Much has been written about the months following the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, when the optimists saw their hopes for a new democracy dashed by violence and chaos. First to founder was the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, led by Jay Garner, which lacked staff, resources, and authority. Then, the Coalition Provisional Authority failed. Headed by Paul Bremer, the CPA was far better endowed than ORHA, but it so alienated the Iraqis that after six months it had to work as quickly as possible to hand power back to an Iraqi government. Neither organization got good press. Although they made their own mistakes, ORHA and the CPA were both victims of the Pentagon's cavalier attitude toward postwar responsibilities. There were no coherent plans for establishing governance, providing security, or restoring public services.
These two books are distinct but complementary accounts of the sorry story. The RAND team has provided the most authoritative and meticulous report of the CPA's performance to date. Dobbins and his colleagues do not quite restore its reputation -- they note its inability to halt the slide into civil war -- but they acknowledge its successes, largely in the areas over which it had direct responsibility, such as macroeconomics and health and education services. Although they observe that the U.S. experience in Iraq had many hopefully unique features, they draw a basic lesson: do not try anything comparable in the future without serious preparation. Eberly's account is scathing about the consequences of the Pentagon's "liberate and leave" mentality. Eberly worked for both Garner and Bremer and has stayed on good terms with them (both endorsed the book). As head of Iraq's Ministry of Youth and Sport -- and in charge of Iraq's rejoining the Olympics -- he was the direct successor to Saddam Hussein's son Uday and developed a keen sense of the terrible things that had gone before. His is a balanced and thoughtful account of a improvised attempt to make the best of a bad job; as he puts it, the Americans were "assembling a vehicle while driving."
Get the latest book reviews delivered to your inbox.
More Reviews on Military, Scientific, and Technological From This Issue