Ahmad Chalabi's bad advice on nation-building in Iraq

tags: Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi

Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing writer to Opinion, is the author of "Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present."

The death of Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi has brought forth many critical obituaries, and a few glowing eulogies that focused on his pro-democracy rhetoric while ignoring his actual record as an ally of Muqtada Sadr and an enabler of Shiite Muslim death squads. Chalabi was truly the master of the long con: He continues to deceive his admirers from beyond the grave.

One point made in Chalabi's favor is that he was right to warn Americans of the folly of nation-building in Iraq. This fits in nicely with the critique of the Iraq war adopted by some of its proponents: Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was a fine idea, but we shouldn't have stuck around afterward. Better to have left Iraq in a hurry, allowing Iraqi exiles — like Chalabi — to run the place. This, in turn, is of a piece with the Jacksonian mind-set (so dubbed by foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Mead), which views nation-building with as much suspicion as it does big-government projects at home.

It's a nice conceit. It would be great if our troops could obliterate the enemy and then return to their garrisons. But has that strategy ever worked?

After the Civil War, there had to be Reconstruction to provide civil rights for newly freed slaves. The problem was that Reconstruction did not last long enough and did not have enough support in the North to prevent the imposition of Jim Crow laws.

After World War I, there was a similar failure. The U.S. contributed to the defeat of Germany in 1918, but then it did not stick around to aid the succeeding government. The result was that within little more than a decade, Germany's nascent democracy was overthrown by the Nazis, setting the stage for another world war. ...

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