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Winners and losers have lessons to learn from Bush's foreign policy blunders

As the Bush administration scrambles to pick up the pieces of a war gone wrong, analysts around the globe are tabulating the scores of the winners and losers in this brutal game of chance. Here is my assessment as one who has spent many years in ...

As the Bush administration scrambles to pick up the pieces of a war gone wrong, analysts around the globe are tabulating the scores of the winners and losers in this brutal game of chance. Here is my assessment as one who has spent many years in the affected areas during 25 years with the U.S. State Department.

Vice President Dick Cheney's rant against "Old Europe" naysayers, especially France and Germany, who counseled mightily against the invasion of Iraq, has fallen silent. European leaders were right in counseling a go-slow approach centered on diplomacy.

There were no weapons of mass destruction, the Sunnis and Shiites are at each others' throats, the war reverberates throughout the region, Iraq is in shambles and democracy is nowhere on the horizon. The multilateral diplomacy advocated by European leaders, the UN, and the Iraq Study Group at last is catching fire.

The Arab "dictators" who Bush was so anxious to democratize have risen to the top not because they have pursued democracy, rather because they offer the only hope for stability. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, dictatorships to be sure, are again at the center of U.S. diplomatic efforts. Syria and Iran are back at the table as we strive to wrest stability from chaos.

The wave of democracy that Condoleezza Rice assured us was to sweep the Middle East was a mirage. The Arab-Israeli peace process, left unattended for years, has collapsed as Gaza and the West Bank erupt daily in violence and Hamas, democratically elected to run things, drags those two areas away from the peace table. Be careful what you wish for -- democracy is unpredictable in what it delivers.

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Israel can derive comfort from the fact that Libya no longer poses a nuclear threat, but the Israeli thrust into Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah failed miserably, destabilizing the governments of both Lebanon and Israel. Hezbollah found its way to the winner's circle and shook Lebanon's perilous democracy from its moorings. It will take years to retrieve the delicate balance, if it can be done at all. Hezbollah, with Iranian money, has won the hearts of many Lebanese voters because it provided help when their government failed to do so. Hezbollah wins.

We all know what happened to the price of oil. But draw courage from the fact that there is a new focus on alternative fuels and global warming. In the long run, perhaps we'll all be winners.

Now that 70 percent of Americans oppose our involvement in Iraq, the promotion of democracy is fading as a national imperative. Spreading our way of government by the sword was a feckless and costly undertaking. In the meantime, our nation can afford neither health care nor Social Security for the next generation. We lose.

China finds itself unimpeded as it forages for new markets and is consolidating its place on the world stage while America is tied down in Iraq. One-billion winners.

Darfur erupts in fury as we focus on the Middle East. One-million losers.

Al-Qaeda and the Taliban use the distraction of Iraq to regain ground. Afghanistan, is again a battlefield, this time involving NATO. Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, put it succinctly in 2004: "The Americans are between two fires: If they remain (in Iraq), they will bleed to death, and if they withdraw, they will have lost everything."

Iran has regained the upper hand in the Persian Gulf, posing a nuclear threat. The ayatollahs rule with an iron fist, bolstered by a feisty president who taunts Bush and scoffs at America. Though 70 percent of Iranians favor rapprochement with the U.S., we have few options with respect to Iran while we are mired down in Iraq.

Moqtada al-Sadr, the hitherto unknown radical Iraqi Shiite leader, was catapulted to central stage in the politics of Iraq. His militia takes the lives of Americans day after day. He remains the paramount power broker, beholden to no one.

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Our lofty pronouncements that the biggest American embassy in the world would rise in Baghdad and mighty military bases would be spread throughout the country to maintain regional peace ring hollow as we search desperately for an exit strategy.

Take a look at a cover story focusing on Iraq in the March 2007 issue of Foreign Policy magazine. It will leave you uneasy. War is a complex business; building democracy by firepower in inhospitable terrain is eminently more complex. Let us hope we have learned a lesson.

Tom Homan of Duluth, who spent 25 years with the U.S. State Department, is director of International Education at the College of St. Scholastica.

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