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The Mess in Mesopotamia | The Nation

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The Mess in Mesopotamia

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Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton, even in his dotage a malign inspiration for the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, gets a kiss on the hand for helping the author "formulate new hopes for the future of the Middle East through the prism of its rich history, literature and cultures."

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About the Author

Andrew Cockburn
Andrew Cockburn is the author, with Patrick Cockburn, of Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein. His most...

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In 1988 US officials helped disguise Saddam's chemical attack on Halabja. But when it came time to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they acted outraged.

Recent events in Baghdad have of course insured that the prism of Iraqi history, literature and culture has suddenly become a lot less rich, thanks to the destruction of the national museum, library and archives under the invaders' indifferent gaze. So much of the Iraq described in this book has been swept away in recent months that it seemingly belongs to another age, not least because of the author's breezy prescriptions for the country's reconstruction. The army? Let it be the "university of the nation," promoting "normative frameworks...needed in the new Iraq, including the values of pluralism and entrepreneurship." The economy? Let Iraq have a free-trade agreement with the United States in the same manner as Jordan; foster a class of technocrats by training young people to prosecute software counterfeiters. Privatize everything.

This is all reminiscent of an editorial in The Economist (former owner of Braude's employer, Pyramid Research)--confident, flippant and mostly irrelevant. Doubtless the reason Braude is popular with the likes of Lewis and Peretz is that they, even more than he, had little idea of what an invasion of Iraq would actually mean both for its inhabitants and the invaders. So far as one can tell, the neocon faction that fomented this war actually believed their own propaganda. At the end of last year Professor Lewis's eager pupil Paul Wolfowitz, for example, actually stated that Iraqis would welcome Americans to Baghdad as the French had welcomed liberators in Paris in 1944. He also apparently believed that Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress and deeply unpopular inside Iraq, would be the Iraqi de Gaulle. Given the many Chalabi-associated names littering Braude's long list of acknowledgments, the author spent time in the same fantasy land--"There is every expectation that...waves of surrender will greet American troops and their allies in a 2003 confrontation."

Today, the ugly reality is plain for all to see. Cholera is spreading in the cities, and what may have escaped in the looting of the Iraqi equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control does not bear thinking about. Electricity has still not been properly restored; the last rations distributed by Saddam's government are running out. The occupiers' casualty lists are lengthening. Apart from the eviction of Chalabi from the sumptuous quarters he had appropriated in Baghdad, there is no good news.

A distraught Iraqi friend wrote to me recently, reflecting that "there is a saying in Iraq equivalent to the saying 'What's the use of closing the barn door after the horse has gone,' which says 'What is the use, now that Basra is in ruins?' But Basra is in ruins." It sounds as if Basrans, like other Iraqis, will be rejecting advice from anyone who took part in the ruining.

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