Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. foreign policy was driven by the imperative to intervene in the Middle East, which is considered the cradle of international terrorism, to export democracy and provide security. This doctrine led to a military intervention in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime and establish liberal values as a first step of a democratic project for the whole region. At that time, the administration of then U.S. President George W. Bush seemed to have no choice but to rely on its military superiority to rehabilitate Baghdad in its new liberal role as a strategic partner against terrorist threats. Today, 15 years after the Iraqi occupation, it is clear that the U.S. strategy of exporting democracy has not produced effective results.
Indeed, any state-building effort is based on some important guidelines aimed at creating adequate conditions for security, justice and reconciliation, socio-economic welfare and strengthening political participation. From the Iraqi perspective and from the subsequent regional turmoil, two fundamental contradictions are evident. On one side, international terrorism targets innocent victims and generates death and social destruction while on the other, there is a foreign actor who commits crimes while fighting against a rogue state. Certainly, imposing regime change and the related civil unrest following the partition of a state with its spill-over effects on the whole region and beyond have deteriorated the U.S. position as guarantor of regional stability, giving rise to what is now commonly known as "Iraq syndrome."
A peculiar factor of the democratization process promoted by the United States was the exclusion of the old elite from the new political dimension by entrusting the control of territories to small coalition forces. This reconstruction strategy made the borders particularly porous, allowing for infiltration by foreign terrorists. In other words, it seems that those who planned the war had not properly considered the possible outbreaks of resistance coming not only from the Republican Guard and the old Baathist supporters, but also from irregular forces such as the Fedayeen Saddam and other terrorist militias like al-Qaida. Since successful reconstruction is based on the ability to remove a despotic government and the effectiveness of political institutions created to seal a foreign intervention, the military force should be gradually replaced by the rule of law of a sovereign government. In this framework, an efficient institutional capacity is considered achieved when citizens recognize the state as a legitimate and essential governing body in everyday life.
However, in the making of a new Iraq, the U.S. seems to have not adequately envisaged and contemplated this operational process. Nevertheless, it was the hasty destruction of everything related to the old regime that produced the current mosaic of social fractures and cleavages. Despite U.S. expectations, exporting democracy manu militari is not an easy task as a foreign power, and even with the best of intentions, cannot push a constitutional transition beyond the limits imposed by the economic and cultural development of a particular society. In the Iraqi case, the nation builders could have done better both in terms of strategic design and operational theater. It is not yet clear how in October 2002, the U.S. Defense Department, having obtained the guide for the reconstruction program, had focused superficially on state building by letting the U.S. face a war while not properly prepared to work according to the historical and cultural parameters of Iraq.
Although the U.S. had achieved important milestones military, it has never been able to gain moral authority or capacity to support the state-building process. Currently, using a concept from Max Weber, the U.S. did not prove to be ethically responsible, because by taking refuge in moral principles excessively distant from the reality of things and by acting primarily in the name of its own interests, it did not adequately foresee the costs and consequences of the initiative for the whole region. The mistakes made must be a warning to U.S. policy in the Middle East to report its good intentions to the realistic structure of the region.
* Assistant professor at University of Turkish Aeronautical Association, Ankara