Timothy Don: On page 448 of The Assassins’ Gate, you write, “The war was always winnable; it still is.” I’d like to ask you about each of those claims, starting with the second. What would winning look like, at this point? Is one of the fundamental principles of liberal democracy a separation of church and state? And if, as it increasingly seems to be looking, Iraq is going to end up with a theocracy of some sort, would that be considered a “win”? Would Kanan Makiya, for example, consider that a “win”?
George Packer: That’s a real problem. That is not liberal democracy; it is representative democracy, to an extent, probably more than anywhere else in the Arab world, which is also probably the best you can say about it. More Iraqis have been given a chance to voice their political desires than Arabs anywhere else, but for several reasons what they’re getting is an illiberal regime. And part of that illiberal regime is the role of religion, which is going to be very heavy, and part of that is the fate of women and minorities and part of it is simply the freedom of the individual, in all ways. That’s not on. That’s not going to happen for a long time in Iraq. Now, why is that? I’d say two reasons. One: it turns out that large numbers of Iraqis, especially younger Iraqis, are more Muslim than either Kanan Makiya or I or a lot of other people ever knew. There had been a huge, generational tidal pull toward the clerics and toward hard-line interpretations of Islam and its role in politics. I think that was largely a result of Saddam. He helped to create it and he helped to shape it. He shaped it among the Sunnis and he oppressed it among the Shia, so what we’ve ended up with is a young generation of fairly radicalized Sunnis and a new surge of Shia politics that is more theocratic certainly than the neoconservatives ever expected. That’s one reason. The other reason is chaos, and that is more our fault than the Iraqis’ fault.
more from a truly excellent discussion at Radical Society here.