2004 – the Decisive Year for “Hyperpuissance USA”

Posted in United States | 06-Jan-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

2003 was a difficult year for the United States and the Bush administration. A slow economic recovery coincided with expensive worldwide commitments in almost all important regions of the globe. The good news from the end of 2003 and the start of 2004 have been the clear signals of a pick-up in the U.S. economic growth. But all major political problems from 2003 remain and continue to challenge the Bush administration in this year of presidential elections.

Homeland Defense, Counter - terrorism and counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remain long lasting challenges, which are always interrelated with more actual crisis and conflicts.

An Iraqi man throws stones at a statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as it falls in central Baghdad April 9, 2003.
At the centre of all problems is Iraq. It is the strategic turntable either to the better or to the worse. The worst-case scenario for Iraq is as follows. The US-led “coalition of the willing” is not able to reach a sufficient level of stability in Iraq until summer 2004 – the date set to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis. One reason for this chaotic situation might be ongoing intensive guerrilla warfare hindering any normalisation of the daily life, interrupting energy supply and killing so-called ”collaborators.” Another might be the deep rift between various ethnic and religious groups. The “Sunni-triangle” is a lawless area. Some former members of the “coalition of the willing” have withdrawn their military and police forces from that Iraq. The United Nations and a number of NGOs have left Iraq to avoid more casualties.

Under such worst-case scenario, the reputation of the USA and the Bush administration suffers serious blows both within and outside of the country. In spite of a booming economy the chances of President Bush re-election are almost zero. The democratic candidate Howard Dean, who proves that he was right with his fundamental opposition to the war in Iraq, is leading the polls with Bush lagging far behind. The Bush administration is then in a no-win situation. If it decides to leave Iraq regardless of the chaotic situation then USA would get a “second Vietnam” with all the negative ramifications. Crises and conflicts around the globe would be far away from any solution. If the administration decides to stay in Iraq, it would drag on with a lot of casualties and no hope to come to a durable solution.

In this worst-case scenario, the period of the Bush administration and the conservative circles around it would end in shame. USA would have lost its unique position as the only superpower. It would fall back in a multi-polar world with other nations exploiting its weakness for their own interests and purposes. This new world order would neither be safer nor better. A new epoch would begin saluted by all soft powers - and by the terrorists, too.

The Bush administration will do what it can to create a best-case scenario in Iraq. This best-case scenario will entail a stabilisation allowing the handover of power to an accepted Iraqi government. Even in this case, USA cannot and will not end its military commitment, it will just give it a different label. It might be possible to hand over the military lead to NATO with a strong US commitment. The UN would support the new Iraqi government and its efforts to rebuild Iraq. The reputation of USA and the Bush administration would have reached a peak. Coupled with a booming economy, this makes Bush the clear favourite for the elections. His democratic opponent seems to have no chance, because he was riding now a dead horse.

A positive development in Iraq would have positive influence for all other conflicts. In Afghanistan more nations might join the coalition and its “Provincial Reconstruction Teams.” The outlook for stabilization beyond Kabul would be better based upon the new constitution. The Taliban would suffer under the re-shift of emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan. USA would be able to bring Special Forces back to Afghanistan. A positive development in Afghanistan could bring more stability to the eastern neighbour Pakistan without any change in US commitment. The reputation won by the USA in Iraq would enhance the chance to solve the Kashmir conflict between Pakistan and India. Even Iran will feel forced to defuse the tense relations with USA.

China would take US improvement into account. A military solution with Taiwan or the disputed Spratly islands would seem out of sight. In contrast, China would increase its efforts to solve the crisis on the Korean peninsula in order to show its ability to act as a global player.

President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai
A great impact could be expected on the Israel/Palestine conflict. USA would be in a better position to influence Ariel Sharon. The outside support for the Palestinians could be reduced. After the decision of Libya to leave the “club of evils,” Syria might become afraid from being isolated and targeted by the superpower and, as a result, might become more co-operative than before.

The Gulf States, Jordan and Egypt would have better chances to cope with their internal problems. Even Saudi Arabia might win some time to give its citizens more room for political participation. In sum, the dominoes would fall in the right direction.

The handover of power to an Iraqi government would not end the problems in Iraq. There will be more attacks from the “losers” of the new situation causing repeated setbacks. There will not be a “perfect” democracy from scratch. But there is a good chance that the rising US reputation would send clear signals to potential adversaries and reluctant potential partners within Iraq and outside. Nothing is more convincing than success. People want to side with the winner not the loser.

All in all, there should be no alternative to a “best-case scenario” in Iraq. It is in the interest of all global players that the situation in the important region of the “Greater Middle East” is stabilised. In order to get “a piece of the cake” even “old Europe” would like to jump on the bandwagon.

USA should avoid showing its superiority with arrogance. In contrast, it should exploit the better situation to act as a co-operative empire or hegemon. A “winning team” could be more relaxed and use the success in Iraq to polish the US image worldwide through an orchestrated public diplomacy. USA should be a generous winner showing that it has learnt its lessons from Iraq. It should develop a comprehensive global security strategy together with its partners in NATO, which no longer should be seen as a toolbox but as an Alliance with which USA can shoulder the challenges of the future.