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Former Iraq advisor evaluates U.S. policy

Davis Rhorer, Jr. | Wednesday, November 28, 2007

There is no more politically charged, national security question than the direction of Iraq, said Larry Diamond, a political science professor at Stanford University.

Diamond, a former senior advisor on governance for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, began his lecture Tuesday night in the Hesburgh Center with his reflections on the foundations of the war. He then discussed the current situation for both Iraqi civilians and American soldiers.

In 2004, Diamond was invited by then-U.S. National Security Advisor and former colleague Condoleezza Rice to assist in the transition to democracy in Iraq. Initially scheduled to stay in the country for six months, a discouraged Diamond left after only three.

“We were failing in Iraq from the ineptitude, arrogance, incompetence and isolation from reality and knowledge of Iraqi society,” he said.

Diamond’s criticisms, which focused heavily on the unilateral nature with which he felt the Bush administration handled the engagement, eventually shifted towards current obligations the United States has in the war-torn state.

“We can’t just indiscriminately walk away,” Diamond said. “It would be a mistake to get out of Iraq with as little thought, as little planning and as much arrogant indifference as the manner in which we went in.”

But not everything Diamond said was negative.

Diamond cited a recent improvement in safety levels for civilians in the streets of Baghdad, a development he credited to the recent influx, or “surge,” of troops and new military strategies adopted by the American armed forces.

“[There] is a new sense of hope and possibilities and a return to something approaching normalcy in many communities,” Diamond said.

In addition to these changes in the American military presence, Diamond also noted the recent crippling of al-Qaeda in the region as fruit of the U.S. intervention.

“The Sunni Arab heartland of Iraq has had its fill of the ruthlessness and intimidation of al-Qaeda and wants them gone,” Diamond said.

He backed up his assertion with a recent release by Osama bin Laden, where the terrorist leader confirmed the change in sentiment in the region and talked about his organization’s “loss of the hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people, Diamond said.

And while Iraq is doing better in that regard, the situation is still precarious, he said.

“I fear that that the current surge with all its manifest hope for progress could prove to be … a brilliant, inspiring moment of possibility that cruelly slips away,” Diamond said. “Only if we capitalize on the military gains in the past few months with a political strategy to settle big political differences … can we stand a decent chance of avoiding that fate.”

He concluded his lecture by repeating the same piece of advice he once gave Rice, saying the United States “cannot do it alone” when it comes to Iraq. Allied support from regional neighbors and the European Union, Diamond said, is essential to ending the current conflict.

Diamond also firmly criticized the provisional Iraqi government and called it a barrier to future successes in the country.

“Unless we threaten to pull the rug out from under [the Iraqi representatives] we’ll not agree to [internal] compromises,” he said, referring to the current American financial and military support of what he considers a highly corrupt and partisan parliament.

Diamond’s lecture was sponsored by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.