Mission Unaccomplished- Bush’s Mideast Legacy
Prior to his initial election in 2000, President George W. Bush opposed a U.S. role in “nation building,” believing that the task was next to impossible and the cost would outweigh any benefits we might attain. Then after 9/11, Bush claimed that a tie existed between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Al Qaeda, and that Iraq was supposedly building weapons of mass destruction. He used these claims as reasons to invade Iraq to overturn Hussein’s dictatorship and the supremacy of his Baath Party.
Subsequently, no evidence of weapons of mass destruction were ever found, nor confirmation of ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Because of this, a tertiary rationale was offered for the U.S. invasion- removal of Hussein as dictator and the establishment of a democracy in Iraq to be a beacon for other countries in the Mideast. Notwithstanding Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on May 1, 2003, after an apparent rapid military victory in Iraq, the mission remains far from accomplished.
Iraq today remains a destabilized nation, a hotbed of terrorism and killing between the now politically dominant Shiites and the disenfranchised and embittered Sunnis, which appears to be growing worse. The Kurds have established a fairly peaceful homeland in the north, but are
contesting bordering areas that are rich in oil with their Arab countrymen and Turkmen. Many, if not most of Christian Iraqis have fled the country, believing there is no future for them in Iraq. Far from being a beacon of democracy for the Middle East, Iraq is an example of the disaster that can occur when an outside power tries to impose change on the government, and transform the relationships among ethnic and religious groups that have previously existed for decades.
Aside from the thousands of deaths and maiming of our military personnel, the loss of a more than a trillion dollars, and the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, what has America accomplished with our invasion and attempt at nation building? We can say that the secular fabric of Iraq has been ripped apart. Women’s rights and opportunities were much greater under Saddam than under the current Malaki government and the way women dress now reflects this. In many areas, religious leaders determine what forms of entertainment are acceptable, vetting movies, television programs, and Internet usage. Similarly, shops and restaurants that serve alcohol have been targeted by religious vigilantes, which never would have happened under Saddam.
And look at the way Malaki and the current Shiite-led government thumbs its nose at America, despite the fact that our efforts allowed them to gain power, expending our lives and treasure to try and bring them democracy. When we asked to leave a residual body of troops in Iraq to fight terrorism and act as advisors for the Iraqi army, we were refused. When we asked Malaki to
prevent Iranian flights from resupplying the Assad regime in Syria, we were turned down. The new oil contracts in Iraq have gone to Chinese companies rather than American.
Iran and its ally Syria, our biggest enemies in the Middle East have benefitted most by America’s elimination of Saddam Hussein and his regime. Hussein was the biggest counterweight to Iran in the region and played on the enmity between Iraq’s Arab population and the Persians of Iran, preventing the religious bonds between the Shia of Iraq and Iran to strengthen. If Hussein
had remained in power, he would have supported the Sunni majority rebelling against Assad in Syria, and Assad most likely would have fallen quickly, precluding the massive casualties that have occurred.
There is no question that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but it was not our job to depose him, destroying his military and upsetting the balance that existed in the region. Having him remain in power was advantageous to the US and removing him was probably the biggest foreign
policy blunder by America in decades.
Democracy will not work in Iraq, where people’s allegiances are primarily to their tribes and religions. They don’t see themselves mainly as Iraqis, willing to sacrifice for their country. Secularism has also lost out as the vision of democracy has faded. Unfortunately, it is likely that the same fate awaits Syria, perhaps after an even more prolonged civil war- the loss of a secular society and the inability to maintain a multi-religious democratic state. George Bush’s mission was certainly not accomplished, and his actions undermined America’s interests in the region.