The war decisively demonstrates the willingness of the U.S. to take a certain level of casualties. Actual U.S. casualties were few, but there was a clear willingness to take more. That shows the determination of the U.S. Beyond that, the outcome does not reveal greater U.S. armed strength than what was already known. It reveals the inability of the Saddam Hussein government to organize a fighting force.
Civilian casualties in this war were far less than in 1990-91. American attacks were more focused on military and government targets. The civilian infrastructure was largely spared this time. This reflects the desire of the U.S. to build a friendly government after the war, and perhaps also a greater sensitivity to world opinion in tactics after having offended it with the invasion itself.
The U.S. has paid a significant price for its invasion of Iraq. The NATO alliance stands diluted. France, Germany, and Russia have converged in the views of legitimate international order, and have diverged from the U.S. In the past, the U.S. would have risked nuclear war to avoid such a transformation of international politics. It is not simply that some governments in Europe have altered their diplomatic strategies. Public opinion in Europe, including in Spain and Italy, where governments are pro-U.S., has turned overwhelmingly negative toward the U.S. This shift of attitudes is a more lasting factor. The U.S.-led Western bloc, which stood since 1945, is divided. Britain is with America for now, but its defection to the European camp would isolate and weaken America. Some reconciliation in the West may take place, but a restoration of American leadership as it was two years ago is unlikely. The conquest of Iraq will not restore Western unity, since the division is not simply about Iraq. The distribution of power is little affected by the conquest of Iraq, but the pattern of alliances is transformed. The U.S. was previously the only magnetic pole attracting allies, but now there are others. By conquering Iraq, the U.S. has diluted the unipolar order it dominated, and has moved the world toward multipolarity.
There is now the specter of more American attacks. President Bush has issued a warning, though not yet a threat, to Syria. Some in the U.S. wish to attack Iran. There may be some constraints to such attacks. First, Syria and Iran have not been under sanctions. They are better armed than Iraq, although they have a tiny fraction of American armed strength to be sure. Iran has over three times the population of Iraq. Second, if guerilla attacks commence in Iraq and other occupied countries, a substantial occupation force will be required. If the U.S. plans to occupy Iraq, Iran, and Syria simultaneously, the task could occupy most of the existing 425,000-strong U.S. Army. Third, more attacks will deepen the split between the U.S. and Western Europe, as well as with the rest of the world. But none of these obstacles are insurmountable for the U.S.
India has kept a low profile during the pre-war diplomacy and the war. The breakdown in Western unity might ultimately be helpful in raising India’s diplomatic profile, but India is threatened by the new American aggressiveness. Although the U.S. would not attack India, less direct conflicts could emerge. India signed a defense cooperation agreement with Tehran in the month before the invasion of Iraq. This mainly reflects growing Indo-Iranian understanding on several issues, but it is also India’s attempt to signal America of a level of commitment to Iran.
The situation leaves India in a quandary. American companies are outsourcing their software requirements and office work to India at an accelerating pace. This boom can easily become the main engine of growth in the Indian economy within two to three years. Like China, India can seek to promote its political interests even against those of America while depending on it for export markets. However, more so than with China, there is a limit.
The motivation of President Bush and his advisers remains mysterious. It will be many years before American profits from Iraqi oil could cover even the $79 billion price tag to date for the war. Reducing oil prices through massive Iraqi production would deliver a greater economic payoff, but lower oil prices could have been pursued by more subtle means. Intimidating radical regimes in the Middle East is also minor prize; they are not doing much in the first place. Some have speculated that President Bush acted on hidden Christian fundamentalist beliefs. As for spreading democracy, the U.S. is not likely to permit the rise of an independent democratic state in Iraq in the near future. There are several social forces in Iraq that the U.S. will not trust.
Iraq is more likely to meet the fate of Central America in past decades, than of post-1945 Japan or West Germany.