Too much bleeding not enough building

Updated: 2011-12-23 08:35

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Too much bleeding not enough building

When President Barack Obama welcomed home the US troops pulled from Iraq this week, he said that "everything that American troops have done in Iraq, all the fighting and all the dying; the bleeding and the building; the training and partnering, has led us to this moment of success".

He seems to forget that back in 2002 the then young state Senator described it as "a dumb war".

To be fair, Obama may still feel that way, but it would be political suicide for him to say that today given his role as commander-in-chief and incumbent president battling to secure the votes that will give him a second term in office.

The war in Iraq was strongly opposed by many Americans and most nations when it was launched by George W. Bush in March 2003, under the pretext that Saddam Hussein had an itchy finger on the trigger of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and links to Al-Qaida.

And the cat was soon out of the bag - there were no WMD and there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida.

But over the past nine years Iraq has become a place of endless violence, particularly suicide bombings.

While 4,500 American soldiers have died and tens of thousands have been wounded, the number of Iraqi civilians who have died during the conflict is hard to calculate. Some have estimated that a million Iraqis have died of violence since 2003.

Even among Americans, only one in three say they consider the war in Iraq a victory. Over half say they would describe the outcome for the US in Iraq as a stalemate, 11 percent say they would call it a defeat, and 53 percent thought it was a mistake to send troops to the country in the first place, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released on Wednesday.

Obama claimed US troops were "leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people".

Yet no one can say with any certainty today that stability is going to prevail in Iraq in the years to come. Already, two leading members of Iraq's most powerful Sunni tribe have warned of impending sectarian chaos after the US troop withdrawal, accusing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government of promoting an anti-Sunni agenda.

A similar quagmire can be found in Afghanistan, a war which Obama inherited but soon escalated, making it his own war.

For the only superpower in the world, it is easy to invade a country, to defeat its army and to oust its regime, but, after spending more than a trillion dollars on the two wars in the past decade, Americans are learning it is extremely difficult to rebuild a country, to keep peace and stability and to introduce freedom and democracy.

We have also seen this in Egypt. Months ago, many American politicians and news anchors fervently participated or instigated the protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, but most of them have become deadly quiet now as the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi are taking the lead in the ongoing parliamentary elections. The free and democratic election there may well produce a government and parliament that the US refuses to endorse.

Some hawkish and interventionist Americans are advocating waging wars on Iran and Syria these days, but they would do well to look at the legacy of US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan before opening their mouths.

The author, based in New York, is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. Email:

(China Daily 12/23/2011 page8)