“On the 10th anniversary of the invasion, we should be hearing a lot more from them — and a lot less from the former American officials and pundits who got it wrong the first time.”—Marc Lynch
Amid the many discussion about the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Marc Lynch author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today, argues that:
one surprising detail about the flood of retrospectives: They have almost exclusively been written by Americans, talking about Americans, for Americans. Indeed, many Iraqis fail to see the point of commemorating the disastrous war for the benefit of the American media.
In What’s Missing from the Iraq Debate, written for his blog on Foreign Policy, Lynch cites some exceptions, including Mark Kukis’s Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 but argues that books and commentary on the invasion have been very American-centric. American discussions about Iraq have focused on U.S. strategy, often ignoring Iraqi politics and public opinion. Lynch discusses the implications of this:
Myopia has consequences. Failing to listen to those Iraqi voices meant getting important things badly wrong. Most profoundly, the American filter tends to minimize the human costs and existential realities of military occupation and a brutal, nasty war. The savage civil war caused mass displacement and sectarian slaughter that will be remembered for generations. The U.S. occupation also involved massive abuses and shameful episodes, from torture at Abu Ghraib Prison to a massacre of unarmed Iraqis in the city of Haditha. The moral and ethical imperative to incorporate Iraqi perspectives should be obvious.
Discussions about U.S. troop withdrawal which centered around how Iraqi security would deteriorate likewise failed to take in Iraqi opinion. As Lynch argues:
The real story of the American departure is how little it mattered. That’s in part because the United States was never as necessary or wanted as Americans liked to believe. There’s no question that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, for one, made himself indispensible to Iraqi politics through his tireless and effective diplomatic efforts. But as Charles De Gaulle famously (if apocryphally) said, the graveyards are full of indispensible men. Outside players can marginally affect faraway countries for a short time and through tremendous exertion, but their efforts are always refracted through local politics and rarely last.
Lynch concludes by writing:
Want to understand what went wrong in Iraq in all its complexity and chaos? The Internet is full of Iraqi academics, journalists, NGO leaders, and political activists with interesting perspectives on the invasion. It might also be useful to hear from the refugees, the displaced, and the families who lost everything. They will disagree with each other, have little patience for the pieties of American political debate, and refuse to fit comfortably into analytical boxes. On the 10th anniversary of the invasion, we should be hearing a lot more from them — and a lot less from the former American officials and pundits who got it wrong the first time.