Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Kanan Makiya's Mea Culpa?

Saddam Toppled
April 9, 2003
Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Kanan Makiya, professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University and the author of Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, which I'm familiar with, and Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising, and the Arab World, which I don't know, has written an article, "The Arab Spring Started in Iraq" (The New York Times, April 6, 2013), expressing a degree of regret for his role in getting the US involved in the Iraq War:
Both the George W. Bush administration and the Iraqi expatriate opposition to Mr. Hussein -- myself included -- grossly underestimated those costs [of the war's aftermath] in the run-up to the 2003 war. The Iraqi state, we failed to realize, had become a house of cards.

None of these errors of judgment were necessarily an argument against going to war if you believed, as I do, that overthrowing Mr. Hussein was in the best interests of the Iraqi people. The calculus looks different today if one's starting point is American national interest. I could not in good conscience tell an American family grieving for a son killed in Iraq that the war "was worth it."

We didn't know then what we know today. Some, including many of my friends, warned of the dangers of American hubris. I did not heed them in 2003.

But the greater hubris is to think that what America does or doesn't do is all that matters. The blame for the catastrophe of post-2003 Iraq must be placed on the new Iraqi political elite. The Shiite political class, put in power by the United States, preached a politics of victimhood and leveraged the state to enrich itself. These leaders falsely identified all Sunni Iraqis with Baathists, forgetting how heavily all Iraqis, including some Shiites, were implicated in the criminality of Mr. Hussein's regime.

Although I always feared, and warned in 1993, that the emergence of sectarian strife was a risk after Mr. Hussein's fall, my greatest misjudgment was in hoping that Iraq's new leaders would act for the collective Iraqi good.
I think we've all emerged from the Iraq experience wiser, if sadder. I remember that Kanan Makiya analyzed the 9/11 hijackers' so-called 'suicide note' and demonstrated its meaning as a religious document, but I also recall him from my Berkeley days in the 1980s, when my friend and flatmate Scott Corey, writing a doctoral thesis on political violence, read his book Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq and talked to me about it. That was a different world, a time of great hope in the future, when a man named Fukuyama could promise the end of history as the passing of political violence and the onset of a capitalist, democratic peace, and one could imagine that even Saddam Hussein would be peaceably gone with the winds of changes. But then came the Gulf War , then Bosnia, then 9/11, then Afghanistan and Iraq, and the future now looks like a quagmire in which we'll be stuck fighting Islamists for God knows how long.

It's enough to make one wish to stand "athwart history, yelling Stop," except that there's no place to stand, and history won't stop, for "a storm is blowing from Paradise," blowing so forcefully that we're all of us -- Buckleys and Benjamins -- being swept helplessly along . . .

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