Fouad Ajami has a new book on Iraq, The Foreigner’s Gift. It is, writes ABC’s Jonathan Karl in the WSJ this morning, “a profoundly pessimistic account of the American war effort and the bitter fruit it has yielded. Mr. Ajami himself still believes in the rightness of the effort — he is not one of those commentators who supported the war and now repents. He holds out some hope for Iraq and for the American project that he so desperately wants to succeed.
“But that is what makes his account so devastating. Here a friend of the war effort writes movingly about how Iraq’s cruel history and incomprehensible sectarian hatreds have conspired with American ignorance to doom a war he considers a noble one.”
Ajami recounts how, almost a century ago:
Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill was given the job of making [Iraq] work. In 1922, as Mr. Ajami notes, Churchill wrote to Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister: “The task you have given me is becoming nearly impossible.” Liberals and conservatives in England were by then souring on the effort in Iraq, and for good reason. “At present,” Churchill observed, “we are paying eight million a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano.” …
Mr. Ajami has high praise for the selfless, intelligent and dedicated U.S. soldiers and Marines he has met on his trips to Iraq. But he faults the American civilian leadership for being insufficiently imperialistic, going into Iraq in a half-hearted way — so unprepared, so unsure, so isolated and so eager to leave. One of the more impressive Iraqi politicians he encounters describes the three types of Americans who swept into Iraq after the fall of Saddam as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority. There were the “wet behind the ears young people,” the “worn-out bureaucrats” and the “half-baked ideologues.”
As the American project in Iraq has become more expensive and more muddled, it has been responsible for at least one piece of serious collateral damage — to the idea of using American power and influence to spread democracy throughout the Middle East. Mr. Ajami had been a booster of this idea, which the Bush administration labeled “The Greater Middle East Initiative.” Now he writes, with regret, that “the Greater Middle East Initiative died on the vine.”
It is not that Mr. Ajami had naïve hopes for the American initiative in Iraq. In the Foreign Affairs article he wrote before the war, he urged an American effort to reform the Arab world, but he also warned that Iraq should not be burdened with great expectations. “This is the Arab world, after all, and Americans do not know it with such intimacy. Iraq could disappoint its American liberators. There has been heartbreak in Iraq, and vengeance and retribution could sour Americans on this latest sphere of influence in the Muslim world.” On that count, Mr. Ajami has proved to be disturbingly prescient.