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Learning At the Periphery

“Soldiers are the only hope against democrats.”

—Wilhelm von Merckel

The Bush administration’s crusade to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and build Iraq into a democratic model for the Middle East has become a highly controversial and divisive undertaking.  Larry Diamond was not a supporter of the war in Iraq, but when his old friend Condoleezza Rice, then President Bush’s national-security advisor, asked him to go to Iraq as a democracy-development specialist, he agreed.  From January to April 2004, he served as a senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.  It proved to be an enormously frustrating experience, as he encountered a military occupation and a political democratization mission riddled with miscalculations and outright bungling.

As an examination of the blunders made by the U.S. occupation authorities, Squandered Victory is a useful book, for Diamond documents those in impressive detail.  The Bush administration’s assumptions that U.S. forces would be welcomed as liberators by the vast majority of Iraqis and that the military occupation would be of short duration proved to be wildly optimistic.  U.S. officials drastically underestimated the importance and influence of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.  Washington even managed to mismanage...

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