Imperial errors cost US the Middle
East By Dmitry Shlapentokh
The United States' invasion of Iraq in
2003 was an important event in post-Cold War
history that is well-placed in the context of a
series of other "preventive" wars, such as against
Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001), and, lately,
All of them were conducted under
various excuses, but their geopolitical
underpinning was clear. On one hand, the West,
especially the US, is
increasingly pressed by the economic rise of Asia
- mostly China.
On the other hand, the
West, the US in particular, tried to take
advantage of a military superiority emerging after
the collapse of the Soviet Union.
attack against Iraq was designed not only to
demonstrate the US's superior military power and
disregard for international law and European
allies, but also to provide the US with a hold
over the strategic resources of oil and gas in the
Middle East. The designs failed. Still, the US
might yet turn this defeat, if not into victory,
at least into some of advantage.
major mistake in Iraq - in stark contrast to the
United Kingdom during its colonial quest - is that
it tried to engage in "regime change", where the
entire state structure of the old regime was not
superseded but destroyed. Later, the US tried to
restore it, but the damage was irreversible.
Secondly, Washington, following the dictum
that democracy should spread to any part of the
world, launched what were the freest elections in
Iraq's history. Both decisions were grave mistakes
and led to disaster, at least from Washington's
The destruction of the state
unleashed anarchy and a milieu where jihadis and
other extremists could flourish. The election led
to the Shi'ite majority - with its strong
pro-Iranian sympathies - gaining power. Then the
only force that would have been able to stabilize
Iraq and prevent it from becoming Iran's proxy -
US troops - left. .
Washington should have stayed in Baghdad
indefinitely as the British would have done in
their heyday of empire.
had no resources to do this. To start with, the
Department of Defense - a huge and inefficient
cash cow - made the soldiers' upkeep unbearably
As a result, the cost of the
conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq for a few years
was the same amount of cash as had been for the
arms race with the mighty "Evil Empire".
With an industrial base in the process of
erosion and mounting debt and budget cuts, the
hands of Washington were tied; and it would be
naive to attribute the withdrawal from Iraq
conducted recently to the naivete of President
With the US's departure, a
trend where Baghdad was drawing closer to Tehran
has intensified, and Iraq supports the regime in
Syria - Tehran's proxy.
At the same time,
Sunni violence, with the possible participation of
jihadis, has intensified. This also could be said
to a lesser degree about the Kurds, who have not
lost hope of building an independent state.
This process has provided an opportunity
to Sunni jihadis, the enemy of not just Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government but also that
of his masters in Tehran.
could well reinforce the Taliban movement in
Afghanistan, who are the enemy not just of the US
but also of Iran. It is not surprising that Iran
has engaged in moves not just to prepare for a
potential war with the US/Israel but also started
maneuvers near its borders with Afghanistan.
The Kurdish problem could be helpful for
Washington for it creates permanent pressure for
Ankara and might at least slow Turkey's slide
The US's defeat in the Middle
East still could bring some benefits for
Washington and Brussels; and it would not be
surprising if the West were already at work on
this scheme. Still, other powers are working on
schemes of their own; and the situation in the
region - and globally - has become unstable and,
Shlapentokh, PhD, is associate professor of
history, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,
Indiana University South Bend. He is author of
East Against West: The First Encounter - The Life
of Themistocles, 2005.
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