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    Middle East
     Feb 1, 2012


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, Libya.

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.

The 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.

The US's 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quest - is that it tried to engage in "regime change", where the entire state structure of the old regime was not superseded but destroyed.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 perspective.

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. .

Essentially, Washington should have stayed in Baghdad indefinitely as the British would have done in their heyday of empire.

Still, Washington had no resources to do this. To start with, the Department of Defense - a huge and inefficient cash cow - made the soldiers' upkeep unbearably expensive.

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 Barack Obama.

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.

Moreover, they 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 toward Iran.

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, therefore, fluid.

Dmitry 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.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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