The confidence of President George W. Bush about a positive judgment, in 20 years, of the war in Iraq is understandable. It is a commonly accepted fact that the contemporaneousness of an event does not necessarily permit one to understand the magnitude and consequences of what has happened. Do you want two good recent examples? It was easy to anticipate what would happen after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989. But, few anticipated the consequences for the Soviet Union of the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Is it possible now to anticipate what the judgment will be of the invasion of Iraq by the next generation? In my opinion, yes. I consider the Invasion of Iraq to be in the same category of wars like that of 1967 (the Seven-Day War) between Arabs and Israelis, that profoundly transformed the Middle East, with consequences that we live with still today, more than 40 years later.
There is an interesting parallel between the Israeli political and military leaders who fought the war of 1967, and what is happening with the Americans today. Forty years ago, Israelis judged the attack to be its best defense, believing that a preventive war (I am forcing a bit the idea to make it clearer) would guarantee the security of the state and, principally, thought that it would remain in the occupied Arab territories for a short time (especially in the West Bank) – for which it hadn’t the slightest plan.
In the case of Iraq, these five years have shown that the Americans missed, above all, a strategic long term vision. Judging from abundant and well-researched literature already available, there was even ample short term planning. They put together a brilliant and highly efficient military operation with little cost (I’m referring exclusively to the 20 days of the campaign). The rest can be summed up in one phrase: amateurism marked by impressive ideological bias.
Does Bush have reason to suggest that the “strategic results” of the invasion of Iraq will be properly appreciated in a time when headlines in newspapers are not subject to short-term political interests? He has, but not for the reasons he alleges. There have been two long-term transformations that began with the war, and will probably remain with us for the next twenty, or many more, years.
The first is the transformation of Iraq into a fragile and unstable country, with pieces directly influenced (or threatened) by its stronger neighbors (Turkey and Iraq, for example). The situation in Iraq suggests a multiplication of failed states in an arc of extraordinary importance for the energy of a good part of the world -- this includes Pakistan and Afghanistan. Perhaps this fragility will not result in cataclysm – but it suggests a long term disequilibrium which will be very difficult to reconcile.
The second is the notable ascension of Iran as a regional power. For the first time in the last 400 years, the Iranians again exercise influence from Western Afghanistan to Eastern Iraq – as well as in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Syria, if you will. It is interesting to also note how the geopolitical “respect” gained by Iran’s ayatollahs expands into Central Asia and guarantees them optimal relations with China and Russia.
I don’t see how these transformations in strategic character can be considered positive in the point of view of American interests. To the contrary: the war in Iraq appears to have precipitated a succession of events over which the United States has little control. And on top of it, the formidable America military seems stretched to the point where it will not be able to fight in more than one place at the same time.
My bet is that in twenty years the invasion of Iraq will be judged in terms even more severe than the current analyses. If this war was launched to defend American interests, it got the opposite results.