Are the consequences of the US invasion of Iraq likely to be a secular, democratic Middle East and a victory over terrorism, as the Bush administration claims? Or has the Bush administration embarked on an adventure with unintended consequences beyond its imagination?
Hegemonic powers are not immune from miscalculation. When Napoleon marched his Grand Army into Russia, he overlooked that defeating Russia was different from seizing its capital, and that wintering in distant Moscow would give his European enemies ample opportunity to plot against him. In his haste to return to Paris, Napoleon lost an army to freezing temperatures and guerillas. The consequence of humiliating the Russians by driving them from their capital was a great diminution in Napoleon’s military resources.
When Hitler began World War II proclaiming "a thousand year Reich," he had no idea that the consequence of his aggression would be a Germany politically impotent for 60 years and now about to become a mere province in a European state.
Bush’s military adventure also will have unintended consequences. We can see that already. The US occupation of Iraq and the resistance to it bear no resemblance to the rosy scenario concocted by Bush’s advisors. Despite the presence of 130,000 US troops armed with massive firepower, Iraqi insurgents have successfully attacked fortified US compounds and driven the UN, the Red Cross and various aid agencies out of Iraq. Routine guerilla attacks on US troops have caused more American casualties than the invasion itself. The US is not in control of Iraq, and analogies to Vietnam no longer seem implausible.
Successful occupation or not, the larger strategic consequences are more ominous. The blatant exercise of US and Israeli hegemony over Muslim states is radicalizing Muslim populations and could result in the fall of Western-imposed secular rulers.
The West has been able to dominate hundreds of millions of Muslims, because the latter are disunited and have impotent states, many of which are dependent on US aid. US invasion and threats of invasion and Israel’s creation of a Palestinian ghetto are unifying Muslims in anger. Growing Islamic resistance, described in the West as terrorism, is a direct and predictable result of the US-Israeli exercise of hegemony.
In the Western democracies, culture and religion have been deracinated. In pursuit of diversity, the US no longer attempts to assimilate the massive inflow of immigrants or even to enculturate its native-born population. The American aim, apparently, is to be a Tower of Babel.
In contrast, Muslims retain a sense of themselves. The concepts and emotions that caused 19th century Western gentlemen to fight duels over honor drive Muslims to violence today. The US can defeat Muslim armies, but unless the US resorts to genocide, the US cannot occupy a hostile Middle East either directly or, as in the past, through surrogates.
One consequence of Bush’s invasion of Iraq could be that the US will be driven out of the Middle East, both politically and commercially. Another result could be that Middle Eastern states will redirect their oil flows to Asia’s rising economic powers.
If Muslims succeed in overthrowing the US-supported Pakistani military ruler, radical Muslims would possess nuclear weapons. This would checkmate US hegemony and could prompt an Israeli or an Israeli-Indian-US preemptive attack on Pakistan, an event that would change the world in unpredictable ways.
Just as Israel has squandered its moral capital by its treatment, born of frustration, of Palestinians, the US, frustrated that its military superiority cannot deter insurgency and terrorism, is becoming increasingly more brutal in Iraq, bulldozing homes and orchards and sealing off towns with barbed wire and automatic weapons.
Bush speaks propagandistically when he says that Muslims hate us for our freedom. They hate us for the disrespect we show them. Invasion, threats, orders, brutality and the killing of civilians make them hate us more.
The US and Israel are achieving their own isolation in the world. Tony Blair is the only fig leaf Bush has for his naked aggression against Iraq. The world is too large for any state, no matter how powerful, to base leadership on fear.
With the exception of propagandized Americans, the entire world recognizes that the US invasion of Iraq was based on fabrications akin to those used by Hitler to justify his invasion of Poland. America’s invasion of Iraq is the first adventure of neoconservative Jacobin ideologues willing to use any means to impose their "democratic" agenda on the rest of the world, especially the Middle East.
America’s new service to an aggressive ideology is a turning point in history. Nothing good will come of it.
Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy, Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.