America’s Iraqi Quisling Problem
Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945) was a Norwegian politician and former military officer who collaborated with Nazi Germany in its plans to occupy Norway in World War II and who, as a reward for his “service,” was made head of the puppet Norwegian government during part of the Nazi occupation of that country. At the end of the war, he was tried and executed by the Norwegian government for treason. His name became a synonym for collaborator and traitor. To be a quisling is to be someone who gives aid and comfort to an occupying enemy and to be deemed a traitor who deserves a horrible fate among his or her countrymen.
Every war that involves an invasion, conquest, and subsequent occupation of a country creates its collaborators with the occupiers. Collaborationists are necessary for an occupation when the occupying power does not know much about the country it occupies or how it works, and especially when there is a shortage of people among the occupiers who speak the local language. The United States’ occupation of Iraq qualifies as needy for all those reasons, and as a result, the Americans have recruited and hired literally thousands of Iraqis to aid in their administration of the occupation.
Those employees look like classic quislings to much of the Iraqi population that opposes the occupation. Even if the Iraqi who serves as a translator in a U.S. Green Zone office did not collaborate in facilitating the invasion, he or she is aiding the occupation and is, by virtue of that action, a traitor. When the United States leaves Iraq, those quislings left behind face a very grim, and probably short future.
The Iraqis who have served the United States understand this problem, and their fate was described in a “60 Minutes” segment that aired on May 18, 2008. Those who remain in Iraq working for the Americans hide their identity and particularly their occupations for fear of being killed if their true lives are exposed. Many others (over a million) have fled to Jordan and Syria, where they live in the most tentative exile. They are, for instance, not allowed to work, because the local labor markets cannot absorb them; as a result, they exist on whatever savings they may have brought with them. When that runs out, they are set adrift. They cannot return to Iraq for fear of being killed. Most want to come to the United States, but the U.S. government refuses to admit most of them (only a trickle of those who have applied have been allowed to enter the country).
This creates a very real moral quisling problem for the United States. It happened before in Vietnam.When the United States evacuated that country, thousands of Vietnamese tried to flee with their American “benefactors” (remember the scenes of Vietnamese being literally kicked off the struts of American helicopters evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Saigon). All the major candidates for the presidency in 2008 have said the U.S. must do better by our Iraqi allies than we did by our Vietnamese allies. But we aren’t. Why not?
The U.S. government is, of course, the Bush administration for this purpose, an it has set the policies the State Department is enforcing on Iraqi immigrants seeking entrance in to the United States. Officials of the administration presumably have ordered (or at least encouraged) the ponderous processing of Iraqi immigration requests. Partly, the reason must be that admitting a lot of Iraqis who fear returning home is an admission that the U.S. mission of creating an idyllic, moderate democracy has failed, which the administration refuses to do. Partly as well (and ironically), the U.S. government no doubt fears that some of those applying are really terrorists (whom the action in Iraq was supposed to help eliminate): in this case, the problem is that we do not really trust those whom we recruited to help do our dirty work. Partly, it probably also reflects the nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment surrounding the illegal immigrant question.
Regardless of why it is happening, the result is a national disgrace. Iraq may have a quisling problem, but the United States created it by imposing the occupation, and if the United States retains a shard of honor toward those it befriends, it will take care of those quislings it has created. The Nazis lost and were in no position to save Vidkun Quisling. What is our excuse?