Diamond -- Our Squandered Victory in Iraq
By Bill Steigerwald
August 23, 2005
Larry Diamond is an expert on democracy, a Stanford University
professor and a senior fellow at the mostly conservative Hoover
Institution. Though he says he is a "moderate centrist Democrat"
and was against our going to war in Iraq, in the fall of 2003
Diamond accepted Condoleezza Rice's request that he go to Baghdad
and serve as an adviser to the interim American government.
What Diamond says he saw during
his three month stint -- a series of blunders, miscalculations
and ideological blindness by American authorities -- is contained
in his new book, "Squandered Victory: The American Occupation
and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq."
I talked to Diamond, who has
not heard from Secretary of State Rice since his book came out,
on Tuesday by telephone from his home on the Stanford campus.
Q: Is Iraq's constitution meaningful
and will it work?
A: Well, it's meaningful because if the Iraqis do agree on a
permanent constitution and if it's adopted by the country in
a national referendum, it'll probably be the most democratic
constitution the Iraqis have ever crafted for themselves. It
will certainly be the constitution that has been reached by the
most democratically representative process. That doesn't make
a democracy in itself, but it's an important step forward along
Q: Why did you agree to go
A: Because whatever you felt about the war, and whether we should
have gone to war or not, the situation after Baghdad fell was
very different than it was before we went to war. Indeed, the
situation when Condoleezza Rice called me in November of 2003
remained what it was throughout the postwar period -- one where
I felt the American national interest was now very much at stake.
If we did not succeed in stabilizing Iraq, I felt it would become
what it was not before the war -- that is, a haven for international
terrorists, a really imminent problem for regional security and
stability and a threat to the security of the United States.
In addition to which, it was clear that many Iraqis, in the wake
of the toppling of Saddam, were coming forward and struggling
to build a democratic system of government and I thought those
people deserved our help.
Q: What were our biggest mistakes,
once we toppled Saddam?
A: Our single biggest mistake, which I talk about at length in
the book, was the decision to establish an occupation (government)
in the first place ... rather than moving fairly rapidly to an
Iraqi interim government that would have been broad-based and
selected through some process of consultation and dialogue, like
the Afghan Loya Jirga (the tribal council that established a
new post-Taliban government in Afghanistan).
Q: We are stuck with Iraq and
now we have to fix it. What do we have to do?
A: I think the key is to see if we can find through some political
means a way to narrow the base of involvement and support for
the insurgency, because the overwhelming problem in Iraq today
is that you just can't do anything. You can't travel the roads
safely. You can't repair the electricity grid. You can't get
the oil flowing too much beyond its prewar level because of the
widespread dispersed and vicious violence. Now much of the insurgency
is classic, die-hard, dead-end ideologues, either al-Qaida, the
former Baathist leadership or other zealots who are never going
to be drawn in. But there are elements of the insurgency who
are fighting for more tactical goals, to ensure that the Sunnis
are going to have a full place in the political process and to
get a firm commitment that the United States is going to leave
militarily at some point. Some of these more tactically motivated
elements of the insurgency have been sending signals through
international intermediaries for two years now that they want
to talk directly to the United States. I think we should negotiate
with them. I think we've made a mistake not to have done so far.
Q: What else should we do?
A: One is to declare, very unequivocally, that we would not seek
permanent military bases in Iraq. One thing that has united all
the disparate elements of the insurgency -- religious and nonreligious,
Baathist and non-Baathist, foreign and domestic -- is the belief
that the United States is seeking a permanent military foothold
in Iraq and this needs to be resisted for Iraqi-nationalist or
Then secondly, through a process
of dialogue, we should seek to establish not a rigid deadline
or fixed timetable but some sort of envisioned time frame for
an American drawdown and withdrawal that would, of course, be
dependent on events on the ground.
Q: You've said the war in Iraq
is "one of the greatest overseas blunders in U.S. history."
A: Well, because, first of all, I think we shouldn't have invaded
the country. But in particular, if you look at the postwar situation:
Here we had this great military victory ... and then we squandered
it by our arrogance, ignorance and lack of preparation for the
postwar. Even if you think the war was not a blunder, the postwar
certainly has been, in terms of the way we managed it and failed
to resource it. We just have never had nearly enough troops in
Iraq. I think it's too late now to build them up.
In fact, another respect in
which the war has been becoming a really historic overseas blunder
for the United States is that it has significantly, and in deeply
worrisome terms, decreased our overall military readiness. And
it's going to take us years to build it back up because of the
obsession and neglect that has resulted from our fixation on
Q: Is there any great lesson
to be learned from our experience in Iraq about the dangers and
unanticipated complications and even the folly of foreign intervention
A: Well, yes. I think we need to proceed with a good deal more
humility and reflection when we act internationally. We don't
have all the answers. We don't have absolute power to remake
the world as we would wish it to be. ... Generally, if democratic
change is going to happen -- and I do believe we should be promoting
it and fostering it -- it's going to be a result of more incremental
social and historical forces, which we may assist but we can't
create out of whole cloth.
Bill Steigerwald is
a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune- Review.
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E-mail Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org
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