Nation Forum on Middle East
“Unintended Consequences: A Forum on Iraq and the Mideast,” in The Nation is now available online. Journalists Helena Cobban and Nir Rosen, academic Middle East expert Shibley Telhami, and I all responded to questions about the state of the region.
This is my answer to the first question asked by the editors, “Wars often have unintended consequences. How has the Iraq War affected the political landscape of the region and America’s standing therein?“
Cole: Helena is correct that the Iraq War has propelled negative feelings toward the United States–not just in the immediate region but throughout the Muslim world. Between the summer of 2002 and spring of 2003, the number of Indonesians who viewed the US favorably fell from 61 percent to 15 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Although Muslims already faulted the United States for lack of evenhandedness on the Arab-Israeli dispute, in recent years their estimation of the US has plummeted. According to Zogby, from summer 2002 to summer 2004, those who viewed the US favorably in Egypt fell from 15 to 2 percent. And respondents generally believed that Iraqis were worse off under American occupation.
Another consequence of the war has been that more Sunnis in Iraq and elsewhere are turning away from Arab nationalism, which has been discredited, to Salafi revivalism, a very conservative form of Islam. Although most Salafis are “quietists,” in that they do not enter into ordinary politics, they are also the recruitment pool for radical groups. It has also strengthened Iran’s position in the region. In 1982 Ayatollah Khomeini created the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq for Shiite expatriate groups, whose members included Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the current SCIRI leader, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq’s current Prime Minister. Khomeini dreamed of putting them in power in Baghdad. Bush and Rumsfeld have fulfilled that dream.
The whole forum is worth reading. Nir Rosen is an exciting young journalist who has gone all over Iraq and reported in a clear-eyed way on everything from Fallujah to Najaf. Cobban and Telhami are veteran commentators on the region who know it well. Hearing these voices in a major national publication is sort of a shock because it is an irruption of the real world into the American press, and the result does not sound like the Middle East projected Washington, DC. (Not that this irruption of the truth is unusual in The Nation, which has done among the best reporting on the war).