“We are in very deep trouble in Iraq. I am sobered by it. I am frightened by it.” Warning his audience that the next hour “wouldn’t be a happy one,” Larry Diamond, former senior advisor on governance to the Coalitional Provisional Authority in Baghdad, relayed his fear that Iraq is sliding deeper into the greatest foreign policy disaster in the history of the United States, with his lecture yesterday entitled, “Prospects for Democracy in Iraq and the Middle East.”
Making his claim that Iraq must be stabilized immediately to avoid an all-out civil war similar to the current situation in Lebanon, Diamond did not shy away from using hyperbolic language.
“The situation is so complicated, so volatile, so fraught with danger, it is almost impossible to comprehend,” he said. “[Iraq] is the most difficult situation [the U.S. has faced] since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
“It is five minutes to midnight,” he continued, quoting New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman’s recent column, “Iraq at the 11th Hour.”
The chaos in Iraq, rise of radical Islamists throughout the Middle East and other serious problems throughout the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Iran have left many members of the Bush administration, people in the region and analysts asking themselves, “what are we doing?” Diamond said.
Diamond criticized Bush both for his decision to go into Iraq in the first place, as well as his means of bringing about democracy in the country, calling it “disastrous and self-defeating.”
“[Bush] has created the perfect storm for political insurgence against the new order,” he said.
Rather than promoting democracy through war, Diamond advocated soft power, moral leadership and peaceful means.
Further condemning Bush, Diamond criticized his religious motivation to invade Iraq, which he described as “messianic.”
“Bush had a sense that he was completing a mission and promoting God’s gift to humanity,” Diamond said. “In Iraq, this led to stubbornness, a sense of personal rightness and a refusal to listen to evidence. There is a fine line between Churchillian resolve and self-defeating messianic stubbornness.”
But it is not always a bad thing for politicians to use faith to influence policy decisions, he said, using the example of former President Jimmy Carter, who, according to Diamond, used his own Christian faith to place human rights at the center of his foreign policy decisions,
Diamond believes that every country has the potential to achieve democracy. It is false to generalize that the Arabic world is unsuitable for democracy, he said.
However, Diamond said, Bush failed to realize that the Middle East is unique in that it has a, “coherent, confident, deeply organized alternative to democracy – radical Islam.”
Calling for the global community to challenge radical Islamists who, for years, have had unchecked intellectual dominance, Diamond emphasized the need to fight an ideological war.
“It’s time to translate great books about democracy into Arabic,” he said. “It’s time to build an independent civil society with a free press and political culture.”
Looking towards Iraq’s future, Diamond said the only way the country can be saved from all-out civil war is a stakeholder conference, in which all surrounding nations are involved. Diamond believes that Iran specifically holds the key to helping the U.S. negotiate with Iraq. He stressed that Bush’s project to turn Iraq into a democracy cannot be accomplished solely unilaterally, as America does lacks both legitimacy in the region and an understanding of it.
Success in Iraq will be “a product of international engagement,” he said.
Nicolas van de Walle, director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, praised Diamond’s “great passion for the topic, cool reasoning and strong analytical mind.”
Zoe Geltman ’08, who attended the lecture as part of her NES 274: History of the Modern Middle East class, was impressed by Diamond’s realism.
“[Diamond] wasn’t impartial and really took a stand on the issues,” she said. “He described a very realistic picture of what’s going on in Iraq and what we can do to improve things in the future.”
Diamond’s talk, co-sponsored by the Einaudi Center and the Peace Studies program, was the inaugural address in the Center’s foreign policy distinguished lecture speaker series.
Archived article by Olivia Oran
Sun News Editor