Even before 9/11, Iran possessed a budding nuclear program, the region’s largest population, an expansive ballistic-missile arsenal, and significant influence over the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. By adding to that list enhanced political influence in Iraq, Iran can be somewhat more assertive geopolitically in the region, further limiting US policy options.
A third side effect of the war waged purportedly in democracy’s name is that it came at the expense of America’s already frayed reputation in the Muslim world. Far from being seen as a benevolent liberator, the United States was perceived as a blundering behemoth – and an abusive, hypocritical one to boot.
People of the region are well aware of Washington’s policies toward Iraq in the decades preceding 9/11. Policymakers tacitly supported the Baath Party’s suppression of the Iraqi Communist Party in 1963, and helped restore the Baathists to power after a takeover by pro-Nasser Arab nationalists in 1968. From 1980 to 1988, during the Iran-Iraq War, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency gave Hussein battle-planning assistance, satellite imagery, tactical planning for airstrikes, and information on Iranian deployments.
As The Economist detailed last fall, torture became routine under the US-supported Maliki regime. Hussein-era tactics of censorship are also reemerging. The government announced plans to censor imported books and the Internet, and rescind the protective anonymity of e-mailers and bloggers. These repressive policies are quite similar to those imposed by yet another US-supported dictator in the region: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. As modern-day Egypt and now Iraq demonstrate, countries with procedural elections yet devoid of liberal norms can merely be Potemkin villages masquerading as democracies.