Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Middle East’s Lost Decade

BERLIN – The United States has waged three wars since Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001: against Al Qaeda, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq. The first two were forced upon the US, but the third was the result of a willful, deliberate decision by former President George W. Bush, taken on ideological grounds and, most likely, for personal reasons as well.

Had Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and their neocon allies been forthright about their intentions – to bring down Saddam Hussein by means of war, thereby creating a new, pro-Western Middle East – they never would have received the support of Congress and the American public. Their vision was both naive and reckless.

So a threat – Iraqi weapons of mass destruction – had to be created. As we now know, the threat was based on lies (aluminum tubes for a nuclear-weapons program, for example, meetings between the 9/11 plot leader, Mohamed Atta, and Iraqi officials in Prague, and even glaring forgeries like supposed Iraqi orders for yellowcake uranium from Niger).

Such were the justifications for a war that was to claim the lives of almost 5,000 US soldiers and more than 100,000 Iraqis. Add to that the millions more who were injured and displaced from their homes, as well as the destruction of one of the world’s oldest Christian communities. For this, the US alone spent up to $3 trillion.

Bush’s war against Saddam did radically change the Middle East, though not as he envisaged. For starters, if the US had set out to destabilize Iraq, its efforts could hardly have been more successful: ten years later, the country’s viability as a single state has never been in greater doubt.

With Saddam gone, Iraq’s Shia majority assumed power after a horrendous civil war, leaving Iraq’s defeated Sunnis longing for revenge and waiting for an opportunity to regain their ascendancy. The Kurds in the north cleverly and adeptly used the window of opportunity that opened before them to seize de facto independence, though the key question of control over the northern city of Kirkuk remains a ticking time bomb. And all are fighting for as large a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as they can get.

Taking stock of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” a decade later, the Financial Times concluded that the US won the war, Iran won the peace, and Turkey won the contracts. I can only agree.

In political terms, Iran is the big winner of Bush’s war. Its number-one enemy, Saddam, was dispatched by its number-two enemy, the United States, which presented Iran with a golden opportunity to extend its influence beyond its western border for the first time since 1746.

Bush’s war, with its poor strategic vision and worse planning, increased Iran’s regional standing in a way that the country was unlikely ever to have achieved on its own. The war enabled Iran to assert itself as the dominant power in the Gulf and the wider region, and its nuclear program serves precisely these ambitions.

The losers in the region are also clear: Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, which feel existentially threatened, and have come to regard their own Shia minorities as an Iranian fifth column. They have a point: with the Shia in power in Iraq, Iran will seek suitable opportunities to use local Shia populations as proxies to assert its hegemonic claims. This is what is fueling Bahrain’s domestic turmoil, beyond the Shia majority’s local grievances.

Leaving aside the lies, fictions, and questions of morality and personal responsibility, the critical mistake of America’s war against Iraq was the absence of either a viable plan or the necessary strength to enforce a Pax Americana in the Middle East. America was powerful enough to destabilize the existing regional order, but not powerful enough to establish a new one. The US neocons, with their wishful thinking, grossly underestimated the scale of the task at hand – unlike the revolutionaries in Iran, who quickly moved in to reap what the US had sowed.

The Iraq war also marked the beginning of America’s subsequent relative decline. Bush squandered a large part of America’s military strength in Mesopotamia for an ideological fiction – strength that is sorely missed in the region ten years later. And there is no alternative to be seen without America.

While there is no causal link between the Iraq war and the Arab revolutions that began in December 2010, their implications have combined in a malign manner. Since the war, the bitter enmities between Al Qaeda and other Salafist and Sunni Arab nationalist groups have given way to cooperation or even mergers. This, too, is a result brought about by the American neocon masterminds.

And the regional destabilization triggered by the Arab revolutions is increasingly converging on Iraq, mainly via Syria and Iran. Indeed, the gravest current danger to the region is a process of national disintegration emanating from the Syrian civil war, which is threatening to spread not only to Iraq, but also to Lebanon and Jordan.

What makes Syria’s civil war so dangerous is that the players on the ground are no longer its driving forces. Rather, the war has become a struggle for regional dominance between Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey on the other. As a result, the Middle East is at risk of becoming the Balkans of the twenty-first century – a decline into regional chaos that began with, and was largely the result of, the US-led invasion ten years ago.

Read more from our "Ten Years in Iraq" Focal Point.

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    1. CommentedWim Roffel

      Fischer is repeating his Kosovo mistakes by seeing the world against through the prism of good and bad. Doing this he is buying into the American war propaganda.

      By designating Iran as winner and the Saudi's as losers Fischer misses the real story. Iran had no choice but to grab some influence over Iraq as it was clear that Bush intended to use Iraq as a platform to attack Iran. But given sentiments from the recent Iran-Iraq war and age old tensions between Arabs and Persians it could only have a limited influence.

      However, the bigoted Saudi's couldn't live with an Iraq where the Shiite majority ruled and made trouble from the beginning. It was this trouble that made Iraq turn towards Iran as its only alternative. Remember that Maliki in Iraq was known for his hostility towards Iran before he was appointed. It were the circumstances that made him turn towards Iran anyway.

      It is this Saudi campaign that has also increased the tension between Sunnite and Shiites in the Middle East. I am certain the Iranians would care a lot if they could find a way to decrease that tension. But they are facing the Saudi fanatics...

    2. CommentedAhmed Hasanein Alhasania

      Egypt should send its comandos & paratroopers to Syria to support the revolution . Ahmed Hasanein Alhasani; All Egypt Party; 14-Apr-2013 .

    3. CommentedJeffrey Zwerner

      I take issue with the first paragraph.
      First, the three events described are qualitatively dissimilar. Reference to these three events as 'wars' without further elaboration of their similarities and why each, with regard to those similarities, should be classified as a 'war' like the others utilizes language for emotion rather than for reasoned argument.
      Second, the response to the Al Qaeda terrorist attack on 9/11/2001 is not limited to things falling under these three umbrella items. If each of these items are 'wars,' there are other things that deserve classification and reference in the same space (e.g., homeland security).
      Finally, I think it is sensational, and bordering on irresponsible, to dismiss the complex and innumerable steps taken against Al Qaeda and in the military occupation of Afghanistan as 'forced upon us,' while explicating the Iraq War as a willful, deliberate decision...taken on ideological rounds and, most likely, for personal reasons as well.'
      I would very much like to see, however, a well-reasoned explanation by this author comparing NATO intervention in Kosovo with the 'war' in Iraq from 2003.

    4. CommentedChris Booker

      "it's nuclear program serves precisely these ambitions".

      umm, what nuclear program? not even US intelligence sources believe Iran is pursing nuclear weapons. Ironic that in an article about how the Bush administration lied it's way into war with Iraq that there isn't some skepticism on the so-called Iranian WMDs.... after all, it's the same strategy, just a different country!

    5. CommentedOle C G Olesen

      Finally ... I disagree that the USA has not achieved many of their Goals .
      The overall agenda can be found here .. back in around 1989 :


      The Agenda is DESTABILISATION ... on the periferi of EUROPE ... and within EUROPE ..as well as EURASIA ,,, wherever possible .. in the Interest of the US Dollar and US Military HEGEMONI ... spelled out in clear text by Mr Brezhinsky... long time ago !

    6. CommentedOle C G Olesen

      Mr Fisher
      You have come a long way from Your Youth without commenting upon in which direction
      Regarding Your article I would like to supplement it a bit .. as You have forgotten ..it seems a lot of important stuff :

      let me start back in time where millions of persian young boys DIED heroically defending their Country against Poisenous Gas and other atrocities infflicted upon them by the USA PROXY : Saddam Hussein . What was that for a game? ..take a look :


      We can supplement above story with this Insider Information :


      and then turn to events around Iraq , which need a little bit more serious information to descibe what occurred :


      Then it was 9/11 and Afghanistan and subsequently Lockerbie / Libya who had to enoy the visit of the US of America .. they still struggle to get over that experience ..
      and many pages could be written about THAT.

      and today we have Syria , where the USA / Israel / the UK ... together with their SUNNI autocrat Lackeys ( the only ones they can find as allies because they need american Bayonets to sit on ) ARE THE CAUSE of another round of MASS KILLING , TERROR , RAPE , THEFT and DESTRUCTION .... and where these MEGALOMANIACS could START a THIRD WORLD WAR ... if EUROPE is not so EXPERIENCED and MATURE ... after having been nearly destroyed during the preceeding 2 WWs ... to call a STOP ...
      DECISIVELY and so some DEAF and GREEDY EARS may understand ... that EUROPE will have NO PART in this !

    7. CommentedBen Leet

      If you visit the Wikipedia page Casualties of the Iraq War you'll find a 2012 report from UNICEF stating that between 800,000 and 1 million orphans, all under 18 years old with either one or both parents killed, were created in the Iraq war. You'll also find 2 reports stating that 600,000 civilian violent deaths were created as early as 2006, and the estimate goes up to 1 million by 2010. Not all civillian violent deaths occurred to parents with children. My point, it is likely that the estimates of the Iraqi civilian violent death count are under-estimated. Hans Blix was the chief of the UN agency looking for weapons of mass destruction; Blix stated that the Bush administration was on a "witch hunt", and the facts did not matter. No WMD were found. The threat was non-existent, it was a war of agression cloaked as a pre-emptive war to prevent agression. In an article recently I read that 85% of U.S. soldiers believed in 2005 that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9-11 attacks. The costs in dollars are not as great as other costs. Good article though.

    8. CommentedBrent Beach

      Fischer suggests that the real goals of the Iraq war were: to bring down Saddam Hussein by means of war, thereby creating a new, pro-Western Middle East.

      If this was the case, then why did the US disbanded the Iraq army and civil authority as soon as it defeated Saddam and took control of the country.

      Fischer goes on to describe the ultimate effect of US actions was to destroy Iraq. He says destabilize, but destroy is a much better word. The country will be decades rebuilding its infrastructure, civil society, institutions of governance.

      Fischer apparently thinks this destruction was an accident, an unfortunate result of US ineptness.

      Perhaps if the author were to begin with the premise that this destruction was the goal and go back over his analysis he might come much closer to the truth.

      Given this premise, disbanding the army makes sense. Peace so early in the war would have not destroyed Iraq. It was essential that the war continue until Iraq had been bombed back into the stone age.

      All the apparent errors made by the US now appear as successes. If instability in the region was the goal, then the war was a success.

      One final general comment on the article. How is it possible that anyone could write an article on the Iraq war and not mention Israel even once?

    9. CommentedRay Tapajna

      Designer Wars -
      The war was a designer war which was instigated my a small group of leaders. There was never any real national discussion about it. Instead, we had a wholesale publicity campaign that contained more lies than truth. It was a preemptive attack on an entire nation and not secluded to finding the enemy and stopping them. Thousands of innocent people were caught in the infighting. As a matter of fact, the U.S. never ended the first Gulf War with Iraq and constantly bombed the country for more than ten years before the second land assault. And don't forget President Clinton's wars in the Balkans where he invited the Islamic freedom fighters to the conflict.

      An outstanding question remains of why the elite group created this environment of terror.
      They picked out the word " terrorism " to use and called it a war against terrorism. But in the process terrorism spread across the Middle East. It leads one to wonder why the U.S. would set the stage for people in the Middle East to fight each other as the terror infected the countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Iran and Egypt. Then the terror spread to Africa. For many years, we had a foreign policy to balance out the geopolitical problems in the Middle East. History tells us to stay out of the region and just attend to humanitarian missions to control the killing fields.

    10. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      While I agree with the declaration that a decade was lost, I think it happened for different reasons.
      Naturally we think we are in control of what is happening in our lives, and we look at history as a chain of heroic events, where great visionaries, freedom fighters, inventors and explorers shaped human history, making dramatic, free choices.
      But in truth history, evolution is just a huge wave that progresses unstoppably, and up to this point humans have been swept by these waves without any conscious contribution.
      We behave instinctively without any real free choice, simply manipulated by the pleasure/pain principle, always making calculations on "maximum self-benefit/minimal cost".
      As a result even such personalities like Hitler, Einstein, Bush or Obama do not really shape events, if it was not them, then there would have been someone else within a short space of time making the same changes, achieving the same results. There are enough examples of explorations, inventions, breakthroughs arrived at, achieved by different people, almost parallel without knowing about each other.
      In his famous "Foundation" books Isaac Asimov describes a fictive science, psychohistory, by which it is possible to calculate human history very accurately given a large mass of people.
      In real life it is very much the same, until humanity acts instinctively, within our inherent human nature, we can safely predict what the future brings.
      Unfortunately the present scenario, given the global crisis, the helplessness of present day leaders, the threatening nuclear flash-points in multiple locations, the increasing divide between cultures and even within national societies, and the worsening state of the natural environment and the climate does not promise a very good future, and we do not need a prophet or even a scientist to predict it.
      It does not look like we can waste another decade or even couple of years.
      Humans have to step out of their subjective, self centred, instinctive boxes and start anew, building new relationships, new attitude towards each other and the natural system they exist in.
      Evolution goes on, but only a new, fully conscious human, rising above its natural instinctive behaviour has a chance of survival.

    11. CommentedMatteo Sestito

      Excellent article.
      I agree with all your arguments except one: I don't think the current turmoil in Bahrain is caused by sectarian tensions between Shia majority and Sunni rulers. I have read a few articles over Bahrain's Arab Spring and all of them underline the democratic issue as the major cause of the protests. Clearly it isn't the the only factor, since they will be other ones, like power elites and economic interests. Moreover Iran is still trying to expand its influence, as you pointed out, over Syria and Lebanon. I don't think Iran is so powerful, now that its economy is on the brink of collapse due to the western sanctions, to extent its hegemony over the whole Middle East.
      Concluding, in my opinion the Iranian external influence over Bahrain's protests is a factor that have to be eliminated or at least minimised.
      I link two articles about Bahrain's Spring (both from The Guardian) if anyone is interested.