As Baghdad fell, images of a U.S. victory went up. U.S. Marines toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein just moments after draping his head with the Stars and Stripes. With fingers in the dust, troops wrote “USA was here” on an occupied presidential palace wall. Around Baghdad and across most of Iraq on Wednesday night, a U.S. military victory, though never really in doubt, seemed just days away.
But as the smiles of liberation fade comes the hard part.
Iraq is devastated. Despite dancing in the streets, southern cities struggle without water, food and medicine. In the rubble remain relatives and loved ones. Thugs and thieves are pillaging towns and cities. Iraqis are joyous that Hussein appears gone from power – as is the world – but what’s important now is that they support the temporary American presence.
In Iraq and across the Arab world, there is deep skepticism of U.S. motives. In recent polls, many Arabs said they feel this war was about oil above all else. A relatively swift war has done little to soften pan-Arab hostility. This hostility has potentially grave consequences that cannot be ignored. With television images broadcasting American troops in an Arab capital, many in the Middle East fear a prolonged American imperial presence. In newspaper interviews, many said they feel their destinies are outside their control. The United States must do all in its power to calm this feeling and alleviate their fears.
To win the peace, the United States must grant Iraqis a sense of self-determination as quickly as possible. Political figures viewed as U.S.-installed puppets will lack legitimacy, only encouraging these dangerous perceptions of U.S. imperialism.
Oil profits must stay in Iraq. The United States has pledged they will and must now follow through. Channeling profits toward food, health and general welfare will not be enough to reconstruct the country, but it will prove whether the administration is committed to its statements that “Iraqi oil is for the Iraqi people.”
Ultimately, this must be an Iraqi triumph, not an American one.
This war has encouraged ill will throughout the Middle East, fractured alliances and killed innocent civilians and American troops. But as the military conflict concludes, it is crucial that the United States make clear to Iraqis and the world it was not in vain. Its actions from here on will prove whether this was a war of occupation or liberation.