In 2003, then US President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on bogus accusations of possession of weapons of mass destruction. Yes, the US did topple Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi President, pull him out of his hidey-hole and hang him following a sham of a trial. The WMDs were nowhere to be found.
But Iraq was pushed back by half a century and more: its entire infrastructure, including roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and colleges reduced to rubble, along with its priceless heritage! Instead of democracy, the US ushered in total chaos, making millions refugees overnight and, arguably, paving the way for the birth of the Islamic State (ISIS). In Three Trillion Dollar War, Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize, and Linda Bilmes maintain that the Second Gulf War cost the US economy $3 trillion.
Ironically, Iran commands considerable influence in Iraq today. It did not earlier - the two countries had engaged in a nearly-nine-year-long crippling war in the 1980s.
The US invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, in its much-vaunted Operation Enduring Freedom. Yet now, the US is desperately seeking an agreement with the Taliban to ensure a smooth exit from the country. One of the main negotiators from the Taliban side is its commander, once imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.
Neither Hussein nor Muammar Gaddafi of Libya nor Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, are known as paragons of democracy and human rights. But for ordinary citizens, there was law and order, essentials were available in the market, people could go to their workplaces, children could go to schools and robberies were unheard of, while they were in office. For their own reasons, these three heads of state never allowed the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and ISIS to gain a foothold in their territory.
Following the United Nations and US sanctions, Gaddafi sought to have close relations with America. On December 19, 2003, he gave up his nuclear ambitions. He did get a pat on the back from Mr Bush, but disarmed and a decade later, met a brutal end. If he were to be watching now how the young North Korean President Kim Jong-un outsmarted Mr Trump in the nuclear discussions, Gaddafi would be regretting that decision. Today, Libya has virtually no government, its different parts controlled by various militias, and Tripoli is one of most unsafe places on earth!
Syria, too, has become the site of a proxy war between the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Russia, China and Iran. Mr Assad escaped the fate of Gaddafi thanks to the intervention of the latter.
The remnants of ISIS are alive and kicking. The recent church massacres in Sri Lanka are proof of that reality. US President Donald Trump's declaration of total collapse of the ISIS has been as premature as Bush's "Mission Accomplished" in May 2003.
The moving of USS Abraham Lincoln, the aircraft-carrier strike group, to the Gulf, the rhetoric of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, orchestrated reports of Iran cheating on its nuclear programme, sabotage of a Saudi oil tanker, the alleged drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline by the pro-Iranian Houthi tribe in Yemen and withdrawal of non-essential staff from Iraq by foreign oil companies have built up tensions in the region.
When a rocket landed near the US embassy in Baghdad, reversing his earlier soft tone, Mr Trump raised the ante warning Iran that another such attack will be its “official end”. But Iranian foreign minister Zavad Zarif paid him back in kind, tweeting: “Trump hopes to achieve what Alexander, Genghis and others aggressors failed to do”. Is Mr Trump getting ready to sit down with Iranians for face-to-face negotiations as he did with Mr Kim in Singapore after threatening at a UN meet to destroy his country? In any case, the American commitment to South Korea and Japan rules out any punitive action against North Korea.
Some observers including The New York Times feel Mr Trump is indulging in characteristic brinkmanship. It's a dangerous game. He is presumably being egged on by national security adviser John Bolton, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and vice-president Mike Pence just as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz influenced Mr Bush in 2003. But Mr Trump is the most openly pro-Israel US President so far. One should not be surprised if, instead of mounting a direct attack, he turns a blind eye to Israel doing the dirty job. With its superior military power, defeating Iran is not difficult. Still, is there a guarantee that the regime that will succeed will be pro-US? It hasn't happened in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya.
The words of Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counter-Terrorism, and Representative Jim Himes, a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, are worth pondering: “Take one look at the chaos in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and it's hard to imagine why any American leader would be itching to put the United States into another foreign war. But that's what could be happening right now, as the hawkish advisers to President Donald Trump walk us towards conflict with Iran. Americans… raise their voices against another disastrous Middle Eastern conflict.”
Both have demanded that President Trump briefs Congress on the situation in an open and transparent manner, pointing out that “the Constitution grants war-making authority solely to Congress, not the Oval Office”. They also highlight “the authorisation for the use of military force that Congress passed in 2001 against Al Qaeda does not authorise hostilities against Iran, no matter how much Pompeo would like to link Iran and Al Qaeda”.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists Mr Trump has no congressional authorisation to wage war against Iran. But does he care?
China and Russia, who coordinated their stand against the US in Syria, along with France, Germany and the United Kingdom, all signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal), should collectively pressure the US not to precipitate a crisis.
As over six million of its citizens live in the Gulf, India, too, should be worried. With good relations with the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, the next Prime Minister can exert a calming influence in the region.
The writer is a former Indian ambassador to Libya...