The United States of America is the world’s preeminent power; a hegemon in every sense of the word. This has been the case especially since the end of the Cold War when Communism as an ideology largely collapsed and there was a sudden fragmentation of the Soviet Union — moving the world from a bipolar system to a unipolar system. The Cold War was mostly a period of political certainties. In other words, both the United Stares and the Soviet kept their allies and proxies in check. No missiles were fired; and there were no direct outright wars, just wars of attrition.
Since the end of the war however, the world has changed. This change is characterized by episode of uncertainties wherein the world witnessed a number of intra and interstate skirmishes, i.e. between ethnonationalists and central governments or between competing ethnic groups. In addition, nation-states like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Ethiopia, North Korea and Afghanistan and Cuba no longer were subjected to the wishes of the Soviets and the US. Nonetheless, extralegal organizations and rogue-states found it expedient to roam the world — propagating their ideologies, killing and maiming their targets.But mostly they targeted America’s national security interests.
And so it was that on September 11, 2001, the Alqueda terrorist organization, with headquarter in Afghanistan, bombed the World Trade Center along with the Pentagon Defense complex in Washington DC. Other horrendous acts followed. In response, the United States invaded Afghanistan — toppling the Taliban which had given safety and succor to the leadership of the extralegal group. As part of her national security policy, the US also engaged in overt and covert operations around the world; and in the process killed and or captured members of the Alqueda and other groups. Some nations — branded the axis of evil — were warned to desist from supporting terrorists, or face maximum sanctions from the United States and her allies.
At the top of the “evil nations” list was Iraq (which was then under the tutelage of President Saddam Hussein). Saddam was suspected of aiding and abetting terrorists; and of secretly amassing nuclear weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction for use against the US and her allies — including the State of Israel. He was also indicted for having grand design to destabilize his neighborhood. And so it was that the US, against the counsel and strong opposition of the international community, invaded and toppled Saddam Hussein. For this singular action, the world has not been the same since.
In the years since the US-Iraq war started, a lot has changed; and a lot has come to light. For instance, it came to light that both the US and the British intelligence that fingered Saddam was, to say it mildly, inaccurate; forcefully said, the intelligence was falsified to meet the unstated objectives of the American and British government. Today, the general consensus is that Mr. Saddam Hussein was no more dangerous at the start of the war than he is today (in custody): he was not a danger to his neighbor or to America. Still, the military intervention was justified on the ground that he was a tyrant and a murderer bent on wrecking havoc on his people, especially the Kurds and the Shiites.
Overwhelmingly, Americans support the troops. Americans are grateful for the sacrifices being made by the men and women of the armed forces; however, unlike in earlier year of the war, domestic support for the war itself has waned. What’s more, opposition within Congress is also growing. The war, Americans seems to be saying, was unnecessary.
They wonder if the war can be won. They wonder about the cost and the sacrifice in terms of American lives. They wonder when the troops would be coming home. Mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and son and daughters want their loved ones home.
Various scholars have noted that it is very easy to start a war; but very difficult to end it. Wars are messy and expensive and usually have unintended consequences. In the final analysis therefore, diplomatic and political arrangements are far better and least costly when compared to the costs of war. In other words, diplomatic solutions yield better results. That said: there are times when a nation must go to war especially if all options have been explored; or when the nation’s national security and survival is being threatened. The attack against Mr. Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban and Afghanistan was justified. But the jury is still out on Iraq.
Mr. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek magazine once argued that the United States must carry the war against terrorism to the backyard of the terrorists if America and the world are to be safer. There can be no appeasement. There must be no appeasement. But sadly, a war that started out as “war against terrorists” in Afghanistan has now turned out to be “war against insurgents” in Iraq. The line between insurgents and terrorists is now blurred. And so most wonder: how did we get from Kabul to Baghdad? And what was the link between Osama Bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein? Was there a link between the Bathist Party and Alqueda?
Sadly for the United States, not everyone consider the Iraqi insurgents terrorists. There are groups within Iraq and Iran and elsewhere who believe that the insurgents are a check against America’s ambition and unstated intentions.
Who are the losers and the winners of this war? Well, no one knows as it is way too early to tell. However, three things are clear: (1) it would be in the interest of the United States to gradually disengage from Iraq especially if the Iraqis are able to safeguard their own constitution and institutions; (2) Iraqis must actively seek to and participate in the rebuilding of their country if they want the Americans out; and (3) actively engage in the peacebuilding efforts. America can not and must not remain in the country a week longer than is necessary. Over all, I am not certain that the American public would accept the deployment of troops in Iraq for five or ten years into the future.
That said I do not foresee a day when there will be zero-percent American military presence in Iraq or anywhere in the Middle East. So long as the United States needs oil from the Middle East there will always be American military presence. And as long as the State of Israel feels threatened (real or imagined), there will always be American soldiers in that part of the world. Until other issues crop up, Israel will always be America’s Achilles heel in that part of the world.
The Middle East is such a volatile region that without the presence of America, the region would go up in smoke. For instance, Jordan and Kuwait and a few other governments need the support and backing of the Marines — without whom the aforesaid governments would crumble. Those who know and understand Middle East politics knows that Islam and other variables connect virtually all the countries in the region. They also know the level of animosity, jealousy and insatiable need for revenge, territorialism and invasion that runs deep in the pores of the region.
For instance, Jordan can’t wait to kick the Palestinian refugees out; the Iraqis and the Iranians have mutual suspicions and anger. The Kuwaitis and the Saudis are afraid to sleep with their eyes closed. The Kurdish problem will take decades to resolve, if at all. And the Israelis have their game going. Simply put: the Middle East is full of “Improvised Explosive Devices.” It is a ticking time-bomb of some sort. No region of the world is as explosive as this geographical space. America, in a way, keeps stability, keeps the lid on; yet, America is despised because of the way she plays politics. There lay the paradox of America’s presence in that part of the world: a curse an
d a blessing…needed but unwanted!