Kanan Makiya

Biggest failure was from Iraq, not US

THE US administration that went to war in Iraq was as much at war with itself as it was with Saddam Hussein: The CIA, the Department of Defense, the White House, and the State Department were all at odds with one another over what needed to be done. These mighty institutions had entirely different philosophies, and neither the president nor his national security team was able to bring them into alignment.

This is why nothing was adequately planned for, and why everything after the invasion in 2003 was handled amateurishly. The United States went into the post-war Iraqi environment with no idea what it was going to do before it did it. Nonetheless, the United States learned from its mistakes, and gradually improved.

For all my criticisms of what was done wrong in the post-war period, I believe the removal of the dictator was an unmitigated absolute good that the people of this country should be proud of. It is something Iraqis will forever be grateful for, irrespective of the lack of grace and gratitude of the overwhelmingly corrupt and sectarian political elite in power in Iraq today.


The biggest failure of this war is not an American one; it is an Iraqi one. It is a failure of the few thousand Iraqis - the political elite - that has governed to one degree or another since 2003. I did not think of them as sectarian and corrupt before the war. They became so after being empowered by American military might, whipping up sectarian sentiment for narrow selfish political ends, and as a compensation for their own lack of legitimacy.

In so many ways they are showing themselves to be no better than the former Baathist elite that was overthrown. To be sure, they have less blood on their hands at the moment. They are also more fragmented, so they will never wield the same power as Saddam Hussein once did. But they don’t really differ in their capacities for truly venal political behavior toward other Iraqis.

Kanan Makiya is a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Brandeis University. He is the author of Republic of Fear, which helped shape the Bush administration’s case for war.