Sunday, October 07, 2007

What Went Wrong?

Kanan Makia explains that the Iraqi Shia politicians, some of them his friends, screwed up:

Regrets Only?

4. Cambridge, Mass. At sunrise each morning, Makiya enters the study of his Victorian home and sits down to write the book: the book that will make sense of it all. Of Iraq. Of the bloodbath. Of the unintended consequences of good intentions. For the first time as a writer, Makiya is struggling to find his voice. He has begun toying with fictional devices: One model is "Simplicissimus," the 17th-century German tale of a half-witted boy who, following the ravaging of his home during the Thirty Years' War, retreats into the forest to live as a hermit. Another is The Grand Inquisitor, the famous set-piece from "The Brothers Karamazov" in which Christ returns to earth during the Inquisition only to be imprisoned for interfering with the church's work. The grasping is a measure of Makiya's intellectual distress. "Sometimes fiction is the only way to say what needs to be said," he explained.

Where did it go wrong? Makiya asks himself. Or, more precisely, where did he go wrong? It's the second question that Makiya is finding the most troubling, for it concerns a lifetime of believing, as he puts it, that hope can triumph over experience. "I want to look into myself, look at myself, delve into the assumptions I had before the war," he told me.

Makiya's life is no longer what it was. In 2003, on returning to Iraq, he reunited with his sweetheart from high-school days, married and took her back to Cambridge. He also found out he has chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the same disease that killed Edward Said, the Palestinian-born Columbia University professor and Makiya's intellectual nemesis.

On Iraq, he says, there certainly were clues before the war began — for instance, that meeting in the Oval Office with President Bush and Condoleezza Rice, two months before the war. Sitting across his wide desk from Makiya, President Bush declared that the United States was launching not one campaign but two, the first to topple Hussein and the second to rebuild Iraq. Makiya recalls: "Bush turned to Rice, who was seated on the other side of the room, and he said to her, Our preparations for rebuilding Iraq are well advanced, right? And Rice looked down. She could not look him in the eye. And she said, Yes, Mr. President. She looked at the floor."

That the Americans committed error after error in Iraq, Makiya takes as a given: their biggest mistake, he maintains, was the decision to occupy Iraq and govern the country themselves, rather than allowing the Iraqis to take over. "I did not want to see the United States micromanage Iraqi affairs because, I feared, that is where things might go wrong," he said. Makiya now believes, though he did not at the time, that the Iraqi Army should have been held together, that the bad people could have been culled and the rest of it left intact. "We had this phobia of the army, that it would be used domestically, that it would mount coups, that it would get involved in domestic politics," he told me. "That was a mistake."

But for all of that, Makiya doesn't really hold the Americans responsible for the disaster. For that, he blames the Iraqis themselves, and in particular the Shiite leaders who have taken control of the country since 2003. Most of them had been exiles. Many are Makiya's friends.

Makiya's argument goes like this: Once Hussein fell, the stability of Iraq depended, above all, on the willingness of the newly empowered Shiite majority to assuage the inevitable insecurities of the dispossessed Sunni minority. And on this, Makiya says, Shiite politicians failed utterly. The Shiites should have held their fire in the face of the car bombs and at all costs refrained from anything that hinted at sectarian politics. But the Shiite leaders did precisely the opposite, acting from the start in a blatantly sectarian fashion and then arming the Shiite death squads that turned the one-way insurgency into a two-way civil war. "There was this attitude," Makiya said of the Shiite leaders, " 'This is a war, this is it — the showdown — why don't we just gird ourselves for it, why not recognize it as a war and fight it to win? Because we can win.' "

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