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October 05, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Losing the peace Losing the peace (October 05, 2005)

Stanford author chronicles the U.S. failures in Iraq
"Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq" by Larry Diamond; Times Books; 369 pp.; $25

by Don Kazak

Larry Diamond was traveling in November 2003 when he picked up a series of increasingly urgent messages from Condoleezza Rice, then national security advisor.

Please let it not be about Iraq, Diamond said to himself.

The Hoover Institution senior fellow and Stanford University professor suspected his former colleague Rice -- a longtime Stanford professor and provost - wanted to use his academic expertise about building democracies.

She did.

Diamond spent the first four months of 2004 working as an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the transitional government in Iraq charged with a host of nation-building duties before it would "hand off" its authority to the Iraqis later in 2004.

Diamond, although a Hoover scholar, is a Democrat.

He had been opposed to the invasion of Iraq, but since Rice and the U.S. government needed his help, he willingly pitched in and went to Baghdad.

His experience, told in "Squandered Victory," is a detailed account of what was happening in the halls of power in Baghdad, including often tense negotiations with Iraqi factions that the U.S. government was trying to get to agree on a structure for the new government and, just as importantly, a new constitution for the country.

The book is also a condemnation of U.S. policies in Iraq, of how the United States won the war but it is in danger of losing the peace. In fact, in his conclusions, Diamond wonders if the legal term "criminal negligence" isn't too strong a description for everything that the U.S. did wrong.

"Squandered Victory" was published in mid-June, and Diamond has yet to hear any reaction from his former colleague, Rice. Not only that, but Diamond sent her a final memo in April 2004 summarizing his conclusions. He has yet to get a reply to that, either.

After the war but before the insurgency began, there was a window of opportunity to do things right, Diamond wrote.

But nearly every decision made by the Bush administration about Iraq was the wrong one, which is a record of remarkable consistency.

In the international world, the two greatest blunders of the of Bush administration are generally regarded as dismantling the 450,000-member Iraq military and then throwing members of the ruling Baathist Party members out of their government jobs.

The first decision removed an element, the military, which could been put to use keeping the peace. Instead, many of the former army troops and commanders likely became part of the insurgency.

And removing Baath party members from government jobs removed the people who could do the governmental tasks to keep the country running, albeit under U.S. or United Nations supervision.

The U.N. wasn't used effectively, either. That's the one international group with real nation-building experience, in Kosovo, and the Bush administration basically said, we got it covered, boys.

Except no one had anything covered.

When a leading U.N. diplomat and more than 20 other U.N. staff were killed by a bomb, the U.N. left Iraq, only to be convinced to come back later.

Diamond agrees with many military experts, including the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the U.S. needed a much larger force in postwar Iraq to seal the borders to keep foreign terrorists out and to have enough troops to keep the insurgency from getting off the ground.

The war was a military success but the peace has been a military failure.

One of the political blunders the U.S. made was not trying to court the most powerful Shiite cleric in the country, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, spiritual leader to 60 percent of Iraqis.

"Gradually, I realized (Paul) Bremer and his most trusted CPA advisors simply did not grasp the depth of Iraqi dissatisfaction, suspicion and frustration, even among our partners and philosophical allies among the Iraqi political class," Diamond wrote.

The CPA, under Bremer, continued to ignore Sistani, creating widespread distrust of the U.S.-led effort.

Eventually, there were elections, held in January, and a new government was elected. But it was tough getting there with what Diamond describes as errors being made all along the way.

Trying to hold together a country of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds is proving to be a delicate matter, and it's not over yet.

Iraqis will vote Oct. 15 to ratify the draft constitution, since democracy is based on the rule of law. But the Kurds, because the way the vote is structured, have the power to reject it in three provinces.

The political tugging among the three groups continue. Both the Shiites and Kurds have won elements of autonomy in their provinces in the south and north, respectively. Those are also the two oil-rich areas of Iraq.

The Sunnis, who held power under the brutal hand of Saddam Hussein for decades, are the largest part of the insurgency. The possibility of civil war remains.

At one point during his four-month stint in Baghdad, Diamond went to Bremer to ask for as few as 20 U.S. troops to protect a CPA provincial office that had been attacked by insurgents. Diamond wrote:

"We don't have any more troops," he said testily. "Eighty percent of all the available MPs are already here in Iraq. If Roger (a CPA staff member) feels unsafe, tell him to go home."

Diamond, who was a student journalist at Stanford (class of '74), also has a journalist's eye for good descriptive writing in "Squandered Victory," writing vivid word sketches of Baghdad and other Iraq scenes.

But the book's main focus is on the policy work.

"I have chronicled here what I believe was an American failure in postwar Iraq, a squandering of a decisive, potentially historic military victory," Diamond writes. "Mistakes were made at virtually every turn, and as the principal nation promoting the conflict and managing its aftermath, the United States bears the chief blame . . .

"But from the moment the war ended, Iraq fell into deepening quagmire of chaos, criminality, insurgency, and terrorism, which even in the months following the January 2005 elections, showed no prospect of ending soon."

Defenders of U.S. policy in Iraq often criticize the media for not reporting the successes happening in Iraq.

Time magazine correspondent Michael Ware, interviewed by CBS News last week, said this about media coverage: "It would be dishonest and disingenuous to put a positive spin on Iraq. People have to queue for three hours just to fill their gas tanks. They have only a few hours of electricity a day. They're too scared to send their children to the schools that have been painted by U.S. troops because they're afraid they'll be killed. The successes are swamped by the gruesome reality of life in Iraq."

When Diamond was leaving Baghdad in April 2004, one of his Iraqi friends said farewell. "As we climbed into our vehicles to head back, Qizwini gripped my hand and implored me, 'Remember, you said you would be with us to the end.'"

We probably will be.

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be e-mailed at

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