Bloody Iraq & Its Future: Part II

"This two-part lesson, with readings and, in Part II, suggested classroom activities, is aimed at helping students consider and develop opinions on the war in Iraq. Part I: What Is Going Right and What Is Going Wrong? Part II: How to Get Out?"

To the Teacher:

The conventional wisdom about Iraq is that, despite the bloody mayhem there, the U.S. cannot "cut and run," must "stay the course." Having examined "the course" the Bush administration has taken in the American occupation of Iraq, a number of people outside the administration have written that our country must find a way to extricate itself from a disastrous and chaotic course.
The president stated the essence of his view of the course he wants Iraq to take in the speeches of 5/12/04 and 12/7/04 quoted in the first reading, "Iraq: What Has Gone Right; What Has Gone Wrong." In the following reading, critics offer ideas for a different course.


Iraq: How to Get Out

Here are four views opposing current U.S. policy in Iraq and suggesting others.
1. Jonathan Schell, Harold Willens Peace Fellow at The Nation Institute
"The strongest argument for staying in Iraq is that the United States, having taken over the country, owes its people a better future. But acknowledgment of such a responsibility is only the beginning, not the end of an argument. To meet a responsibility to someone, you must have something to offer that they want. Certainly, the people of Iraq want electricity, running water and other material assistance. The United States should supply it. Perhapsóit's hard to find outóthey also want democracy. But democracy cannot be shipped to Iraq on a tanker or a C-5A. It is a homegrown construct, which must flow from the will of the people involved....The more the United States tries to force what it insists on calling democracy on Iraq, the more the people of Iraq will hate the United States, and even, perhaps, the name of democracy. There is no definition of an obligation that includes attacking the supposed beneficiaries' cities with F-16s and AC-130 gunships.
"There are still many things that the United States can do for the people of Iraq. Continued economic assistance is one. Another is to help international organizations to assist (but only to whatever degree is wanted by the local people) in the transition to a new political order. But all combat operations should cease immediately and then, on a fixed and announced timetable, the American forces should withdraw from the country....The United States should never have invaded Iraq. Now it should leave." (The Nation, 5/24/04)
2. Howard Zinn, historian and author of A People's History of the United States
"Any practical approach to the situation in Iraq, any prescription for what to do now, must start with the understanding that the present U.S. military occupation is morally unacceptable....The truth is no one knows what will happen if the United States withdraws. We face a choice between the certainty of mayhem if we stay, and the uncertainty of what will follow if we leave.
"What would be a reasonably good scenario to accompany our departure? The UN should arrange, as U.S. forces leave, for an international group of peacekeepers and negotiators from the Arab countries to bring together Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds and work out a solution for self-governance that would give all three groups a share in political power. Simultaneously, the UN should arrange for shipments of food and medicine, from the United States and other countries, as well as engineers to help rebuild the country. The one thing to be avoided is for the United play any leading role in the future of that country. In that case, terrorism would surely flourish....It is for the international community, particularly the Arab world, to try to reconstruct a nation at peace. That gives the Iraqi people a chance. Continued U.S. occupation gives them no chance." (The Nation, 5/24/04)
3. Erik Leaver, Insitute for Policy Studies
"It becomes clearer every day that U.S. operations and policies are fueling violence and instability....As a first step to withdrawal, the U.S. should declare an immediate ceasefire and reduce the number of troops deployed in Iraq....Congress needs to make clear that it is committed to the principle of responsible withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq....that it has no interest in controlling Middle Eastern oil or in suppressing Muslims....Give Iraqis direct authority over reconstruction funding. The U.S. government and its contractors have failed to restore public services and public safety, strengthen institutions, or provide jobs....Postpone national elections and hold elections for provincial governments. Given that war is raging in most of Iraq's Sunni regions, prospects for free and fair elections in January are dim....Once provincial elections are completed, illustrating that the U.S. is willing to cede power, and a guarantee that Sunnis will be included in the political process is in place, national elections will become more viable." (Foreign Policy in Focus,, 12/15/04)
4. Peter Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia
"In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state....I feel strongly that it is impossible to preserve the unity of a democratic state where people in a geographically defined region almost unanimously do not want to be part of that state. I have never met a Kurd who preferred membership in Iraq if independence were a realistic possibility. But the problem of Iraq is that a breakup of the country is not a realistic possibility for the present. Turkey, Iran, and Syria, all of which have substantial Kurdish populations, fear the precedent that would be set if Iraqi Kurdistan became independent....The Sunni Arabs do not have the resources to support an independent state of their own....
In the south, Iraq's Shiites want an Islamic state....Federalismóor even confederationówould make Kurdistan and the south governable because there are responsible parties there who can take over government functions....We can hope that if the Sunni Arabs feel more secure about their place in Iraq with respect to the Shiites and the Kurds, they will be relatively more moderate. Autonomy for the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq is a way to provide such security....
"These republics would be self-governing, financially self-sustaining, and with their own territorial military and police forces. The central government would have a weak presidency rotating among the republics, with responsibilities limited to foreign affairs, monetary policy, and some coordination of defense policy....some sharing of oil revenues would be essential....This model would solve many of the contradictions of modern Iraq....
"The three-state solution would permit the United States to disengage from security duties in most of Iraq....Still, a loose federation will have many drawbacks, especially for those who dreamed of a democratic Iraq that would transform the Middle East. The country would remain whole more in name than in reality....
"In administering elections and allowing a federation to emerge, the U.S. would badly need the help of the UN and other international organizations, and, if it can get it, of the principal European nations as well. The alternative is an indefinite U.S. occupation of Iraq in which we have fewer and fewer allies. It is an occupation that the U.S. cannot afford." (The New York Review of Books, 5/13/04; a second article on Iraq in the same publication repeats this proposal, 9/23/04)
For discussion
1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?
2. The first three writers urge the withdrawal of US troops and a quick end to the American occupation, which Zinn calls "morally unacceptable." Why? Do you agree? Why or why not?
3. Schell thinks the president's plan for democracy in Iraq is unrealistic. Why? Do you agree? Why or why not?
4. Why do you think that Zinn and Galbraith support shared power by Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds? What problems do you think might result from any attempt at power-sharing?
5. Consider the president's proposal for Iraq's future and those proposed here. Which proposal or what combination or proposals would you favor and why?


Suggested Classroom Activities


Constructive Controversy

1. Divide students into groups of four, forming two pairs within each group. Ask each pair to take opposite positions on the following statement:
President Bush's Iraq policies are gradually succeeding and will lead to a free, democratic Iraq.
2. Assign each group the common goal of reaching a group consensus and presenting a group report after all differences of opinion have been thoroughly explored.
3. Review or teach the necessary collaborative skills: active listening skills, particularly paraphrasing and summarizing another's position; being able to disagree with ideas while confirming the competence of those holding them; consensus-achieving skills, such as building on others' ideas.
4. Pairs study: In groups of four, pairs each study a different side of the issue, gathering information and preparing arguments. They may consult with pairs from other teams.
5. Pairs present: Each side presents its case; other listen, except for clarifying questions.
6. Pairs challenge: Each side challenges the other side's arguments and presents the strongest case it can for the opposite side of the argument.
7. Pairs switch: Each side now prepares a new set of arguments and presents the strongest case it can for the opposite side of the argument.
8. Group discussion: As a group, decide which arguments are most valid from both sides and seek a statement, resolution, or synthesis that incorporates the best thinking of the group as a whole.
9. Group report: As a group, prepare a written or oral report for presentation to the class. If no agreement can be reached, prepare a minority report as well, and/or a report on areas of agreement and areas of continuing disagreement.
After the lesson, process or reflect on what was learned in terms of both content and group skills. Give special recognition to examples of creative synthesis of opposing positions. Have students set goals for improving their process next time.
("Constructive controversy," while somewhat mechanistic, aims to develop a range of skills, cooperative group work, and a familiarity with diverse points of view on a controversial issue. The approach was originated by David and Roger Johnson.)

Independent and small-group inquiries

1, Following discussion of the two readings, assign students to formulate three good questions on the situation in Iraq. A "good" question in this context means a question that if answered well would lead to a fuller, better understanding of an Iraq issue.
2. Divide the class into groups of four in which students will read and discuss their questions. The group's assignment is to pick its two best questions and report them to the class.
3. The teacher writes student questions on the chalkboard without comment and then invites class analysis of them.
For a detailed discussion of this process, see The Doubting Game section of "Teaching Critical Thinking," which is available on this website. It includes an approach to class analysis of questions followed by suggestions for independent and small-group inquiries.

Two citizenship activities

1. A Statement to Public Officials
After class discussions and, possibly, participation in a constructive controversy or inquiry, have students reached any consensus about U.S. policy in Iraq? Do differences of opinion remain? Specifically, how do students answer the following questions:
  • Should the U.S. occupation of Iraq continue until President Bush declares that his goals have been reached? What, exactly, do you understand those goals to be? How will Americans know if and when the goals have been attained?
  • Or, should the U.S. end its occupation speedily? Why or why not? If so, what other steps along the lines of those suggested in Reading 2 should the U.S. take? If not, why not?
If a class consensus has been achieved, have students prepare a detailed letter on its views to be sent to the president, the secretary of defense, the students' two senators, and local newspapers.
If no class consensus exists, have individual students or groups of student that do share a consensus prepare such letters to be sent to the same officials and newspapers.
2. Bringing Iraq into the School
Iraq is the great public issue of the day. Every day Americans and Iraqis are being maimed and killed over the future of that country. While news of these events is carried daily in the media, there is not much public discussion of them. Nor is there much public discussion about decisions made in Washington directly affecting large numbers of Americans and Iraqis and indirectly affecting all Americans and Iraqis.
Students often feel that they have no say in our public life, that they cannot make a difference on an issue of importance to them. What, after all, can students do about Iraq? How can students bring Iraq into their school? Those are questions the teacher might put to his or her class for serious discussion.
To develop a more fully informed student body and to promote understanding, the class might engage in such activities as the following:
  • educating themselves further
  • preparing periodical newspapers or magazines for distribution throughout the school
  • making regular PA announcements and, if the facilities are available, preparing TV presentations
  • holding after-school discussion groups
  • inviting speakers representing different points of view to address students
  • soliciting the participation of the PTA
  • organizing an all-school forum with student, PTA, and outside speaker presentations
  • seeking students in other high schools to promote joint efforts
For action projects, the class might consider such efforts as the following:
  • writing letters individually and collectively to local newspapers as well as to representatives and senators, the secretary of defense, and the president
  • sending delegations to meet with public officials
  • joining community groups whose programs students find worthy of support
  • organizing demonstrations
  • soliciting media coverage of class activities
Any activities will of course require not just teacher support, but also student commitment and leadership and should therefore not be entered upon lightly. There will probably be differences of opinion in the class about what the U.S. should do about Iraq. Some activitiesóan all-school forum, for exampleóare clearly open to a diversity of views; others, such as demonstrations, call for unity of purpose.
Whatever students views may be, the main aim is to enable students to be involved as citizens in a public issue of life-and-death importance.

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: