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THE GIFT OF WAR
WHY IRAQ'S LIBERATION SERVES THE GREATER GOOD
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
July 18, 2006

July 16, 2006 --

THE FOREIGNER'S GIFT:
The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq
By Fouad Ajami
Free Press, 380 pages, $26

SOMEWHERE in his book, Fouad Ajami describes the war in Iraq as "an orphan in the court of pub lic opinion." The reason is that these days even some of those who had campaigned in favor of the war now sound apologetic or even critical.

In January 2003 the war enjoyed the support of 77 percent of Americans and received enthusiastic endorsement in the U.S. Congress and media. Today, that support is down to 29 percent with both the Congress and the media tempted by a growingly critical posture.

Ajami, however, has no doubt that the war was both just and necessary, and says so with the help of detailed arguments based on facts and backed by his deep understanding of the complexities of Middle East politics.

As an American academic of Arab origin, Ajami is in a position to see and, more importantly understand, both sides of the issue. He understands American anxieties about continued violence in parts of Iraq and regards it as inevitable that these be exploited for partisan purposes in the United States.

At the same time, he appreciates the dilemma that most Iraqis face when they try to reconcile their dislike of having foreign troops on their soil with the joy that liberation has brought. As for the gratitude that most Iraqis feel for the United States and its allies, Ajami notes that it will take a long time for it to come to the surface. Ajami, who has traveled to Iraq on numerous occasions since the war began, has also interviewed almost everyone who is anyone in the political life of the new Iraq. As the book's title indicates, Ajami sees the fall of Saddam Hussein as a gift from the United States and its allies to the people of Iraq.

He notes that it would have been better had the Iraqis liberated themselves. But that wouldn't have been possible, at least in the near term, because the Ba'athist regime had developed an almost natural instinct for crushing domestic opposition.

"The Foreigner's Gift" makes two important points. First, that the Iraq project has achieved its principal objective: regime change in Baghdad. And the timetable for democratization, first worked out in some detail in August 2003, has been respected to the letter.

The second point is that regime change in Iraq has released democratic energies in a number of other Arab countries. Ajami believes that these genies cannot be forced back into their bottles and that, given time and American tenacity, will be able to reshape the Middle East.

Ajami's book, however, is not a dry academic study. He employs colorful, at times almost poetical, prose. He has a reporter's eye for detail - for example, he notes the type of carpets that furnish Grand Ayatollah Sistani's modest home in Najaf. And he has a talent for weaving a good yarn. All of which make Ajami's book an easy and enjoyable read for a general audience.

Ajami reminds his readers that the Iraq war was not a covert operation hatched by former Pentagon No. 2 Paul Wolfowitz, that it was authorized by a huge majority in both houses of the Congress.

And while Ajami clearly admires Wolfowitz for his intellectual qualities, the person who is most praised here is Ahmad Chalabi. Attacked by his foes as a Pentagon favorite, Chalabi was once considered the natural successor to Saddam. No one did more than Chalabi to persuade the United States to intervene in Iraq and, yet, just months after liberation he became the target of a smear campaign by the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Chalabi was even accused of selling secrets to Iran.

Ajami's admiration for Chalabi leads to one of this excellent book's few weaknesses: The author denigrates other leading Iraqi political figures, both Shiite and Sunni, to enhance Chalabi's reputation. For example, Ajami claims that listening to Abdul-Aziz Hakim, head of the largest Shiite party in Iraq, he could detect "a Persian cadence" to his Arabic intonations. This echoes claims by supporters of the former regime that Hakim is "Tehran's man." And such a suggestion is even more surprising because Ajami ably proves that claims that Iran is exercising a major influence on Iraqi politics are wildly exaggerated.

But at a time when the atmosphere of the debate on Iraq is being poisoned by the toxic fumes of partisan politics, Ajami's book comes as a breath of fresh air. Don't miss it!

Amir Taheri, an Iranian author and journalist, is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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