Sunday, November 12, 2006

Why America Failed in Iraq

It is true that hindsight is 20/20 but the reasons for the United States’ failures in Iraq could have been foreseen by a blind man. It was a war waged under false pretenses in an unstable region by a superpower that had little credibility among the people it claimed to want to help. If that is not a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is. It was not that the outcome of the military enterprise was in any doubt, the concern was about the morning after. American foreign policy is shortsighted. It is good at showy –Shock and Awe- intervention but is lousy on prevention or long term commitments. There was no reason to expect that the intervention in Iraq was going to be any different. The only difference here was the neocon’s expressed interest in long term change, beyond the removal of Saddam, in bringing democratic change to the Middle East. It was a seductive proposition for many in the Middle East who thought that the status quo was untenable. But the true intentions of the neocons, was, at best, suspect and I for one, believed that even if the intentions were pure, that this “gift” would come at an unacceptable price. After all, there are many conflicting interests: Oil, war on terrorism, the Christian right agenda and Israel, all of whom rank much higher on the priority list than the goal of achieving Arab freedom and democracy. Nevertheless, when war started, I really hoped that I would be proven wrong.

It was wishful thinking as it became clear that the United States’ bungling started early on. Baghdad was allowed to be looted, the Iraqi army was dissolved and the bureaucrats that ran the country were let go. The American civilian administration AND the new Iraqi government barricaded themselves in the Green Zone – so much for freedom and independence. Contracts for rebuilding the country were handed out to American companies. The U.S. forces alienated Iraqi civilians by their harsh treatment that only worsened as the U.S. forces became increasingly targeted. Long before the iconic images of Abu Ghraib became public, an image from early in the war stuck with me and foretold much of what was to follow. It was the photograph of an Iraqi man sitting in the dirt behind barbed wire, his hand tied behind his back, a hood on his head and his infant son crying in his lap. The photograph said much about the whole American approach: paranoid, arrogant, condescending and ignorant all at the same time. This is not to say that many civilian administrators and military officers were not sincerely trying to help Iraq and the Iraqis, it is just that overall heavy-handed approach of the administration conspired to render such individual valiant efforts useless.

Beyond all the mistakes and missteps, there is one basic reason why the whole Iraq project was doomed from the beginning. Two incompatible reasons were given for going to war. The American public was told the reason for war was to protect the United States from terrorism. The Iraqis were told, on the other hand, that the war was necessary to liberate them from a dictatorship and to establish democracy. But how can you promise a nation freedom and democracy if this very freedom and democracy is subservient to your interests as a superpower? This is especially true when the United States, after ridding Iraq of its dictator, hangs around for three years looking more and more like occupier than liberator. The longer Americans stayed, the more ordinary Iraqis resented them, the more fuel was provided for the native insurgency and, even more dangerously, the more Zarqawi-inspired foreign jihadists were able to establish roots in Iraq. So now the war that was falsely sold as part of the “war on terror” has become part of the war on terror which the United States says that it cannot afford to lose. Does that mean that they are willing to fight to the last Iraqi rather than leave Iraq and risk being perceived as losers? Again, American short term interests trump Iraqi freedom and democracy.

The best and sincerest approach after the fall of Baghdad would have been to replace all the high ranking Iraqi army officers, replace the ministers and senior civilian administrators, redeploy the Iraqi army and phase out the U.S. forces within months of arrival. Sure it would have been a very a risky proposition but would it have been much worse than it is today? The quick exit of American military would have quickly taken the wind out of the insurgency, especially the jihadists. It would also have prevented the build up of resentment by Iraqis against their onetime liberators and now tormentors. But most importantly, it would put the onus on the Iraqis to take ownership of their own destiny and showed the world –especially the Arab world- that the U.S. is not interested in occupation and hegemony but in bringing about real, positive change for the people of the region.
Photo: A.K. + Photoshop, Faluga on the Nile


MadReza said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dubai Jazz said...

Abu Kareem,
Wonderful post, beautiful analysis, full of stark facts.
Hopefully president bush would stop uttering his catch phrase "we'll stay the course", and start straighten up his policies a little bit.

Abu Kareem said...


Sorry for zapping you but I don't like garbage posted on my blog.