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Iraq result a win-win for the US

By Josh Ushay - posted Monday, 28 February 2005

At first glance, the 2005 election victory for the Shi'ite-Kurd coalition in Iraq would appear to be an ironic turn of events for the Bush Administration. Yet what is equally as ironic is the fact that the US is much better off with this result than they ever would have been with the victory of America's preferred candidate, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. To the US, a Shi'ite-Kurd victory over both their theocratic fundamentalist counterparts, and America's ideal choice, solves a number of issues simultaneously.

First, it legitimises the elections and the Iraq War itself. This victory by seemingly moderate indigenous elements helps dispel the perception that the US is on an imperialistic crusade against the Muslim world; provides an effective counter to charges that the election was manipulated by an occupying power; and demonstrates consistency between America's actions and its purported ideals.

This, in turn, diverts attention from perceived ambiguities in the rationale both before and after the Iraq War. The Bush Administration hopes the issue of missing weapons of mass destruction will be overshadowed by the fact that democracy was practised for the first time in more than 50 years, in a former totalitarian police state, which displayed a clear predisposition to the use of force domestically and internationally.


Second, a Shi'ite-Kurd victory avoids a strategic debacle. A democratically elected theocratic, fundamentalist regime in Iraq would have made the US look foolish, to say the least. It would have been an irony of tragic proportions for the Americans to have sustained such an immense burden - fiscally and otherwise - in meeting a perceived threat, only to have in the end augmented and multiplied that very threat.

This would have undermined America's post-September 11 global strategy and would have justified attacks from all sides of the political spectrum. On the one hand it would have provoked a unanimous "I-told-you-so" from the conservative Right, validating their criticism that US military involvement, in a place seen as a secondary national interest at best, was a waste of US money and US lives. On the other hand, it would have vindicated the view of the liberal Left, that the "wanton" use of military force, and the casualties it produced on both sides, supposedly could have been prevented through a more moderate, diplomatic and UN-orientated approach.

All of this, moreover, is to say nothing of the questionable legacy the Bush Administration would have left on US and world history.

Whatever the case, the US should view the Shi'ite-Kurd election victory in Iraq as a win-win situation. A forcible regime change, resulting in a democratically elected government with no clear majority, is for the Bush Administration an encouraging regional development with positive global implications.

It makes clear the US will not be trifled with, but makes equally clear it is not a bully either. This will come in handy when trying to isolate Iran. In response to its recent declaration of a common front with Syria in meeting all threats (meaning, of course, the US), the Iraq election results will allow the Americans to portray themselves as a resolute yet honourable superpower when dealing with this problem. They will hope that their overwhelming military superiority, and their demonstrated willingness to use it, will minimise the danger that diplomacy and negotiation will be misinterpreted as appeasement.

Yet they also will hope that the Iraq election put the pro-Muslim credentials of the Bush Administration on show to the rest of the world. This will mean the US can deal with Shia-prominent Iran with the backing of their newest ally, the Shia-prominent Iraq, showing that the US is not Islam's enemy.


Both of these approaches will be critical, considering that Iran is a fundamentalist regime with suspected ties to terrorist groups and is in possible possession of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the Bush Administration hopes the Iraq election result will prove the credibility of America's strategic vision.

As Bush's European itinerary this week makes clear, international support means the so-called "free world" has a greater resource base in pursuing its global strategy, increases the cohesiveness of entities such as NATO and prevents over-extension of the US military. It also puts George W. Bush in a secure position at home. With the 2006 congressional elections looming, a scaling back of US commitments will allow him to remain onside with his Republican constituency.

It is in these ways that the Shi'ite-Kurd victory in the 2005 Iraq elections is an unintended but in the end welcome development for the Bush Administration. Of course, there is a chance all of this could go the other way. Therefore, it is probably too early to be optimistic. But it is probably too early to be pessimistic as well.

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First published in the Courier-Mail on February 23, 2005.

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About the Author

Josh Ushay lectures in American foreign policy and international security at the Queensland University of Technology.

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