Lessons from the Adventure in Iraq

Muqtedar Khan
Muqtedar Khan Former Brookings Expert, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations - University of Delaware

November 3, 2003

American foreign policy and its global concerns have been central to the emergence of the world’s present multilateral order. However, American foreign policy has now become of concern to the global order. America according to the new Bush doctrine is abdicating its role as the defender and maintainer of the global order and is instead seeking to undermine multilateralism in favor of unilateral militarism.

The invasion of Iraq was a test case of America’s new foreign policy. The same infamous Bush doctrine has made America a re-visionary state in the very system that America established. Before Washington continues with its imperial overreach program, it is time to stop, identify and contemplate upon the lessons that we have learned from the invasion of Iraq.
The Bush doctrine is based on three pillars: America’s unrivalled power, unilateralism, and pre-emption.

Sure, America is the world’s only superpower and its power is indeed unrivalled. Clearly no other country comes even close to American military and technological strengths. The speed and ease with which the Iraqi Army, a replica of the Russian Army, was defeated showcases American military prowess. However, this same ultimate military machine has been incapable of providing security in Iraq and has failed to remove the threat of Al-Qaeda, even within countries that it currently occupies ­ Afghanistan and Iraq. Apparently, America is No. 1, but not good enough to do it alone. The Bush administration’s constant pleas to other nations to provide troop support to stabilize Iraq takes the gloss off the war machine.

America’s superpower status also derives from its vibrant economy. The American economy is the world’s largest economy and has remained so for over six decades. However Sept. 11 and the challenge of reconstructing Iraq is placing unbearable stress on the super economy. When George W. Bush became president, America was $250 billion in surplus and the deficit now is about $500 billion. President Bush has been losing over $250 billion per year. Today the US Congress is recommending that American foreign policy goals, such as reconstructing Iraq and triggering a transformation of the Middle East, should be financed by future Iraqi oil revenues. The Senate voted that half of the amount that president Bush sought for reconstruction of Iraq must be in the form of a loan to Iraq. Clearly the American economy is the world’s biggest, but not big enough to finance the Bush doctrine.

An important component of American power is American culture, the source of America’s unique soft power. American values and American culture enjoy a global appeal and have often helped legitimize America’s international engagements and its self appointed role as the world’s policeman. America’s soft power has also been an important diplomatic resource which made influencing and persuading foreign countries to comply with American wishes much easier. However America’s post-Sept. 11 foreign policy and the rather abrasive style of America’s commander in chief have together contributed to the globalization of anti-Americanism which has reached shocking levels. It seems that the world is determined to oppose America. In many ways the present anti-Americanism, which can be detected even in institutions such as the UN, is like a worldwide civil disobedience movement against the American empire. The world is sending a loud and clear message to the new America and it reads ­ no way, Jose!

Sure American power is unrivalled, but it is also inadequate for the imperial aspirations of the Bush doctrine. This is the first lesson we learn from the invasion of Iraq.

Today we live in a world which is determined to oppose American unilateralism. The UN has resisted legitimizing US policies made without regard to world public opinion. Even when the UN acceded to US demands, such as the recent Security Council vote allowing nations to help the US, there are very few nations willing to come forward to help the US extricate itself from the self-inflicted mess in Iraq. Across the board nations are expressing their anger, their opposition and their disquiet at US unilateralism. The world has learned to appreciate the multilateral order that has emerged as a result of American initiatives, survived as a result of American support, has learned to accommodate American interests to some extent, but is now resilient enough to resist American efforts to bypass it.
The second lesson from the war on Iraq is that the multilateral order is more stable and far more relevant than the Bush administration thinks.

America is a democracy and even if Bush was elected by divine intervention he does not enjoy carte blanche on policymaking. Public opinion matters and will matter progressively more as we approach the next presidential elections. The Bush administration managed to win public support for a pre-emptive war against Iraq by essentially misrepresenting facts and corrupting intelligence. The failure to find evidence for the linkage between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and the alleged stockpiles of WMDs have not only undermined the credibility of America worldwide and the Bush administration at home but has also underscored the dangers of the pre-emption doctrine.

The final lesson from the imperial adventure in Iraq challenges the age-old American political dictum ­ Democrats are strong on economy and the Republicans are strong on defense. The present Republican administration in Washington has proven to be irresponsible in fiscal as well as defense matters.