The international community fully backed the United States (U.S.) after the September 11 in defending itself against the global terrorism. The motto “we are all American” was voiced by many countries including Turkey, Germany and France. Many states assisted the U.S. in its invasion of Afghanistan. However, the U.S. has made so mortal mistakes since 2001 that it has been the loneliest superpower ever. And the November 2006 elections have made the U.S. President George W. Bush the loneliest president ever in the U.S. history. The U.S.’ war on terror has been turning into a great failure. Today, there are more terrorists around the world than there were in 2001. The U.S.’ interventions have created much more problems that can be capitalized by the terrorists. Iraq has become a land of terror and chaos. The whole Middle East has been “Palestinianized,” let alone the lack of a settlement to the Palestine Question. Moreover, the entire world is getting more and more “Middle Easternized.” The cost of lives in Iraq has exceeded 700.000 and it continues to increase. Iran outspokenly defies the U.S., and North Korea is mocking with it. The U.S. president faces the insults of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez almost everyday. All the anti-American groups in the Central and South America are coming to power one by one. In short, the President Bush has wrecked the respectability of the U.S. during the relatively short period since 2001 and has been unable to attain almost any of his goals. So, where did he go wrong?
One can argue that the U.S. has made three essential mistakes in its war on global terror:
1. LACK OF SUFFICIENT ATTENTION TO ITS ALLIES AND THE INTERNATONAL LAW AND ORGANISATIONS: First of all, the U.S. has failed to heed the international law, international organizations and to respect the other great powers. The Washington has argued that it could still be powerful enough to protect its interests without the existence of those elements. One still remembers the words “the U.S. doesn’t need any other state or organization to protect itself.” The U.S.’ excessive self-confidence both has caused mistakes and has distanced its allies from America. But whatever the power of a country is, it is doomed to failure unless it is not supported by the law and its allies. As a matter of fact, there was no United Nations (UN) support during the invasion of Iraq. There was even no support of countries such as Germany and Canada. Though the U.S. blames these countries for the current situation, this is not the fault of only Germany or other allies, which has supported the U.S. in Afghanistan but not in Iraq. The U.S.’ recklessness and lack of paying enough attention to its allies has also affected its relations with Turkey. It has suggested granting Turkey $30 billion to use Turkish territories for the passage of American troops to Iraq. Washington thought that money could buy Turkish support. But the U.S. officials made so degrading statements regarding the Turkish people that the Turkish public opinion started to question the ‘real intentions’ of the U.S. Washington, having such a grave goal of invading Iraq and strongly in need of Turkey, a unique country in a strategic location, treated Turkey as if it was a tiny and unnoticeable country having to accept any deal from the Americans. Lacking even the most basic politeness, without informing Turkey on anything and without any elaboration in negotiations, the U.S. still thought the deal would be finalized. But the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), despite efforts by the government of Erdogan, rejected in March 1, 2003 the recommendation allowing the passage of U.S. troops to Iraq, and the Turkish parliament’s decision was appreciated by the majority of the Turkish public opinion. However, the U.S. was unable to understand the decision of Turkey, one of its closest allies until that time. Instead of focusing on its own mistakes, Washington blamed only Turkey again.
2. LACK OF REGIONAL SUPPORT: The second fatal mistake has been the lack of regional support. Apart from the Jews, there have been three great nations in the history of the Middle East: Arabs, Turks and Persians. In the past, the superpowers (the Ottomans, the British etc.) never ignored these three nations and always established their balance policies on the basis of these three elements. On the contrary, the U.S., a first-ever in history, did not base its Iraq policies on these groups. Iran has been the target from the very beginning and the tiny efforts in the Clinton era have been wasted. The Arabs have also been totally excluded. The invasion of Iraq, in a short while, has turned into a humiliation and punishment of the Arabs. On the other hand, the Turks were both punished and excluded from Iraq. No rights have been granted to the Iraqi Turks (Turcomen) and they have been marginalized from the domestic politics of Iraq. And Turkey’s all goodwill efforts have been rejected though it has wanted to send troops to Iraq to help the U.S. Turkey has been kept outside of Iraq. In brief, the U.S.’ Middle East policies lack three main pillars of the region, that is, the Arabs, the Turks and the Persians. Instead of that, the Americans have based their whole Iraq policy on the Kurdish tribe. This policy has no chance of success.
Let alone the cooperation with regional powers, the U.S.’ invasion of Iraq has frightened all the countries in the region except Israel. Not only Syria and Iran, but Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other regional countries thought that it was their turn after Iraq. Thinking that the U.S. wants to divide them, their concerns have intensified as they have seen the alternative Middle East maps prepared by the Americans. The concerns reached their climax when the U.S. Secretary of State Rice declared that the borders in the Middle East have to be changed.
A similar case also exists in Afghanistan. The most significant nations in this region are the Turks, the Persians, Pakistanis and Russians. China and India can also be included as periphery. But the U.S. has the ambition of acting unilaterally there too. There are Turkish troops and troops of other NATO countries in Afghanistan. But the U.S. turns a blind eye to these countries. It takes all the decisions unilaterally and pursues a strategy similar to that of Iraq. However, everyone knows that the best and most successful troops in terms of relations with the local population in Afghanistan are the Turkish troops. On the other hand, the U.S. expects Turkey not to involve in the decision-making process but to implement the American orders in a larger area.
3. EXCESSIVE USE OF FORCE: The third deadly mistake of the U.S. has been its excessive use of force in combating terrorism and in dealing with the problems in the broader Middle East. Thinking that the evils of its enemies cannot be healed, Washington has never considered a compromise with its enemies. For the U.S., who defines terrorists and resistance fighters as ‘evil powers’, the struggle shall continue until the last enemy killed by the American soldiers. This is not the right approach. The success in combating terrorism cannot be measured by the body count. The real success is the drop in death rates and attacks. The U.S. has followed the Israeli example and people have remembered the Israeli troops in Palestine when they have seen the American troops in Iraq. However, Israel should be the last example to be followed. The end is quite clear if one models a country having security problems and causing bloodshed since its foundation till today. In fact, the U.S. troops has turned the success plans into a failure in Iraq by torturing innocent civilians in the Abu Ghraib Prison, conducting night raids in houses and causing the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians etc. Though the U.S. has achieved the occupation of Iraq in a short while and with considerably small number of deaths, it could not understand that a new period was beginning after the occupation. Had the U.S. not behaved as if the war was still continuing after the first two months, had it replaced the soldiers with the police force to ensure security and had it handed the administration to the Iraqis in the early stages of occupation, the current situation would have been better.
To put it short, the U.S., having committed such deadly mistakes in such a short period of time, not only has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan but also has caused the increase of anti-Americanism, religious fanaticism and terrorism all over the world. In comparison to the Clinton era, the U.S. in the Bush era has been a less respected, less powerful and less deterrent country. Only a few leaders could have committed so many mistakes in such a short period of time. George W. Bush has achieved this. But reversing these mistakes may take more time. As a result, a hard restoration period is ahead for Bush’s successor.
Sedat LACINER: Director of the Ankara based think tank USAK (International Strategic Research Organization & Davos Economic Forum Young Global Leader 2006
Translated from Turkish by Noyan OZKAYA (USAK)
10 November 2006