In the weeks leading up to the Iraq war, neoconservatives in and around the Bush Administration counseled the President against seeking a second United Nations Security Council resolution, arguing that the success of the war it was about to launch would provide legitimacy enough in the real world. Not only would the war remove a clear and present threat to US national security, it would also create irresistible pressure for democracy in the Arab world, pave the way for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, intimidate Iran and Syria into falling in line with Washington policy and strike another blow against terrorism in that part of the world. Thus impressed with the display of American power, critics at home and abroad would have no choice but to sign on to the strategy of remaking the Middle East.
One year later, these claims look more like fantasy than considered policy judgments. The war’s legacy has turned out to be much closer to what the Administration’s critics warned it would be: a costly and reckless abuse of American power that has badly damaged US security, destabilized the region and undercut America’s position in the world.
The Administration’s case for war rested principally on the notion that because Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had possible ties to terrorist groups, it constituted a threat to our national security, which could not be entrusted to the UN. These claims, including the disparagement of the UN inspection process, have proven to be far off the mark, more the product of a propagandistic drive to war than a reasoned analysis of Iraq’s military capabilities. As a result, one of the first casualties of the war has been America’s reputation as a responsible power. How lasting the damage will be to US credibility is not clear. What is clear is that in lying about the Iraqi threat, the Administration diverted resources from other more urgent needs–from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the campaign against Al Qaeda–and in the process created an array of new security threats, including those that come with its role as an occupying power.
Notwithstanding the recent agreement on an interim Iraqi constitution (which left fundamental differences unresolved), the Administration still does not have a viable strategy for restoring sovereignty to the Iraqi people or for insuring their security, let alone for creating a stable democracy. For many ordinary Iraqis, their country is more dangerous (if also freer) than it was before the war, and the US occupation means not the beginning of a liberal democratic future but the likely prelude to either a Shiite-dominated Islamic government or to chaos and civil war. Whatever trust or confidence Iraqis had in the occupation was squandered early by the inability of US forces to restore law and order and by a reconstruction process that seemed geared more to awarding fat contracts to the Administration’s friends than to restoring services or creating jobs for Iraqis.
Now the United States seems caught in a dilemma–if it makes a rapid exit, it will leave Iraq with increasing civil strife; but the longer it stays the more it will be the target of Iraqi anger. This is why the Administration and the Iraqis have turned to the UN to find a way out.