A Singaporean Perspective
The basic feature of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War was inclusiveness -- a willingness to embrace any country that opposed communism, whatever its type of government. The United States contested the Soviet system and held the line militarily, and its consistent and comprehensive approach eventually led to the Soviet Union's implosion.
After the Cold War came the "war on terror." Islamist terrorists tried to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993 and bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Then came the attacks of September 11, 2001. In response, the United States attacked Afghanistan and routed the Taliban. Then, in 2003, the United States invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein and establish democracy there.
During the war on terror, however, the United States has not been as inclusive as it was in its war against communism. Aside from those in the "coalition of the willing," even most European countries have distanced themselves from Washington.
The United States did not realize, moreover, the depth of the fault lines in Iraqi society -- between Kurds and Arabs, Sunnis and Shiites, and the members of different tribes and local religious groups. These tensions were contained during four centuries of Ottoman rule, and the British, who took over from the Ottomans in 1920, put Iraq under strong Sunni control, centered on Baghdad. Now, because of the destruction of the old Iraqi society, for the first time in centuries, power is in the hands of the Iraqi Shiites.
With Sunni control of Iraq removed, Shiite Iran is no longer checked from extending its influence westward. And by allowing the emergence of the first Shiite-dominated Arab state, the United States has stirred the political aspirations of the 150 million or so Shiites living in Sunni countries elsewhere in the region.
The United States has long relied on its traditional Sunni Arab allies, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, to keep the Arab-Israeli conflict in check. Now the power of the Sunni bloc
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