The Big Picture: Who Won and Lost in Iraq


Open Source
, an always insight­ful pub­lic radio pro­gram, aired last week a show that took a broad look at the win­ners and losers of the Iraq war. Tak­ing up a theme that was also recent­ly explored in an edi­tion of For­eign Pol­i­cy mag­a­zine, the host, Christo­pher Lydon, spoke with a pan­el of experts from respect­ed think tanks, uni­ver­si­ties, and news­pa­pers, and, togeth­er, they drew con­clu­sions about win­ners and losers, some of which aren’t so obvi­ous. Here’s a quick recap, but we rec­om­mend giv­ing the show a lis­ten (iTunesFeedMp3) and tak­ing a look at its well-done blog.


  • Iran & Shi­ism: With Iraq, its tra­di­tion­al rival, in chaos, Iran is now free to project its pow­er across the Mid­dle East and tilt the bal­ance of region­al pow­er in favor of Shi­ite Islam. It’s part­ly because Iran is mak­ing such a strong show­ing that the hawks in Wash­ing­ton may feel the strate­gic need to even­tu­al­ly use mil­i­tary force against Iran. In this sense, the US is play­ing out a more extreme ver­sion of the strat­e­gy it used dur­ing the Iran-Iraq War that dragged on through the 1980s. Weak­en one pow­er, then the oth­er.
  • Chi­na:  No one is notic­ing it now, but down the road, we might be writ­ing a his­to­ry that talks about how the US adven­ture in Iraq gave Chi­na the room to emerge rapid­ly as a new super­pow­er — a super­pow­er that could plau­si­bly present itself to the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty as more diplo­mat­ic and peace­ful than the US alter­na­tive.
  • al-Qae­da: The Iraq war has helped al-Qaeda’s recruit­ment efforts, pre­cise­ly as many warned, and, if the US even­tu­al­ly aban­dons Iraq, they’ll feel embold­ened no doubt.
  • Arab Dic­ta­tors: The heat had been ratch­eted up against many Mid­dle East dic­ta­tors, but with every­one dis­tract­ed by Iraq, they are able to per­pet­u­ate their cor­rupt rule for yet a while longer.
  • Mul­ti-Lat­er­al­ism, Old Europe & the UN: They were all dis­missed by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion in the run up to the war, but they’re all look­ing bet­ter and more worth­while with each pass­ing day.


  • Iraq & The Unit­ed States: Two obvi­ous picks.
  • Uni­lat­er­al­ism & The Neo-Cons: The neo-con approach has splen­did­ly dis­cred­it­ed itself, but the rub is that neo-cons still sit in pow­er and they may uni­lat­er­al­ly force their way into Iran before the peo­ple get to the bal­lot box again.
  • Tony Blair & the Spe­cial Rela­tion­ship between the US and Eng­land: Tony Blair is say­ing his long good­bye. He’ll be gone before too long, and, with him, may go the only oth­er sub­stan­tial mem­ber of the “Coali­tion of the Will­ing.”
  • The Price of Oil: It’s a los­er if you’re a con­sumer … but not if you’re an exec­u­tive at Exxon.

See Open Cul­ture’s pod­cast col­lec­tions:

Arts & Cul­tureAudio BooksFor­eign Lan­guage LessonsNews & Infor­ma­tionSci­enceTech­nol­o­gyUni­ver­si­ty (Gen­er­al)Uni­ver­si­ty (B‑School)

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.