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.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."