Civil war in Iraq? Bush's popularity at an all time low? Where did it all go wrong?
It has been a long term United Nations maxim that the internal affairs of a country are its own business and not to be interfered with by other countries. The fact that both the USSR and China had nuclear weapons probably had something to do with the fact that neither the US nor the UK sent an army to those countries to correct their despised forms of government.
It was not always so. Palmerston's means of conducting foreign policy was to send a gunboat, and until 1945 most nations saw war as a more active branch of diplomacy. The formation of the United Nations established a natural stalemate, with the Soviet Union unwilling to agree to any American-led war. Modern air travel would have prevented the Korean War since it was only approved by the Security Council because the Soviet representative arrived too late to say no.
War thereafter was largely a by-proxy practice. When Britain and France were made to back down over Suez by America's economic threats there seemed little chance of any nation starting a war of acquisition, or even to retain what they had bought and paid for.
The second half of the 20th century was marked by a series of small wars of independence as new nations threw off their erstwhile colonial powers. It was strange to see America, a nation formed by a revolution against the colonial power, again and again taking the side of the bosses against the little man. This had the effect of throwing the revolutionaries into the hands of the Soviets, who imposed their brutal form of totalitarianism on them. Was it necessary for Cuba to become hardline Marxist? Heaven knows the Batista regime was evil enough to need overthrowing. The unsavory picture of Kennedy, the Massachusetts liberal, in bed with casino-owning Mafiosi is unedifying enough, but the sort of foul governments supported by the US in South America during this period in the name of stopping communism is shameful.
The culmination came in Viet Nam. What started as a war of independence in French Indo-China became a surrogate hot-spot in the cold war. In retrospect the wisdom of the British in leaving India and Burma in 1947 is apparent. The capitalist societies in Viet Nam and even China demonstrate that Soviet style uniformity and oppression holds no attraction for ordinary people.
In the fifteen years after World War II communism became a colossal boogie-man to America. Several strands contributed to this. The stealing of the nuclear secrets by Klaus Fuchs, the outcome of the Potsdam conference, allowing Stalin to run Eastern Europe as vassal states, the McCarthy hearings, Churchill's iron-curtain speech, the Korean War, and the launching of the first Sputnik in 1957 all contributed. I suspect that America's isolation was a major factor. Such a vast country, so self-sufficient, so ignorant of the outside world; Americans were unable to assimilate communism into their political spectrum, in the way that France or Italy did, and unable to ridicule it in gentle way that Britain did.
So, the Domino Theory demanded that Viet Nam was defended and became America's nemesis. Defeat in Viet Nam did not happen on the battlefield, but on the University Campus. Young Americans became disgusted by what the military was doing. This defeat lodged in the American psyche and emasculated the country for a generation. It was reinforced by Carter's abortive attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages and by the Black Hawk Down defeat in Somalia.
Meanwhile, Britain had discovered a new virility. After a failed experiment with socialism which left the dead unburied and rats in the street nibbling at uncollected garbage, Mrs. Thatcher put backbone back in the nation by defeating the Argentineans in the Falklands.
This was a clean war. It was in response to a call for help from the indigenous people who were of British extraction and willing colonials. It was fought against a regime widely recognized as evil, a dictatorship kept in power by brutal police action against its own people who had modern weapons sufficient to destroy several British warships. It was won by the heroism of tough soldiers who marched across rough terrain in filthy weather to defeat the occupiers in hand to hand combat when the helicopters that were meant to allow them to fight like Americans were sunk with the Atlantic Conveyer, a container ship that the Argentinean pilots mistook for an aircraft carrier. Not only were the Falklands secured, but the Argentinean tyranny was overthrown at home.
In some ways the first Iraq war was similar. The invading power had long claimed the invaded land as its own. It was ruled by a sinister dictatorship. In the circumstances it was not difficult to put together a huge coalition that even included Syria. This war was different from the Falklands, though. It was won not by individual heroism but by overwhelming fire power and military superiority. It was won by the Americans; her allies were make-weights, there to give the semblance of world unity. The invaded country was not populated by poor farmers but by oil-rich Arabs and contract workers who had no say in how the country was run.
Colin Powell stopped on the road to Baghdad when it got too much like shooting fish in a barrel. Saddam survived. To have removed him would have had the Arabs deserting the coalition. In retrospect I think this was a mistake and one that would not have happened if Mrs. Thatcher had not been deposed during the build up to the war. She was adept at pulling the strings.
Just as Thatcher had restored Britain's self confidence, so Reagan restored America's. The defeat of the Soviets in the cold war was done by bravado. It was a poker game in which America kept upping the ante until the Soviets folded.
In the nineties small nations started behaving badly. Perhaps the Russians had been restraining their client states during the cold war. A free hand was given for ethnic cleansing. In Yugoslavia, Indonesia and Africa atrocities abounded. The West was shamed into intervening. In East Timor the Australians went in to protect the Christians from the Moslems, in Kosovo Clinton and the EU went in to protect the Moslems from the Christians, but nobody had protected the Catholic Tutsis from the Catholic Hutus and nobody had protected the Bosnian Moslems from the Serbian Orthodox and no-one had intervened between the Catholic Croatians and the Orthodox Serbs, and still nobody intervenes between the Shona and the Matebele in Zimbabwe or between the Moslems and the Christians in Sudan.
Who should police the world? From Pax Romana to Pax Britannica it has been the role of the strongest nation to act the magistrate. America had been reluctant to do so. After 9/11 things changed.
Attacking Afghanistan had near universal support. Bin Laden had sought sanctuary there and he was behind the Twin Towers disaster. The Taliban would not give him up and in any case they were a repressive, intolerant regime that cut off the hands of thieves and destroyed ancient statues of the Buddha. The success in Afghanistan must have encouraged Bush to go on down his list. Saddam was unfinished business. In those days everybody believed in WMD even if they were only believed to be a battlefield threat.
Regime change was the real motive behind the Iraq war. Saddam was indeed an evil tyrant. The destruction of the Marsh Arabs after Gulf War I was something that America felt guilty about. Encouraged to rebel they had been abandoned by the coalition. Saddam's retribution was harsh. The UN had instituted sanctions, but they were being evaded. Saddam was building palaces while children starved and the UN, not Saddam, was getting the blame. There was a movement to lift the sanctions.
Saddam was in a cleft stick. He had no WMD, but his hold on power depended on the pretence that he did. He stalled the weapons inspectors so as to keep up the pretence as long as possible. The UN passed resolution 1441 threatening worse than sanctions if the weapons inspectors could not do their job. But if he let them do their job and they found nothing then for him it would be worse than sanctions. Besides he did not believe that the Security Council would vote for war. Too many permanent members were benefiting financially from sanctions busting. He stalled and stymied and bluffed it out.