Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Gloomy Bastard take on History

“One of the few senior-level officials who dealt with Saddam Hussein’s government on a regular basis before the U.S.-led invasion relates his experiences as a former weapons inspector and WMD hunter…. Duelfer ably sketches the frustrating and difficult history of U.S.-Iraqi relations and his part in them…. It’s the author’s on-the-ground experiences that make this book so engaging, and at times chilling. Shortly after the invasion, one Iraqi security official told him bluntly, ‘You know, to rule Iraq, you will have to become Saddam.’ That comment, Duelfer writes, would echo in his mind for a very long time. A knowledgeable look at Iraq from a unique perspective."

Its a highly dubious thing to take one comment from one review and generalise, but on reading the comment from the Iraqi security official, I immediately thought 'the whole point of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and occupying Iraq should be to prove to all 27 million Iraqis that that view is self-evidently wrong'. As I pointed out years ago, the experience of the Iraqi people over millenia has been that of imperial subjects. They have virtually never been empowered citizens of a representative democracy with proper political parties and no state coercion. They are proving to be very quick studies- compare the Sunni Arab participation in the very recent elections with their almost complete absence from the first tranche in 2005.

Most of the predictions made by politicians, media people and the wise heads about Iraq have proven to be wrong. 'There is no military solution' - there was. 'Iraq will fall under Iran's influence' - it hasn't. 'Iraq will fall apart into a number of mini-states' - it hasn't. 'Iraqis will always hate America' - they don't, especially the younger ones. There is absolutely no reason to believe an Iraqi security official who claims that Iraq can only be run by murderous coercion. Most reports coming out of Iraq demonstrate better than any argument I could make that he was and is wrong.

One of the things that seems to characterise high-level policy wonks is world-weary pessimism. Its absolutely rampant, to the extent that it seems a necessary condition of getting paid to do that kind of work that you have a Leonard Cohenesque outlook. But how often are those people wrong? Remember the ludicrous shite churned out by the Iraq Study Group? Virtually every word in their report turned out to be dark fantasy. How quiet have they gotten?

I will be buying this book because I find the subject intrinsically interesting- and Charles Duelfer had a grandstand seat on this particular bit of history. But I know I'll have to suffer a certain amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth because it seems to be built right in with these guys. Oh well.

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