A Tale of Unintended Consequences.

Wisely, most European governments that were opposed to the war in Iraq have constrained themselves since it has become evident that the fall of Saddam’s statue in April 2003 and the American crash course in Democracy has not (visibly) helped to speed up the region’s modernization or led to a self-reinforcing trend of ethnic accomodation and democratic governance. But now Joschka Fischer, former and famously “unconvinced” German foreign minister, has allowed Spiegel Online English to publish an “I-told-you-so-manifesto” taken from the foreword of his forthcoming book “The return of history“.

Indeed, he returns to history, outlining the political ramifications of the nation building experiments undertaken in the area back in the early 20th century only to conclude that the lessons of the past had no helpful effect on the political decisions in the present – well, the more recent past. He outlines what he believes to have been the American strategy in 2002 –

The war in Iraq was supposed to create the conditions for a regional realignment. It was supposed to create a new, an American Middle East, proving America’s power and global leadership and thereby guaranteeing America and the West lasting security in the face of the new terrorist threat.

– as well as the problems of politically “selling” this strategy to the American public –

The question is whether the majority of US citizens were ever really prepared to pay the very high military, political, economic, and moral cost for such an imperial enterprise, and to pay for it over a long period of time. We know today that the answer is “No.” But such a negative answer was already to be expected in 2002 and 2003, and would have been the starting point if the actual reason for the war had been placed at the center of the domestic debate in the US. That’s why other reasons for going to war were invoked – weapons of mass destruction and international terror – reasons that have quite obviously not held up to reality.

– and the consequences of the American decision that have to be dealt with now –

From this there resulted a second question: If the US entered Iraq with superior military might but with a lack of political support, then how were they going to leave again within a manageable timeframe without leaving behind a highly explosive vacuum? This question is still unanswered today.

Indeed, he is most concerned not about terrorist threats to the West but about the potential for armed conflict resulting from hegemonic political struggles in the region, particularly a confrontation between Iran and Israel, if Iran, the most prominent beneficiary of the American-led invasion and the ensuing insurgency, continued to overestimate its own strength and the American weakness. Possibly, he fears, the turmoil could possibly engulf the entire region from EU candidate country Turkey to Pakistan and Egypt.

For those in the American administration who continue to believe that the Islamist opposition to the Soviet invasion in Agfhanistan was the central mistake that led to the downfall of the Soviet empire a decade later, the following part of Fischer’s assessment may be the most painful one –

For international jihad terrorism, Iraq has historically taken on the same mobilizing function that the Islamic and national resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan had in the 1980s.

His conclusion is, logically, a rather gloomy one .

Unfortunately, US policy in Iraq today has stalled entirely. Instead of bringing about regional realignment, the US is using its strength to create a power vacuum, and thus prevent a civil war. Such a civil war is, however, becoming more likely every day. If, in 2003, everything suggested that this US war was a mistake, then today, the arguments against a US retreat in Iraq are at least as strong. But the situation is even worse, since every day that US troops remain in Iraq will only aggravate rather than solve this crisis — a crisis that is headed for civil war. It’s depressing to see that nothing is left of the US strategy of regional realignment. Instead, an unnecessary defeat — and one with far-reaching consequences — will have to be responded to by a strategy of containment, deterrence and long-term transformation from within the societies concerned.

The only stage of pessimism left would then seem to be the escape into optimism, an escape that would entail the surrender of every form of realism. Recent official statements by the US administration suggest that this next stage has already been reached.

You can find the entire essay at the Spiegel Online English edition.

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Unintended Consequences.

  1. OK, the middle east as it is now has produced some pretty dismal results. What, apart from the humanitarian aspects, is necessarily bad about civil war?

  2. Well, I’d imagine civil war would be very bad for the economy, and it could lead to a major realignment in the local balance of power, depending on how it played out. People often talk about Iran taking a proactive role, supporting theocratic Shiites, but I don’t know how its special relationship with Syria would be affected by that, for example, and it could be bad news for pro-American but strongly Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia if the US-backed government becomes to de facto Shia faction in the war. Whether this is good or bad depends on your point-of-view.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that the Sunni Arab population of Iraq is not just present in Shia-majority areas, from what I’ve heard there are unusually large numbers of mixed-sect marriages by Arab standards. Obviously a sectarian civil war would be disastrous for such families no matter which area they fled to, as they’d be prime targets for both sides.

    Then there are the knock-on effects for other countries that take in refugees, of course, which could be classed as humanitarian, economic, political, you name it.

    Overall, if things got really nasty I think Iraq would be lucky for its sectarian conflict to end up as ‘settled’ as that of Bosnia or Lebanon by the time the war ended. Kurdistan could probably break away without too much difficulty (but how would Turkey react?), but I can’t imagine a neat partition of the rest into Sunnistan and Shiastan.

  3. Disappointingly poor arguments by Fischer. Is the man in love with absolutes?

    “Wisely, most European governments that were opposed to the war in Iraq have constrained themselves since it has become evident that the fall of Saddam’s statue in April 2003 and the American crash course in Democracy has not (visibly) helped to speed up the region’s modernization or led to a self-reinforcing trend of ethnic accomodation and democratic governance.”

    Expecting a “self-reinforcing trend of ethnic accomodation and democratic governance” in the whole region before 3 years pass is unrealistic, and wasn’t the stated reason for invading Iraq anyway. It was to remove Saddam Hussein and the Baathists from power.

  4. The massive Iraqi demonstrations in 2003 did more for democracy in the Middle East than the American invasion and their planned “democracy”. Sadly Iraq has to defeat the Americans before they can taste their freedom.