By Dr. Joe Dunn, the Charles A. Dana Professor and Chairman of the Department of History and Politics at Converse College.
(This article was originally published in the April 20th edition of The Spartanburg Herald-Journal)
As President Bush emphasized many times, the outcome of the war in Iraq was never in doubt. The only issue was the cost — in money, time, carnage, destruction and regional repercussions. For all but the latter, the payment was small for the monument of the task accomplished.
Now we turn to the serious issue: the impact on the region. With all prudent trepidation, the possibility for positive achievements exists here as well.
At the beginning of his tenure, Bush dismissed nation building as something in which his administration did not intend to engage. Like his father’s ill-fated “read my lips, no more taxes” pledge, the younger Bush’s naivete has come back to haunt him.
He now begins the largest nation building effort since the end of World War II. The political perils here are greater than any faced in the military conflict. As his father found, military victories have an amazingly short shelf life. When Election Day rolls around, any residuals of patriotic fervor pale in comparison to “it’s the economy, stupid.” And the brilliant achievements of a military campaign are quickly forgotten in the wrangling of why the postwar situation isn’t going better and faster.
If President Bush earlier was frustrated with the international community and some of our so-called allies, now he must deal with the “Coalition of the Now Willing” to voice themselves on reconstruction. Just as much of the initial war opposition had to do with financial positioning and contracts, these factors are again front and center at this stage.
I do not believe that economics, including oil, played much of a role in Bush’s decision to go to war. But the tremendous amounts of money involved in reconstruction contracts and who administers future oil wealth now inevitably become cardinal issues. Bush may indeed be motivated by philosophic and strategic concerns about who plays what role in the postwar era, but the impending political campaign will loom over decisions rendered. The pressures within his own party will be the argument that America bore the costs, and American interests should gain the benefits of economic reconstruction.
The forces are lining up quickly, the first lucrative contract has been extended, and the positioning for the high moral ground in this “war” already is surpassing the battle of Baghdad. Already, Britain and the United States are at odds on the subject.
We have entered a most decisive era in the Middle East. The end of the Gulf War in 1991 afforded significant opportunities for change, but after some brief flurry, most of the promise came to naught.
The potential for disappointment looms high at this time as well. Even while Iraqis hail their liberation from Saddam, and other Arab countries, beneath their public chastisements, quietly extend their thanks, a significant humiliation has been wrought upon the Arab world. The power of the United States once again is thrown in the face of Arabs. The weakness and political backwardness of the region has been re-emphasized before a global audience and, more importantly, to the Arab street. Almost simultaneously, Iraqis cheer us and request us to leave.