Book review

Two views of what went wrong with the war in Iraq

Books by Christopher Fettweis and Peter Galbraith focus on the Iraq war's impact on US policy. Books by Christopher Fettweis and Peter Galbraith focus on the Iraq war's impact on US policy. (Khalid mohammed/associated press/file 2005)
By Claude R. Marx
November 18, 2008
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Entire shelves of books have been written about the impact of the Iraq war on American foreign policy. It seems that all the ideological bases have been covered, although the tilt of most of them seems to be leftward.

The obvious question is: What else is there to say?

Quite a bit, actually.

Two especially worthwhile contributions to the debate are "Losing Hurts Twice as Bad: The Four Stages to Moving Beyond Iraq" by scholar Christopher J. Fettweis and "Unintended Consequences: How the War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies" by Peter W. Galbraith.

As you can tell from the titles, both authors are extremely critical of how the war was fought and the postwar strategies of the United States. But their approaches are different, so the books complement each other.

Fettweis, a professor of security studies at the Naval War College, bases his analysis on a saying by Sparky Anderson, former manager of the Cincinnati Reds and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame: "Losing hurts twice as bad as winning feels good."

Like a grief counselor, he has come up with a strategy for getting over what he describes as the loss of Iraq. Despite widespread opinion that the jury is still out on the war, and the opinion of many experts that the surge has put us on the road to victory, Fettweis has us preparing for the worst. "Iraq is an open wound that will slowly bleed over the course of the next decade and beyond, if we allow ourselves to continue in the same strategic direction. It is now clear to all but the most stubborn that the goals the United States hoped to achieve through its invasion of Iraq are no longer achievable," he writes.

With many historical analogies, Fettweis explains how the United States can relegate Iraq to a historical footnote and resume its role as a respected country, the way it did after the Vietnam War.

Galbraith lacks Fettweis's literary flare and takes a more straightforward approach to the subject. His book is essentially a legal brief against President Bush and his policies.

The result is a hybrid: part exercise in righteous indignation, part academic treatise. Fortunately, it is an approach that works, and those reading it will come away with a better understanding of the nuances of the situation in Iraq.

Galbraith, whose late father was Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, brings strong credentials to the subject: He's a former US Ambassador to Croatia and former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member who has done extensive consulting in Iraq. He contends that the war failed to meet almost all of its objectives: improving the lives of Iraqi citizens, stabilizing the region, making Israel safer, and spreading democracy. The book devotes a great deal of time to analyzing the rivalries both among factions within Iraq and between countries in the region.

He is especially outraged by the increased power that Iran now has and contends that "Iran is the winner of the war that George W. Bush lost." Galbraith argues that the neoconservative vision that drove the planning and implementation of the war did not take into account that military strength is only part of the way that power is measured. He contends that Bush "is an idealist, but he is not pragmatic."

Galbraith's ideas for repairing the damage include giving the UN more of a role in nation-building (and the United States less), deemphasizing the spread of freedom, using less public diplomacy and more one-on-one negotiations with countries we don't like.

To Fettweis and Galbraith, the Bush administration's military and foreign policies resulted in almost no positive developments. That's not entirely fair, since at the very least the government has been successful in deterring other terrorist attacks on American soil.

That omission doesn't take much away from the overall effectiveness of these books. To be sure, many of the points made in both books are subject to debate and will be controversial. But those wanting cogent and readable liberal analyses of foreign affairs will find reading both a worthwhile experience.

Claude R. Marx, an award- winning journalist, is the author of a chapter on media and politics in "The Sixth Year Itch," edited by Larry Sabato.


LOSING HURTS TWICE AS BAD: The Four Stages to Moving Beyond Iraq

By Christopher J. Fettweis

W.W. Norton & Company, 288 pp., $28.50

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: How the War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies By Peter W. Galbraith

Simon & Schuster, 194 pp., $22

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