AN AMERICAN 'SCUTTLE' OUT OF IRAQ?
"President Barack Obama has declared that all 46,000 US troops still in Iraq will be withdrawn by the end of the year, with his administration telling Baghdad that time has run out to reach a deal that would have allowed a small American training force to remain in the country next year.
The decision, made despite fears that Iraq could fall back into sectarian chaos or further into Iran’s orbit, comes after months of negotiations in which the two sides failed to agree on the terms under which American trainers would remain beyond
It will enable Mr Obama to take political credit at home for ending the unpopular $1,000bn war as his re-election campaign picks up speed.
“Today, I can report that as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” Mr Obama said at a hastily arranged press appearance on Friday, after a videoconference with Nouri al-Maliki in which he informed the Iraqi prime minister of his decision.
“But even as we mark this important milestone, we’re also moving into a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq,” the president said, adding that the two countries would move to “a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect”.
Baghdad and Washington had been in discussions for months about the size and scope of a continued US mission in Iraq next year, with senior Pentagon officials expressing certainty that there would be some kind of residual force involving several thousand American military trainers".
Anna Fifield, "US troops to leave Iraq by end of year." The Financial Times. 21 October 2011, in www.ft.com.
"There should be no illusions about the sort of Arab landscape that America is destined to find if, or when it embarks on a war against the Iraqi regime. There will be no 'hearts and minds' to be won in the Arab world, no public diplomacy that would convince the over-whelming majority of Arabs that this war would be a just war. An American expedition in the wake of thwarted UN inspections would be seen by the vast majority of Arabs as an imperial reach into their world, a favor to Israel, or a way for the United States to secure control over Iraq's oil....For American power, there are two ways in the Arab world. One is restraint, pessimistic about the possibility of changing that stubborn world, reticent about the uses of American power. In this vision of things, the United States would either spare the Iraqi dictator or wage a war with limited political goals for Iraq and for the region as a whole. The other choice, more ambitious, would envisage a more profound American role in Arab political life: the spearheading of a reformist project that seeks to modernize and transform the Arab landscape. Iraq would be the starting point, and beyond Iraq lies an Arab political and economic tradition and a culture whose agonies and failures have been on cruel display....Iraq should not be burdened, however with the weight of great expectations. This is the Arab world, after all, and Americans do not know it with such intimacy. Iraq could disappoint its American liberators. There has been heartbreak in Iraq, and vengeance and retribution could sour Americans on this latest sphere of influence in the Muslim world".
Foud Ajami, "Iraq and the Arabs' Future." Foreign Affairs. (January / February 2003), pp. 2,7.
The announcement last week by the American Administration, that at the end of current anno domini, that the USA will withdraw all the remaining forty-six thousand troops from the country, means that the 'American interlude' in Iraqi history will be at an end. As will an 'Iraq War' interlude in American history as well. What does the historian, especially the diplomatic historian make of it all? Simply put, that notwithstanding the expenditure of hundred of billions of dollars, and the loss of more than four thousand dead, the American adventure into Iraq desires inclusion into the pantheon of 'miserable failures'. That while Iraq has been truly 'neutered' as a power political force in the region for years to come, the upshot of that factum is that Persia has to a degree assumed a much greater weight in the region. Albeit, not as a great a weight as it would like to imagine or some were predicting a few years back. That what remains in Iraq is a society which is as divided as it was previously, the only difference is that whereas there was a unstable Sunni Arab hegemony over close to eighty percent of the population, now there is an even more unstable Shiite primacy, vis-`a-vis the remaining half of the population that is either Sunni or Kurdish.
That the Maliki government, while not in any real way, 'anti-American', is en faite, quite willing to fall in to a degree with Persian political aims in the region. Something which is evident in the Baghdad government's policies towards Syria at the moment. This is not to say that the USA is engaged in a sort of 'scuttle' from the entire Near and Middle East. Indeed, the USA is still by far the leading power in the region. With more troops now in the area, then was the case back in 2001. What the Iraq debacle does indicate is that regardless of the need or not to overthrow the Hussein regime circa 2003, American society is completely incapable of undertaking the sort of 'nation-building' project which it handled fairly easily circa 1945 (Japan / West Germany) and in the 1950's (South Korea). As the long-time Near Eastern academic expert, then Iraq War enthusiast, subsequently disillusioned by the whole business, Fouad Ajami, noted presciently in 2003:
"If and when it comes, that task of repairing - or detoxifying - Iraq will be a major undertaking. The remarkable rehabilitation of Japan between its surrender in 1945 and the restoration of its sovereignty in 1952 offers a historic precedent....Granted no analogy is perfect; Iraq with its heterogeneity, differs from Japan. America, too is radically different society than it was in 1945 - more diverse, more given to doubt, and lacking the sense of righteous mission that drove it through the war years and into the work in Japan....But Iraq would also provide, as it did under British tutelage, a mirror for American power as well. A new American primacy in Iraq would play out under watchful eyes....The judgment that matters will be made at home, in the United States itself, as to the costs and returns of Imperial burden. The British Empire's moment in Iraq came when it was exhausted; on the eve of its occupation of Iraq, the United Kingdom's GDP was 8 percent of the world product, when the comparable figure for America today is at least three times as large. America can afford a big role in Iraq, and beyond. Whether the will and the interest are there is an entirely different matter 1."
With the definitive end of the direct American role in Iraq, a partial answer to Ajami's question can now be made. The only other question still outstanding is: will the current political 'set-up' in Iraq, remain in place as long as the Monarchy that the British left behind them in 1930 (twenty-eight years)? Or will there be merely a Kissingerian 'decent interval'?
1. Ajami, op. cit. pp. 15, 17.