Failure in Iraq?

I suppose it depends on how you define the objectives.  I shared these thoughts over at P6…as part of a larger conversation regarding the success of George W. Bush’s stated objectives in Iraq and the region.

Of course, I was also compelled to take a peek at the Iraq Study Group.

“In light of the importance of Iraq to United States interests and the future of the region, there is urgent need for a bipartisan, forward-looking assessment of the situation in Iraq.

The United States Institute of Peace is facilitating the group with the support of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Center for the Study of the Presidency (CSP), and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.”

The question of failure or success:

By the way, it seems to me as though the best case scenario for the US is a dictator who is on the same page as the oil companies: large concessions, limited freedoms, infrastructure in need of external development, and an aristocracy that does not work to the benefit of a middle class or lower class (usually bought off cheaply as “the cost of doing business”). The second best case scenario is a Western-style democracy with a “re-culturated” population with Western values and no commitment to ownership of their indigenous resources. That’s a very tough nut to crack, but it can be done. The American music industry and big-time collegiate athletics are proof of that. You can participate (or vote) as the case may be, but the outcome is already known. The worst case scenario is not what is presently happening in Iraq, but what is happening in Iran. In nation states or regions where identity congeals around a bond that supercedes the appeal of Western trinkets (Islam or Pan-Arabism), it is difficult to achieve Western aims without resorting to violence.

The case of Iraq appears, to me, as one of Best Case Scenario #1 gone bad. Repressive dictators have long been favorite agents of US international policy (in the same way that brutal Southern Democrats held sway after slavery). Hussein fit this bill to a tee. He decided to alter the rules of the game – and his patrons sought to bush him back in place. Saddam emerged as a willing combatant against Iran (Worst Case Scenario #1) and was supported for 8 long years with all manner of weapons, including those nasty chemical weapons. As a secular dictator, Saddam even evinced elements of Best Case Scenario #2. By introducing Western-style elements into Iraq, Hussein contributed to a foundation for indoctrination into a “concession culture.”

In many respects, his dalliances with the West hearkened back to early connections between Iraqi leadership and the British. Iran, though, remains a stalwart in their outright rejection of imperialist claims to dictate terms on any and all matters relating to energy: nuclear, natural gas, oil or other.

Given the longer term objective, it’s not clear to me that the US engagement in Iraq has been a failure. The US has removed a leader who posed as their BCS #1 and #2. They removed the infrastructure of his party and their base of support…and what remains is a battle for hearts and minds in which the US troops are largely relegated to the sidelines. The number of US fatalities amounts to about 3 months work for the Sunni and Shiite fighters. These are acceptable battle field losses – and the political damage, honestly, has been minimal. Republicans have lost the House and Senate, but the Democrats are not on the verge of an FDR or Clinton presidency. There are still plenty of domestic issues for Republicans to restore themselves – and even “create” a new type of Republican – that Pat Buchanan kind – the kind that could be more appealing to Red Staters than ever before.

The US engagement has allowed for the installation of a military presence in areas it did not heretofore exist. This engagement has even given the US a pretext for engaging Iran and Syria (as in…1) We rejected you and called you the Axis of Evil 2) We Need You to Save Face 3) You Saw Through Our Ruse 4) You’re Really Evil – we must attack!) This engagement also positions the US where it wants to be with respect to high priority conduits for energy resources (oil/gas pipelines feeding Russia and China. Given all of this, I am hard pressed to consider this a failure. In fact, I suspect that when history books talk about how the big conflict with the US and China tipped off, they’ll point to this particular series of engagements as seminal in that evolution.

One comment

  1. Nice analysis, Temple3.

    I suppose one could say that Iraq policy has “failed” to come off like a heroic triumph of the spirit in the eyes of most Americans, and has “failed” to project quite as much of a domineering picture of military supremacy as had been hoped in the eyes of the world. But those “failures” are admittedly short-lived and peripheral.

    Like you, I view the US-China imperial footrace (China making gains, the US trying to maintain a substantial but increasingly precarious lead) as the primary narrative in today’s geopolitics, so you really can’t look at the war in Iraq or any other US foreign policy engagements without considering how they fit into that context. And in that context, the war in Iraq has successfully kept the Middle East destabilized, hindering the emergence of any viable economic populist movements that could fundamentally alter the world energy market and indeed the international power structure.

    Moreover, as I understand it, US Middle East policy has always been about making sure that if the US doesn’t control an oil well, whoever does is not going to be able to enjoy it. I also suspect that the “madman theory” has something to do with this; occasional shocking displays of semi-arbitrary violence are customary in maintaining an imperial gangster state. And in a twisted way, a relatively-high US death toll in Iraq and burgeoning domestic opposition might even be said to help “madman theory”, because they demonstrate to rivals that the US government isn’t militarily constrained by its citizenry and is willing to sacrifice American lives in the ruthless pursuit of its interests.

    Just sayin.

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