Opinion

The Great Debate

The U.S. war in Iraq is over. Who won?

By Bernd Debusmann
September 3, 2010

The end of America’s combat mission, after seven and a half costly years, has raised questions that will provide fodder for argument for a long time to come: Was it worth it? And who, if anyone, won?

It’s too early to answer the first question, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a man of sober judgment. “It really requires a historian’s perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run … How it all weighs in the balance over time remains to be seen.”

For a sizeable group of Middle East experts, the second question is easier to answer than the first. “So, who won the war in Iraq? Iran,” says the headline over an analysis by scholar Mohammed Bazzi for the Council on Foreign relations, a New York-based think-tank. His argument: “The U.S. ousted Tehran’s sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein, from power. Then Washington helped install a Shi’ite government for the first time in Iraq’s modern history.

“As U.S. troops became mired in fighting an insurgency and containing a civil war, Iran extended its influence over all of Iraq’s Shi’ite factions.” As a consequence, U.S. influence has been waning, Iran’s has been rising, and there are predictions that Iran will fill the vacuum created by the drawdown of U.S. troops to 50,000 who will “advise and assist” the Iraqis.

When President Barack Obama announced the completion of the drawdown in a somber speech on August 31, he made no reference to Iran – a curious omission – but said that “in an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners.” In the case of Iraq, only optimists find it easy to see shining success.

Six months after national elections, there is still no Iraqi government, with Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds unable to agree on how to share power and, as importantly, the country’s enormous oil wealth. A squabbling, deadlocked parliament is not much to show for more than 4,000 American, up to 100,000 Iraqi deaths and $1 trillion in war spending.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, and the neoconservative war hawks who agitated for an attack on Iraq, predicted that the country would become a model of democracy that would inspire the rest of the Arab world, largely run by autocratic regimes, to follow suit. That proved a pipedream. Instead, in the words of Wathiq al-Hashemi, a political analyst in Baghdad, Iraq has become a theatre for settling foreign disputes.

“Iran has said many times … that it will fill the vacuum after the U.S. withdraws. The country has become the target of regional ambitions and interference in its affairs.”

PULL-OUT TOO EARLY?
Which raises the question whether the U.S. has pulled out too early. Like many of America’s foreign policy moves, the withdrawal by August 31 was a function of domestic politics rather than conditions on the ground.

“This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office,” Obama said in his speech. “That is what we have done, we have removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.” Promise fulfilled.

For Obama, how to deal with Iran’s influence in Iraq and elsewhere in the region is a work in progress. The issues range from the Tehran government’s nuclear programme to Iran’s backing of Hamas, the Palestinian group that runs Gaza, and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite organization Israel tried (and failed) to wipe out in its 2006 invasion of Lebanon. The U.S. considers both groups terrorist organizations.

Early in his tenure, with his prestige riding much higher at home and in the Muslim world than it is now, Obama might have had a chance to tackle Iran the way Richard Nixon dealt with China and strike a grand bargain, putting all the differences between the two countries on the table and resolve them as a package. That possibility is probably gone.

Neither Iran nor its Hamas allies in Gaza were on the agenda this week as Obama convened the first direct talks on making peace between Israel and the Palestinians in 20 months. But the ghosts of both were hanging over the meetings which brought together Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

On the eve of the talks, the ninth revival of a “peace process” that has dragged on for decades, Hamas demonstrated its potential to undermine negotiations it opposes by killing four Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and vowed that more attacks would follow. There’s no reason to doubt they’ll try.

(You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com)

Comments
25 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Who won? Israel and the neocons. Who lost? America and the Iraqi people.

Posted by Castlecrag | Report as abusive
 

Iraq war could be won by none but it was a damn defeat for the participants who undertook, conducted and ended the questionable war quite whimsically causing severe damage to the Iraqis’ and many foreigners’ lives and economies.

May the world be blessed!

Posted by A.R.Shams | Report as abusive
 

If the tail has enough money to stuff into the pockets of US politicians in the Congress, then the tail wags the dog! It makes the politicians see weapons of mass destruction and fake attacks on our Naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin. Money also makes our politicians totally ignor our “ally” attacking the USS Liberty and intentionally killing US Sailors. Americans wake up and seize your country back from these money loving leeches! We need one term limits for every member of Congress!

Posted by BigC300 | Report as abusive
 

Around this time two millennia and one year ago, the Battle of Teutoburg Forest unfolded. In this incident, the Romans suffered a stinging defeat at the hand of Germanic insurgents. Then and now, partners of necessity may prove of limited value.

Read more here:
http://brainmindinst.blogspot.com/2010/0 9/teutoburg-forest-mind.html

Posted by PeterMelzer | Report as abusive
 

Without question, in Iraq the winners are . . .
Halliburton,
Kellog, Brown, and Root,
Xe (aka Blackwater).

They are still winning in Afganistan. Any idea what portion of the $Billions spent on these wars went to companies such as these rather than our own military? More’s the shame that our soldiers have to use food stamps to feed their families.

Posted by PetePleterson | Report as abusive
 

It’s difficult to argue that we, Americans, are in any way better off because of this costly war. Besides a redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to a limited group of corporate beneficiaries with strong political ties, it is hard to argue how the costs of the war (monetary and otherwise) have resulted in anything positive for Americans as a whole.

As a result of this war,

1. the world is increasingly skeptical of us and we’ve lost significant political capital as a result

2. we’ve flushed trillions of dollars down the toilet

3. we’ve created arguably more anti american sentiment within the iraqi people (only time will tell how this will play out)

4. of course, we’ve killed thousands of innocent iraqis and led to thousands of american deaths

Posted by alejandro81 | Report as abusive
 

It’s difficult to argue that we, Americans, are in any way better off because of this costly war. Besides a redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to a limited group of corporate beneficiaries with strong political ties, it is hard to argue how the costs of the war (monetary and otherwise) have resulted in anything positive for Americans as a whole.

As a result of this war,

1. the world is increasingly skeptical of us and we’ve lost significant political capital as a result

2. we’ve flushed trillions of dollars down the toilet

3. we’ve created arguably more anti american sentiment within the iraqi people (only time will tell how this will play out)

4. of course, we’ve killed thousands of innocent iraqis and led to thousands of american deaths

Posted by alejandro81 | Report as abusive
 

The most recent phase of what I call “their plan” has unfolded over the past 50 or 60 years. As the US and the then Soviet Union were bled in wars instigated by “them” we have now seen their great successes: the reunification of Germany, the dissolution of Russia and a United States that has, as far as world history will be concerned, a bit crazy in the head. All to the advantage of “them”. “They” are pushing for a greater war. “They” will be glad for it and use the chaos, just as they used the chaos of the cold war and then of Iraq and the GWOT to garner power, wealth, influence and more. “They” are unseen, unaccounted for, influential and do not have any regard for any interests but their own. By the way the Iraqi deaths quoted above are stupendously low: it is at about 1.4 million dead, directly and indirectly; twice that much in wounded, and twice that much again in displaced and exiled. the US casualty rate is about 4 thousand dead and will eventually total out at about 100 times that amount in wounded and disabled. Facts are facts. The truth has been buried. 9/11 a cheap scam and G.W. Bush just one of the many horrific, criminal scoundrels whose perfidious, foul and murderous mind has been unwittingly used by “them”. Who are they? It does not matter. Noting is or will be done about whatever their ultimate game is. Good Bye for now.

Posted by dbrady94134 | Report as abusive
 

A very relevant commentary from one of our best, Bernd Debusmann. The sad thing is that the points made in this piece should by now be obvious to all Americans, and actually should have been clear that these would be the results before the invasion even occurred. This is what I expected and I’m certainly no political science or military wiz.

That’s the frustrating part. You know your country is being lied to and you know it’s going to be a disaster and then you have to watch it all unfold as America continues to undermine itself.

By the same token, the dangerously careless politicians who took us into Iraq and punctured a gaping hole in our economy are now poised to regain power in our federal government. I already know it will further hurt America’s best interests. Right now we need to focus on rebuilding the Middle Class. People warn about Progressives intention of redistributing wealth. What do those people think has been going on for the last 30 years? A redistribution of wealth from the Middle Class to the top 3% of the wealthiest Americans. It’s no coincidence that those wealthiest individuals’ income has been increasing exponentially while the Middleclass’s income and spending power has decreased at an alarming rate. For example, the cost of health care, including prescription drugs, has risen beyond the range of affordability for much of the Middle Class. One bad diagnosis can wipe-out a lifetimes’ worth of hard work and savings for a member of the Middle Class. And where does that money go? To the top 3% of America’s wealthiest.

Yet at the same time that controlling oligarchy of America’s wealth pays a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than at any other time in America’s history, even though our debt is also at its highest. And I remind you that these are also the same people who control our government through their wealth and influence.

The Tea Party followers have it all wrong. Just reducing the size of government won’t solve anything and could make things worse. Any void left by the reduction in size of government will be filled by powerful corporations whose primary objective is to gain more power and make more money.

The best single act that Americans can do to improve conditions in this country is to take the influence of money out of our political system and go to a system of publicly financed elections. It sounds easy enough, but that oligarchy that is controlling this country will convince the same people who were convinced to support the invasion of Iraq to oppose publicly financed elections. It would be sold to the electorate as an infringement on our Constitutional rights, our freedom of speech. It works because we have lost the ability to analyze our world and to think for ourselves. We take our orders from the ruling oligarchy who have only their own interests at heart. It will not compromise our freedom of speech. It will restore the power of free speech to the people. But remember, America’s ruling oligarchy can outspend any other entity in the world and they will use that advantage along with all the media outlets that they own to convince us that publicly financed elections are bad for freedom, just like they convinced us that if we don’t invade Iraq we will find ourselves waking up to a mushroom cloud, and no one wants that.

Posted by ginchinchili | Report as abusive
 

The Winner… defense contractors. The looser… everyone else including the people of Iraq.

Posted by jfalk | Report as abusive
 

I think Al Qaeda won

Posted by STORYBURNthere | Report as abusive
 

This was and still is a stupid war started by stupid politicians for stupid reasons. I hope that everyone remoembers this during November elections both on the local, state, and national levels. Enough of buying votes by corporations and special interest groups.

Posted by fred5407 | Report as abusive
 

Posted by alejandro81: It’s difficult to argue that we, Americans, are in any way better off because of this costly war.

————————–

Americans are better off because the war was not about anything other than keeping the Dollar’s value high and stable. Since the 1970s the U.S. has had an Agreement with OPEC that they’d accept American Dollars for all of their oil transactions in exchange for our military protection against foreign or domestic coups. When Saddam attacked Kuwait the U.S. responded militarily per this agreement. Afterward a dejected Saddam began accepting Euros for his oil (a violation of the agreement). Therefore the U.S. military swept in again and deposed him. Then immediately thereafter Iraq threw out the Euro and began accepting only dollars again. Both Gulf wars had to do with keeping the dollar the preeminent world currency. This benefits Americans mightily.

Do an Internet search for: “The End of Dollar Hegemony”

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive
 

Posted by alejandro81: It’s difficult to argue that we, Americans, are in any way better off because of this costly war.

————————–

Americans are better off because the war was not about anything other than keeping the Dollar’s value high and stable. Since the 1970s the U.S. has had an Agreement with OPEC that they’d accept American Dollars for all of their oil transactions in exchange for our military protection against foreign or domestic coups. When Saddam attacked Kuwait the U.S. responded militarily per this agreement. Afterward a dejected Saddam began accepting Euros for his oil (a violation of the agreement). Therefore the U.S. military swept in again and deposed him. Then immediately thereafter Iraq threw out the Euro and began accepting only dollars again. Both Gulf wars had to do with keeping the dollar the preeminent world currency. This benefits Americans mightily.

Do an Internet search for: “The End of Dollar Hegemony”

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive
 

The WMD (weapons of mass destruction) won. They were, afterall, the main basis of the war and have still not yet made an appearance.

Posted by HumanBeing99 | Report as abusive
 

What should be recognized as a seriously ominous sign for the future of the United States is that we allowed a President and his Administration to use propaganda in order to manipulate us into backing the invasion of a country we had no rational reason for invading. We weren’t only pliant; we were submissive. There was very little opposition to this act of historic madness. It wasn’t just President George’s madness. We made it our own offense when we accepted and actually embraced the most serious action a country can take, the act of war against another country.

Just a good and persistent sales pitch is all it took. There were a few intelligent and honorable Democrats who voted against the war, but most Democrats folded to the pressure of being accused of lacking the will to defend their country, of being unpatriotic, by the President, his war-obsessed Vice-President, and the entire Republican Party, who still won’t admit that it was the wrong thing to do. They may well have lost their jobs, but is any job worth surrendering your self-respect, your honor, and your allegiance to God for? Is holding a seat in Congress more important than the lives of tens maybe hundreds of thousands of innocent people and our nation’s credibility? Apparently, they think so.

What has become of us? Perhaps the more compelling question is, what will become of us? If it happened once, it will ineluctably happen again. That is unless we change, and we show no sign of that happening, except to move further down the path that brought us here in the first place. Act II may very well make the Iraq War look like a cheap warm up act.

Posted by ginchinchili | Report as abusive
 

Everyone who goes to congress gets so much richer-you have to have money to win and get into congress and they just get richer-99.5 precent of them are highly corupt and work for where there getting money-if this system does not change all citizens but the 3% of rich will become subject of our government-we will become a cast people-rich or poor.

Posted by creasybear27 | Report as abusive
 

The author starts out with a quote from Sec. Gates (“a man of sober judgement”) stating that Iraq requires a historical perspective, but then he abandons this premise and reverts back to the familar “democracy pipe dreams” line. Evidently the author hasn’t yet decided what he believes.
As for the “grand bargain” with Iran, this is the proper context for pipe dreams, since this has been tried by previous presidents, most notably Pres. Clinton, only to be rebuffed by the religious radicals currently in charge of the country. The author should know that the mullahs of Iran have no interest in a grand bargain with the United States. Fomenting hostility towards the US is just about the only way to keep their dwindling number of domestic supporters, i.e. the thugs on the basiij payroll, in line. The Obama admin is taking positive steps with tougher sanctions and we should continue to apply the heat until this corrupt, autocratic regime collapses.

Posted by mheld45 | Report as abusive
 

The American working classes took it in the rear – but nothing new there.

Posted by jrpardinas | Report as abusive
 

America won. Have you never seen the Mission Accomplished picture?

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive
 

Halliburton won.

All the dead people lost.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive
 

Shia won Saddam lost, good won evil lost but the price was great sacrifice

Posted by zamana | Report as abusive
 

..defense contractors won..

Posted by gramps | Report as abusive
 

Israel won the war. Iran came in second. The USA elite won trillions and the American people lost badly.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

our goals were met. therefore the United States of America, NATO, and the International Security Assistance Force have meta victory in the no man’s land out there in the east. Israel is sure happy about all the dead iraqis. iran is surely happy about all of the dead americans. so desicevly the US wo. get over it, liberals.

Posted by TommyVee | Report as abusive
 

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