The proclamation of “mission complete” that President George W. Bush made five years ago respecting Iraq was as arrogant as his actual affirmation that the “reinforcement” has “created a grand strategic victory in the war against terror,” The venture into Iraq not only is the largest and most expensive war in the history of the United States –the Nobel Prize of economics winner Joseph Stiglitz has calculated an overwhelming cost of three trillion dollars –but additionally the results are unclear.
The war has pulverized the Iraqi society and has dissolved in a mosaic of ethnic groups and sects. The “reinforcement” will end late or early, and the Iraqis, paralyzed from the violence and corruption, will continue feeling incapable of uniting politically; and given that their army still is not in the condition to relieve the United States, it is inevitable that the jihadist and inter-ethnic violence will return. Like the colonel Omar Ali, responsible for the Iraqi battalion in Mosul-today the principle target of insurgents- said not too long ago, “without the Americans, it would be impossible for us to control Iraq”.
From a strategic point of view the war has been an absolute failure. It has been a clear case of excess imperialism that has forced the resources of the United States’ army, has undermined the moral position of the United Stated throughout the world and its reputation in the Middle East, has represented a grave threat to its economy, and has demonstrated to friends and enemies the limitations of North American power.
The gravest involuntary consequence of the war has been the appearance of a Shiite power that defies the western allied Sunnis of the Middle East. The destruction of Iraq as a regional power has situated the hegemony in the Persian Gulf-whose fundamental importance for the western interests one cannot forget-into the hands of the Shiite Islamist regime of Iran.
Over the rubble of the dictator Saddam Hussein, the United States has helped to create in Iraq the first Arabic state dominated by the Shiites, which very well could be put into service by the regional ambitions of Iran, a calamity of historic proportions for the United States’ allied Sunnis. The recent official visit of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Iraq transmits to the North Americans an unmistakable message: the prospect of reaching a minimum of stability in Iraq depends on the aligned forces with Iran.
The difficulty of the United States in Iraq and other places has contributed in a decisive manner to the nuclear ambitions of Iran. The Iranians consider themselves immune to a United States attack against their installations because they think that the hardship in Iraq and the growing opposition to the war in the United States are signals that Bush’s strategy of preventive war has failed.
Now, as radical as the Iranian regime may be, it is not suicidal. As a result, the threat that represents a nuclear Iran consists, not so much in its inclination to start a nuclear war with Israel, as in the possibility of protecting its regional power with efficiency. A nuclear Iran could even put in danger the capabilities of the United States of deploying a conventional military force in the Gulf in moments of crisis. Additionally, Iran could be tempted to support their regional ambitions with the supply of nuclear material to neighboring terrorist groups.
The United States debacle in Iraq has served to make valiant those who defy the status quo in the region, as well as Bush’s ill-conceived democratic crusade in the Arabic world. Bush has discovered, to his demise, that any army of democracy in the Arabic world is doomed to open the door to the anti-western Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Shiite parties in Iraq or Hamas in Palestine.
The ironic thing is that when the United States has had to abandon its dreams of an Arabic democracy of western style, it has left the democratic torch of the region in the hands of the Iranians, who have quickly understood that free elections are the best way of mining the power of the pro-American regimes of the Middle East.
The Iraq war has also made the United States ignore the process of peace between Israel and Palestine. Today, the possibility of Bush’s government reuniting with its “moderate” Sunni allies in the region in order to help rescue the process of peace is in the hands of a regional axis headed by Iran, which includes Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria. All these are united in their rejection to a Pax Americana in the Middle East and, until now, have demonstrated an extraordinary resistance to fulfill the previous conditions that the United States demands for the dialogue.
That the United States is incapable of inspiring the people of the Middle East, all governed by autocracies that the North Americans help, is not exactly a novelty. What is a novelty is that perhaps they have lost as well the capacity of intimidating them with their power.
Shlomo Ben-Ami, past Foreign Minister of Israel, is the vice president of the International Center for Peace in Toledo. Translation by Maria Luisa Rodriguez Tapia © Project Syndicate, 2007.