The Union for Reform Judaism, chief representative body of the Reform Movement, the largest growing body of American Judaism, recently found itself at the center of a maelstrom of political controversy. Chief among the causes for this was a resolution passed at the URJ’s recent biennial assembly in Houston, Texas, which called on President Bush to provide for the speedy withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
The initial media reaction to the anti-war resolution was generally laudatory: “Staring down Bush in Bush Country” was the title of a front-page headline in the Jewish Week. But less than a month after the Houston convention, the Republican Jewish Coalition took out a full-page ad in the New York Times blasting the URJ for claiming to speak for all Reform Jews. This sparked a series of polite but terse communiqués between the Religious Action Center’s (an affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism) head Rabbi David Saperstein and RJC leader Matt Brooks. Though the epistular sparring was a treat not often witnessed these days, none of them went any further towards fostering the “serious debate over the Iraq war” which URJ President Eric Yoffie wished to spark, focusing instead on the claims of various URJ press releases (not the actual resolution) and the thrust of the RJC ad campaign. As such, the ill-conceived and illogical statement made at the Houston biennial (and which was also sent by post to all members of Congress and President Bush) is falling by the wayside in favor of the antics of its critics and supporters. This is unfortunate, especially as the resolution and similar half-baked sentiments continue to gain currency with the American public.
The URJ resolution at first glance seems to fall neatly into the category of those who want to have their cake and eat it too. For example, here is Paragraph 3 of the resolution, the section I find to be most objectionable:
[The Union of Reform Judaism resolves to:]
3. Call upon the Bush Administration immediately to provide more transparency regarding all aspects of the war and a clear exit strategy to the American public with specific goals for troop withdrawal; some withdrawal of troops should begin after the completion of the parliamentary elections (currently scheduled for December 15, 2005) with the continuation of withdrawal implemented as soon as possible in a way that maintains stability in the nation and empowers Iraqi forces to provide for their national security;
Calling for the United States to devise an exit strategy for the war, is, I believe, reasonable. For example, when there is a stable government, a viable economic platform, a competent, professional, and humanitarian Iraqi military, and a cessation of hostilities against US troops and Iraqi citizens by insurgents, that would be a great time to leave. How is this to be best accomplished? Not being a military strategist, I can’t say. The committee members who wrote the resolution, however, clearly are top military strategists, since they seem quite sure that the way to ensure “stability in the nation and [empower] Iraqi forces to provide for their national security” is by having American troops withdraw immediately. And here we start having our cake and eating it too—the URJ wants stability and security in Iraq, but also wants American troops home immediately. It seems fairly clear at this juncture that you just can’t have both. In a recent article in the Weekly Standard, military historian Frederick W. Kagan makes several compelling points for the effectiveness of a continued American presence, citing the largely successful raids on insurgent strongholds in Fallujah and Tal Afar and the growing participation of Sunni Arabs in the political process in defiance of insurgents’ threats. But perhaps most compellingly of all is the likelihood that were the Iraqi military to be left in charge at this juncture, they would be unable to sustain under pressure the professionalism and concern for human rights that their American instructors are trying to imbue them with, “stir[ring] the insurgency and even heighten[ing] the specter of civil war.” American withdrawal could very well lead to the kind of catastrophe the URJ claims to be trying to prevent.
But even assuming the top brass at the URJ have got it right, that withdrawing American troops will in fact ensure peace and stability in Iraq, the main point is they just don’t know for sure. The conviction of the URJ that troop withdrawal is conducive to stability in Iraq rings hollow; there are strong arguments against it, not only based on the current situation but also from history (imagine if Eisenhower had settled for anything less than total victory over Hitler, or Grant had taken lesser terms at Appomatox). At the very least, there are serious, serious doubts. The URJ delegates and committee members, no doubt intelligent and educated people, must be aware of this, and yet voted their approval of this fatuous resolution. Why? Because having their cake and eating it too is just the façade; they actually only want to have it. Once the troops are home, the URJ represented here and other liberal isolationists will simply not care about stability and security in Iraq. Vietnam, for example, is a similar situation. The war became more and more unpopular, with thousands taking to the streets to protest it, until eventually, in a horrific series of events, American troops were forced to turn tail and run. What followed was the fall of South Vietnam to a Communist government, the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the mass exodus of 2 million South Vietmanese, the notorious “reeducation” camps, hyperinflation, economic depression and famine. Not nearly as popular to talk about among lefties as “We stopped the war.” Oh, and by the way:
50th General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism, October 1969:
Believing that new initiatives are required to bring about an early end of the un-conscionable slaughter in Vietnam, we urge our government to:
1. Direct an immediate stand-still cease-fire in Vietnam and the withdrawal of all United States military presence no later than December 31, 1970, from Vietnam and those combat and supporting troops in other Southeast Asian countries used in support of the war in Vietnam.