Evaluating success of the war

By Sener Akturk

Was Operation Iraqi Freedom successful? The assessment of success or failure rests on the criteria for evaluation. By defining the purpose of an action in a particular way, you can attribute “success” to even the most disastrous mission, and vice versa.

The three-week long Iraqi resistance notwithstanding, the operation was a military success. An established nation-state of modest proportions with a highly centralized structure of decision-making and planning has been overwhelmed and conquered in three weeks.

If the purpose of the war on Iraq was to form an increasingly anti-American French-German-Russian axis, the war has been a success beyond measure. The Bush administration not only managed to force Germany and its two archrivals into an anti-American coalition that the traditional U.S. foreign policy tried to prevent for at least 50 years, but it was also able to alienate key regional allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both of which “were” long-standing client states of the U.S. before. The fact that they may now seek European or Russian patronage, or conduct independent foreign policy, should count as one of the greatest successes of the war on Iraq.

If the purpose of the war was to antagonize global public opinion as a whole, that purpose is also undoubtedly achieved. The Bush administration achieved the long-standing liberal and socialist dream of uniting the peoples of the world around a common cause and spirit–in opposing U.S. foreign policy!

If the purpose of the war was to dispose of the excess stockpiles of U.S. military equipment and to induce and insure further military spending on the part of the government, that purpose is certainly achieved. If the purpose of the war was to increase the defense budget, enlarge the budget deficit, and waste billions of dollars that could otherwise be used for providing social and economic benefits for the American people, that purpose is certainly achieved as well. President Bush immediately asked for some $50 billion more for defense spending, brining the overall budget closer to $400 billion!

If the purpose of the war was to distract attention from the socio-economic problems of the U.S., that purpose is accomplished without much disguise. A prolonged economic recession and the long-standing problems of glaring inequalities of all sorts are now compounded with greater economic problems, more severe transgressions of civil liberties, and increasing discrimination against American Muslims.

If the purpose of the war was to increase anti-American feelings especially in the Islamic world, to stop the migration of Muslims to the U.S., and to keep the U.S. at least religiously homogenous, then that purpose is also achieved.

If the purpose of the war on Iraq was to transform the American republic into an American empire, and to betray the very ideas that justified the American Revolution and the War of Independence against imperial Britain, that goal is being accomplished. The fears and concerns that intellectuals from both the left and the right were expressing with regards to the ominous transition from a republican democracy into an informal empire turned out to be true to a considerable extent. “American empire,” which was an unacceptable phrase for mainstream media to employ until recently, came to be widely used and celebrated. These may be the first signs of legitimating an explicitly imperialist discourse and policy.

However, if the purpose of the war was to make the world free from weapons of mass destruction, then Operation Iraqi Freedom doubly failed. It failed once when U.S. troops could not find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It failed a second time when countries like North Korea and Iran accelerated their efforts at acquiring nuclear weapons that, once acquired, would presumably insure that these countries are not attacked and invaded by the U.S. It may seem for the other rogue states that the failure of Iraq was that it did not acquire WMDs and instead cooperated with the U.N. to dispose of even the suspicious conventional weapons it had.

If the purpose of the war on Iraq was to expose the links between the Iraqi leadership and terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, to trace and even capture Osama bin Laden, the Operation Iraqi Freedom has failed miserably.

There is a final prospect of success that is yet to be tested. If the purpose of the war was to bring democracy to Iraq, as the name of the Operation Iraqi Freedom suggests, then it may be too early to judge its success or failure. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. mandate over Iraq will quickly whither away in favor of an Iraq where everyone has the right to vote and the right to run in the elections. We’ll see.