John Agresto: Mugged by reality in Iraq





If ever a critique was written "more in sorrow than in anger," it is John Agresto’s Mugged by Reality: The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions. In fact, the tone of the book is often of deep disappointment and disillusion, bordering on depression.

Agresto, an idealistic neocon intellectual, joined the effort to rebuild Iraq and was tasked with establishing a modern university system. He was a visionary whose enthusiasm for his job soon dissolved into frustration and defeat.

Agresto begins his book by declaring that the effort to build democracy in Iraq has failed irretrievably —but not for any of the theories proposed by Democrats or their accomplices in the media. In fact, Agresto first demolishes every leftist conspiracy theory about why that is the case before offering his reasons.

The problem, Agresto writes, is not bad intentions of any sort by the Bush or his advisors. The problem, he asserts, is the very nature of Iraqi society itself, along with American miscalculations and naivete about what could be accomplished there.

Agresto contends the biggest failure of the American "help" in establishing a democratic government in Iraq was that those in charge "forgot what made America great in the first place."

In the United States, he points out, politicians represent territory and therefore have to appeal to common themes that cut across group identity (in most cases, anyway). In Iraq, however, the Governing Council was fashioned as though it were part of a Lani Guinier proportional representation scheme. The Bush Administration succumbed to political correctness and delegates were selected to represent sectarian interests.

At just the time that Iraq needed — and had the potential — to overcome sectarianism, Agresto writes, "The CPA thought it should choose the heads of various parties and sects vying for control, thus magnifying rather than muting the very divisions that so many Iraqis rejected." [author’s emphasis]

Agresto relates many anecdotes of rampant and casual corruption and writes of cultural divides so deep that the task of bridging them seem daunting.

More controversial is Agresto’s picture — based on a few weak personal experiences — of the U.S. troops as a rather thuggish occupying force whose heavy footprint is creating enemies out of ordinary Iraqis. (He does, however, offers a disclaimer that "some of the finest people I ever met" wore the uniform.)

His assertion that the military should recruit a better class of people makes John Kerry’s "joke" about only dummies serving in Iraq sound mild. Perhaps a reading of The Long Road Home would give him some insight into the kind of people who join the Army.

In short, Agresto’s thesis is: We assumed Iraq was ready to adopt a democracy compatible with Western ideals because it was more secularized and modern than than most Middle Eastern countries, and all that was required to set the process in motion was political liberation from Saddam Hussein.

But Agresto says this was wrong. Under the lid of Saddam’s oppression lurked the same dark, sectarian strife that plagues the rest of the Islamic world. The core of Iraqi society that we sought to liberate either does not exist or is powerless in the face of radical forces.

Unfortunately, Mugged by Reality contains no real discussion of the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, or any contribution the terrorist organization might have made to reopen the Sunni/Shiite conflict, other than a brief notion that suicide bombers tend to be foreigners. Agresto turns even this into a negative, proposing that if Iraqis are not willing to die for their country they will never get anywhere!

One could argue Agresto’s experience is narrow, and he is too apt to apply his viewpoints to the country at large. That’s a valid point; every page of Mugged by Reality is written at a very personal level.



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Tim Matthewson - 7/11/2007

The problem, Agresto writes, is not bad intentions of any sort by the Bush or his advisors. The problem, he asserts, is the very nature of Iraqi society itself, along with American miscalculations and naivete about what could be accomplished there.
I think he got something there. The Iraqi's forced us to invade them!

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