Was the Iraq adventure doomed to fail or did the US administration mess it up? A new crop of books suggests that the nation-builders of Iraq were fighting the right war in theory but not in practiceby Mark Leonard / February 26, 2006 / Leave a comment
The Iraq war started as a war of ideas. It erupted from the most divisive clash of ideology since the end of the cold war. Every facet of the case for war became a site of conflict. And now that the war is over, the battle to interpret its legacy is every bit as fraught. After the polemics arguing for or against invasion, and the “fly on the wall” accounts of the run-up to war, a third generation of books asks a simple question: was Iraq doomed to fail or did George Bush mess it up?
As the casualties mount and the political parties in Baghdad squabble over forming a government after the December elections, the nay-sayers are becoming more vocal. Arabists maintain that an Iraq without a strong-man is not viable; foreign policy realists that spreading democracy cannot work; and isolationists that America should focus on the home front. The latest crop of books presents the counter-argument. By pinning the blame firmly on US incompetence and hubris, it suggests that the quest to rebuild Iraq failed not because of history but because it continued mainly in the realm of ideas, untarnished by reality.
Inside Baghdad’s green zone there is a term for the collective process of self-delusion and groupthink that has led otherwise effective people to lurch from blunder to blunder, bringing Iraq from liberation to the brink of civil war. They call it “drinking the Kool-Aid.” It is a reference to the 1978 mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, where the psychotic cult figure Jim Jones and 913 of his People’s Temple followers drank a Kool-Aid fruit punch laced with cyanide.These books show just how much ideological “Kool-Aid” was consumed by those who sought to bring democracy to Iraq. And they show how over the last two and a half years, the nation-builders of Iraq have been quadruply isolated from reality.
George Packer (The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq) portrays the strategists who hoped to make Iraq a template for a future middle east—but hadn’t stepped foot in the country for many years. David Phillips (Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco) describes how the Pentagon and office of the vice-president deliberately cut themselves off from the expertise of other US agencies and the UN. Larry Diamond (Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq) shows how life inside the green zone…