I read this for the 2014 War Challenge with a Twist at the reading challenge blog War Through the Generations
The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq – Patrick Cockburn
This account of the Bush administration’s failure in the occupation of Iraq makes for compelling reading though the effect on the reader’s blood pressure can hardly be wholesome.
An old hand reporting on Central Asia and the Middle East and deeply suspicious of the powers that be, Cockburn (said coe-burn) gets behind the headlines to describe US ignorance and ham-handedness; the weak, divided and silly Iraqi exiles and defectors; and the escalating viciousness and violence of Baathist dead enders, Shia militias, and Sunni insurgents. He describes how Iraqi society was destroyed by the Iran-Iraq war but above all by sanctions imposed after the Kuwait disaster. Because of the economic blockade, millions of Iraqis were impoverished, having lost jobs or never been employed. So there was revolutionary rage with which they looted and destroyed government buildings and museums.
What can one think about an occupation run by hacks and main-chancers whose main qualification was hefty contributions to the Republican Party when they turn in results like this:
There was something dysfunctional about the occupation from the beginning. It could not carry out important projects even when its own most crucial interests were involved. A friend of mine called Ali, long in exile but a specialist in broadcasting, was hired to help create a pro-American satellite television station. This was very important for the CPA, which complained continually that the al-Jezeera satellite channel was biased against it. Ali rapidly found that his task was made more difficult because the well-connected American company which had won the contract to establish the television station had never done so before. Experienced Iraqis who had previously worked in television in Baghdad could not be hired because they had been in the top ranks of the Baath party. 'The only person I was allowed to hire from the old Iraqi television was the man who looked after the parking lot,' lamented Ali. Desperately though the CPA needed the channel it was months before it got off the ground. (Though Bremer may also have been lucky; one Iraqi friend said, 'If more Iraqis had been able to hear his broadcasts about dissolving the army and purging the Baath party there would have been a revolution.')
True believers in the US will find little good American will, little stoic American effort, little American can-do in this sorry tale of venal, bungling, and dishonorable GOP frauds on the make and White House hacks and civilian Pentagon careerists spewing nonsense to make political hay on the home front.
This book is a mixture of reportage, travelogue, and telling stories like the one quoted above.
Like a lot of journalists, he likes the big generalization, doesn’t cite sources too often, never tells his proficiency in Arabic, and knows not much about sociology, economics or anthropology.
For all that, this is worth reading by any serious student of what writer James Fallows calls the biggest strategic blunder "since at least the end of World War II and perhaps a much longer period. ... Invading Iraq was an unforced, unnecessary decision to risk everything on a ‘war of choice’ whose costs we are still paying."