The casualty count for the War in Iraq has reached a new low—over the month of July 2008, 12 U.S. troops were killed. The monthly casualty average for 2008 is at 31, down from the 2007 monthly casualty average of 75, which was the highest seen in the 5-year span of the war. This positive decrease has generated a buzz about the success of the surge, with the Associated Press declaring in a piece entitled “Analysis: US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost” that “The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost.” Yet despite these gains, experts disagree strongly on the Bush administration’s legacy in the Middle East.
Rhami Khouri, Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beruit, stated in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center that “it’s hard to assess [Bush’s] legacy” because by nature the policies take a long time to show success, and the region was already facing significant transformation when Bush stepped in. While Khouri’s review of the Bush administration’s Middle Eastern policy was mostly scathing, he also stated that while most of the policy goals have not been met, three have:
• No attacks on American soil since September 11, 2001.
• The overthrow of the Baathist regime in Iraq.
• Establishment of the international tribunal for the region.
However, Khouri asserted that the past five to six years indicate negative policy trends, and stated that the policies have “laid the groundwork for some potentially tumultuous—and maybe even catastrophic—changes in the future.” He claimed the region is now more unstable due to six fatal flaws in the Bush administration’s policies, as follows:
• A massive structural misdiagnosis of the 9/11 terrorists.
• Because of the misdiagnosis, a significant overreaction with the global war on terror coming at the expense of more important issues.
• A combination of indifference to the Arab-Israeli conflict and unapologetic pro-Israeli tilt resulting in a weak regional image.
• The confusion and incoherence with addressing political Islamism.
• Inability to desegregate nationalism, religion, resistance, and governance.
Khouri also stated that Bush’s policy had ignored and undermined three of the most important issues to the Arabs: identity, sovereignty, and legitimacy. He mentioned some of the failed outcomes in the area, focusing on the increased strength of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the increased nuclear capabilities of Iran, and Syria’s increased standoffishness to U.S. pressure, among others.
Nicholas Burns disagreed. Burns, Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the U.S. Department of State commented that the “Middle East is by far the most vitally important region to the United States” and that U.S. global policy is “centered more on the Middle East than it ever has been before.” Burns, a career diplomat who retired during Bush’s tenure, credited the administration with five significant achievements in the Middle East:
• Solid support of the democratically elected-government in Lebanon.
• The shift in Iranian policy from Bush’s first term to his second term in emphasizing diplomacy with the rogue nation.
• Strengthened ties with key moderate states of the Gulf- the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman.
• The ground-breaking meetings at Annapolis between the Syrians, the Israelis, and the Palestinians.
• Improved capability to implement successful military initiatives in Iraq to win the war.
Burns also credited Condoleeza Rice specifically with the administration’s focus on diplomacy with Iran, and stated that in general, the U.S. has “done the right thing” in the Middle East—including the war in Iraq.
The experts disagree on the Bush administration’s scorecard for the Middle East, and only time will determine whether the policies have improved or worsened the state of the region.