- (june 2012)
After the "liberation" many winners and one loser.
The radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was probably behind the
killing of thousands of USA troops, and then behind the killing of thousands
of Sunni civilians. Sunni extremists (loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda)
killed thousands of Shiites. When the civil war reached a peak of violence,
the Sunni extremists lost the confidence of their population, and many Sunnis
decided to side with the USA or with the democratically elected prime minister,
Nuri al-Maliki, the leader of the largest (but moderate) Shiite party.
Sadr left Iraq and spent three years in exile in Iran (Iran is widely believed
to be the main sponsor of the Sadr militia), probably a sign that, once Maliki
had garnered the support of Sunnis and Kurds, Sadr was not needed anymore.
Now Sadr has decided to return to Iraq. One very pragmatic reason is that the
USA have left Iraq, so it will be much harder for them to do to Sadr what they
did to Osama bin Laden; but there is also a political reason: Sadr has
returned to ally with
Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who leads the largely Sunni bloc called Iraqiya,
and with Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, both of whom have called for Maliki's
It was said that it takes at least a decade to figure out the effects of a
major war. It probably takes a lot longer. It took a few decades to figure out
that Britain had lost its empire by winning World War II and only now are
we beginning to see that Germany was not defeated after all.
The war in Iraq was viewed by many as an imperial war: the USA acting just like
Britain and France used to act in the old days. The USA invaded Iraq not because
Iraq had attacked or intended to attack the USA but simply out of geopolitical
considerations. Officially, it was the fear that Saddam Hussein could develop
weapons of mass destruction and that he could ally with "terrorists", but of
course that excuse never worked back then and it looks even more untenable
today. Saddam Hussein was not the only dictator armed with dangerous weapons,
and later much crazier ones have been allowed to get away with them
(North Korea to name one much closer to the USA); Saddam Hussein was as much
likely to support terrorism against the USA as Pakistan has actually done.
Clearly the main reason to strike at Iraq was strategic: conquer Iraq and
you own the Middle East, from Israel to Saudi Arabia.
If geopolitics was the real game, the verdict is still out. There is no question
that the immediate beneficiary of the double war fought by the USA in Iraq and
Afghanistan has been Iran: Saddam Hussein was Iran's worst enemy (they fought
a decade-long war that killed close to one million people) and the Taliban were
Iran's second worst enemy (in fact, Iran was the only country that tried to
contain them militarily, way before George W Bush could even spell the word
"Afghanistan"). Removing the Taliban from power and removing Saddam Hussein
from power must have seen as gifts from Allah from the viewpoint of the
However, there is one effect of the invasion of Iraq that for a while seemed
wishful thinking and instead did happen: the domino effect. Not many in the
Arab world are willing to admit it, but Saddam Hussein was the first of those
godlike dictators to fall miserably. A few years later the powerful dictator
of Libya was killed like a dog and the powerful dictator of Egypt was
imprisoned like a thief. Dictators were deposed in Tunisia and Yemen.
Whether the new emerging democracies will align with the USA rests to be seen,
but certainly they won't align with Iran. I suspect that it is just a matter
of time before this wave of revolutions succeeds in Iran. If i am right,
what initially appeared to have benefited the ayatollahs of Iran will turn out
to have caused their demise.
Iran aside, the USA is learning what Britain learned over a couple of centuries
of world domination: whenever you try to solve a problem (real or imaginary),
you will forever bear the responsibility for the consequences (real or
imaginaty). The USA did succeed in removing a vastly unpopular dictator,
but nobody is saying "thank you". Iraqis who saw the invasion as a liberation
resent that the USA withdrew before the country was stabilized; and Iraqis
who saw the invasion as an occupation resent that the USA did not withdraw
sooner. Both sides blame the USA for 100 thousand civilians killed, for
political chaos that continues to this day and for economic disruption that
has never brought back the relative prosperity of the Saddam Hussein days.
Worse: the neighboring countries (even those who pushed the USA towards the
invasion of Iraq) are secretely amused that the USA got kicked out of Iraq
in such a humiliating manner. And this too is typical of what happens to
imperial powers: if you win, everybody sees you as bullying and arrogant;
if you lose, everybody enjoys the sight of a bully being humbled.
The USA also learned another lesson that Britain learned too late: empires are
terribly expensive. It is a myth that empires make you richer and stronger.
Empires are very expensive propositions, that typically weaken (not strengthen)
the imperial nation. The Great Recession of George W Bush was partially caused
by the trillions of dollars that the USA invested in the various wars (Iraq,
Afghanistan, the drug war in Latin America, proxy wars in places like Somalia
and Philippines, and countless military bases around the world).
Often the economic benefits that an empire is supposed to provide remain a
chimera that never materializes. Those who hoped that the Iraqi oil would
pay for the invasion are still waiting for the price of gasoline to return
to what it was before the invasion, and will probably wait forever.
Back to geopolitics, it is hard to tell if the USA's position in the Middle
East will be strengthened or weakened. First of all, one has to set a
reference point: compared to whom? Compared to the Europeans, there is little
doubt that the USA has gained more influence. Nobody in the Middle East
bothers too much about what the Europeans say: we have learned that the USA
is the one that really matters (Sarkozy almost changed that perception when
he helped bomb Qaddafi out of power, but the French rapidly replaced him with
a far less imperial president). Compared with Russia and China, the gain by
the USA appears even greater: if the Arab Spring is, directly or indirectly,
a consequence of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, then Russia and China have
been the big losers. Both the regimes and the public opinion of the Middle East
has turned dramatically against them, the only powers that defended Qaddafi
in Libya and now defend Assad in Syria. Neither has gained anything from the
withdrawal of the USA from Iraq and Afghanistan. The USA has lost influence only
to the middle regional powers, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Other than the economic price, the other price that the USA has paid is harder
to define but it is a very high price. The world has witnessed an amazing
show of incompetence and cruelty by the George W Bush administration that
Obama and his successors will not easily erase from the world's
collective unconscious. It is not the conspiracy theories: those are obviously
just theories. It is the more prosaic facts, like that Bush did not know that
Iraq is divided between Sunni and Shia Islam (and that the two hate each other
passionately), or that defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld dumped in the
wastebasket a lengthy study on how to reconstrut Iraq (at the same time that
he was denying there was any problem in Iraq).
Some of these might just be anecdotes (although never denied by the protagonists), but there is little doubt that the USA failed miserably at nation-building
and turned the experiment into a grotesque circus of corruption. Friends of
the president and the vicepresident got immensely rich by helping reconstruct
Iraq (a reconstruction that no Iraqi ever saw) while 100 Iraqi civilians were
dying each day in the streets. There is little doubt what the Iraqi would do if
the USA delivered the two men who are responsible for all that corruption and
Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld would be hanged just like Saddam Hussein was
(Bush and Condi Rice are usually given the benefit of the doubt and would
probably just get a lot of shoes in their face).
The USA removed Saddan Hussein from power but basically turned Iraq into
another Afghanistan: an endless civil war largely fueled by religious
fanatics. It basically did to Iraq what the Soviet Union had done to
Now there are two disintegrating nations, not one, in the Islamic world.
(At least the Soviet Union did not spend a fortune trying to
"rebuild" the country that it had just destroyed so the Russians can claim
that they just didn't have the money).
We rapidly forget the headlines and most of us already forgot the most
stunning feature of the "insurgency": the virtually unlimited supply of
suicide bombers. To this day there has been no comprehensive study about
that phenomenon. The only other place that had so many suicide bombers
was Palestine, but those were Palestinians fighting for their land.
The suicide bombers in Iraq were international: Muslims flocked to Iraq
from all over the world (Western Europe, North Africa, Central Asia,
even Bosnia) to blow themselves up in the name of fighting the USA.
The Islamic world can indulge in all sorts of conspiracy theories about
what happened, but it cannot deny that thousands of Muslims blew themselves
up to kill scores of ordinary civilians in the name of simply killing as
many people as possible. How the USA involuntary triggered that phenomenon
and what that phenomenon has done to the psyche of the Islamic world has
still to be analyzed. I suspect that the horror caused worldwide was tacitly
shared by one billion Muslims (although they would never admit it publicly and
march in the streets against a "martyr" the way they would march in
the streets to protest a Mohammed cartoon), and that indirectly that horror
helped create a more moderate view of Islam, the one that has seized power in
Turnisia and Egypt. Put it this way: the first wave of suicide bombers took
place in Iran during the war against Iraq of the 1980s and it succeeded in
defeating the enemy (that very Saddam Hussein); the second and third waves
of suicide bombers took place in Lebanon and Palestine and they were sold
as succeeding in at least protecting the Muslim populations;
the fourth wave took place in Afghanistan and it succeeded in expelling
the Soviet Union; and these four waves constructed the myth that martyrdom
was morally justified and politically effective. But one has to be greatly
delusional to believe that the fifth wave, in Iraq, was nothing but insanity
on a very large scale. It will be a long time before suicide bombers become
as popular as they were at the peak of the Iraqi civil war.
What has succeeded (with the explicit approval and sometimes military support
of the Western democracies)
are the mass demonstrations of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
What has also succeeded, on the other hand, is the Muslim Brotherhood,
that harbors ferocious hostility towards the USA (a well-deserved one,
since the USA was the main sponsor of the likes of Mubarak). What might
succeed in Iraq is Sadr: transforming himself into the astute politician,
he might be about to seize power in an alliance with Kurds and Sunnis,
in what would be the ultimate humiliation for the USA: an Iranian-funded
anti-USA terrorists who becomes the leader of the country that the USA
"liberated" from a (very anti-Iranian) dictator.
Was it worth it? It is still too early to answer, but certainly the answer
would have been a lot easier if the whole affair had not been hijacked in
Washington by a small group of arrogant, corrupt and incompetent politicians.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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