For Thomas Klau, writing on Thursday in Financial Times Deutschland, the Iraq débâcle has put an end to the U.S.'s status as a "superpower."[1]  --  This is, however, a considerable exaggeration, like Klau's comparison to the movie "Titanic" and just about everything else in his piece, translated below.  --  "Tehran is striving to acquire nuclear weapons"; well, no, Herr Klau, that's certainly more than you know and more than anyone has demonstrated.  --  The goal of Iran in particular and Shiites in general is "to end the age-old Sunni supremacy over Islam"; well, no, Herr Klau, you may find that useful in stirring up a politics of fear vis-à-vis Iran, but it ignores the history of that nation and of the Middle East in general, as well as the demography of Islam and fundamental geopolitical realities.  --  The U.S. national security state still is, truth to tell, a superpower, and while Iraq has not gone according to plan and the catastrophic policy failure there has led to intense infighting among factions of the U.S. élite, its military-industrial complex can still put the disaster to use by arguing it proves that "we" have, in Islam, an enemy that legitimates its existence (and budgets) — pending the emergence of China....


[Translated from Financial Times Deutschland]

By Thomas Klau

Financial Times Deutschland (Hamburg)
December 7, 2006

** The West will have to grapple with the fact that the orgy of violence in Iraq will have serious and long-lasting effects on the standing and "soft power" of its pre-eminent leader, the United States. **
or (original)

The dance music playing in Washington today sounds like the score to the movie "Titanic." The political élite debate the situation in Iraq as if in Mesopotamia America were still a superpower. Even in the fourth year of the Iraq débâcle there is little willingness to confront reality and acknowledge the limits of America's capacity to act.

They talk about how the civil war could be stopped with renewed determination or a better strategy. They take refuge in the fiction of transferring responsibility to the Iraqi government, though outside the "Green Zone" the power of the Iraqi government is more a wish than a reality. They plan to improve and accelerate the training of the Iraqi armed forces, as though that hadn't been the goal these past four years. They fantasize that the Baghdad government can forget about the balance of power at the whim of the United States and take away the power of Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr's powerful militia.


In the coming weeks it will become clear whether George W. Bush will accept his Shadow Cabinet [the Iraq Study Group] and finally display the courage to face reality squarely, as does the Baker Commission and his new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. During his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Gates did something that quite sensational for Washington: he described reality without using euphemistic language. Nowhere was this more apparent than in his remarks about Iran. In the White House, the face of Dick Cheney, that Dr. Strangelove, must have flushed with anger. Yes: Tehran is striving to acquire nuclear weapons, as Gates said, but a war against it is nevertheless a dangerous idea, and should be considered only if the survival of the United States is directly threatened.

Gates's appearance comes just in time to impede any Bush attack plans against Iran, and at the same time to help prevent the Persian Gulf and Middle East from going up in flames. For Iraqis, his realism comes too late. Richard Holbrooke, the mediator during the war in Yugoslavia, is of the opinion that not even a drastic change in course by President Bush can put the evil genie back in the bottle. The civil war cannot be stopped; sticks and carrots coming from of Washington are no match for the power dynamics now playing out in the cradle of Western civilization.

Will this conflict escalate into a full-blown regional war, which is the worst-case scenario that Gates and many experts fear? Not necessarily. Countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and also Iran have shown that they, despite internal tensions, are capable of cool, calculated statesmanship. As of now, nothing is certain. But both outcomes -- a local civil war or a regional conflagration -- are likewise unpredictable. Events in Iraq have triggered deeply rooted emotions in neighboring countries that could wipe away sober cost-benefit analysis in no time if U.S. troops are withdrawn.

Thus Iran -- the nuclear power in waiting -- is attempting to create a Shiite bloc consisting of Alawite government in Damascus, the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Shiite coalition in Iraq. The goal is to end the age-old Sunni supremacy over Islam. The acting-ruling-powers in Tehran can count on the support of all Iraqi and Lebanese Shiites, who for centuries have felt suppressed within their own societies.

The center of gravity for Sunnis is Saudi Arabia. For their part, the Saudis have declared their intention to prevent this scenario with all necessary force. Riyadh has put Washington on notice: If the United States leaves Iraq and delivers them into the hands of raging Shiite supremacists, the Saudi Kingdom will have no choice but to side with their tribal brothers -- and if necessary enter into a direct confrontation with Iran. This sensational threat by the oil monarchy reflects a defense of the founding principles of the Saudi Kingdom.


Just like the Balkans in the 1990s, we are experiencing the perverse resurrection of historical conflicts far more powerful than common sense or compromise. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the democratic renaissance of Eastern and Central Europe, and the transformation of China into a free market economy gave many in the West cause for optimism, but the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan make such hopes seem like a naïve dream.

So Western democracy and the model of Western freedom don't necessarily appeal to the millions of men in the Arab world, and the emancipation of women is not considered progress, but rather as a threat to their identity. This doesn't render the worldwide battle to spread of Western values and improve the legal status of women either wrong or hopeless. Yet the West will have to recognize that the kinds of changes we fought for decades to realize cannot be exported everywhere else overnight.

No one has paid a crueler price for this latest failure to achieve Western utopia that the Iraqis, who were delivered from the clutches of dictatorship only to be plunged into a nightmarish civil war. The West will have to grapple with the fact that the orgy of violence in Iraq will have serious and long-lasting effects on the standing and "soft power" of its leading power, the United States. The mythos of the worldwide management competence of the American governing élite and the oversight mechanisms of American democracy have been shattered. Destroyed is the trust in the American government and its military might; They Came, They Saw, They Conquered. Rome has lost its magic, and that is as it was before, bad news for the world.

--Thomas Klau is FTD's Washington correspondent. He writes here every second Thursday.


--Translated by Armin Broeggelwirth, revised by Mark Jensen