Squandered Victory

Squandered Victory
The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq
Larry Diamond
Times Books, $25, 384 pp.

When a final accounting of the U.S. war in Iraq is toted up, we may learn why so many things went wrong. How did the best-equipped, most powerful army in the world sweep to victory and then so quickly lose control? How did astute politicians from Donald Rumsfeld to Colin Powell to John Kerry to Hillary Clinton so systematically miscalculate the consequences of going to war against a country so religiously complex and ethnically divided?

With none yet acknowledging their errors, accounts like Squandered Victory provide something of a first audit of the war and its immediate aftermath. Chapter 10, “What Went Wrong,” is as good a catalog as we have of the multiplicity of mistakes made by the United States and the Iraqi exiles who resolutely shaped our policy and misled our policymakers. Drawing on news reports by U.S. journalists and conversations with UN and U.S. officials, Larry Diamond concludes that the war itself, despite a military victory, was the “original sin,” followed by an ill-conceived and badly managed occupation.

The core and original contribution of this book is an account of the author’s brief time (about ten weeks from mid-January to April 2004) in Baghdad advising the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). It is a compelling story of what Diamond saw going wrong on the civilian side of the occupation in the months before L. Paul Bremer, head of the CPA, turned the governance of Iraq...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.