What the U.S. has done is roil tensions within the region at large to a breaking point. Countless actions and decisions have foisted upon those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel (to name just a few) an unrest that was, during 2000, a very distant possibility. The Palestinian issue in the West Bank and Gaza Strip certainly was not calm and peaceful by any means, but to the extent that there was hope for some negotiable resolution seemed closer rather than further away. Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq by sheer brute force and the country was held fast by his rule, save for the Kurdish north. The Taliban with its strict adherence to Islamic law (of the Sunni strain) enabled Osama bin Laden to develop and train al Qaeda but remained in conflict with Iran to its south. Turkey had been wary of the Kurds within its own borders but felt relatively safe from a breakaway faction of its own population with the Kurds in northern Iraq who still were not an independent entity. Syria's dominance over Lebanon's independence was about to change, but that too would bring about the ethnic problems within Lebanon which were the causes of its very own civil war from 1975 - 1990.
On and on the various factions go prior to 2002. Many of the states involved served to be counterweights to other states yielding marginal stability, but stability nonetheless.
Enter the Bush Administration and the summer of 2002 (post "Axis of Evil" speech). With forces now routing the Taliban from power (and eliminating an adversary to Iran's east) the country found the policy-makers fixated on Iraq as an incredible threat to America. A country with a power structure almost entirely made up of minority Sunnis pitted against the majority Shia who have been suppressed for decades will be the target of an invading force half the size of the one used more than ten years prior to oust and secure Kuwait. On August 26th, Vice President Cheney spoke before the VFW National Convention and laid out the groundwork for invasion. Chemical weapons and a supposed desire for nuclear capabilities directed at the U.S. tied together with a flimsy rope that Hussein would hand these weapons over to al Qaeda. The speech and subsequent expositions by various individuals from the President on down continued the theme which would have been convincing had the facts supported their collective statements.
Unfortunately, this would not come to pass for most if not all of the conjectures laid forth.
Through the clouded lens, the United States would invade a country of 24 million with a force of 300,900 with little if any discussion of post-war activities (and in some circles without the use of the word 'occupation' at all). Again, the one identifiable beneficiary of a Hussein-less Iraq would be a theocratic Shiite Iran to the east and the Shiite population within the country. The faltering Iraq would inspire more angst among close neighbors such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. However if the rhetoric prior to the invasion was to be taken seriously, the United States would be in and out and leave behind a strong freely elected government at little cost to the taxpayers back half a world away and everything would be better.
(A large aside here: it is obvious that the weapons turned out not to exist, and that this is the main reason why Senators, opinion writers, and the like say that they would not have supported the invasion had they known this. That view must come to terms with several intelligence estimates that put forth the conjecture that even if Saddam Hussein had access to such weapons, he was quite unlikely to use them save on an invading force, and would be incredibly resistant to giving away such munitions to bands of unwieldy terrorists who might in turn use them against him. The larger point that launching a war of aggression against a country that was not posing a direct threat against the U.S. as being completely indefensible appears to be lost in the cacophony of rejoinders such as "we were lied into war." Preventative war has much the same consequences as preventative arrests of individuals by the state - it will yield worse outcomes then what it desires to prevent.)
Now several years have passed since this rosy scenario was swept off the drawing board and the U.S. presence has become one of holding this Shiite death squad away from that Sunni band of insurgents. Or vice versa; or shooting at both. The civil war that has grown since 2003 and 2004 has clearly moved beyond the control of Army and Marine commanders on the ground, and moreover has eclipsed the understanding of many in Washington, D.C., to the extent that it has yet to be officially recognized by the President as actually existing.
With the horizon looking fairly bleak on the Iraqi front, the American public is treated to new threats from its own government. An encounter with Iran.
Why is the Administration pulling out all the stops to make it appear that Iran is doing something insidious inside Iraq to the detriment of American interests? And why is the fear-baiting logic based on the proposition that Iran is meddling in the affairs of another country; did not America do this first by invading and occupying the land itself? Noam Chomsky makes the connection that this whole situation would be absolutely unacceptable to Americans if the debate were reversed: Iran has invaded Canada and Mexico and now dares the U.S. to further confrontation.
"It is, however, useful to ask how we would act if Iran had invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico and was arresting U.S. government representatives there on the grounds that they were resisting the Iranian occupation (called "liberation," of course). Imagine as well that Iran was deploying massive naval forces in the Caribbean and issuing credible threats to launch a wave of attacks against a vast range of sites -- nuclear and otherwise -- in the United States, if the U.S. government did not immediately terminate all its nuclear energy programs (and, naturally, dismantle all its nuclear weapons). Suppose that all of this happened after Iran had overthrown the government of the U.S. and installed a vicious tyrant (as the US did to Iran in 1953), then later supported a Russian invasion of the U.S. that killed millions of people (just as the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980, killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians, a figure comparable to millions of Americans). Would we watch quietly?"That is not a rhetorical question. The answer is an emphatic 'No'. This does not excuse Iran from its own daredevil diplomacy, but the greater context of what our actions have wrought should never be left behind to debate the merits of Iran's statements and actions in a political vacuum.
So Iran is next, while Iraq and Afghanistan are by any measuring stick trundling towards failed states with America's over-indulgent help. Is that what the United States wants?
The choice seems somewhat clear: leave Iraq. It is imperative that the American forces quickly depart the field. It may be even more imperative that the United States acknowledge its own shortcomings and failures with regards to the invasion and post-invasion plans and to quickly convene a long-term solution with all the neighbors regardless of whether they are currently viewed as friend or foe. To leave behind nothing in the wake of departing military personnel would probably be catastrophic to not only the country but the region as a whole. The connection of the entire region (as best can be established and as difficult as that will be) to the outcome may serve to lighten the slaughter but there can really be no definitive statement on what the departure of the Americans will mean in terms of lives lost or saved. Yet something must be tried other than brute force by the occupier. Even if that worked for Saddam Hussein, it is not the option America needs with which to tarnish itself.
What the United States has done to Iraq will most certainly be a most dark spot in our history. Sure there will be some who debate even this point, but there are always those get left behind as the real world labors on. What the U.S. needs to do from this point forward is extricate itself from foreign entanglements already ongoing, and resist the urge to gin up news one for further misadventures. All the while actually engaging in real dialog with nations within the region to ensure actual cooperation that benefits more than just one side.
Sadly, this Administration may not heed said advice.