Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Iraq II: What Went Wrong?

Peter Galbraith reviews two timely treatises on Iraq in the New York Review of Books -- Paul Bremer's "My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope" and George Packer's "The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq." Both go a long way to explaining what went wrong.

Bremer, the former head of the U.S.'s Coalition Provisional Authority, whose impossible job it was to snatch victory from the hands of a post-war occupation headed for defeat, provides the perspective of an insider's insider. Galbraith notes that Bremer is admirably free of self pity, which is a good thing since he has a lot to be sorry for, most notably mouthing the administration line that all was well with the occupation when he well knew otherwise and could have pressed the White House to get off it's high horse and deal with the unfolding disaster that the occupation has become.

Packer, a New Yorker writer, spent much of the past three years in Iraq. He is even handed to a fault and quotes extensively from everyone he meets, which includes Bremer himself, so it is as if they are speaking to you in their own voices.

I know this because I am about two thirds of the way through "The Assassin's Gate." (Bremer's offering will have to wait for another day.)

As knowledgeable as I am about Iraq, "The Assassin's Gate" is nevertheless a mind-blower and, to date, the most devastating critique of the man who occupies the Oval Office.

Writes Galbraith:
In his State of the Union address, President Bush told his Iraq critics, "Hindsight is not wisdom and second-guessing is not a strategy." His comments are understandable. Much of the Iraq fiasco can be directly attributed to Bush's shortcomings as a leader. Having decided to invade Iraq, he failed to make sure there was adequate planning for the postwar period. He never settled bitter policy disputes among his principal aides over how postwar Iraq would be governed; and he allowed competing elements of his administration to pursue diametrically opposed policies at nearly the same time. He used jobs in the Coalition Provisional Authority to reward political loyalists who lacked professional competence, regional expertise, language skills, and, in some cases, common sense. Most serious of all, he conducted his Iraq policy with an arrogance not matched by political will or military power.
* * * *

Meanwhile, 72 percent of American troops in Iraq think the U.S. should withdraw within the next year and nearly one in four say they should leave immediately, according to a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey.

Notes Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly:
Soldiers are famous for being disgruntled, of course, but I doubt that 72% of military respondents in 1943 would have favored pulling out of World War II within 12 months. . . . it looks like the big difference is that troops in Iraq are pretty confused about why they're there and whether they're doing any good.

Seem a heck of a lot like Vietnam, eh?

* * * *

There is good news from Iraq, or Kurdistan in the northern part of the country, to be exact.

Michael Totten, who is blogging (with lots of photos) from Kurdistan, says it's peaceful, prosperous and construction is booming. The biggest problems are an increase in air pollution and lack of urban planning.

Why are things going so well?

Totten doesn't answer that question, but I will: Kurdistan has been in Kurdish hands since the end of the first Gulf War. The Kurds have been masters of their own destiny, while their countrymen (sic) to the south have had to endure an additional 13 years of Saddam, an invasion and a botched occupation.

(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan at Daily Dish.)

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