The Lasting Damage of Iraq

MADRID – The folding of the American flag in Iraq amid a collapse of public security and a severe crisis in the country’s fragile political order seals a tragic chapter in the history of the United States. It marked the denouement of one of the clearest cases ever of the imperial overreach that former US Senator William Fulbright called the “arrogance of power.”

Violently torn by religious and ethnic rivalries, Iraq is in no condition to play its part in America’s vision of an Arab wall of containment of Iran. Unless the Iranian regime is terminally humbled in the course of its showdown with the West over its nuclear program, the more plausible scenario is that Shia-dominated Iraq moves closer to Iran’s strategic orbit rather than become part of America's regional designs.

After ten years of war, more than a hundred thousand casualties, mostly Iraqis, and an astronomical cost of almost $1 trillion, the US leaves behind an Iraq that is neither more secure nor especially democratic. It is, however, one of the most corrupt countries (175th out of 178, according to Transparency International). The war that was supposed to be a central pillar in a drive to restructure the Middle East under America’s guidance ended up marking the decline of its influence there.

The Middle East sucked America’s resources and energies, but the results are desperately meager. Turkey, with its “dangerous foreign minister” (as Ahmet Davutoğlu was portrayed in a US cable released by WikiLeaks), is defining its regional policies in a way that frequently clashes with US designs. Israel rebuffed US President Barack Obama’s peace initiatives, and even refused to extend a freeze on settlement construction for a mere three months, despite a lavish offer of strategic compensation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas defiantly disregards the US threat to stop aid if Palestine persists in its bid for United Nations membership. And Arab leaders ridicule Obama’s naïve trust in negotiations as a way to cut short Iran’s nuclear ambitions.