The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End, by Peter W. Galbraith. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. 224 pages. Appends, to p. 233. Cast of Characters to p. 239. A note on sources to p. 244. Acknowledgments to p. 247. Index to p. 260. $26.
Reviewed by Michael M. Gunter
This is a devastating critique that illustrates the arrogant ignorance, sheer incompetence, hypocritical cronyism, and at times even outright corruption of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy. The book is also, as its title indicates, an articulate analysis of why Iraq, as a failed state, has been partitioned in all but name. Unfortunately, none of this seems to have influenced US officialdom.
The son of the late famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Peter Galbraith is well placed to tell the story. As a staff member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1979-1993, he was one of the first Americans to see in person the results of Saddam Husayn's chemical warfare against the Kurds in 1988. At that time he met many of the Kurdish leaders, traveled extensively throughout the region, and helped save tons of captured Iraqi documents incriminating the regime. Galbraith returned to Iraq after the 1991 War and again after the 2003 War, working for a few months in 2003-2004 as a paid consultant for the fledgling Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Galbraith opens with a short chapter outlining his main themes that he returns to again and again: "The main error has been to see Iraq not as it is, but as we wished it were. This led to an unrealistic and futile commitment to preserving the unity of a state that was never a voluntary creation of its people, and that has been held together by force" (p. 12). He adds that, "many of the United States's present difficulties in Iraq are the direct consequence of the failure to plan for the day after U.S. troops entered Baghdad" (p. 8). When asking Iraqi leaders where the United States erred, "all gave the same answer: when the United States became an occupier instead of a liberator, in short, when the Bush Administration decided it was more capable of determining Iraq's future than the peoples of the country itself (p. 9). Galbraith also laments that, "with U.S. attention and resources committed to Iraq, both North Korea and Iran have been free to pursue their nuclear weapons programs" (p. 10). He might have added that the misguided attention to Iraq possibly allowed Usama bin Ladin to escape capture in Afghanistan.
Following three more short background chapters on the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, its genocidal aftermath for the Iraqi Kurds, and the 1991 War and its consequences, Galbraith warms to his task of detailing George W. Bush's war. In a chapter entitled "Arrogance and Ignorance," Galbraith describes "an American president who two months before he ordered troops into the country didn't know that Islam was divided between Shiites and Sunnis" (p. 123), and erroneously claimed that Iraq had supported al-Qa'ida's September 11 attack against the United States. "Even the politicized U.S. intelligence process never produced a shred of evidence linking Iraq to al-Qaeda" (p. 80). Apparently, L. …