THE NEW IRAQ
Rebuilding the Country for Its People, The Middle East, and the World
By Joseph Braude
Basic. 211 pp. $26
Now that the U.S. military has invaded Iraq, the question of the day is what comes after Saddam Hussein. Joseph Braude has written a book purportedly to shed light on an answer. But his effort has not succeeded.
The author clearly sympathizes with the long-suffering Iraqis and is attached to Iraq itself: His great-great-grandfather Hakham Avraham Aslan was chief rabbi of Baghdad in the 1930s, and his mother was born in the country. Braude himself is fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and Persian, and possesses a deep understanding of the region's literature and cultural history, having lived in Tehran, Dubai and Cairo. But he has never been to Iraq, and its sights and smells are missing from this book.
The New Iraq, which has no index, seems hastily put together to take advantage of current events. Braude appears not to have been well-served by his editors, who should have advised him that he needed an overarching idea or theme to weave his disparate chapters into something resembling a unified whole.
As it is, the book comprises chapters that examine Iraq's history, religious establishment, military, media, entertainment industry, educational system and the role of Hussein's security apparatus. Two chapters consider the economy -- how it has been ravaged by a dozen years of United Nations sanctions and what its reconstruction will demand. Braude's proposed "agenda" for this task includes enforcement of "decartelization" and intellectual property rights laws, and promotion of "viable labor unions," which could "usher in the resources of the American labor movement."
Most of this is superficial, repeating information already known to diligent readers of a major daily newspaper. Books that summarize newspaper coverage of an event are useful, but they should provide more context and depth than Braude has offered. Similarly, the chapters on Iraq's history read like an encyclopedia entry, with no insight or analysis to explain what bearing this historical review has on Iraq after Hussein.
The problems in The New Iraq surface in the prologue, which begins by saying that "this book is not about Saddam Hussein." Fine, but Braude then fails to tell the reader exactly what the book aims to accomplish or whom he is writing for. At one point, he says he wants to encourage partners for Iraq's renewal. "The atomization of Western societies raises concerns that only a few 'Iraq specialists' will be on hand to assist foreign diplomats and soldiers as they engage Iraq in the years ahead. This book aims to help broaden the cast of characters, by attracting professionals, entrepreneurs, a wide variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and artists to engage their Iraqi counterparts."
At another point, Braude states that his book can be useful to the private sector because it "lays out the major business opportunities Iraq offers." Indeed, this book sometimes reads like a consultant's report for business clients, similar to those that Braude writes at Pyramid Research, an advisory and consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., where he is Middle East and North Africa senior analyst.
Braude has still another audience in mind. "Iraqis who are now pondering whether to return from years, even decades, of exile will learn from this book how important a role they have to play," he writes. It is difficult to believe that even one Iraqi soul among the 4 million living in forced exile from Hussein's rule doesn't already know this.
Braude clearly believes that a post-Hussein Iraq will be a catalyst for change throughout the Middle East. "A viable Iraqi economy will reinvigorate intellectual activity throughout the Arab world by vastly increasing the demand market for Arabic-language books," he writes. And he sees Iraq reemerging as "a regional capital of entertainment."
But he never discusses in depth the more urgent matter for Iraq in the months ahead: the immense political obstacles and pitfalls facing those who want to establish democracy there. Nor does he address the likely reality that for some years, Iraq will be under U.S. stewardship as an occupied country.
The author leaves the impression that he is writing about what he hopes will happen in Iraq: He envisions an optimistic scenario that will bring positive change to the whole region. But in the book's last paragraph, he tells us he is not certain of what is coming. "Neither would I presume to tell you everything you need to know about Iraq nor would I advise you to regard its future as a slave of its past. The future is always a bunch of teenagers struggling with their parents and the world around them."
Braude, who plays the oud, the Arabic precursor of the European lute, writes several delightful passages about Iraq's musical history. These suggest that there is another book for him to write, one that would sparkle more than this one. *
Caryle Murphy covers religion at The Washington Post and is the author of "Passion for Islam."