American public is entitled to a full accounting of its progress, including progress on the humanitarian front. This information is crucial to determining where U.S. policy and resources go from here, not only for military needs, but for materials and careful planning and monitoring for providing basic services, building infrastructure, and the like. Recent reporting by Refugees International revealed that both Shiite and Sunni militias are gaining recruits by providing citizens with food, oil, gas, electricity, clothing and money. Is there a lesson here for the United States?

For the long term, you as our future leader must make a full accounting of the war’s progress in order to make better decisions in the future when questions of military intervention arise again. Then, if as president you decide a military operation is necessary, it will be because you have taken into account not only political and military concerns (and inevitable civilian and soldier combat-related deaths) but longer-lasting humanitarian ones as well. A more inclusive analysis will help you more wisely determine not only whether to go to war, but how to better prepare for its aftermath.

Given the cost of the Iraq war and any future wars, whether and how you address these concerns will impact us as we citizens cast our ballots. We need a president who understands that humanitarian concerns must be central in considering military ventures. Not only is this the right thing to do, but as the Refugee International findings suggest, improving the quality of life for citizens under military siege may be the best way to provide for our own security.

PsySR member Neil Wollman, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Bentley Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility at Bentley College in Waltham, MA. He can be reached at Abigail A. Fuller, Ph.D., is an associate professor of sociology at Manchester College in North Manchester, IN. This essay originally appeared as a UPI “Outside View” commentary.


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