No Exit Strategy | The Nation


No Exit Strategy

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But at least Diamond remains troubled by the entire project of America going into Iraq, if not (or at least not sufficiently) by the project of imposing democracy from without. Whatever their other differences, that project is a major point of convergence between the Bush Administration and human rights liberals who are otherwise most critical of it. As William Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International (USA), put it recently, "Had any president other than George Bush promised in his inaugural address to tie U.S. policy to the pursuit of 'freedom's cause' and uttered words like 'America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains or that women welcome humiliation and servitude,' our [i.e., the human rights movement's] hands would ache from applause."

About the Author

David Rieff
David Rieff, a New York–based journalist, is the author of eight books. He is working on a book about the global...

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David L. Phillips has far fewer doubts than Diamond. Losing Iraq is perhaps the best recapitulation we have so far had of the position of those who ardently supported US intervention in Iraq and, for that matter, generally support so-called humanitarian interventions throughout the world (though calling them interventions on human rights grounds would probably be more accurate), as Phillips devoted himself to doing during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. And while his book is largely an indictment of the way the Bush Administration decided to deal with Iraq after it had deposed Saddam, Phillips goes to some lengths to point out the continuities between George W. Bush's foreign policy goals and those of his predecessors--goals that Phillips summarizes by quoting from a speech by President Truman to the effect that "it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation."

When he uses Truman's lines to evoke this American mission, Phillips seems to be thinking of the Kurds, with whom he has developed especially close relations over the past fifteen years, and perhaps of the besieged Sarajevans as well. Unfortunately, it never seems to occur to him that, say, from a Latin American perspective, those words have a very different resonance indeed, and that on that continent, historically, the free peoples resisting subjugation were more often than not resisting the subjugation of the United States. But imperialism does not trouble Phillips. He seems never to have doubted that it was right to overthrow Saddam on human rights grounds. At various points in his book, he speaks of the campaign's "noble intentions" and echoes--without even the minimal skepticism that the powerful surely should always engender in people with any historical memory at all--then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's description of America's mission (and how loaded, not to say self-infatuated, that word alone is, and what habits of thought and feeling it reveals) as one in which America "may be the only great power in history that prefers greatness to power and justice to glory."

Caveat emptor. In Losing Iraq, the problem of imperialism is simply ignored. What Phillips seeks to do, beyond, of course, exposing the mess the Bush Administration made of postwar Iraq, is, as he says, to elucidate the Administration's "mistakes in Iraq so that it does not repeat them elsewhere." It is emblematic of Phillips's view that, whereas former national security official David Rothkopf has criticized the Bush Administration for what he calls its "rationale shopping" in the run-up to the Iraq War, Phillips seems comfortable predicting (and approving of) US interventions to "protect its security interests, remove weapons of mass destruction (WMD), or prevent genocide." Yes, he would like more multilateralism, more inclusion of and respect for the UN--in short, he is closer to the Bill Clinton than the George W. Bush version of American hegemony--but the idea that intervention itself might pose moral problems is not a possibility Phillips seems prepared to consider. Once more, in this, as in other important aspects of its argument, Phillips's book illustrates the continuities between the Bush Administration's approach and that of the human rights movement.

However, the real interest of Phillips's book, and what makes it essential reading for anyone interested in why the postwar went so badly, is his insider's view of how the United States planned and how it failed to plan for the Iraq over which it would hold sway after the fall of Saddam. The Administration's view, publicly at least, is that its postwar planning was effective in some ways and ineffective in others, and that, since this is true of all plans, particularly military plans, it has little to answer for. And it is true that the Pentagon did make plans to cope with the sorts of things US forces had faced after the Gulf War of 1991--above all, an attempt by the Iraqis to set fire to the oilfields and the movement of hundreds of thousands if not millions of refugees. But whatever the planning, or lack of it, no one who saw the disarray of US forces as Baghdad was looted, or later read in the after-action reports by various units that there had been little or no rehearsal for even maintaining order in postwar Iraq, could be in any doubt that American planners had either not anticipated or been unable to come up with answers to the challenges that the American occupiers did confront.

To those of us on the ground at the time, there were only two credible explanations. The first was that the planners had gotten things wrong; the second was that there had been no plan (the Iraqis I knew generally attributed the debacle to a US conspiracy--a view, in my experience at least, from which most could not be moved). The great merit of Losing Iraq is that it documents not just the fascinating debates between Iraqi exiles and US government officials to which Phillips was often the only independent American witness but the fact that, under the aegis of the State Department in the year before the war began, these Iraqi exiles themselves came up with a postwar plan that both anticipated many of the problems the CPA would face--in other words, that panoply of difficulties Diamond exposes so ruefully in his book--and offered solutions for them.

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