The expected failure of the Republicans to hold on to their majorities on Capitol Hill and the adroitly executed departure of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld under the fog of political defeat would no doubt have been noticed by the myriad of insurgency groups operating in Iraq.
The Republican report card in Iraq is splattered with red ink. A military campaign centred on “shock and awe” in 2003, has come full circle, only the other way around. While the figures for Iraqi civilian casualties continue to be debated, there is some consensus that it has moved into the tens of thousands.
US casualties are likely to hover around the 3,000 mark before the end of the year. The death of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the purported al-Qaida representative in Iraq, has not done anything to quell Iraqi insurgent groups from killing their own countrymen and American soldiers.
Republican President George W. Bush has overseen one of the worst military catastrophes in recent memory. Revisionist historians have asserted that Vietnam was the domino that saved South-East Asia from communism during the Cold War at an incredible price of close to 100,000 American troops. While a similar history of the American blunder in Iraq awaits judgment, it is clear that the Bush administration frivolously expended generous reservoirs of goodwill that had swelled in the aftermath of 9-11, by stubbornly pursuing military action in Iraq.
There was broad acceptance of a surgical invasion of Afghanistan as the Taliban regime refused to co-operate to hand over the perpetrators of America's post Cold War “day of infamy”.
But by riding roughshod over the UN Security Council, in spite of Colin Powell's pithy attempt to do an Adlai Stevenson, the die was cast. America behaved like the bully many segments of the world already knew it was.
As the Iraq baton is passed to the Democrats, this handover threatens to represent a poisoned chalice. With Shia groups seeking more political space and a resurgent and confident Iran lurking in the background, Kurds not terribly interested in a new Iraq that could see them compromising on their new found freedom and Sunnis losing their Saddam-era influence, the Iraq America sought to create in 2003 and continues to seek under the Bush administration, is a figment of the imagination.
The future of Iraq under continued American occupation is bleak. The American presence fuels the insurgency and the Democrats need to consider the reality of a graduated withdrawal that would have to be calibrated, even though it would be interpreted by many as a defeat.
Complete and unmitigated American withdrawal from South Vietnam in 1975 presaged tragic social consequences for the region. A Vietnamese refugee crisis was the least of the problems - a genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge who took advantage of the power vacuums in Indochina shortly thereafter, should serve to forewarn of similar catastrophes should the US turn its back on Iraq.
Needless to say, if a similar scenario plays itself out, the blame, as far as the Islamic world is concerned, would fall squarely on the US.
Concomitantly, the American “democracy from-above” experiment has created a political maelstrom in Iraq for many years to come, to say nothing of a new generation of jihadists that are picking up military skills and the political deft required to defeat an ultra-modern, network-centric conventional force. Any calibrated withdrawal from Iraq, however, would require some overarching direction. This direction should be sourced from a new perspective to the War on Terror.
While the Republicans chose to focus their War on Terror strategy by not addressing the reasons and root causes behind the birth of transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, the Democrats have an opportunity to potentially start again and present a new strategy of containment to defeat similar transnational elements. Since going at it alone proved to be such a disaster for the Bush administration, any new strategy must necessitate a return to the UN and a multilateral approach to dealing with security problems.
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