OPINION

US in Iraq

Fifteen months after the US military campaign, the situation in Iraq and the degree of American involvement now paint an extremely grim picture. This bleak outlook is upheld by most of the leading newspapers in the West and it is hard to disagree, as only a week before the scheduled power shift to the Iraqi authorities, resistance remains strong and the death toll is soaring. More than 85 people were killed yesterday as insurgents launched bloody assaults in five cities. Those who regard this as the unavoidable consequence of every unjustified manifestation of aggression and expansionism believe that the current mayhem was to be expected. In the case of Iraq, however, such an explanation overlooks the deeper causes of American failure. First, Washington defied the reservations of its traditional allies and in fact appeared to take some pleasure in their division. Worse, the American authorities did a very bad job of handling the occupation of the Mideast state, behaving more like an occupying force and less as a power that was willing to contribute to a swift restoration of democracy and popular sovereignty which had long been abolished under the cruel dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. The US refused to give their allies a say over Iraq and only looked to them as potential contributors in terms of troops and money. Washington adopted a bad political strategy, snubbing diplomacy while leaning on its military superiority. Revelations about the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers showed that the US was lacking not only in political but also in moral terms. The shocking image of a smiling 26-year-old soldier flashing the victory sign as she stands next to a dead Iraqi prisoner was received as a symbol of the moral degeneration of the almighty victor who defies magnanimity and respect for fundamental American values. Iraq remains a violent hotspot and a source of instability. On the other hand, the US image as a friendly and moral power and as a beacon of democracy and prosperity has been severely tarnished in the eyes of most Europeans – let alone the Arab and Muslim world. After its faux pas at the tactical and the moral level, Washington is sliding away from its status as a role model and custodian of global security. The free world will find it hard to fill the gap.