BEFORE the United States invaded Iraq on false pretexts nearly four years ago, the overwhelming view of analysts and diplomats was that war would plunge the region and the world into greater turmoil and instability. Echoing the views of my colleagues from the region and beyond, I told the Security Council on Feb. 18, 2003, that while the ramifications of the war could go beyond anyone’s calculations, “one outcome is almost certain: extremism stands to benefit enormously from an uncalculated adventure in Iraq.”
This assessment came not from any sympathy for the former Iraqi dictator or his regime. Certainly Iran — which had suffered the carnage of an eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and on which Saddam Hussein unleashed chemical weapons — had no affinity for him. Rather, it was based on a sober recognition of the realities of the region and the inescapable dynamics of occupation.
Now the United States administration is — unfortunately — reaping the expected bitter fruits of its ill-conceived adventurism, taking the region and the world with it to the brink of further hostility. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, the United States administration is trying to sell an escalated version of the same failed policy. It does this by trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.
The United States administration also appears to be trying to forge a regional coalition to counter Iranian influence. But even if it succeeds in doing so, such a coalition will prove practically futile, dangerous to the region as a whole and internally destabilizing for Iraq. By promoting such a policy, the United States is fanning the flames of sectarianism just when they most need to be quelled.
Coalitions of convenience like the one the United States government now contemplates were a hallmark of American policy in the region in the 1980s and 1990s, and their effect then was to contribute to the creation of monsters like Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Short memories may be responsible for this ill-advised return to old habits.
But who can forget that Saddam Hussein used the very same scare tactic, invoking the “Iranian threat” to extort money, loyalty and military hardware from the region and the world, only to turn them later against his suppliers? Who cannot remember that to contain the supposed “Shiite Crescent” after the 1979 Iranian revolution, the extremism of the fundamentalist Salafi movement was nourished by the West — only to transform later into Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Why should the same policy in the same region produce any different result now?
Javad Zarif is the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations.