The common wisdom in Washington these days is that the Americans will leave Iraq by the end of President George W. Bush's presidency regardless of the situation on the ground. This view is based on the proposition that Iraq is unwinnable and it has had a devastating impact on the administration's confidence that it can handle Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Monday's events brought that impact home starkly. On the one hand, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad came as the US wages a seemingly last-ditch attempt to defeat the insurgency in Iraq. On the other hand, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's performance at the Natanz nuclear installation where he said, "With great pride, I announce as of today our dear country is among the countries of the world that produces nuclear fuel on an industrial scale," indicated that he, for one, does not believe he has anything to worry about from America.
"Right-thinking" people these days claim that if the US and Britain hadn't invaded Iraq, everything today would have been perfect. The US would have been loved. The Europeans, Arabs and the UN would be standing on line to support the US in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
As British commentator Simon Jenkins put it in The Guardian on Tuesday, "If ever [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair hoped to carry his 'Western values agenda' on a white charger to the gates of Teheran, that hope vanished in the mire of Iraq."
Yet this is untrue. The US's difficulties with confronting Iran have little to do with the decision to invade Iraq. Rather, America's feckless diplomacy toward Iran to date is the result of the administration's early misunderstanding of Iraq and of Iranian and Arab interests.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration identified certain basic guiding realities and missed others. First there was the issue of Arab tyranny. As Bush recalled last September, "For decades, American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by pursuing stability at the expense of liberty. The lack of freedom in that region helped create conditions where anger and resentment grew, and radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits."
Yet recognizing this basic reality did not lead the administration to adopt appropriate policies. Rather than promote liberty, which at its core revolves around a certain foundational understanding of human dignity, the administration promoted elections - fast elections - in Iraq and throughout the region.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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