[OUTLOOK]An act of great significance

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[OUTLOOK]An act of great significance

The U.S.-led coalition handed over limited sovereignty to a new Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on Monday, formally ending the 14-month U.S.-led occupation. Unfortunately, the handover ceremony failed to reflect the reason given for this war, which is to liberate the Iraqi people from their tyrannical dictator and give them freedom and democracy.
The ceremony, held two days ahead of schedule in order to throw off any possible insurgent attacks, took only five minutes and there were few or no Iraqi civilians who witnessed it.
Of course, the handover has the great significance that at least in part the Iraqis have recovered the right to choose their own fate. However, the new Iraqi government cannot exist without the U.S. troops and depends on the United States for economic and administrative support. The surprise ceremony is being called a re-election campaign ploy by U.S. President George W. Bush, who finds himself driven to the corner with the continuing armed resistance and terror attacks from militant groups within Iraq.
President Bush’s first order after the transfer of sovereignty was “Let freedom rule.” He was once again emphasizing that the purpose of this war was to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. If a democratic Iraq that meets this hope is to be born, a prolonged stay of the U.S. troops and their allies in Iraq is unavoidable.
And it is possible only when the present interim government is replaced by a new legitimate democratic Iraqi government through elections, and the new Iraqi government wins popular support from Iraqis.
For the transfer of sovereignty to succeed while Iraq is still under U.S. influence and the occupation of U.S. troops, the U.S, government must show that its policies and the cause for war are just despite the present troubles, even if this takes some time. Also, the neighboring Islamic countries must be able to accept this newly born Iraq, choosing cooperation and reconciliation over threat and terror.
Nothing is sure. Even at present, in the Middle Eastern region where prolonged Islam dictatorship and Islamic theocratic systems prevail, if a government based on the principle of democracy and general elections is to be established in Iraq and is successful, many neighboring countries might feel threatened.
The fear this might bring in the ruling class of Saudi Arabia, the United States’ biggest supporter in the Middle East region, could have devastating effects on the stability of the region.
Another long-term issue to consider is whether and for how long the “soft power” of the world’s only superpower, the United States, will last on a global level. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Carter and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, claimed that the United States exercises its hegemony in the most democratic and pluralistic way in the world.
However, the “soft power” of the United States took a heavy blow in the process of conducting the war in Iraq. What long-term effects President Bush’s decision to attack Iraq in the aftershock of the Sept. 11 terror attacks will have on the national interest and international image of the United States will carry deep significance in 21st century international relations.
If the great American values that Mr. Bush puts forward fail to deliver in Iraq, it would not only bring serious damage to U.S. global leadership but also send shockwaves throughout the entire world order.
Critics of the United States claim that the new world order under U.S. leadership since the end of the Cold War has made international security more unstable. However, realists say that the world must have a country that can “play policeman” in the face of the new threats such as terrorism that have surfaced, and that there is no other country but the United States that is capable of that role. Cooperating with the United States in the war against terrorism, they say, is the best way to fight the new forces threatening humankind.
The success or failure of the newly launched Iraqi government could decide the fates of the allies who are participating in the experiment of implementing a U.S.-style democracy in the Middle East. The major European powers, such as France, Germany and Russia, are looking on from the sidelines with disapprobation and concern.
The recent transfer of limited sovereignty in Iraq holds great significance because it might very well be the symbolic event that we will look back on once the dust has settled, and the world finds itself either under an ever-strong U.S. hegemony or a new pluralistic system.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Hankook University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sang-nam
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