In confronting change in Northern Africa, the U.S. has tied its own hands because of the Iraq War.

Our news media always seems to mimic the overly optimistic view of our government, at least at the beginning of the events. For that reason, one thing that an analysis of past media coverage of wars and insurrections can teach us is that at this point we don’t really know exactly what is happening in Egypt and Tunisia.

We all look for positive signs in events, but those positive signs always orient to our viewpoint.  For example, I would like Egypt and Tunisia to end up having democratically elected secular governments with two or more major parties in which Moslem and country traditions are accepted, but not mandated.  For that reason, I look at the news that Mubarak will step down for September elections as very positive.  And yet the violence in the streets continues.

By the way, I don’t believe the U.S. government really places democracy all that high on its wish list for Northern Africa and the rest of the developed world.  Past experience demonstrates again and again that what our government really wants are docile partners that will support us in global initiatives and cooperate fully with our large businesses.

But whatever the dreams our government or our people may have for Egypt, our leaders tied our hands in acting to achieve them by engaging in the fiasco known as the Iraq War.

The Iraq War hurt the United States’ ability to influence both world events and the events in other countries in two ways:

  1. The Iraq War significantly harmed the credibility of the United States among Moslem countries and throughout the developing world. The rest of the world did not like the fact that we superseded the United Nations’ investigation of weapons of mass destruction.  It did not like that we invaded a nation under false pretenses.  It did not like that we tortured prisoners and rendered other prisoners to other nations for torturing.  It did not like that we destroyed a nation with no plans to rebuild it.  I believe that under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, our reputation has improved somewhat, particularly among the leaders of nations.  But there is still a lot of residual distrust and suspicion about the United States out there.  Let me ask you this: If you were a moderate Moslem leader in Egypt, would you rather “play ball” with the United States or China at this time?
  2. The Iraq War drained the U.S. of trillions.  We’re broke and it’s not because of Social Security or high pensions to public workers.  It’s because our taxes are too low and we have thrown more than one trillion dollars (and counting since we still have 100,000 troops in Iraq plus pay for 130,000 military contractors still there) into the deep pit we call the Iraq War.  While we have given the Egyptian government and military a lot of money in the past, more money used wisely and not earmarked for guns could do a lot to influence the outcome of the current situation:  The United States could offer incentives to these nations to form democratic governments.  It could give legal and open support to all the parties which favor a secular government (even Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood).  It could give aid to address the most pressing social and economic problems facing these nations.  But money is one thing that our government doesn’t have a lot of right now, and one major reason is that we spent it leveling Iraq and then dealing with the mess our leveling created.

If the United States is no longer the world’s polestar in political and economic affairs, it’s because of self-inflicted wounds like the Iraq War that are still bleeding out.

Change of subject: Since I ripped Mark Bittman in 2009 for his subtle attempt to knock healthy cooking in his piece about the anxiety of preparing a Thanksgiving feast, I should praise him for his Op/Ed piece in today’s New York Times.  In it, he lays out a careful program for improving our food delivery system, our diets and our nutritional health.  At the heart of his recommendations is the strategy to end government support of processed and unhealthy foods and begin government support of growing local foods and preparing meals from scratch.  Check out his column.