Mar 20th 2013

Commemorating Ten Years Of Deep Sorrow

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Scores of commentaries have been written on the misguided Iraq war and perhaps not much can be added to America’s worst foreign policy blunder since at the very least World War II. To put this war in its proper perspective, however, the war and its consequences must be reviewed carefully in the context of its repercussions on Iraq itself, the Middle Eastern region and on the United States. The most compelling question we must ask ourselves is: have we learned anything from this sad chapter in our history to avoid another reckless military adventure in the future?

The effect on Iraq and the Iraqi people:

The Iraq war has handed the country on a golden platter to Iran shattering decades of dual containment to prevent either from gaining the upper hand, which maintained regional stability.

The war has killed more than 150,000 Iraqis and inflicted inhuman pain and suffering on hundreds of thousands of the victims’ extended families.

The war has divided the Iraqi people and instilled hatred and revulsion, as the Sunnis and Shiites continue to kill each other. Ten years later, nearly 3,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the last month alone, bringing the country ever closer to the abyss.

The war humiliated a people and a country that was once the cradle of civilization, and left hundreds of thousands of Sunni Iraqi families despondent without the prospect of salvation any time soon.

The war has overnight turned the Sunni community, who enjoyed a privileged life, into a marginalized, unemployed minority, sowing the seeds of revenge and retribution and dividing Iraq, perhaps permanently, along sectarian lines.

The war destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and dismantled its military and the bureaucracy after engaging in an excessive and extreme policy of de-Bathification, leaving the country in shambles with efforts for reconstruction going nowhere.

The war has left Iraq unstable, dangerous, nothing further from democracy, ruled by a corrupt authoritarian government that will remain under Iran’s thumb for many years to come.

The effect on the Middle East:

The Iraq war has ignited violent conflicts between various militant groups, destabilized the region and subjected our regional allies to an uncertain future with growing trepidations about how the repercussions of the war could still unfold.

The war has spearheaded a bloody conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites on a regional scale, terrifying our Arab Sunni allies and making Syria the battleground between the two sects that will plague the Middle East for decades to come.

The war provided Iran the time and the opportunity to aggressively pursue its nuclear weapons program with near impunity, heightening the anxiety about the possibility of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities with incalculable regional consequences.

The war allowed Iran to realize its historic ambition to dominate a critical landmass extending from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, effectively challenging the Sunni Arab states and making them vulnerable to Tehran’s intimidation.

The war provided the Taliban in Afghanistan, following their initial defeat, time to regroup, re-train and gather the funds to acquire new weapons that has mired the country in a war of insurgency, making it the longest war in American history with absolutely no prospect of victory.

The effect on the United States:

The Iraq war was the biggest foreign military disaster that may well have overshadowed the Vietnam War, in that it was ill-conceived from the very beginning with an illusionary strategic objective. Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed no imminent danger, had no nuclear material or facilities and posed no threat to our allies in the region.

The war has severely undercut our influence in the region and raised serious questions about our ability to construct an effective and sound political and military strategy to deal with a region in turmoil.

The war has tarnished our moral authority as misguided political, defense and intelligence personnel have become complicit to human rights abuses, including torture of Iraqi prisoners, while paying little heed to human rights violations.

The war has cost more than a trillion dollars and it is estimated a trillion more will be needed to care for disabled and injured veterans for decades to come.

The war massively contributed to our financial malaise and brought us on the verge of a second depression, making it extremely difficult to tackle our national debt and restore solvency to many financial institutions and major industries.

The war has killed nearly 4,500 brave American men and women of our armed forces, with little to show for their heroic sacrifices.

The war has inflicted anguish, agony and lifelong pain on thousands of American families for the loss of their loved ones, and shattered their confidence in our military leadership which has led them astray.

The war has demonstrated our terrible failure to promote genuine democracy and put to questionour democratic values when we settled on replacing one dictator with the likes of Prime Minister Maliki, who rules ruthlessly with an iron fist.

The war has emboldened Russia and China to assert their influence in a region in which we have vital strategic interests without much concern about repercussions, as the events in Syria glaringly attest.

The war has broken our armed forces due to repeated deployments and the alarming rate of suicide of war veterans, making it difficult to recruit a new generation of willing soldiers.

Finally, the Bush administration systematically misled our fellow citizens in an effort to convert a dismal failure and present it (cynically) as triumph—the “mission [was never] accomplished.”

Notwithstanding the repercussions of the Iraq war, one question is being constantly asked: should the United States retreat behind its own shores, especially since the Iraq war has only multiplied our enemies and eroded much of the confidence of our friends?

The answer is certainly no. The United States remains the preeminent global power with strategic interests extending across the globe. We have scores of allies that, despite their disappointment in the way we handled the Iraq war, continue to rely on us for protection and many other bilateral relations that affect our and their national interests. The issue here is not whether the US should remain fully engaged and exert influence out of necessity, but how the United States should project itself and promote the values that we uphold.

America cannot shirk its global responsibility, but can learn from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the so-called “war on terror” that will never end with a clear victory. We must have a clear purpose and accordingly develop a strategy that serves our interests and those of our allies. To that end we must:

  • Project our values consistently and not bend them when convenient (Iraq);
  • Expect no other nations to adopt our political system as a given (Egypt, Libya, Iraq etc.);
  • Learn the culture of other peoples and understand their national needs and aspirations (each and every Arab state, especially when we are involved militarily);
  • Engage in public narratives that treat our allies as equal (Israel and our Arab allies);
  • Preserve our credibility with those who fight and die for their human dignity (Syria);
  • Maintain credible deterrence to prevent miscalculations by our adversaries (Iran);
  • Ascertain absolutely the real potential of imminent danger before acting militarily (Iraq);
  • Adopt a clear strategy as to how to deal with conflicts before they spin out of control (Syria).

When the terrible war in Vietnam ended, we thought that we had learned our lesson and understood that a repeat of such a misadventure would be akin to going completely mad. With all of our mishaps, however, America remains a formidable power and the beacon of light for many nations, but that carries an awesome responsibility. We must now learn how to dispense with this responsibility without compromising the values that made America—America.

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