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What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building

5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691126128
ISBN-10: 0691126127
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Editorial Reviews


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2005

"Powerful and important. . . . The book, like its author, is an unusual blend: part theoretical treatise, part political analysis, part memoir. Above all, it is a plea to the American conscience to take seriously the responsibility the United States has assumed to help the Iraqi people build the democracy Feldman believes they need and deserve. . . . As American citizens, Feldman insists, we are all responsible for what happens in Iraq."--Robert Kagan, New York Times Book Review

"In What We Owe Iraq--part theoretical treatise, part political analysis, part memoir--Noah Feldman . . . makes the case that when the United States invaded Iraq, it not only toppled a tyrant but also undertook a 'trusteeship' on behalf of the Iraqi people."--New York Times Book Review

"An earnest, thoughtful brief against those who would have the U.S. withdraw before our job there is done, a temptation that will grow harder to resist in the months ahead. Mr. Feldman's emphasis on serving American interests injects a welcome dose of realism into his ethical meditations. America's de facto rule of the conquered country is a trusteeship, he insists, obliging us to think of ourselves as representatives of the Iraqi people, accountable to their views and responsible, ultimately, for restoring their sovereignty."--Wall Street Journal

"Written with tempered passion and a grounded sense of the possibilities, Feldman's book nicely bridges theory and practice."--Publishers Weekly

"Valuable. . . . What We Owe Iraq . . . lays out clearly just how we avoided delivering whatever we owed Iraq in the way of democracy. . . . Feldman thinks it is actually in our own interests to foster a legitimate democratic government in Iraq in order to combat terrorism effectively, as well as being the right thing to do."--Andrew Cockburn, The Nation

"Insightful, accessible and highly recommended for policymakers and readers interested in understanding the opportunities and hazards that will confront America as the world's foremost nation-builderŠ. Feldman details the behind-the-scenes power politics of the U.S. occupation and delivers a persuasive appeal for a more grassroots approach to nation building--that is, an approach seen by most Iraqis as legitimized by local input. He argues that nation building can be an effective long-term strategy to fight terrorism if its purpose is to create stable democracies. Feldman's approach offers preventive medicine against insurgency and terrorism as well as a practical strategy for a longer-term global war of ideas."--Richard A. Clarke, Washington Post Book World

"A well-argued call for a long-term U.S. commitment to Iraq. The book is original and refreshingly free of ideology and partisanship."--Andrew Apostolou, New York Post

"This short penetrating study . . . examines the ethics of nation-building, exploring its challenges from the perspectives of law, democratic theory, and political morality. . . . This timely, carefully reasoned, and elegantly written book is an important contribution to the literature on political development."--Choice

"An informed, thoughtful examination of why the U.S. is trying to build a new Iraqi nation, what would be considered a success, and what principles should be followed."--H. J. Kirchhoff, Globe and Mail


Noah Feldman is a rapidly rising star in the American intellectual firmament. This elegant set of essays showcases his keen intelligence and sweeping erudition. It illuminates America's mission in Iraq, and much more.
(Fareed Zakaria, Editor, "Newsweek International", author of "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad". ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691126127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691126128
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,033,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Noah Feldman is currently Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard University. Esquire named him among 75 influential figures for the 21st century and New York magazine designated him as one of three top "influentials in ideas." In 2003, he served as senior constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and subsequently advised members of the Iraqi Governing Council on the drafting of an interim constitution. Feldman is the author of four previous books: The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State (2008); Divided By God (2005); What We Owe Iraq (2004); and After Jihad (2003); as well as numerous articles for The New York Times Magazine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Lee L. on July 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think I'll begin by addressing the two negative reviews posted thus far...

At no point in this book does Feldman argue that the U.S. should have replaced Hussein with another dictator. That kind of statement runs completely against everything contained in this book. In my opinion, only someone that had never read the book could make a claim like that.

As for the other review (posted by someone that simply pastes academic reviews onto Amazon), the view is presented that the U.S. in fact does not owe Iraq much of anything and claims that Feldman presents no argument to the contrary. This type of statement is also in the wrong.

Feldman takes the position in this book that since the U.S. is in Iraq and completely dismantled the government, there is an ethical obligation on the part of the U.S. to see the job finished. A finished job would be a functioning, self-reliant Iraq that can defend itself and promote individual liberties. This book goes about describing the set of ethics the U.S. should abide by.

A lot of people argue about Iraq today as if it were only George W. Bush's problem. This approach is terribly flawed. Iraq in 2003 was a product of (1) Saddam Hussein, and (2) EVERY U.S. PRESIDENT SINCE REAGAN. Washington has had a roller coaster of a ride with Iraq ever since the early 80's. Every decision made by the U.S. since then has contributed to how Iraq would eventually end up. Yes...Hussein is also to blame and should not be given a free pass, but neither should the U.S. As far as ethics go, we owe a huge deal to Iraq. Hussein would have most likely been defeated by Iran in the 80's had it not been for U.S. and other Western support. It's time the U.S. owned up to our decisions, regardless of whether or not George W.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on November 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is not a discussion of what we owe Iraq, which Feldman states is a decent functioning government, but an analysis of the the issues involved in getting there.

The best parts, for me, were the examples from his experience such as the practical problems facing those who worked in the early occuption, his description of the Republican Palace, the meeting with the Lawyers Association.

The heart of the book is an analysis of the issues involved in achieving the goal such as authority, occupation vs. trusteeship, paternalism, elections, legitimacy/perceived legitimacy, etc.
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful By FrizzText on October 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Condoleezza Rice always takes the concept of "Nation Building" with pleasure into her mouth and tries to explain with frown to the audience how important this task is. The author Noah Feldman is an expert for this concept -- and NATION BUILDING also has his development history: On the occasion of the 1st World War the United Nations formulated guidelines which were still whisked a little with the ideology of the colonial time and carried a little of the gesture of a patriarchal guardianship into themselves, though. After the second World War one lost something of this arrogance and put as an aim into the centre only, that a nation, political ethically lagging behind (at that time Germany), should be brought by the introduction of democracy to the global community standard. Cases like Kosovo or East Timor seemed to confirm the correctness of such a target. In the case Iraq an additional thinking effort must be done. While Condoleezza Rice still compares Germany 1945 with present Iraq a little school girlishly and assumes that everything has to be fixed in the time window of four years, the expert Noah Feldman is there already a little more skeptical. Compare the educational level, the religion dependence, the power of the different population groupings and the complete missing of national feelings of guilt: these different factors forbid the comparison Iraq/Germany actually. [Nevertheless the Washington administration-rhetoric continues to do so.] Noah Feldman seems to recognize the clear difference: Because the wave of terror-acts is not tearing off. Has there been this in Germany, that police stations were classified as collaborator collection places and regularly blown up into the air?Read more ›
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11 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Mohamed F. El-Hewie on December 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"A republic to keep, not anarchy or utopia" is the zest of this book. The author strives to rationalize the futility of U.S.'s involvement in a flawed war. He discerns similarities and differences between the chaos in Iraq and those of Germany, Japan, Yugoslavia, Romania, Poland, Kosovo, East Timor, Algeria, Uganda, Ireland, Haiti, and Afghanistan.

The book spans 130 pages of well-read and logically evolving description of the heuristic process of nation building. It falls into three chapters, plus an introduction and conclusion.

The INTRODUCTION outlines the objectives of nation building by an occupying power, the relationship between the occupier and the occupied, in the era of democracy, and the mechanism of exit, through election and security safeguards to ensure durable and sovereign government that could maintain order and legitimacy.

Chapter 1, NATION BUILDING: OBJECTIVES, compares the objective of nation building during the Cold War of thwarting the threat of "total destruction" through a "rational-actor model" of states (Germany, Japan, N. Korea) to the present involvement to restoring "civil order" through a "non-state violence actor model" (Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, E. Timor, and Somalia).

The absence of any rational model for the Iraq War that toppled a deterrable and strong government is considered a foreign policy blunder that created a failed state, threatening regional instability, with low odds of success of democracy without long, costly, and bloody US support.

The author contends that ethics and morality have a role in International affairs. He cites the examples of Kosovo and E.
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