Saturday :: Jun 18, 2005

Another Former Insider Confirms the Iraq Story

by eriposte

In late 2003, in an attempt to highlight what was going wrong in Iraq and provide some suggestions on how things could possibly be turned around, I said:

Regardless of whether or not we are about to hurriedly (and shakily) transfer power/authority to Iraqis, policy in Iraq cannot be American policy. It needs to be Iraqi policy, with the U.S. playing an advisory rule (not the other way around). Whether we like it or not, security in Iraq cannot simply be Iraqi security today or in the near future. It needs to be American/U.N. security until the Iraqis have an excellently trained and outfitted army/police force rebuilt. My fear is that the administration is moving in a direction where the opposite is true.
What that meant in context was the following:

1. The U.S. cannot/should not be running the Government of Iraq and that should be done entirely by Iraqis, with the U.S. at best playing an advisory role

2. You need to make sure there is a large enough military presence in Iraq to provide basic security and not expect Iraqis to quickly step up the plate to provide security across the country

The reason for the second point is obvious. The reason for the first point should be equally obvious - planting a Viceroy may result in corruption and the perception that the Americans in Iraq are there to exploit Iraq. (I also recently wrote a piece here where I urged Democrats in Congress to make sure that any proposals from them on Iraq should be based on listening to Iraqis who are not puppets of the Bush administration, because that is how you build credibility with them and are more likely to bring about changes that make sense.)

Of course, I was foolish to expect that Bush and his war cabinet actually cared more about Iraq and American security than in remaining corrupt, egotistic, ideologues. Now another former Bush administration/Iraq insider (Larry Diamond) has told the story of Iraq revealing what "we already knew".

Buzzflash has a link to Michiko Kakutani's article in the New York Times about this book ("Squandered Victory"). (You can purchase the book through a link on the left side of this site) Now Kakutani would normally be one the last persons on earth I would trust on a book review that has some relationship to politics (for obvious reasons). However, as I read her article, I noticed that it is not really a book review - it is more of an extended book precis, where a few important statements from the book are noted. And the portions she has covered are highly pertinent to my points above. So, let me reproduce a couple of extracts here and direct those who are interested to go read the article and the book.

This first extract from Kakutani's article deals with my first point (1), with bold text being my emphasis:

...It is a subject explicated in chilling - and often scathing - detail by "Squandered Victory," a new book by Larry Diamond, a former senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and a leading American scholar on democracy and democratic movements. In this book, Mr. Diamond contends that the postwar troubles in Iraq - a bloody and unrelenting insurgency, the creation of a new breeding ground for terrorists and metastasizing ethnic and religious tensions - are the result of "gross negligence" on the part of a Bush administration that rushed to war. He asserts that "mistakes were made at virtually every turn" of the occupation, and that "every mistake the United States made in Iraq narrowed the scope and lengthened the odds for progress."
Mr. Diamond had not been a supporter of the war, but in the fall of 2003, he says, he received a call from his longtime friend and former Stanford University colleague Condoleezza Rice asking him to spend several months in Iraq as an adviser to American occupation authorities. Because he believed that if the United States failed there "Iraq would become what it had not been before the war: a haven for international terrorism and possibly a direct threat to America's national security", he agreed to go. He was also excited, he says, by the challenge of helping "to build a decent, lawful, and democratic political order" in Iraq.

As he began his work, however, Mr. Diamond became convinced that America's "plan for political transition in Iraq was critically flawed," that there was a fundamental contradiction between "our aspiration for democracy" and "our impulse for unilateral control." He writes that the Americans "never listened carefully to the Iraqi people, or to the figures in the country that they respected" - like the Shiite leader the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - and that "we never won their trust and confidence."

As Kikutani notes towards the end of the article:

This decision to turn the American presence into a formal occupation, Mr. Diamond suggests, fueled Iraqi suspicions that the United States did not want a truly sovereign Iraq but wanted to dictate terms that would serve America's own economic (i.e. oil) and military interests.

The second extract from Kikutani's article relates to my second point (2):

As Mr. Diamond sees it, "blame for the early blunders" in Iraq "lies with the high officials of the Bush administration - including the president himself - who decided to go to war when we did, in the way we did, with the lack of preparation that has become brutally apparent." He reminds us that "the startling mismanagement of planning for the postwar did not result from a sudden emergency and a lack of time to plan"...


Like many other analysts, Mr. Diamond believes that one of the "most ill-fated decisions of the postwar engagement" was President Bush's acceptance of the plan designed by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld - "to go into Iraq with a relatively light force of about 150,000 coalition troops, despite the warnings of the United States Army and outside experts on post-conflict reconstruction that - whatever the needs of the war itself - securing the peace would require a force two to three times that size." Committing more troops than the United States initially did, Mr. Diamond argues, "would have necessitated an immediate mobilization of the military reserves and National Guard (which would come later, in creeping fashion), and might have alarmed the public into questioning the costs and feasibility of the entire operation" - a development that might have slowed the gallop to war.

The lack of sufficient troops, Mr. Diamond goes on, would create a further set of problems: an inability to prevent looting and restore law and order, which would further undermine Iraqis' trust in the United States; and inability to seal the country's borders, which would allow foreign terrorists to enter and help foment further violence. "The first lesson," Mr. Diamond writes, "is that we cannot get to Jefferson and Madison without going through Thomas Hobbes. You can't build a democratic state unless you first have a state, and the essential condition for a state is that it must have an effective monopoly over the means of violence."

There's another way to understand the last sentence. The most stable democracies owe their stability to their inherently anti-Democratic emphasis on personal liberties (including the sanctitiy of people's lives) and the existence of separation of powers to guarantee personal liberties (especially to preserve minority rights). Fareed Zakaria, for example, explored this topic at length in his interesting book, "The Future of Freedom". It is common sense. But the other aspect, on why (in part) the troop strength was kept low clearly reveals yet again the depths to which the Bushies place political success above policy success or American interests.

Kikutani notes how Diamond wrote a confidential entreaty to Rice explaining what needs to be done to correct the mess and he never heard back. No surprises there. After all Diamond was only a "friend" of Rice's, not an uncritical admirer.

eriposte :: 10:44 PM :: Comments (6) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!