Hard lessons in IraqFour years have passed since the outbreak of the Iraq War. The war has been going on longer than the Korean War, but it seems endless.
Last weekend, Washington saw an anti-war rally marking the fourth anniversary of the war that was filled with anger, frustration, confusion and division. So far, 3,200 U.S. soldiers have lost their lives while 23,900 have been injured. About 60,000 Iraqi civilians have died. In four years, $500 billion has been poured into the war chest to sustain operations. This is already more than the United States spent for the Vietnam War.
Nevertheless, the results of the Iraq War are disappointing. There is nothing to show for it. The reason given for the war, Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, proved to be nonexistent. Saddam Hussein was hanged and a new government has stepped in, but the overall situation has become worse. U.S. President George W. Bush’s dream to transfer democracy is lost. The rift between Shiites and Sunnis has become a civil war, while President Bush is caught between the opposition in Iraq and anti-war public opinion at home.
President Bush went to war despite opposition from the international community in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attack. He ignored the process of the UN Security Council because he believed in American strength as the world’s only superpower. Nevertheless, such strength was only physical. The United States has military might, but it lacks the metaphysical power that could lead to a voluntary peace among the players in the region.
In any case, the first lesson to be learned from the four-year war is that diplomacy comes before military power. The second lesson is that the usage of military power precipitated by a failure of diplomacy needs to have the support of the international community. Recently, the Bush administration has actively tried to engage in negotiations with North Korea, while it has indicated its willingness to talk to Iran and Syria. These are because of lessons learned from the Iraq War.
If the war continues, anti-war sentiment can only grow. Sixty percent of U.S. citizens want an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq or at least within a year. If face-saving is the reason the Bush administration keeps hanging on to the idea of sending additional troops, the United States will only dig a deeper hole for itself. The United States has to let Iraqis take care of Iraq and has to conduct a phased withdrawal. That is the best way to reduce casualties on both sides.