Domestic politics behooves President Barack Obama to offer Pollyannaish platitudes on what the U.S. is leaving behind in Iraq — a country, he said this week, on the road serving as “a model for others that are aspiring to create democracy in the region”. Those in the region with democratic aspirations beg to differ: “Iraq since 2003 represents everything that we want to avoid in the Arab world,” wrote liberal Beirut-based commentator Rami Khouri this week. “Foreign invasions, simplistic American political engineering, sharp internal polarization, ethnic cleansing and warfare, a new arena for Al-Qaeda-like terrorists, millions of internally displaced Iraqis and refugees who fled the country, massive gaps in basic services like electricity, hundreds of thousands of injured and traumatized people, and trillions of dollars that should have been spent on serious development rather than the destruction and continuing tensions that persist.”
Instead, Khouri argues, it has become a point of consensus among Arabs challenging authoritarian regime to guard “against repeating the America-in-Iraq experience, which is widely seen mainly as a model of destruction, waste and criminality.” Most of the Arab world had no greater enthusiasm for sharing the Iraqi experience than they had for sharing the Palestinian experience. Even Libyan and Syrian democrats being bludgeoned by their regimes (even when they called for no-fly zones) insisted that they opposed for military invasion as a means of toppling their tormentors. The lesson of the past year, of course, is that Arabs want to win their own freedom, on their own terms. The last thing anyone wants is a foreign army occupying their countries. And repeated polling throughout the period U.S. troops were deployed there found a majority of Iraqis wanting the Americans to go home.