MESH invites selected authors to offer original first-person statements on their new books—why and how they wrote them, and what impact they hope and expect to achieve. Peter J. Munson is a Marine officer with more than eleven years of service, has seen several operational and combat tours in the Middle East since 2001, and has a master of arts in national security affairs with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies from the Naval Postgraduate School. His new book is Iraq in Transition: The Legacy of Dictatorship and the Prospects for Democracy.
From Peter J. Munson
While deployed to Afghanistan in 2004, I applied and was accepted to the Marine Corps’ foreign area officer program, specializing in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2005, I began studying in Monterey, Califonia, first at the Naval Postgraduate School, then Defense Language Institute. As Iraq was the most immediately important place to the military at the time, I set about trying to learn as much as I could about the country and its history.
I quickly found that the available material was inadequate for my purposes. While numerous studies and histories had been published on Iraq pre-2003, and several high profile books detailing the military and policy aspects of events in 2003 and after were beginning to show up, none explicitly linked Iraq’s history and legacies to what was going on in the country post-invasion. What is more, the quickly growing literature on post-invasion Iraq focused on either policy and strategy critique or individual observations of soldiers or journalists. There was a significant gap for someone trying to learn about Iraqi society, culture, and politics in the new era.
Using democratic transition literature as my guide, I wrote several papers and a thesis on aspects of the Sunni insurgency. The transition literature pointed out key phenomena that had presented problems for previous transitions and helped me to put the Iraqi case in perspective. When I got some very positive feedback on my initial work, I decided to push ahead and attempt to expand my work into a book, incorporating the other groups in Iraq and paying close attention to the political process.
My intent was to produce a book that, instead of focusing on U.S. military actions or the popular policy debate, would explain the Iraqi side of the attempt at transition. I set out to review Iraq’s recent history and the effects of that history on culture, society, and politics, and to demonstrate how those legacies were affecting events in post-Saddam Iraq. The goal was to produce a work that would be of interest to general readers, but would be documented and researched sufficiently to be of special use to service members, officials, and academics considering the problems in Iraq.
Over the next year and a half, I worked on the book while studying Arabic at Defense Language Institute. By the end of my studies there, I was able to read Arabic and incorporate a good number of Arabic sources into my research. In summer of 2007, I moved to Muscat, Oman, working at the U.S. Embassy there and traveling extensively in the Middle East. I was able to incorporate some insights gained from working with militaries in the region and from talking to a wide variety of Arabs, including some Iraqi expatriates, to hone some of my conclusions in the book. By this point, however, interest in Iraq was waning and I was unable to find a publisher until spring 2008, when two houses finally offered to give the book a chance and Potomac Books vowed to put the book out for a general audience.
The publishing timeline allowed me to incorporate a number of important updates, including the results of the provincial elections in 2009. The most important phase of Iraqi transition is yet to come, however, with American influence waning and national elections forthcoming. The manner in which the government ultimately deals with issues such as Kirkuk, reconciliation, and constitutional amendments will also be telling. Hopefully, if interest in Iraq in Transition is strong, I will be able to incorporate these important events in a second edition.
I think it is incredibly important for Americans, and especially the professionals involved in the formulation, execution, and analysis of policy, to understand the complexities and challenges that confront political reform and democratization. At first glance, democracy promotion seems intuitive and “right,” yet the reality of its implementation in other societies is not so simple. I hope that this book adds to the body of literature on democratic transition, which shows that foreign policy cannot be based on rosy assumptions and glib hopes of miraculous transformations. At the same time, just because Iraq was such a mess does not mean we should not attempt to draw insight from it. Many lessons can be learned from Iraq and used to help other states facing more gradual transformation away from authoritarian rule toward some sort of socially acceptable hybrid, if not outright democracy.