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Daily Column
US Papers Sun: Kanan Makiya Recants... Sort Of
Living a lie to stay alive; Embassy over budget, over schedule; Shi'ite politics
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/07/2007 01:44 AM ET
Lots of good enterprise coverage today, although no single story dominates the coverage. The New York Times Magazine has the breakout story, however, with a long piece on the agonies of Kanan Makiya, author of "Republic of Fear" and arguably one of the moral architects of the Iraq war. The Times continues with gripping front-pagers on Iraqis working for Americans. The Washington Post gets in its licks, too, with in-depth reports on the embassy in Baghdad.

Dexter Filkins for Times Magazine writes the massive profile of Makiya. Without the Iraqi exile's moving idealism that liberating Iraq would change the world -- and that it was the right thing to do from a humanitarian standpoint -- the war in Iraq might not have happened. He was very influential on President George W. Bush, being the originator of the now infamous "sweets and flowers" idea. Makiya envisioned Iraq, post-Saddam as a South Africa or an East Germany where widespread reprisals against the oppression power structures were avoided. He wanted a South African-style truth commission, or the Ba'ath Party headquarters turned into a museum where people could go see how they were spied on, as the Stasi HQ in Berlin is now. His idealism would be more touching if it hadn't been paid for with so many lives. How is one supposed to react to statements like this?:

"I think there's a less than 5 percent chance that what I'd like to see happen actually happens," Makiya told The Boston Globe in the autumn of 2002. "But it seems to me an obligation, even if it's a 5 percent chance, to try to make it happen. You could call it a triumph of hope over experience. But what else is politics if not that?"
Well, with hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis later, even Makiya is having doubts now. He's writing another book, fiction, as a way of making sense of what has happened to Iraq, but Filkins says he's lost his voice.
Where did it go wrong? Makiya asks himself. Or, more precisely, where did he go wrong? It's the second question that Makiya is finding the most troubling, for it concerns a lifetime of believing, as he puts it, that hope can triumph over experience. "I want to look into myself, look at myself, delve into the assumptions I had before the war," he told me.
He now sees the disbanding of the Army as a mistake, and he places most of the blame for Iraq's descent into Dantean chaos at the feet of many of his Iraqi Shi'ite exile friends. These Shi'ite exiles did little to calm the nervous Sunnis, he argues, and eventually turned a "one-way insurgency into a two-way civil war." The entire piece is well worth a read, given Filkin's extensive experience in Iraq and his access to Makiya.

Over there
Sabrina Tavernise, reporting from Baghdad for the Times, pens an A1 story on the life of lies Iraqis working for the U.S. government in Iraq must lead in order to stay alive. She managed to find a hotel full of Iraqis leading squalid, double lives as interpreters, laborers or otherwise working on American bases. The ruses they go through to conceal their jobs are astounding.

Glenn Kessler of the Post takes his turn on the front page with a story on the cost overruns and schedule slippage of the American Embassy in Baghdad. The massive compound is $144 million over budget and months behind schedule because of poor planning, shoddy workmanship, internal disputes and last-minute changes sought by the State Department. Hm. Metaphor alert! Sounds a lot like the U.S. plan for Iraq in general.

The Times' Hugh Naylor, reporting from Damascus, writes that Syria is strengthening its ties with Sunni Arab insurgent groups and former Iraqi Ba'athists and encouraging them to organize in Syria, according to diplomats and Syrian political analysts. Somewhat paradoxically, Syria hopes to use these groups to gain influence in Iraq when American power wanes there. Huh? The Ba'ath Party is coming back? Seems more likely the real power is going to rest with Tehran and its Shi'ite allies in Baghdad, not unreconstructed Ba'athists. Naylor obliquely gets at this complication by noting that Iran is Syria's ally in the region, and it forced the cancellation of a July conference between various insurgent groups. (Syria denies any role in supporting these groups, but analysts note that it's a police state so it's unlikely they could openly organize without at least the tacit approval of the Assad regime.) It's possible that with Iran pulling many of the strings on the Shi'ite side, Syria is to draw on its Sunni Arab and Ba'athist connections, allowing Damascus and Tehran to govern Iraq at their leisure once the United States pulls out.

Andrew E. Kramer reports for the Times that Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz Hakim announced a peace agreement to end the feud between their rival militias. This is a boost to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government because he needs both groups to support him as he struggles to stay in power. The peace agreement is meant to cut down on the violence in the south and in Basra. In other news, police found the beheaded body of a member of the Babel Awakening Council from Iskandariya south of Baghdad.

Possibly chilling the kumbaya moment between al-Sadr and Hakim, Joshua Partlow and Sudarsan Raghavan report for the Post that the Mahdi Army started the violent attacks in Karbala in Late August, according to documents, police and lawmakers involved in the investigation. According to Karbala police officers, Mahdi Army militiamen started the fighting by firing RPGs into a crowd of pilgrims. Mahdi Army spokesmen deny the allegations. The reporters mention offhandedly the peace deal between al-Sadr and Hakim, but their piece indicates that the upcoming report that blames al-Sadr's men for the violence could enflame matters. What's praise-worthy about this story is that Partlow and Raghavan actually managed to do investigative reporting -- reliance on documents and on-the-record interviews -- in Iraq, of all places. Having Mithal al-Alousi in charge of the commission investigating the violence doesn't hurt -- he's a committed democrat and believes in transparency -- but kudos to these guys and their Iraqi stringers.

Washington doings
Peter Baker goes deep into the souls of ex-White House staffers for the Post in a front-pager that reveals that those who have left feel guilty and pained by the president and policies they served. Iraq looms above all else as the greatest disappointment, with the war destroying friendships, reputations and wearing people down. This is a classic Washington Post story, giving life and sympathy to White House staffers over actions that most people would roundly condemn. Favored a war that turned out badly and now you feel guilty? Tough, man. Some people are tragic figures, but not everyone leaving the White House because of war fatigue was a good guy deserving of sympathy. Too many people who made too many bad choices that lead to many dead and wounded soldiers are going off to a quiet and peaceful retirement.


New York Times
Tony Judt writes for the Times' op-ed page that the so-called "liberal hawks" are back, claiming that yeah, Iraq is a military disaster, but the U.S. has the moral high ground. This column will come as a surprise to those who didn't know the liberal hawks, such as Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman and Peter Beinart, had gone anywhere.

Clark Hoyt, the Times' public editor, goes deep into the thickets of the reporting surrounding the numbers of Iraqi casualties. In short, no one has an "official line" because everyone keeps count differently. But his verdict is that civilian deaths have gone down -- by how much is unclear -- and the cause of the decline is also unclear. However, as Hoyt points out, civilian deaths are still higher than at any time from 2004 to the first six months of 2006.

Leslie Wayne takes apart the Osprey, the Marine's new VTOL airplane, due to be delivered to Iraq soon. Controversial and expensive -- it cost more than $20 billion to develop and 30 people died in test flights of the beast -- Wayne is skeptical of its utility in Iraq. After tests in New Mexico's desert, the plane performed poorly. And Iraq, if the Marines haven't noticed, has a lot of desert. No word on why this ill-suited plane is being to ferry Marines around -- only that it looks like a really bad idea.

Washington Post
Shailagh Murray writes this week's installment of the "Congress's War Over the War" series, focusing on the liberal member of the quartet, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. She co-sponsored last week's bill to bring Blackwater USA and other private security firms under greater U.S. control.

Michael E. Ruane reports that Arlington National Cemetery is holding more funerals than ever, with 6,785 in the FY2007, the most ever. The reason is that the WWII generation is passing away in large numbers now -- about 1,000 die each day -- and an influx of Iraq dead has led to the push for a $35 million expansion that would push the neat rows of tombstones past its borders for the first time since the 1960s. More than 400 members of the armed forces from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are buried in Arlington.


Wounded Warrior Project