The end of the Cold War has not brought a Pax Americana, as many had hoped. Instead, it has brought a Timor Americanus: The world fears America, Americans fear the world, and no amount of American power will make the fear go away. Let’s look at the bright side of another war with Iraq, and see where it gets us.
We’ll start with the best-case military scenario: U.S. forces succeed in destroying the Iraqi military, killing Saddam Hussein, crushing effective resistance, and installing a puppet regime. We’ll ignore the military difficulties, and we’ll assume that the costs of success are low for the U.S. and its allies, which we’ll assume will include Israel, Turkey, and Britain. Where would such success leave us? The puppet regime would be utterly dependent upon U.S. power for its existence, so the U.S. will have added yet another country to occupy and administer indefinitely, a la Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. In consolation, the U.S. would expropriate Iraq’s oil to pay for the war and the occupation and – more importantly – to use the oil as leverage against other oil-dependent Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
We’ll assume the military victory and the oil threat bring all oil-dependent regimes to heel. After all, if they didn’t heel, the U.S. would flood the market with Iraqi oil and drive down oil prices worldwide, thus undermining the wealth of the Islamic world. This worked against the Soviets in the 1980s; it might work again against the Saudis, who made it work the first time. The oil industry would suffer, as it did the first time, but consumers might actually benefit.
At this point, an optimist must assume that a complete U.S. victory will cause the entire Muslim world to lose heart, give up the struggle against Israel and the West, and give in to reformation, modernization, and the humiliation of U.S.-Israeli hegemony. I say entire Muslim world because, of course, we live in the days of asymmetric threats and weapons of mass destruction, which means that desperate losers believing that Paradise awaits them might still destroy New York or D.C., with a little help from a few friends.
We therefore cannot assume that the War on Terror will end or even abate with a victory over Iraq. We might expect the Muslim world’s initial outrage to quickly dissipate, but we cannot assume that defeatism will be so general that the U.S. will not continue to face a serious terrorist threat. The Arab Muslim population is large, poor, and still growing. Blows to its oil wealth will only make it more restless. Foreign occupation and the defeat and displacement of the Palestinians will continue to stir resentments and raise recruits for extremist groups. Some pro-U.S., pro-Israeli regimes might not survive, but even if they all do, non-state desperadoes might find secret state support within or without the Muslim world from countries that fear further U.S. imperialism, like China. And whatever Islam’s apologists say, the ideology of jihad will continue to call the faithful to fight for Allah. There is just too much in the Koran, the Hadith, and the Sira of Muhammad that needs erasing.
It is safer to assume that the U.S. will remain under threat for a long time. The U.S. will be forced to spend more and more to defend itself, its allies, and its interventions. (Indeed, the voices clamoring for war with Iraq are also clamoring for space-based missile defenses, cruise-missile defenses, ever better bombs and bombers, ever more military aid to allies, and a Marshall Plan for the Middle East.) The U.S. will also be forced to forego many accustomed freedoms and to live in a perpetual state of siege. (Indeed, the same voices are clamoring for tighter controls on everything, from public transport to the Internet.) This is not to say that people won’t prosper in the times ahead. Some people will always prosper. Israel will prosper most of all in our best-case scenario. Its enemies will be laid low. Its borders will remain secure. Its economy will recover with U.S. aid and arms sales to U.S. rivals, like China. It might even find a final solution to its Palestinian problem. Not surprisingly, the voices clamoring for war with Iraq are also the loudest in support for Israel.
But most Americans cannot look forward to more freedom, more safety, or more wealth as long as the Timor Americanus lasts. The U.S. does not have a rich uncle to help pay the bills, and it is ill suited ideologically to deal with ethnic and religious threats. An open society, the U.S. will strain to protect itself without observing obvious distinctions between Us and Them, which comes easily to ethnically and religiously closed societies like Israel. For all that it does in defense of its empire, the U.S. will earn the fear and hatred of the rest of the world.
That’s the best-case scenario. The worst case is too terrible to contemplate.
William Ring writes often about foreign affairs. His ancestors would have landed at Plymouth in 1620, but they were aboard the Speedwell, which sprang a leak and had to turn back, leaving the Mayflower to continue alone. They arrived in America the next year aboard the Fortune, the second ship to land at Plymouth.
Ring can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org