WASHINGTON, January 21, 2014 – In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the phrase “domino effect” when he suggested that the fall of French Indochina to the communists could create a situation in Southeast Asia where one country’s turn to communism would lead to other countries following, thereby creating a completely communistic Southeast Asia. This was done at a time when Americans feared a communist takeover. The so-called “domino theory” dominated U.S. thinking about Vietnam for the next decade.
In 2003, after watching a brutal dictator kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, the American public overwhelmingly supported an invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. That was accomplished in a relatively short time period of a few weeks. President Bush then reasoned that America would be more secure if the majority of the people in countries like Iraq, where able to freely choose their leaders on a regular basis. He further reasoned that if Democracy and a market economy could be established in Iraq, the success and prosperity of the people would lead other surrounding nations to follow, similar to a domino theory.
The result would be a more stable, less violent Middle East where people concentrated on the rewards and responsibilities of freedom rather than the hostile counter-productive activities of terrorists. The idea seemed to be working well until Barack Obama became president. In 2009, Obama said that he did not believe in the Iraq war and a war weary American public listened. Obama decided to pull troops out of Iraq in August 2010, probably about a year or so before the Iraqi government was in a position to defend itself. Obama also failed to negotiate an agreement to leave about 50,000 support troops to help with the transition.
Three and a half years after the Obama pull-out, the Iraqi government is in trouble. Members of the opposing religious group as well as members of terrorist groups see an opportunity to create havoc in Iraq that could possibly lead to another civil war, although the US is now sending advisors to help the Iraqi government. If Obama hadn’t pulled out so quickly, what might be the result today?
In 2010 Iraq was starting to blossom. Democracy was taking hold and their economy was improving. The freedom that Iraqis felt after decades of a brutal dictator began to improve their quality of life significantly. The revolts from citizens in neighboring countries, which eventually became known as the Arab Spring, was at least partially the result of the success in Iraq. The citizens of those countries also wanted freedom and wanted to topple dictators in many countries like Egypt and Libya. Even the citizens in Iran began to protest against authoritative governments. It appeared that the domino effect was proving to be valid.
But then things changed.
Obama turned his back on Iraq which lead the government to look toward Iran for assistance. Obama ignored the people protesting in Iran. He initially assisted in Libya, but then seemed to turn his back there too. He declined to help the people of Syria, although after the Syrian government used chemicals weapons he did step in to negotiate. And finally he greatly strained the relationship with our only true Mideast ally Israel.
His actions mean that the domino effect President Bush envisioned may not happen. What a shame that we have lost an opportunity to spread Democracy to this region of the world. This would have significantly reduced the terrorist threat. I suspect that many of the people that join terrorist groups do so because they have few alternatives. Democracy, along with a growing market economy, would have provided real opportunities for people to lead a more satisfying life and would have reduced the anger and frustration that they feel.
Having travelled to the Middle East numerous times and having dozens of close Arab colleagues that I have come to call friends, I know of their frustration and their yearning for freedom. Although many are skeptical that things will ever change, they seem to have a glimmer of hope as Iraq began to prosper. They now tell me, they are losing hope.
The real long term solution to ending the war on terrorism lies with showing terrorists that they have better opportunities for a fulfilling life. These opportunities come from a society that is free, where the majority of the people freely elect their leaders on a regular basis and one where there is economic opportunity, even considering cultural differences. Had Iraq flourished, the domino effect may have lead to these opportunities. We missed a real chance when we left Iraq too early.