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Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq First Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0805078688
ISBN-10: 0805078681
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In late 2003, Stanford University professor and democracy expert Larry Diamond was personally asked by his former colleague Condoleezza Rice to serve as an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, a position he accepted with equal parts "hesitation and conviction." He opposed the initial invasion of Iraq, but "supported building the peace," and felt the U.S. had a moral imperative to reconstruct Iraq as a democratic and prosperous nation. Before going to Iraq he had serious doubts about whether the U.S. could actually do this--an opinion that was solidified after spending three months working with the CPA. Squandered Victory is his insider's examination of what went wrong in Iraq after the initial invasion. Diamond details a long list of preventable blunders and missed opportunities, from President Bush's decision to give the Pentagon the lead responsibility for the management of postwar Iraq to the CPA's inability to work with Iraqi leaders such as Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Diamond expresses admiration for CPA Administrator L. Paul Bremer, whom he believes was sincere about wanting to bring democracy to Iraq, yet points out that he was wholly unprepared and unrealistic about the task, resulting in "one of the major overseas blunders in U.S. history." In his descriptions of confrontations with Bremer, Diamond shows him as unwilling to diverge from paths that were obviously failing.

As an academic with an expertise in democracy building, Diamond sometimes seems more comfortable with theories than practical solutions, but he did experience the process in Iraq from the inside and provides a useful background on the various ethnic and religious groups vying for power there. He claims that he remains hopeful, but his optimism lies more with the abilities of the Iraqi people than with the U.S. government, since the difficult process of democratization will likely take much more time and effort than the U.S. can afford to spend. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

When Diamond got a call from his former Stanford colleague Condoleezza Rice asking if he would go to Baghdad to advise Iraqi authorities on drafting and implementing a democratic constitution, the political scientist, who had "opposed going to war but supported building the peace," was able to overcome his concerns about the region's instability. What he saw in Iraq during the first four months of 2004, however, left him extremely pessimistic about the prospects of success (although he admits all is not necessarily lost). Diamond sees a refusal to deal honestly with deteriorating conditions, particularly the rise of violent insurgency, and characterizes it as one of America's worst blunders ever; indeed, he calls that refusal "criminal negligence." Diamond's mounting personal frustration becomes apparent especially in direct confrontations with then Ambassador Paul Bremer. Though much of the story is given over to wonkish details of power brokering among Iraq's various political, ethnic and religious factions, there are also vibrant particulars of life inside the American compound, where even going out for pizza could be a life-threatening event. Such eye-witness experience bolsters this vivid critique of the current administration's foreign policy cornerstone.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First edition (June 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805078681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805078688
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAME on June 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The bottom line is this book is on page 290: "We never listened to the Iraqi people, or to the figures in the country that they respected."

While some reviewers are critical of this author for representing all that is wrong with our post-war approach (he doesn't speak Arabic and knows nothing of the Middle East) I do not hold that against him--he tried to help, and he was the best we had. It is the fault of a long series of US Administrations, and multiple generations of Congress, that have chosen to ignore the real world and to short-change American education to the point that we are literally clueless as a Nation about the real world and how billions of people in the real world hold mixed feelings about America: admiring much of what we represent, while despising our immoral corporate and unilateral government behavior.

The U.S. Army, both before the war and in the post-reconstruction period--and the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army--come out of this book looking very professional. The Army got it right, both in its pre-war estimates of what would be needed, and in its post-war recommendations. The author places the blame for the post-war deaths and disasters squarely at the feet of a naive President that empowered a Secretary of Defense inclined to go light, and side-lined a Department of State whose own intelligence estimates on Iraq have been consistently superior to those of either the Central Intelligence Agency or the Department of Defense.

I put this book down with a heavy heart, coincident with Secretary Rumsfeld announcing that we will be in Iraq and be taking losses for another twelve years. The good news is that Iraq will over time achieve its own balance, its own form of democracy.
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Diamond was asked by Dr Rice help build a new Iraqi government. The book is a journal of the activities and actions of Professor Diamond interspersed with events on the ground in Iraq. The details can be difficult to follow and at times irrelevant to the overall story. I preferred to read the book by skipping around as a previous reviewer suggested. The paragraphs are more like a series of daily activity reports than an organized attempt to tell a story. The book offers unique insights into the inner workings of the American Occupation Administration in Iraq within the sphere of Professor Diamond. The reader gets a few glimpses of higher level decisions, but much of the story at the decision making level is missing if Professor Diamond was not privy to the conversations. In reading the book, it is important to keep in mind that Professor Diamond is viewing the situation with limited information. He thus recounts details of his own work on the intellectual framework for democracy and efforts to communicate American Democratic Ideals to the intellectual elite of Iraq. It is interesting that this was a major focus of one the limited personnel available in Iraq, but readers are left to fill in the blanks about the machinations at higher levels of administration and efforts directed to more central goals of the occupation.

Diamond responded to the call for help, but he was self-aware that his lack of knowledge of Iraq, Arabic and local politics made him marginally qualified for the task he was handed. Reading the book instills a sense of anger at how badly the Bush Administration has botched post-war Iraq.
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Format: Hardcover
A few things that should be mentioned first...

For the reviewers that seem to think starting the book on the next to last chapter will suffice are actually committing the same mistake that the U.S. did, and that is trying to handle the topic of Iraq with next to no knowledge about the country. You can't be ignorant of what was happening then and expect to know what's happening now.

Also, give the author a break. Just because he's not a middle east expert and does not speak Arabic doesn't mean he's not qualified or shouldn't have written a book about his experience in Iraq. His area of concern is democracy itself which is something that applies to the whole world, not just the middle east. The work that he's done in the past is applicable in a general sense to Iraq or to any other country.

I enjoyed this book because of the detailed description of what was happening within the U.S. decision making body immediately after the invasion. The only other book that really discusses this topic is Noah Feldman's What We Owe Iraq. Put simply, this isn't material that you can just find anywhere. It isn't a scholarly endeavor like his other work...in a lot of ways it is a travel diary. Because of this it comes across a bit easier to read, but you can still extract a fair amount of scholarly information from the book.

This is a particularly dense book at times though and if you don't have anything beyond a passing interest in Iraq, then this book probably isn't for you. However, if you are interested enough to take the time to get through the book, I believe you will be rewarded.
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