[A-List] What Has the US Achieved in Iraq?
shimogamo at attglobal.net
Sat Sep 18 06:18:33 MDT 2004
by Immanuel Wallerstein
Fernand Braudel Center, Binghamton University
Commentary Number 145 (September 15 2004)
Most of the world think that the US policy in Iraq has been a political failure.
Even a majority of the US electorate seems to think so, according to the latest
polls. This does not seem to faze the Bush regime, which argues (and may even
really believe) that its policy has been a great success. So, let us review the
First, let us look at what the present US government most loudly claims as
a success. Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and he himself is a prisoner,
destined at some point to be put on trial. This is unquestionably true. I have
however tried to figure out what else can be put in the success column, and I'm
having a hard time coming up with anything. I have compiled a list of eight
other possible or asserted US objectives, and find the score on each of them
either in doubt or quite negative.
(1) The first is the destruction of the Baath party and its political influence
in the future in Iraq. Well, the party is formally dismantled. And initially the
US occupying authorities sought to eliminate the Baathists from any role in
Iraqi institutions (the army which was dismantled, the police which was
reorganized, the universities, and the government ministries). But when the US
was faced by insurrectionary forces in Fallujah which they found they couldn't
dislodge, they found that the only solution was to turn to ex-Baathist leaders
in order to bring about a truce and to restore order locally after the US forces
Now, we learn from the New York Times that these former Baathists were
subsequently tagged by the local population as US agents, and have been forced
to resign or to shift their allegiance to an Islamic fundamentalist group that
now controls not only Fallujah but a good deal of the Sunni areas of western
Iraq. So, the US is in the extraordinary position of regretting the downfall of
the ex-Baathist group in Fallujah and its environs. In Afghanistan, the US
succeeded in the 1980s in ousting a secular Communist regime only to install
thereby the Taliban, whom they discovered eventually to be far worse. The US
seems to be doing something similar in the Sunni areas of Iraq.
(2) The second is control over the world oil supply. It is hard to see that the
US is in a better position today than it was three years ago. Iraqi oil exports
are erratic because of continual guerilla attacks on the pipelines. Whether,
once the political situation settles down (and this may take quite some time),
the US will end up with a greater de facto influence on how Iraq plays its oil
cards than say France or Russia remains to be seen.
(3) The third is reducing the ability of Islamic "terrorists" to attack the US
or otherwise to achieve hostile objectives. Despite all the nonsense that is
sometimes said, it is clear that, before 2003, the regime of Saddam Hussein did
not really allow these groups to operate from an Iraqi base. Now, these
"terrorist" groups are free to roam in Iraq, seize hostages, and recruit new
participants. Whatever the degree of achievement of US objectives in this regard
elsewhere (cutting off funds to al-Qaeda and destroying its bases in Afghanistan
and Pakistan), invading Iraq cannot be said to have advanced significantly US
objectives in this regard.
(4) The fourth is creating a stable, pro-American government in Iraq. Well, the
US is certainly not there yet. The present Allawi interim regime is weak in
every way - in military and police power, in political control of Iraq, and in
legitimation by the population. The recent standoff in Najaf of the offensive of
Allawi and the US military against Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi militia hardly
enhanced Allawi's status. For the moment, the interim regime is still utterly
dependent on the support of the US military. If it wants to achieve legitimacy,
it has to either increase radically its military strength (which seems remote)
or increase its legitimacy (which means distancing itself from the US). Allawi
may aspire to be the next Saddam Hussein, but he has a long way to go. And if he
gets there, is it sure the kind of stable government he might thereby create
would really remain "pro-American"?
(5) The fifth is to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction. It is not
only that the Bush regime found no such weapons in Iraq. It is also that the
invasion of Iraq may well pull down the last shreds of the nuclear
non-proliferation program. Iran and North Korea have obviously speeded up, not
slowed down, their efforts. It is now announced that South Korea may be
following in their footsteps. And if so, can Japan and Taiwan be far behind?
What can the US do? What can the United Nations do? The bluff may well have
(6) The sixth is to spread "democracy" throughout the Middle East. Whatever this
may be taken to mean, I can't see that much has been accomplished. If democracy
means multi-party elections with no constraints, it seems likely at this moment
that such elections would result - in Iraq, in Egypt, in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia,
in Afghanistan, and in many other countries - in regimes far less to the taste
of the United States than the current ones. It is for this reason that the Bush
regime has been dragging its feet on such elections in Iraq, not pushing them
forward at full speed. "Democracy" seems to be favored by the Bush people only
if it gives the right results. The people, unfortunately, are perverse.
(7) The seventh is to make friends and influence people, throughout the region
and the world. Even the strongest supporters of the Bush administration in the
United States have noticed that its policies have had the opposite effect. They
have "unmade" friends and influenced people negatively. The Bush people are
reduced to saying that this is not important, and that the US should not allow
its policies to be dictated by so-called friends.
(8) The eighth is to establish the credibility of US military power, as a
deterrent to all potential enemies of the US and all potential troublemakers
everywhere. But using military power, especially overwhelming military power,
only works if it results, in the inimitable words of the Bush administration,
in "shock and awe". We have seen the shock but not the awe. It is hard to be
awesome when the great US armed forces are held in check by a popular resistance
in Iraq that is growing daily. It is hard to be awesome when it is clear that
the US armed forces are at present stretched to their utter limits, in terms of
personnel, with few means of expanding their number in the near future. It is
hard to be awesome when we have military and intelligence personnel in the US
urging prudence on their civilian superiors.
The problem with demonstrating credibility is that, if success builds on success,
lack of success makes the situation worse. The Bush regime seems to have
achieved this undesirable goal. If this were a school exercise, I fear the grade
would not be "excellent" or even "very good" but at most "barely passing" and at
worst, an outright failure.
Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to
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the author at iwaller at binghamton.edu; fax: 1-607-777-4315.
These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on
the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate
headlines but of the long term.
Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/
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