He Got It Wrong, Alas: Kanan Makiya

My friend Kanan Makiya was the most influential Iraqi advocate in America of the war to “liberate” his country five years ago. Today he is the most articulate casualty of his own fantasy.

Kanan Makiya: Cautionary Idealism

Kanan is famous now mainly for telling President Bush, face to face two months before the US invasion, that the American troops “will be greeted with sweets and flowers in the first months…” He had the rhetorical magic in those days to get away with arguing that invading Iraq was the moral choice even if it had only a “five percent” chance of success. Astonishingly, writers like George Packer of The New Yorker and David Brooks of The New York Times made Kanan Makiya’s dream of US power sound like a plausible bet. Kanan wrote in the New Republic in the spring of 2003 that the bomb-bursts in Baghdad rang like “church bells” in his ecstatic ears.

Kanan Makiya’s scripts and interviews, which informed much mainstream war-mongering, read now like the full catalog of illusion, self-delusion and folly.

I’m proud to say we are friends — I want to say brothers, really. Proud of myself, because in many close encounters with Kanan over more than 16 years, I have learned that the best friendships need not have anything to do with agreement on politics.

It’s been said, rightly I think, that Kanan Makiya was the only real idealist in the war camp. He is an immensely thoughtful man and, as you will hear, a completely authentic presence. I am proud also that it was on our old television show, “The Ten O’Clock News” on WGBH in Boston, that Kanan Makiya unveiled himself in 1991 as the real author of “The Republic of Fear,” his originally pseudonymous expose of the Saddam Hussein regime.

So the strange sum of it is this: my friend Kanan Makiya is a scholar, an intellectual, an idealist who stands for me as a warning about the dangerous misfit of idealism and military power. He’s an example, I’m afraid, of what the French call the “trahison des clercs,” the treason of the intellectuals. He is a caution to us intellectuals and wannabes against the poison of very bad ideas — like the notion of transformation by conquest and humiliation.

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Kanan Makiya (30 minutes, 14 MB MP3)

Footnote from the radio believer: don’t the sadness and pain in Kanan’s voice — more powerful than pictures or text — make the case for what the ear alone can absorb?

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