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Iraq: Introspection and Hindsight

Hamid Ansari

Edited by Ellen Laipson and Maureen S. Steinbruner
The Henry S. Stimson Center, Washington, 2006, pp. x187, price not stated.

By Riverbend
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2007, pp. xxiii 286, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

The extant literature on the monumental folly called Iraq would some day carry a generic name. Despite Fuad Ajami’s vain effort at eulogizing the imperial mission, public concern for the moment remains riveted on how a great nation with unmatched resources of power and information could lurch from error to error. The Stimson Center has contributed to the debate by highlighting a specific perspective: of some who played a role in the implementation of decisions at different stages in the 2003-2005 period. The purpose of the exercise, undertaken in the spring and summer of 2006, was to examine the consequences of the US engagement in Iraq and ‘to reflect on ways how to achieve more favourable outcome’. The participants approached the task ‘with humility’, in the knowledge that US leverage and ability to shape events in Iraq are sorely constrained’; they focused ‘on what may be achievable in practice, rather than what may be ideal in principle’.   It needs to be said at the outset that much water has flown down the Tigris and the Potomac since these essays were penned. The anarchy in Baghdad, and the despondency in Washington, are visible to the naked eye and no longer a matter of disputed perceptions. Together, they reinforce some of the prescriptions and jettison some others.   Divergent viewpoints were unavoidable in a group of twenty-seven experts looking at the full spectrum of issues pertaining to Iraq. The participants looked at four sets of issues: trends in insurgency, multilateral dimensions of Iraq, regional issues, and the US policy process relating to Iraq. A consensus on three aspects of the question did tend to emerge; this in itself is remarkable: (a) troop withdrawal to be viewed as a means, not an end (b) need for a better strategy of multilateral engagement, particularly of neighbours and donors, and (c) the right of Iraq’s leaders to engage the international community, even if it meant taking up positions that differ from those of the US Barbara Bodine analyses security in the context of legitimacy. The first deals with the capacity to impose order; the second to engender compliance: ‘To date both the U.S. occupation and the successive post-invasion governments have manifestly failed the legitimacy test as well as the security test’. A change of approach, and a shift in policy and priorities, is therefore essential in her view: The focus should be on transition, ...

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