Boston Globe, July 13, 2006

Lessons unlearned: Why Bush is failing in Iraq

By Steve Weinberg, Globe Correspondent

The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, By Peter W. Galbraith, Simon & Schuster, 260 pp., $26

Books criticizing the three-year-old presence in Iraq of US military personnel and civilian contractors abound. Each of those books, naturally, offers a somewhat unique perspective. Of all the books I have read, Peter W. Galbraith's ``The End of Iraq" contains the most useful information for readers across the bitterly divided spectrum: readers who support George W. Bush's war policy and readers who oppose it, readers who already know a lot about the history of Iraq and readers who are mostly unschooled, readers who believe the United States should serve as the world's police force and readers who believe socioeconomic problems within American boundaries ought to receive priority.

Before learning about the unalloyed virtues of Galbraith's book, know this: It is a bitter book, an indictment of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and many others who serve the administration. Although Galbraith is a Democrat , the indictment is based not so much on partisan politics as on Galbraith's outrage at the administration's failure to make decisions based on historical and contemporary fact .

Unlike many critics and supporters of the American presence in Iraq, Galbraith has considerable firsthand experience in that part of the world. As a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member during the 1980s and 1990s, he traveled there multiple times and also saw reams of non-public information provided to Congress. Since leaving government service, Galbraith has been to Iraq more than a dozen times, as a freelance writer and as a consultant to ABC News. Furthermore, Galbraith has watched another nation, Yugoslavia, atomize along ethnic and religious lines much as Iraq has done. During the Clinton White House years , Galbraith served as an ambassador to Croatia while helping to mediate a ceasefire of sorts in the former Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia is especially relevant to a discussion of the book's overarching messages: Neither Yugoslavia nor Iraq ever should be considered a legitimate ``country" in semantic terms, with an easily identifiable national interest. Instead, those locales served as constructs convenient to outside powers like the United States, places where traditionally warring populations became unwilling neighbors in the interests of postwar geopolitical compromises.

In modern-day Iraq, the mix involves three primary group s: the Shiite Persian branch of Islam, the numerical majority; the Sunni Arab branch of Islam, a sometimes violent minority as exemplified by dictator Saddam Hussein; and the Kurdish population, who considered themselves worthy of a separate nation.

So, Galbraith wonders, given peoples who despise one another, why would Bush or anybody else who understands the lessons of history invade their territory under the guise of establishing a unified democratic government?

In one of his more charitably worded criticisms, Galbraith writes, ``With regard to Iraq, President Bush and his top advisors have consistently substituted wishful thinking for analysis and hope for strategy."

The imperfect course of action, circa 2006 : Withdraw American troops and advisers, Galbraith says . ``The conventional response to discussions of Iraq's breakup is to say it would be destabilizing. This is a misreading of Iraq's modern history. It is the holding of Iraq together by force that has been destabilizing. This has led to big armies, repressive governments, squandered oil revenues, genocide at home, and aggression abroad. Today, America's failed effort to build a unified and democratic Iraq has spawned a ferocious insurgency and a Shiite theocracy."

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