What Lies Ahead

 States that are led by a dictator, as a rule, are plunged into instability once the potentate at the top has been overthrown, as we have seen in the last few days.

 States that are led by a dictator, as a rule, are plunged into instability once the potentate at the top has been overthrown, as we have seen in the last few days. In this day and age, when it does appear that international politics are being personalized, the remark by the Prussian strategist Clausewitz, that war is nothing but a duel on a higher level, seems apropos. One could almost think that Clausewitz is right, that the second Gulf War boiled down to a clash between George W. Bush versus Saddam Hussein.  In fact, many have suggested that the conflict was little more than a blood vendetta pursued by the son on behalf of his father.  

Even if this is much too shortsighted, it is correct to say that, from an American perspective, it was above all Saddam's system that motivated the war.   Washington saw Saddam as the source of all evil, a mass murderer out to plunge the Middle East and the entire world into chaos.   This is why, behind all the demands for disarmament and inspections, there had been, above all, one overriding objective: this man must go.   President Bush was never before as close to this truth as last October when he said that complete disarmament was equivalent to regime change.  

In fact, regime change has always been the primary American goal, even when the United States put forward other pretexts for war: weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and threats posed by Saddam to his neighbors and the Iraqi population.  These grab-bag of reasons to go to war was needed because the actual cause for the war was difficult to legitimize under international law and politically presumptuous.   The request for a regime change is an expression of imperial design - aspirations the likes of which the world has seen only in rare moments in its history.  

This realization has embittered the friends of the United States.   They were bitter about American inability to listen; bitter about its rigidity; bitter about Washington's refusal to compromise; and bitter it was willing to sacrifice all other goals to achieve that one objective. 

Behind the argument between the United States and the dictator of Baghdad, a much bigger conflict has built up, which does not make the world more secure but rather more unstable.  

The rift between the United States, its allies and the other main players in the international system in the pre-war phase, the almost obsessive exaggeration of the Iraqi threat, and the non-stop changing of objectives and reasons to wage war all made this conflict fraught with so much unnecessary ballast that even after a quick invasion with only a few victims there can be no question of peace. Yes, the Americans are correct in their accusation that most European governments, particularly Germany, had not yet grasped the threats of the new era.   A large part of Europe has indeed shied away from a ruthless political analysis of security issues, hiding behind a supposedly higher morality and legitimacy.   The continent does not know how to use its political and economic weight to give the world a turn for the better.  

At the same time, however, the United States has meanwhile been asking radical questions: does one have the right to fight a danger preemptively once it looms on the horizon?   Is one entitled to overthrow a dictatorship at all costs?   Does the United Nations, in its World War II setup, function in a globalized world?   Is international law of any use when tyrants may hide behind it?  

The answers provided by the Bush Administration are troubling.  As much as the imminent end of the dictator and his regime must be welcomed, circumstances that have now led to war are just as tormenting.   The second American-Iraqi war lacks a political, legal, and military basis; it lacks a credible post-war vision.   The risks of the war are great, the scenarios for what comes after are vague.  

I fear that the United States will not have the staying power to remain in Iraq for many years to come to build a stable, democratic government there.  It will founder on its claim to bring about peace and stability and be accepted as a benevolent hegemonial power.   Rather, the policies of the Bush Administration risk breeding anger that will be turned against the United States for a long time to come.

Stefan Kornelius is the editorial page editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung.