We've Already Won in Iraq

Washington may be punishing Syria for not keeping its border with Iraq sealed, but its tactical conduct with Damascus is strategically punishing the whole Middle East.

What exactly did Bush say to mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war? "This is a fight America can and must win," he summarized. So why, after five years, has it not won in Iraq?

Perhaps it is another one of the lies that has gone along with this war. After all, this war was born in a bluff and continues in a lie, and on the way it created several strategic upheavals, chief among them the loss of U.S. deterrence. The bluff was the "clear-cut proof" that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, nuclear and biological, and it continued with the claim that he had close connections to Al-Qaida. Subsequently, the war produced more false visions, such as turning Iraq into a democracy, building a strategic alliance that would boost the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and finally, putting a stop to Iranian influence in the region.

This was conducted out of abysmal ignorance about the status and strength of Saddam's opposition, the willingness of the Shi'ites to be U.S. allies, and the true power of the Sunnis. Its architects erred in depending on the cooperation of Turkey, and did not understand the significance of discharging thousands of Iraqi soldiers and officers who had served under Saddam. The calculation of costs, in money and human life, became completely skewed, and the dream of funds and rehabilitation through Iraqi oil drowned in the Persian Gulf. A war that was to have quickly changed the reality in Iraq and the Middle East became a permanent nightmare. As Hillary Clinton put it, withdrawing from Iraq might be no less dangerous than going in.

However, the war in Iraq is not a localized war. It continues to send shock waves through the Middle East, mainly because it is serving as a hothouse for the cultivation of a much greater strategic threat: Iran. Leaks from closed high-level discussions among the Iranian leadership revealed disagreement between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the secretary general of Iranian's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani. Ahmadinejad said that the threat of an American attack on Iran should not be taken seriously, and that Tehran could continue pursuing its uranium enrichment program. Larijani believed the U.S. was serious, but he was unable to persuade spiritual leader Ali Khamenei. The American entanglement in Iraq was the most persuasive argument that Washington cannot take on another war in the Middle East. Then came the U.S. intelligence assessment, which not only cleared Iran of the accusation of currently developing nuclear weapons, but also stated that the American intelligence community would not allow the administration to use it any longer for political or ideological goals.

The U.S. is stuck with a protectorate, and needs Iran in order to extricate itself honorably. Thus one of the most important and richest countries in the Middle East has been turned into an Iranian dependent. The paradox is that Washington is conducting a strategic dialogue with Iran, but refuses to conduct such a dialogue with Syria and until recently, held back any Israeli attempts to explore a dialogue with Syria. If the war in Iraq could have contributed to any kind of peace process in the Middle East, it would have been on the Syria-Israel track. Washington may be punishing Syria for not keeping its border with Iraq sealed, but its tactical conduct with Damascus is strategically punishing the whole Middle East.

According to Bush's theory, Operation Shock and Awe, which began the war for Iraq, should have also connected the Palestinians to the peace process. Based on the law by which water seeks its own level, Bush believed that getting rid of Saddam would push the frightened Palestinians into a quick peace process with Israel. History laughed Bush in the face. The war in Iraq created a very harsh anti-American reaction in the Middle East that was in no small measure responsible for freezing the peace process. Thanks to Iraq, it seems Israel has vanquished the peace process. Everything else is only intermediate results. Five years have gone by, and it looks like time to start work on the summary of the next five years.