Posted by: Lister | March 25, 2007

Kanan Makiya admits failure

Makiya sounds very confused. The war in Iraq has not lived up to his expectations. It’s more the case that he thinks the war was badly managed than a bad idea in and of itself.

Makiya was one of the loudest voices calling for the removal of Saddam, but he says the worst day of his life was the day Saddam was hanged.

The first source is The Guardian, it’s a summary of the last.

In an interview in yesterday’s New York Times, Makiya, author of Republic of Fear, the book that brought the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s regime to international attention, concedes he allowed his own ‘activism’ to sway his judgment and launched a scathing denunciation of US policy after the fall of Baghdad, and of Iraq’s new leadership. In the week of the invasion’s fourth anniversary, the voice that cried loudest for the toppling of Saddam described the day of Saddam’s execution ‘as one of the worst’ of his life.

‘It was a disaster, an unmitigated disaster,’ Makiya said. ‘I was just so upset, even on the verge of tears. It was the antithesis of everything I had been working for. Just like everything about the war, it was an opportunity wasted.’ He catalogued the errors – including his own – that led to the present bloodbath. It is all a remarkable change of tone for the man who was once a friend of Ahmed Chalabi, has been praised in public by Vice President Dick Cheney and is highly regarded by anti-Saddam Iraqi democrats.

In October ’06 he gave an interview for Benador Associates.

I’m sure today, not a day passes that many members of the American administration do not rue the day that they ever supported this activity of getting rid of the tyrant and replacing [him with] a new order. They certainly regret it, because it has not been in American interests, by and large.

But I, as an Iraqi, from the point of view of someone for whom that dictatorship and its abuses over 30 years have been the be-all and end-all of my life — I have seen what they have done — I cannot ever say that it was wrong to support the overthrow of that dictatorship. And I challenge any human being to say to me that that was wrong.

You can say many, many other things are wrong. Policies that were followed afterwards were wrong. Approaches to government were wrong. Choices of individuals were wrong, yes. All of those are real, legitimate concerns. The lack of planning was serious. Iraqi failure to deal with their own divisions. The tendency of Iraqi politicians to foster sectarian divisions rather than to overcome them. Yes, all of these are errors — or, worse than errors, they’re terrible things that have happened since that have led this experiment, this project, to go in the direction that it is going now, which is very sad.

The March 2007 interview:

“There were failures at the level of leadership, and they’re overwhelmingly Iraqi failures,” he said. Chief among the culprits, he added, were the Iraqis picked by the Americans in 2003 to sit on the Iraqi Governing Council, many of them exiles who tried to create popular bases for themselves by emphasizing sectarian and ethnic differences.

“Sectarianism began there,” he said.

[…] Then there is the small issue of American policy. “Everything they could do wrong, they did wrong,” Mr. Makiya said. “The first and the biggest American error was the idea of going for an occupation.”

[…] Mr. Makiya refers to Dec. 30, 2006, the day Mr. Hussein was hanged, as “one of the worst days of my life.”

“It was a disaster, an unmitigated disaster,” Mr. Makiya said, his voice rising. “I was just so upset, even on the verge of tears. It was the antithesis of everything I had been working for and hoping for.”

The tribunal did little to expose the all-encompassing cruelty of the Baath Party, Mr. Makiya said. And in failing to control an execution chamber filled with seething Shiite officials and policemen, the Iraqi government “actually succeeded in making Saddam look good in the eyes of the Arab world.”

His solution back in October was Federalism:

Makiya: I’m one of the people who argued for federalism very strongly, and still do. But the way in which it has become synonymous with ethnic and confessional federalism I think is not going to work. We need to get beyond that; we need to have a federalism that somehow is rooted in populations — that is, in the provinces, in the existing structures, and not as an idea essentially for three separate statelets that have Sunni, Shi’ite, Kurdish majorities in them. That idea will not work; that would be a recipe for further conflict, further violence down the line.



  1. Criticism of Makiya. [wiki]

    The late Edward Said, a professor of English at Columbia University and supporter of Palestinian rights, was a vocal critic of Makiya. Said contended that Makiya was a Trotskyist in the late 1960s and early ’70s and claimed that he later profited by designing and constructing buildings for Saddam Hussein. Said also claims that Makiya mistranslates Arab intellectuals so he can condemn them for not speaking out against the crimes of Arab rulers.

    Interview with Edward Said

    What is particularly scurrilous about the book and about Makiya himself are two things about which he is deliberately misleading. One is that all the intellectuals he attacks are in fact the most vocal in opposition to the current regimes in the Middle East.

    […] With a few exceptions, all the intellectuals he attacks have been imprisoned, and/or exiled for speaking out; in the case of Abdelrahman Munif [Cities of Salt (New York: Vintage Books, 1989)], the man was stripped of his nationality by the Saudis because of his works. Munif is therefore far braver than Makiya, who sits pretty, wherever he is.

    […] Makiya worked for Iraq, he was part of the Ba’athist regime, he has profited from Iraq, whereas none of the people he cited – especially me, because I never went to Iraq or accepted any invitations to do so – has had such connections. So the book is in effect a tremendous coverup for himself. And all the information about Makiya Associates and so forth that I’ve mentioned here, was published in a New Yorker profile a year and a half ago [January 6, 1992].

    The rest of the interview is interesting, too.

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