Ten years ago, the U.S. started the Iraq War. The last straw was 9/11. Destroying the weapons of mass destruction was an excuse. The real motivation was the U.S.’ misjudgment of the international situation after the Cold War: It overestimated itself. The U.S. really treated the collapse of the former Soviet Union as the "end of history," believing it had the ability to wipe out all “evil countries.” Zero casualties during the Kosovo War in 1999 and the overthrow of the Milosevic regime strengthened the U.S.’ illusion. The catalyst for the Iraq War was nothing less than the neoconservatism of the Bush administration.
The Iraq War resulted in dramatic changes in U.S. domestic politics and economy. The death of 4,000 soldiers, war expenditures of $800 billion, coupled with the loss of the Afghanistan War drained the strength of the U.S. The public's war weariness resulted in the Republican Party's terrible defeat in the 2008 presidential elections, allowing a young minority candidate, Obama, to get on the stage of history. Two wars and the subprime lending crisis brought about the global economic crisis. Current U.S. financial constraints and high unemployment rate have something to do with those two wars. From then on [since the global financial crisis], U.S. politicians became more and more timid about sending young lives to foreign lands for battle.
The Iraq War redrew the geopolitical map of the Middle East. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. helped Iran destroy its two large enemies, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban regime, successively. This objectively eliminated two big obstacles for the rise of Iran in the Middle East, helping Iran become the biggest winner in the two wars. Within 10 years, Iran did not only develop nuclear powers but also successfully spread its influence to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Arab heartland. Iran has become the only country in the Middle East that can challenge American power.
The Bush administration’s installing American democracy in Iraq by military force not merely spelled disaster for the Middle East but even for the U.S. itself: It was not a success story. Iraq was a country mostly occupied by Shiite Muslims. After the enforcement of U.S.-style democracy, the Shiite political party’s coming to power became inevitable. In the meantime, because Iraqi and Iranian Shiites have a common religious ancestry and identity, the relations between Iraq and Iran were strengthened objectively. Iran and Iraq quickly became potential allies, although they were deadly enemies in the past. In addition, if the Assad regime remains in control, Iran, Iraq and Syria stand a good chance of establishing a new Shiite alliance in the hinterland of the Middle East. This would greatly challenge the status of the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other countries.
After the U.S. seized Iraq, it launched the Greater Middle East Initiative. Most Arab countries did not really honor this plan. Instead, the U.S.’ reputation in the Middle East plunged dramatically. Still, history just chose to play a trick on the U.S. After 2011, without the support of the U.S., Arab countries set off on a series of democratic waves to overthrow political strongmen, forcing the U.S. to make a difficult decision between values and strategic interests.
The U.S. paid heavily for the Iraq War. Ten years of history have proven, once again, that their own people must decide the fortunes and futures of Middle Eastern countries. Meddling in the affairs of others and resorting to force, not merely brought great calamities to this area, but also dragged down in the mud beyond redemption the schemers themselves.
Perhaps it is a coincidence in history that with coming of the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq War, President Obama went on a Middle East journey again. Here's hoping he can bring peace to the Middle East.
The author is a China Daily specialist in Middle East affairs and former Chinese ambassador to Iran.