This time a year ago, U.S. forces had just pulled
former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from his "spider hole" near
the Euphrates River, and top military commanders were trumpeting the crippling
of the unanticipated deadly insurgency that bedeviled the U.S. occupation for
The administration of President George W. Bush was also jubilant, stressing,
somewhat more cautiously perhaps, that, while the road ahead might still be
a little bumpy, the light at the end of the tunnel of Iraqi resistance was now
clearly in sight.
And with Iraq safely under wraps, so the thinking went, surely the other members
of the "axis of evil," Iran and North Korea – as well as other
ne'er-do-wells like Syria – would now see the writing on the wall. After
all, chronic rogue Muammar Gadafi himself, apparently deeply impressed by Saddam's
fate, had just announced the voluntary disarmament of all of his conventional
"We have clarified the choices left to potential adversaries," a newly confident
U.S. president boasted to reporters at the White House. "I hope other leaders
will find an example" in Libya's decision.
After the false dawn marked by Baghdad's fall and Bush's subsequent "Mission
Accomplished" appearance on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln
May 1, 2003, the moment of unconstrained U.S. supremacy – the arrival of
a "New American Century" – seemed finally at hand, at least according
to its advocates, as 2004 opened.
But with U.S. troops still struggling against what, by all accounts, is an
even more lethal and sophisticated insurgency one year later, the "unipolar
world" so devoutly sought after by the neoconservatives and aggressive
nationalists that make up the Bush administration's foreign-policy leadership
seems more doubtful than ever.
And Washington's continued pre-occupation with the situation in Iraq – in
spite of its many muttered warnings to both Tehran and Pyongyang – makes it
clear to friend and foe alike (if not to the administration's own diehards and
"dead enders") that, while not yet the "pitiful, helpless giant" that tormented
former president Richard Nixon's sleep, the American Colossus is not up to global
It is not just that the Pentagon finally admitted, if implicitly, that it did
not have enough troops in Iraq to control the country by dispatching 12,000
more troops to add to the 138,000 already deployed there. Washington's weakness
is also manifest in the dwindling number of countries of its famed "coalition
of the willing" that took part – however nominally – in the U.S.-led invasion
in March 2003.
The unipolarists have long claimed that the United States was so dominant that,
as the world saw it succeed in Iraq, recalcitrant allies, like France and Germany,
and even strategic rivals, like Russia or China, would have no choice but to
fall dutifully into line behind it, if only to claim a part of the spoils.
As neoconservative Francophobe, columnist Charles Krauthammer, predicted in
the Washington Post last January, "France will be speaking very
differently of the United States when a decent, democratizing, pro-American
government in liberated Baghdad begins its rule – and opens bids for oil
contracts." Everyone loves a winner, so the proverb goes.
Yet, of the 44 countries (including Palau and the Solomon Islands) the Bush
administration claimed to take with it as proof of its "multilateralism" when
it launched the invasion, only 28 (including Palau and the Solomon Islands)
remain – testimony as to how credible U.S. power and its chances of "winning"
are now seen even by its closest partners 21 months later.
Particularly damaging has been the defection of what Pentagon chief Donald
Rumsfeld, that most self-confident of hawks, called the "New Europe,"
which the administration clearly calculated to be the pro-American Trojan Horse
that would prevent the European Union (EU) from emerging as a geopolitical counterweight
to the United States.
In a telling irony, Washington's favorite, Viktor Yushchenko, promised to withdraw
Ukraine's several hundred troops from Iraq during his successful presidential
Krauthammer himself laid out the neoconservative vision of early 2004 in a
triumphalist speech entitled "Democratic Realism: An American Foreign Policy
for a Unipolar World" at the annual celebration of Vice President Dick
Cheney's favorite think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). It claimed
that the United States "has been designated custodian of the international
system" by virtue of its military superiority.
Bu it is precisely the administration's belief that U.S. military domination
– which in many ways has been challenged by the Sunni insurgency in Iraq –
provides it with the capacity and power to enforce its will on the rest of the
world without the support of other nations that is seen as increasingly dubious.
As Frances Fukuyama, a neoconservative realist, wrote already last spring,
Krauthammer's vision "is strangely disconnected from reality" in its
apparent belief that the Iraq war – "the archetypical application
of American unipolarity – had been an unqualified success."
"There is not the slightest nod toward the new empirical facts that have
emerged in the last year or so: the failure to find weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq, the virulent and steadily mounting anti-Americanism throughout the
Middle East, the growing insurgency in Iraq, the fact that no strong democratic
leadership has emerged there, the enormous financial and growing human cost
of the war, the failure to leverage the war to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian
front, and the fact that America's fellow democratic allies had by and large
failed to fall in line and legitimate American actions ex post," wrote
Fukuyama in The National Interest quarterly.
His conclusion: "The poorly executed nation-building strategy in Iraq will
poison the well for future such exercises, undercutting domestic political support
for a generous and visionary internationalism, just as Vietnam did."
This insight, which has become only more persuasive as a result of events –
such as the torture of inmates at Abu Ghraib Prison, the growing Iraqi and U.S.
death toll, $125 billion in new administration requests to fund the war, and
the plunge in the U.S. dollar, to name just a few – since he wrote his
critique, is now widely accepted among both U.S. allies and its foreign-policy
elite, with the exception, of course, of the hawks that continue to flock around
To what extent it has penetrated Bush himself is the major question confronting
the president as he enters 2005 and a second term.
(Inter Press Service)