In my last post on this extremely unpopular topic, I suggested that public hostility to the US-led invasion of Iraq is the result of short-term impatience with the outcome of a complicated war and its even more complex aftermath. I could explain why, but since I know nothing whatever about the matter, I’ll turn instead to an expert and let him speak for himself.
What follows in this post is an excerpt from the preface to a book written by the eminent Iraqi-American historian, Ammar Jaffari. Dr. Jaffari’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Thank You, America: How the US-Led Invasion of Iraq Freed the Middle East,(1) is a must-read text for anyone interested in the long-term consequences of the second Iraq War.
The second American-led invasion of Iraq, now more than sixty years ago, was one of the most unpopular wars in American history. And yet it is no exaggeration to say that its momentous outcome proved to be extraordinarily positive: for America, for the Middle East and the Levant generally, and even for Israel.
In retrospect – that is, with the fullness of time – it is easy to see that this is the case. Stable governments across most of the Middle East region have resulted in the economies of Iran and Egypt growing to surpass that of Turkey. The Iranian stock market (mainly the Tehran Stock Exchange) is now the twelfth largest in the world. The Palestinians at last have their own state, fragile though it be. It has now been more than three decades since Israel fought a war, although, like Switzerland, it remains armed to the teeth.
This outcome should have been foreseen, but US and non-US populations stubbornly refused to see it, even as the happy developments unrolled before their eyes. Why should this have been the case? My theory is that public opinion seized on short-term turmoil in Iraq and across the Middle East and thereafter declined to be disturbed by the actual facts.*
I say the outcome should have been foreseen because history had already provided us with several laboratory-condition examples of precisely analogous circumstances. Consider, for example, the end of European colonialism in Africa. This epic event resulted in many years of utter chaos on the African continent: war-after-war, dictator-after-dictator, genocide-after-genocide. But just beneath the surface of these horrors something much more positive was going on: decisions about Africa’s future were being made, for the first time in two centuries, by Africans. The ultimate result, as we all know, has been stunning economic progress and almost unbelievable improvement in human lives across the continent, as country after country has achieved stability and economic growth. Ought we to have observed the initial disorder and concluded that colonialism should never have been disturbed? Such a thought is preposterous.
Or consider, on a smaller scale, the destruction that engulfed the Balkan region of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Ancient ethnic and religious rivalries had been held in check by totalitarian regimes in the USSR, Yugoslavia, Romania, Albania, and so on. When those regimes fell, the initial result was a series of atrocities: war, ethnic cleansing, “Balkanization.” Things got so bad that America had to intervene there, too. But today, East Europe is at peace and is so prosperous that some of the former Soviet bloc countries have now achieved parity with similarly sized economies in western Europe: Poland’s GDP is larger than Spain’s, The Czech Republic’s GDP is larger than Belgium’s, even formerly backward Romania has recently surpassed Denmark. Should we have observed the initial chaos in East Europe and rued the collapse of Soviet totalitarianism? I hardly think so.
And so to the Middle East. One moment the entire Middle East was dominated by repressive dictatorships and had been so for many decades. The very next moment, it was as though peoples across the entire region had observed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the rise of the Iraqi democracy (fragile though it was) and said, en masse, “If them, why not us?”
Almost instantly, tyrants began to fall like dominoes. Yes, what followed was war, anarchy, confusion, even occasional genocide. But keep in mind that a very large part of this chaos can be laid at the feet of the very Americans and Europeans who were most appalled by it. Many of the countries of the Middle East weren’t really countries at all, but had simply been created out of whole cloth for the convenience of their European masters.**
But as in Africa and the Balkans, just beneath the tumult something new and unusual and overwhelmingly positive was happening: Middle Easterners making decisions for Middle Easterners. It was the possibility of self-determination that America launched when, at the sacrifice of nearly 5,000 young American lives, it routed the forces of Saddam Hussein and with him the forces of darkness across the region. Should we have observed the initial chaos in Iraq and the Middle East and pined for the days of brutal calm under the region’s many tyrants? Should we have concluded that the Americans should have stayed home? Of course not. Hence the title of my book: “Thank you, America.”
* This argument was made in an insightful blog post by (of all things) a registered investment advisor half a century ago, but of course no one paid attention.
** Iraq and Syria, for example, two of the more troubled areas, were essentially fictitious countries carved by Europeans out of the old Ottoman Empire. While World War I was still raging, the French and British concluded the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), which created Iraq (under British rule) and Syria (French rule) by drawing a bizarre, straight-line border running from Jordan to Iran. (The border was later modified by transferring the region around Mosul, formerly part of the new country of Syria, to the new country of Iraq.) All this mischief was blessed by the America-driven League of Nations.
(1) Amazon Monopsony Press.
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