The Iraq Effect is a thought-provoking but flawed study commissioned by the U.S. Air Force on the regional implications of the 2003 Iraq war. Trends discussed may be real, but their presence before Operation Iraqi Freedom suggests that they should not be attributed only to the war.
For example, while the authors are certainly correct that the Iranian regime exploited Iraq's postwar leadership vacuum, attributing Iran's "growing aggressiveness" to the war alone ignores more than two decades of Iranian nuclear threats, its support for Hezbollah, or its efforts to undermine stability in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. That Tehran's boldness might be less due to Iraq's fall and more to do with a long history of Western concessions and voided red-lines indicates a skewed and uncritical perspective.
While the authors correctly mark Turkey's rise as an important regional development, their attribution of the Turks' antagonism toward Washington to the Iraq war is less certain. While Ankara certainly had its reasons for opposing Saddam's ouster, the authors fail to ask whether Turkey's Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) encouraged anti-Americanism on ideological grounds which, at their core, had nothing to do with Iraq.
While The Iraq Effect does not break new ground, its discussion of al-Qaeda terrorism after Iraq is valuable. The authors note that terrorists have used Iraq as a laboratory to develop new tactics, which they seek to apply in Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere. But, at the same time, al-Qaeda has struggled to unite nationalist and trans-nationalist agendas and win sympathy among the broader Muslim publics, attempts which have largely failed.
The book also performs a valuable service by calling attention to the problem of Iraqi refugees and their potential destabilizing impact on neighboring countries. While this challenge may not have earned headlines, it should be of concern to policymakers.
Alas, most policy recommendations are both tired and predictable. If Iran is resurgent, should it follow that Washington ought to strengthen confidence building measures between Iran and its neighbors, rather than build a broader anti-Iran coalition among the Islamic Republic's neighbors? Likewise, just because the Turkish government seeks a new leadership role, why should U.S. policymakers encourage Ankara if its policy choices promote anti-Western sentiments and encourage Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism?