Culture > Books

War reads

"War reads" Continued...

Issue: "Left behind," June 28, 2008

The 44-page booklet is the most succinct summation of Iraqi culture for Americans anywhere anytime. It may shock readers to know how much has changed-an Iraqi dinar worth four U.S. dollars in 1943 is today worth .004 U.S. dollars. And to know how much remains the same: "That tall man in the flowing robe you are going to see soon, with the whiskers and the long hair, is a first-class fighting man, highly skilled in guerrilla warfare."

Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror - by Laurie Mylroie (HarperCollins, 2003)

Critics dub Laurie Mylroie "the neocons' favorite conspiracy theorist," but their dismissal falls flat, considering that Mylroie taught at Harvard and the U.S. Naval War College before serving as an adviser to Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. But beginning with Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait through the U.S. invasion of 2003, Mylroie has documented a formidable array of links from Saddam's regime to terrorism worldwide and to a weapons of mass destruction program. Foreign policy names like Peter Bergin, who dubbed her "a crackpot," rarely challenge her research per se, choosing instead to eviscerate her for allowing documented discoveries to change her politics. Among the liberal establishment, she is an apostate.

Despite pro-war leanings, Mylroie is no fan of President Bush. Her account in Bush vs. the Beltway of mid-level wrangling among the CIA, State Department, and the Pentagon following 9/11 is less polemical than fascinating, a sometimes abstruse tale of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace- by Ali A. Allawi (Yale University Press, 2007)

Ali Allawi does what none of the preceding authors could: He tells the war's story from an Iraqi perspective. But what makes The Occupation of Iraq perhaps the most compelling of all books written to date about the war is that he does so with Americans in mind.

Allawi and his family were forced to leave Iraq after the 1958 revolution and became permanent exiles from Saddam. He studied in England, then MIT and Harvard, eventually working for the World Bank and as an investment banker. A leading member of the "secular" Shiite opposition to Saddam, he returned following the 2003 invasion and ran for office, becoming a member of Iraq's transitional government and serving as minister of defense, trade, and finance.

Allawi's exile condition allows him to bridge the post-war chaos over Iraq that extended from Washington to Baghdad. He is an astute observer of the inside game who does not forget that there is life-and death-on the streets. Not surprisingly, he calls the insurgency "almost an exclusively Sunni Arab affair," but overall he is dispassionate in spreading blame for the collapse of post-war Iraq among the Bush administration (chiefly), lawmakers of both parties, and Iraqis of varied sectarian stripes. And he is strategically credentialed to end with this warning: Time is running out.


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