Implications of the Iraq War

September 30, 2004

Written by Stanley Kober

At an event in September sponsored by the Iowa United Nations Association and the Stanley Foundation in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Stanley Kober explored the war in Iraq, and what it teaches about the Bush administration's approach to foreign policy.

There are three implications of the Iraq war that I wish to discuss.

The first is that the war has accelerated a realignment of international politics. The common perception is that however upset other countries might be with the United States, they would not align against it. To be sure, there is no formal anti-U.S. alliance as yet, but there are signs of coalitions emerging out of concern that the U.S. doctrine of preemption, combined with Washington's dismissal of the United Nations, means they could be targets of American military power in the future.

The most important of these coalitions is in Asia and centers on the growing relationship among Russia, China, and India. Russo-Indian relations have traditionally been strong, and Russia continues to sell large amounts of military equipment to India—including an aircraft carrier.

Sino-Russian relations have been improving since former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to China during the 1989 Tiananmen crisis. These relations became more intense following the decision to expand NATO and have acquired an institutional framework in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China, and four Central Asian States. China, like India, has become a major purchaser of Russian armaments. When Russian President Vladmir Putin visited China in November 2002 (on a visit that also took him to India), People's Daily published an article entitled: "China-Russian Relations Remain Better Than Russian-US Ties." Acknowledging the cooperation between the United States and Russia after September 11, the article argued "the theoretical foundation for China-Russian strategic cooperation remains in existence. So-called theoretical foundation for strategic cooperation refers to the theory on opposing a mono-polar world and promoting a multi-polar world as stressed in the Joint Statement issued by the Chinese and Russian leaders in April 1997."[1]

The big surprise is the rapid improvement in Sino-Indian relations, which had plummeted after the 1998 Indian nuclear test. Following the Kosovo war in 1999, I noticed what appeared to be the beginning of a thaw in these relations.[2] The war has evidently accelerated this rapprochement. According to an article that appeared in the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, in July 2003, "the governing Communist Party of China (CPC) today indicated to its fraternal interlocutor, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), that Beijing had identified New Delhi as a partner for 'increased coordination in world affairs' so as to 'promote democratisation and multi-polarisation of international relations.'"[3] It is impossible not to notice that this statement was issued shortly after the conclusion of what might be called the formal Iraq war.

In short, all three sides of this triangle are strengthening. Could they all come together? India has indicated it would like to be a member of the SCO, and the only obstacle is China. Earlier this year I asked a visiting Chinese scholar about the possibility of Indian membership, and he replied that would depend on the resolution of border issues. It is noteworthy, therefore, that a determined effort to resolve the outstanding border issues is under way. And the three countries are already thinking of trilateral cooperation. As the Indian ambassador to Russia told the Itar-Tass news agency last February, "Moscow, Delhi and Beijing are moving from non-governmental contacts in a triangular format to discussing issues of common concern at a high official level."[4] Given that all three countries oppose the U.S. action in Iraq, especially the bypassing of the UN Security Council, we can only conclude that U.S. actions have been one of the motivations behind this coordination on their part.

The other trilateral relationship includes Russia, Germany, and France. Recently the leaders of the three countries met in Sochi, Russia. The commentary of China's People's Daily on this summit, which was all but ignored in the U.S., is instructive.

The three leaders have repeatedly pointed out that the world today has come to a "crossroads", with every country facing the choice--preferring "multi-polarization" or accepting "power politics". They all agree that the days have gone when an individual country manipulated the destiny of other countries and the world security must be guaranteed by collective efforts within the limits of the United Nations. Besides, the Iraq war waged by the United States has injected an actual motivation force into a stronger cooperation among Russia, France and Germany. It is the anti-war alliance that has revived strategic consultations among the three countries.[5]

The second consequence of the Iraq war is the growing alienation toward the United States in the region. In Turkey, for example, public opinion has swung dramatically against the United States. "Turkish respondents give the U.S. a thermometer reading of only 28%, the lowest thermometer reading for a NATO ally," the German Marshall Fund reported in report on 2004 transatlantic trends. "Forty-seven percent of the Turkish public finds U.S. leadership 'very undesirable'—the highest number recorded in this survey."[6] The Turkish government has been very critical recently of American military operations in northern Iraq, violently condemning the attack on the city of Tal Afar. "I spoke to Secretary of State Colin Powell and told him that what is being done there is harming the civilian population, that it is wrong, and that if it continues, Turkey's cooperation on issues regarding Iraq will come to a total stop," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters on September 13, 2004.[7] Indeed, relations have deteriorated to such an extent that a prominent Turkish political commentator who works for CNNTurk recently wrote "Turkey's national interests force us to see Russia in a completely new light. We can still be close to the United States and the EU, but our priority should be Russia."[8]

Another critical country is Jordan. "As reports indicate, 'foreign Islamic militants' have set up bases in Fallujah and Ramadi," commentator Musa Keilani wrote in the Jordan Times last July. "They could try to use their presence in Iraq to challenge the security of Jordan."[9] More recently, an editorial in the Jordan Times expressed an extremely dire assessment of the situation in Iraq.

"The conflict in Iraq has reached ominous regional and international dimensions that can no longer be dismissed or tolerated. It has been repeatedly said, in particular by Iraq's immediate neighbours, that as long as the fire in Iraq rages, the security and stability of every country in the Middle East stands to be compromised and jeopardised. It is also undisputed that the situation in Iraq is proceeding from bad to worse almost everyday with no letup in the tempo of the Iraqi insurgency...

"The situation of Iraq can no longer be manageable or containable by the US-led forces deployed in the country.... An international conference at the level of the UN General Assembly would simply not work. To hold such a conference at the level of the UN Security Council alone could also fail, especially when the council had tried repeatedly to resolve the Iraqi conflict but without any measure of success."[10]

The title of the editorial illuminates the shift in perceptions: "The Moscow Option." It concludes that Moscow's call for an international conference is the best hope for a solution because "everything else has thus far failed."[11] Altogether, a very bleak portrayal of the situation in Iraq, of the implications for Jordan (and the region), and of the decline in the reputation of the United States not only in terms of its moral authority, but also of its status as the sole superpower.

And that leads me to my third, and concluding, point: the war in Iraq has already been lost in the strategic sense. To win strategically, you not only have to win; you have to win easily. Only then will other countries be so impressed by your power that you can hope to reshape the world according to your will. We are now encountering such difficulty that even if we are able to achieve victory in some local sense, nobody will believe that we would willingly undertake such an effort again elsewhere. Rather than demonstrating the invincibility of American military power, Iraq is demonstrating its limitations and vulnerabilities—and foreign observers are taking notice. Let me demonstrate this point by citing reactions in four very different countries.

First, Poland, a member of the allied coalition with troops in Iraq. Approximately 3/4 of Poland's citizens favor withdrawing those troops.[12] Following the death of three Polish soldiers in Iraq on September 11, 2004, Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, while affirming that Poland would honor its existing commitment, nevertheless had some harsh words for the Bush Administration. "From the beginning I warned President Bush against a policy of American dominance in Iraq and in the whole world," he told the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, adding pointedly, "I believe Rumsfeld's division of a 'new' and 'old' Europe was a political mistake."[13]

Second, China, a permanent member of the Security Council. According to a People's Daily article entitled, "U.S. global strategy foiled" (May 28, 2004):

"...the US search of hegemony has spurred the further development of world multi-polarization; and that though other world forces still cannot stop US launch of the Iraq war and other unilateral actions, they can contain and restrain America to a certain extent and cause it to suffer setbacks....

"US rulers are often liable to overestimate their own strength, and underestimate the challenges and problems they face. The neo-conservatives have reached a new peak in this respect. They can be described as "the higher they climb, the harder they fall."[14]

Third, Iran, a member of the "axis of evil." According to an article entitled "Iran's mullahs are smiling as America struggles in Iraq" by Karim Sadjadpour, published in Beirut's Daily Star on September 17, 2004:

"While Bush administration officials talked of how success in Iraq would change the political culture of the Middle East, few seemed to contemplate the regional repercussions for Washington if things didn't go as planned. In the case of Iran, the chaotic state of postwar Iraq has served not to intimidate Tehran's mullahs but rather to embolden them. Today, nearly 17 months after the fall of Baghdad, Iran's Islamic regime appears more entrenched than it has been in over a decade....

"Tehran's ruling mullahs have far more reason to smile than their counterparts in Washington. Rather than extinguish Iran's Islamic regime, the Iraq war seems to have given it new life."[15]

And finally Israel, which is directly affected by events in Iraq. According to an analysis published by Barry Rubin in the Jerusalem Post:

"Something remarkable has happened, even by the Middle East's usual standards. For the first time in history states in the region are conducting a systematic, covert war against the United States.

"The question is, what can America do about it? Not much...

"Having gone into Iraq and found that step so controversial and relatively unsuccessful, the US is not going to undertake other offensive actions, whether or not they seem justifiable to some observers.

"Arguably, any gain in the "fear factor" brought about by the US overthrow of Saddam is being eroded. Those who argue, in the words of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini two decades ago, that the US cannot do a "damn thing" are having that feeling reinforced today.

"The Iraq war's outcome has undermined the credibility of US power no matter how long American forces remain in Iraq. Indeed, one could argue that the longer they remain, the worse the problem will become." [16]

In his classic work, The Prince, Machiavelli wrote "a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated."[17] In other words, the best position to be in is to be feared and loved; the next best is to be feared and not hated; and the prince should avoid being hated and feared. Tellingly, Machiavelli did not even consider the possibility of being hated and not feared - presumably because a prince in that position would not be a prince for very long.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the situation in which the United States now finds itself. Fear of American power is diminishing, while animosity toward U.S. policy is increasing. We are, in short, in the worst situation possible, and as a consequence we can expect further grim challenges ahead.

[1]Zheng Yu, "China-Russian Relations Remain Better Than Russian-U.S. Ties," People's Daily Online, November 28, 2002,, accessed September 27, 2004.

[2] Stanley Kober, "Setting Dangerous International Precedents," in Ted Galen Carpenter, ed., NATO's Empty Victory (Washington: Cato, 2000), p. 119, n. 31.

[3]P. S. Suryanarayana, "China identifies India as partner for cooperation," The Hindu, online edition, July 24, 2003,
accessed September 27, 2004.

[4]Vladimir Radyuhin, "India-Russia-China triangle has good prospects," The Hindu, online edition, February 22, 2004,, accessed September 27, 2004.

[5] "Russia, France, and Germany set up 'action-coorindation' [sic] mechanism," People's Daily Online, September 3, 2004,, accessed September 27, 2004.

[6] German Marshall Fund, Transatlantic Trends 2004,
link, p. 21, accessed September 27, 2004.

[7] Quoted in Fatma Demirelli, "U.S. Requests Clarification on Gul's Warning," Turkish Daily News, Internet edition, September 15, 2004, accessed September 15, 2004.

[8] Mehmet Ali Birand, "Chechens are losing," Turkish Daily News, Internet editions, September 4, 2004, accessed September 4, 2004.

[9] Musa Keilani, "Watching closely the eastern border," Jordan Times, Internet edition, July 18, 2004. accessed July 18, 2004;
link, accessed September 19, 2004.

[10] "The Moscow Option," Jordan Times, Internet edition, August 20-21, 2004, accessed August 20, 2004;
link, accessed September 19, 2004.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Slawomir Majman, "How Long Will Poland Stay in Iraq?" Warsaw Voice online edition, April 27, 2004,, accessed September 27, 2004. According to an Associated Press Report of September 22, 2004, "Sixty percent of Poles would support an immediate withdrawal of the country's soldiers from Iraq." Associated Press, "Survey Shows Polish Favor Iraq Pullout," September 22, 2004,, accessed September 27, 2004.

[13]Agence France Presse, "Poland flays U.S. foreign policy," Daily Times (Pakistan), internet edition, September 13, 2004,, accessed September 27, 2004.

[14]"U.S. global strategy foiled," People's Daily Online, May 28, 2004,, accessed September 27, 2004.

[15] Karim Sadjadpour, "Iran's mullahs are smiling as America struggles in Iraq," Daily Star (Lebanon), internet edition, September 17, 2004,
link, accessed September 19, 2004.

[16] Barry Rubin, "The Region: War against America," Jerusalem Post, Internet edition, August 30, 2004, accessed August 30, 2004;
link, accessed September 19, 2004.

[17], accessed September 27, 2004.

Posted by coalition at September 30, 2004 03:49 PM

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