The Iraqi War began with a historical victory for the United States. The US, not regarding the warnings of the whole world, invaded Iraq within a short time and with a significantly low loss which can be considered as a record for such a war. According to many Americans, the mission was accomplished. The Saddam’s army had been dissolved, and even his sculptures were destroyed by ‘his own people’. Later on, the thing to be done was to give a new form to Iraq. According to the neo-cons’ (or hawks) perspective, it would be easier to shape Iran, Syria and even the Middle East as a whole if Iraq was controlled. This was the reason President George W. Bush harshly threatened Syria and Iran, especially having an eye on Syria, even before the smoke over Iraq has not been cleared. The other benefit of controlling Iraq was expected to come from controlling its energy markets. The US, itself being one of the few great oil producers of the world, with a giant as Iraq could take a determining position in the energy markets. By controlling Iraq, moreover the US could make its influence over the Gulf and the Middle East, a region meeting more than half of the world’s gas and oil demands permanent. Third expected benefit from the invasion of Iraq was that it would be easier to bend ‘rogue states like Iran thereafter. And finally, probably the most important goal was ensuring the security of Israel. Contrary to what is often supposed, the security of Israel is not one of the secret objectives of the US foreign policy. The US from 1960s onwards bluntly undertook the task of protecting Israel into its foreign policy and did not feel it is necessary to hide this. In this respect, creating an Iraq which is Arab but at the same time is a friend of Israel and America, was significantly important. Iraq was not just an ordinary Arab country: With Egypt, it was one of the most valuable countries regarding to their population, size and economic power. For the US which saved Israel from the threat of Egypt through diplomacy and economic aid, yet Iraq was still the hardest Arab country to be stopped. An out of control Iraq could prompt ambiguous adventures and would put Israel in a serious danger.
As seemed, the Iraq invasion of Bush and his team seemed perfect on paper. It would possibly have been one of the great successes in the US history if President Bush could have reached the objectives mentioned above with reasonable cost. In fact, these objectives were ones the US had been trying to obtain for a long time.
The method of reaching the ones’ objectives through directly settling in the Middle East actually was not new. Nixon’s approach of conduct on through the friendly states, didn’t work in the Middle East and Carter implemented by the end of the 1970s, direct settlement in the Middle East policy as the America’s ME foreign policy. During the Reagan and Bush I eras, the US made efforts for this objective and throughout treaties concluded, especially in Gulf countries, the US constructed very large bases, and sought ways to settle all around the Middle East. In the first Gulf War, the US came closer to this objective and Bill Clinton, known as liberal, also continued this aforementioned policy, who sought the ways for how to accumulate military and artillery staffs there. As opposed to the general belief, Clinton era is too an era during which America tried to discipline the region by means of force. In Clinton era, was American aircrafts bombed Iraq again and again and the civilians had experienced serious hardships under strict embargo conditions. When these all are considered, the Iraq and Middle East policies of the Bush the son may not be regarded as a radical shift. But, Bush tried to reach these objectives in clumsy ways; he caused more shame for the US than any of the previous American presidents.
The foremost mistake of President Bush was his inability to establish a good system of alliances for Iraq operation. A few rich Anglo-Saxon countries and some so-called ‘allies’ ‘bought for short term interests’, hardly provided benefits for the US in Iraq. The countries which the US needed were the other global powers like Germany, France, Russia and China. Their neutrality, at least, would have been sufficient. At regional level, Turkey was the state that could make the most important contribution for the Americans in Iraq. Yet, America became unsuccessful at both levels. The one- sided and rakish attitudes scared the US’ fellows more than it did its enemies. So that, in the pre-war period, there were hardly any Middle Eastern states that didn’t think that the US was targeting them. Even, the Saudis, the old ally of the Americans, have been discussing how many pieces their country might be divided into by the Americans. In Egypt and even in the other Arab countries in the North Africa, the ‘secret agenda’ of the US has been discussed. The United States couldn’t get the support it expected from the international organizations too. Thereby, it went into the war whose legitimacy was disputed almost unaccompanied.
The second important mistake was the failure to understand Iraq and Iraqi people. According to the American strategists, the borders of the Middle East were artificial and it was easy to change these borders. In real, most of the borders of Middle Eastern countries were drawn by Britain, the ruler at the time. The borders are not natural borders and most of the time, there is no difference between the two sides of the borders regarding language, religion, and race etc. However, the point the Americans couldn’t understand was that is more difficult to change borders than to draw them from a scratch. Whatever the borders of the Middle East were drawn artificial reasons, today changing these borders is far more difficult than splitting the atom. The artificial character diffuses attempts to change the borders in very short time to other countries and terrific resistance come into being existence. While Palestine was the clearest example of this, the Americans targeted Iraq. The Americans, without taking the customs and traditions of Iraq into consideration involved in themselves military operation and alienated the Iraqi people.
The third important mistake was in thinking the Iraqis would not resist. From Washington’s perspective, once Saddam Hussein and his fellows were removed from power, there would be no force left in Iraq that could resist. For some, the Iraqis would even thank to the US for the democratic rights given to the people suffering under the Saddam’s rule and for the gains the people got as a result of economic liberation. While the people are dealing with democratization process and making an effort to acquire prosperity, the US would shape the Middle East and change the political direction of Iraq, and take the full control of production process of all petroleum and gas resources and the transportation of these products to the external markets. Of course, the US would found permanent military bases in Iraq, and Iraq would become a military and intelligence base of the US in the heart of the Middle East. At this point, the failure of US was that it confused elections with democracy. In an environment which is not ready, the elections and referendums that were held running, further divided the Iraqi people; Groups wanted to be protect themselves from other groups began to take up arms. At this juncture, another mistake of the US was to encourage the armament in Iraq. The US provided legitimacy to the armed groups of these factions which it could not control. It then became later on impossible to achieve order in an environment where this much weaponry existed.
Probably the most important mistake was to support centrifugal force instead of central forces. The Sunnis were the faction ensuring the unity of Iraq for centuries. The Shias, even during the Ottoman period and British colonial rule, had not taken sufficient role in the administration and there had always been more Sunnis in the Iraqi governments at anytime. This trend increased in Saddam’s period. However, the first thing the Americans did when they arrived was to treat all Sunnis as if they were ‘pro-Saddam’ or terrorists and to estrange them. With these practices, the US weakened the Sunnis physically which led to ‘blood feuds’ between them and Sunni Arabs. Another ethnic group playing important role for Iraq’s unity was the Turkmens (Turkish Iraqis), yet the US took steps that estrange Turkmen from the US. The Turkmens, since they were spread on the axis which lies from the north and to the south, and since they were not in a condition to establish a separate political structure in Iraq even in the hardest times, had not ever been involved in separatist movements. Moreover, in Ottoman period, the Turkmens had played special role in defending Iraq against the external threats and achieving internal unity. Despite these clear realities, the US did not take the Turkmens seriously, or it assumed that the relationship with the Turkmens could harm to their relationship with Barzani and Talabani. Consequently, the Sunni Arabs and Turkmens were left outside of the system, and weakened, which undermined the forces stabilizing the country and keeping it under unity. The US could fill this gap most probably with the Shia Arabs. But it couldn’t handle well it as well. The US was involved in a conflict with Sadr faction which is the most important Shia group propping up Iraq’s unity. In this way, the US in Iraq strengthened the Shia groups, supporting a separate Shia state and those who are allied with Iran. The support for the Kurds, whose separatist ambitions have not been secret for a long time, must be added to all these. In short, the US while suppressing the forces promoting unity of Iraq strengthened the separatist elements. It is a well-known fact that the US provided direct support to the coalition between the Kurds and ‘separatist’ Shias, the groups from the centrifugal forces.
Another ring of this error chain is the US’s insistence on its own mistakes and not stepping back from its errors. Criticisms intensified after the November 2006 by-elections and reached its peak with the Baker- Hamilton Iraq Report. This report showed the mistakes and the possible solutions clearly. Yet, Bush administration instituted another program which is truly opposite of those recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Report. From then on, Bush has persisted in that he can find a purely military solution in Iraq. For months, Bush has been claiming that significant progress will be made by the autumn 2007, but these claims have been proved invalid and the situation has been deteriorating in Iraq since January 2007. The monthly America casualties in 2007 for instance have risen above 100.
Month US Britain Other countries Total
December 2006 112 1 2 115
January 2007 83 3 0 86
February 2007 81 3 1 85
March 2007 81 1 0 82
April 2007 104 12 1 117
May 2007 126 3 2 131
June 2007 101 7 0 108
Not only the military losses but the economic cost of the invasion has also rising day by day. As of the beginning of July 2007, the cost of Iraq exceeded 440 billion dollars for the American tax-payers. The additional burden of Iraq on America is over 200 million dollars per day. When we remember the White House advisors’ estimates of 100-200 billion dollars, it is clear how troubling the situation has being come. In 2003 Mr. Rumsfeld estimated the potential cost of the Iraq war as only 50 billion dollars. As a natural consequence of all these developments the reactions against President Bush in Washington are increasing. The most important element contributing to the Democrats in the coming presidential race is the Iraq War. It is expected that the new president after the 2008 elections will be a Democrat because of the effects of the Iraq War. The point that the Americans, especially those who shape American politics, pay the most attention to is the financial burden of the war. Many economists are already considering that the war with its indirect expenses, will cost over 2 trillion dollars for American tax payers. In fact this cost assumes that America withdraws from Iraq in the near future. When these numbers are considered, economic panic in America regarding Iraq can be more easily understood. Not only the public but also those steering the American economy, these in the media and others are rapidly withdrawing their support from Bush’s Iraq plans. In spite of this, the American political system does not allow President Bush to be removed at once, as would be possible in parliamentarian systems. Although the Congress is against his policies and the media does not support the Bush strategy, Mr. Bush can insist on continuing his mistakes in Iraq. The acute separation of powers principle of the Constitution gives the President the power to act independent of other branches of the state. In fact, the President can over rule Congress regarding the war. Increasing of the number of soldiers in Iraq and the military spending despite the Congress being against it and his forcing of the Congress to approve these movements despite this opposition is a clear indicator of this unilateral approach. In brief, Bush and his men have chosen unilateralism as a method not only towards other states and international organizations but also towards American institutions.
The former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright mentioned in her interview with CNN International on July 11, 2007 that the situation in Iraq is even worse than Vietnam. We do not know how much the Bush administration, which even got frustrated at the beginning, the comparisons made between Iraq and Vietnam Wars and argued that there were none, agrees with this noting. However as an individual within the system, Mrs. Albright ascertains a bitter fact. As it can be remembered the Vietnam War had an enormous impact on the global economic and political power of America. Above all else, the US lost its legitimacy in this war. In addition, the US, known to be invincible, even received a military defeat. Third, irresistible American economic superiority has started to show tendencies of decline. The US, which had been an oil exporter, creditor to the whole world and even a supplier of large grants before the Vietnam War, became net oil importer and fall into a debt and be balanced economically by other countries and regions after the Vietnam War. The Iraq War is starting to produce similar results. Perhaps the Iraq War will not be the end of the US’s position as a global super power. However the US’s invincibility myth is definitely becoming history. The weaknesses of America are now obvious as never before. Furthermore, the US has lost its ‘soft power’, meaning the power to convince other states with their democratic system and technological superiorities without use of arms. The foreign debts of the US economy have started to increase rapidly. While Middle East based capital is increasingly leaving the USA, it is too early to estimate the exact impact of this on the American economy. America has estranged her closest friends, including Turkey as well. The American policies have scared her friends rather than her enemies. Furthermore the issue of terrorism must be added to these negative developments. Wiping out terrorism, which was seen as offsetting other problems, could not be possible, as the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures have strengthened Al-Qaeda. The US has rapidly lost its legal and public support in the war against terrorism. The human rights violations which took place in Ebu Guraib and Guantanamo have caused the US’s and even the West’s ideological and moral leadership to be questioned. In addition to all this damage the ambiguity of the Middle East’s future also continues. For example if Iran remains strong after challenging Washington, it will be a lot harder to control the Middle East for the Americans. Likewise if the US leaves Iraq without taking the necessary precautions, its Middle East policies will suffer greatly too. If they remain in Iraq the damages mentioned above will continue, and probably grow exponentially. In other words either way America loses.
As a result the US is in a huge trap, and they have only themselves to think because of themselves. Under these circumstances all kinds of ideas are being mentioned in Washington DC. There is a big clash of ideas even among the Republicans. In fact the division among the neo-cons has increased. There is currently a growing opposition against Secretary of State Rice especially from groups in Pentagon. In this atmosphere, it is feared that the neo-cons in panic would get the US into an adventure in Iran as well. In other words it is said that “Those who want to clear away Iraq with Iran could get the USA into another war when they get a chance”. Against this the Democrats are looking for ways to withdraw from Iraq. It is clear that the things in Iraq will not continue as they are no matter which course of action is taken. Bush’s highly trusted general Petreaus is killing more Iraqis to turn the situation around while more and more American soldiers are getting killed. However Iraq will give birth to fundamental transformations.
20 July 2007
Translated by Ayse Banu Seker, USAK