Buried in all the reporting about Gadaffi’s death was a much more significant piece of news about the Middle East. Obama announced late on Friday night – with a timing very likely connected to the news from Libya – that all US troops will be withdrawan from Iraq in 2 months time. This is a total and comprehensive defeat for the US over Iraq on every count.
The main motive for the US-UK invasion in 2003 was to secure and retain physical control over the Iraq oilfields; they have lost that. Another key motive was to obtain a political, military and economic platform in the Middle East from which to dominate the region; they have lost that. A further objective was to constrain and weaken the rising power of Iran throughout the region; the opposite has happened, and the influence of Iran has been substantially enhanced. A lesser objective, but one much trumpeted, was to promote the cause of democracy in the Middle East; Iraq is now ruled by an authoritarian leader, has no democracy to speak of, and only the entirely unrelated Arab Spring is bringing any democratic influence to the region.
It is hard to exaggerate the scale of this defeat. Osama bin Laden’s fatwa against the Americans for occupying the two holy cities of Islam in Saudi Arabia led to the US moving their troops out of Saudi and into Iraq as one of their first acts when they thought it was ‘mission accomplished’ on 30 April 2003, but now this alternative base of operations garrisoned by a string of US bases for the neocons to keep permanent pressure on Iran and Syria is collapsing. Saddam Hussein, monster though he was, was an effective counter-weight against Iran, but now Shia Iraq is co-operating ever more closely with Shia Iran.
The cost to the US of this failure has been prodigious. Total US military deaths exceeded 4,000 (with Iraqi civilian deaths variously estimated at between 100,000 and 1,000,000), and the overall costs of the war have been calculated by the Nobel prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, at $3 trillion. The cost to the UK was 177 killed, with a further 3,000 admitted to hospitals for disease or non-battle injuries, at a total cost to UK taxpayers of £8bn. For this colossal sacrifice in blood and treasure US influence both in the Middle East and throughout the world has been considerably weakened, and America’s opponents, Iran and China, have emerged significantly strengthened. And with the impending US defeat in Afghanistan if Obama is forced to pull US troops out of that country too in 2014, as seems likely, a slow but continuing US military, economic and political decline is now inexorable.