President George W. Bush claimed his war in Iraq would bring peace and stability to the Middle East. What it brought was chaos.
Writes Marc Sandalow of The San Francisco Chronicle:
The Bush administration’s notion that toppling Saddam Hussein would stabilize a turbulent region is among the casualties of this week’s Middle East carnage.
The death toll in Lebanon and Israel, which exceeds 250 in the past week, is a grim reminder that the sectarian violence in Baghdad 500 miles to the east is but one of many hotspots in a region that has been plagued by violence for more than 1,000 years. The oft-stated hope that a new Iraqi government would swiftly transform the region’s fractured politics has been realized with unintended consequences: an emboldened Iran; the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections; and Syria’s departure from Lebanon. The familiar strain has been hatred between the Arabs and Israelis and a widely held assumption that the situation will grow worse before it improves.
"Unless and until you solve the Arab-Israel conflict, you are going to have instability in the region," said Steven Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Some scholars view the situation from the opposite direction. Coit Blacker, director of Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, believes that "there is no answer to the Arab-Israel conflict until the nature of politics within the region changes substantially."
Yet there is wide agreement that more than three years after attacking Iraq, the administration’s mission to build a democracy that would foster stability _ the most often cited reason to go to war after ridding Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction _ is a long way from being accomplished.
"Partly as a result of what’s happening in Iraq, the whole region seems to be separating along sectarian lines," said Michael Sterner, former U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and an assistant secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter.
"I haven’t seen every clash as being something that portends doom, but it’s a trend that is rather dangerous in my opinion. It could really spell trouble," Sterner said.
The path from the U.S. invasion of Iraq to this week’s clash between Israel and Hezbollah is a matter of conjecture. However, most analysts agree that Syria and Iran are behind Hezbollah’s actions, and have been stirred, in part, by the 2003 attack.
"It’s an inescapable fact, as uncomfortable as it is, that the … Iranian position is stronger than it otherwise would be," Blacker said. "It’s not an accident that on the more traditional Middle East front, things are heating up again. The Iranians are trying to send a concrete signal."