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And on a day like this I wonder why I ever left the San Francisco Bay Area. Its wonderful to be in San Francisco, which is home, and to see all of you hear tonight. Thank you for coming and thank you for that introduction. "Assassin's Gate" came out a series of articles that I wrote, first, before we went to war with Iraq that were published in the New York Times Magazine those dealt with the arguments about the war in this country on the left, on the right and within the Bush administration and as much as possible I tried to hold each side up to their own claims and their own assumption and examine them as well as I could, tried to keep them honest. But really those articles were written in ignorance because I didn't know Iraq, the Middle East is not my area, I, Iraq, Africa was my first love when I was in the Peace Corp and I've gone back many times and I've reported from Africa a lot. The Middle East always struck me as a forbidding, impossible place where ancient religions, extreme ideologies, implacable foes were locked in eternal conflict that no light or air could ever get in. But Iraq some how found me as it found all of us so it's a so it's a surprise to me to find myself spending the last three years of my life on this place and this subject. After the invasion and the fall of the Saddam regime, I went to Iraq four times for the New Yorker and those were reported pieces from the ground in Iraq and in those pieces I discovered just how little I knew, and just how little most of us knew. Because Iraq had really been a kind of sealed room under Saddam Hussein and it wasn't only under our intelligence agencies that proved to be wrong about Iraq. It was most of our government and a good deal of our society and our press that were wrong about Iraq. It had a will of its own. And in the four trips that I've taken in the last four and half years I've tried to, as much as possible, leave behind my own preconceptions, my own framework for thinking about it because it proved to be unhelpful in understanding what I was seeing and hearing from Iraqis and from Americans in Iraq. And I was above all interested each time I went in the relationship, but between these two people that had been sort of forced on one another by this war, alien to one another in many ways very different, in yet condemned to live together in Iraq in a sense and to try to work out the meaning of the war that had put them in the same place. And I was fascinated each time I went by how Iraqis saw Americans and understood them, how Iraqi's saw themselves as an occupied people and how the Americans both military and civilian, saw the Iraqis. When I decided to write the "Assassin's Gate" though, I realized that reporting and magazine writing were not sufficient. This was a war that had roots in history. And in order to understand where it came from and how we came to be in Iraq, I had to dig into the history and into the thinking of the architects of the war. And the first three chapters of the "Assassin's Gate" are a kind of archaeology of the ideas and the policies that led us to Iraq and the personalities who were responsible for them. The Iraq war will forever be associated, immanently, with the word "neo-conservatives" because if there was ever a war that was a test case of a set of ideas. The Iraq war was a test case for the ideas of neo-conservativism. And as much as history is going to render a verdict on the Iraq war, I think it will also render a verdict on neo-conservatism. So in order to understand these ideas, and I insist on that this was a war of ideas, a war about ideas. It was not a war driven by blind historical forces, it was a war chosen, very much chosen by a group of individuals whom had their arguments and their theories and who in many ways are a surprise to me, the fact that this group ever had the chance to put these ideas into practice, because the neo-conservatives were a minority even within the Republican party throughout the 1990's. And my book goes back to the end of the first Gulf War and the unfinished business that we left behind in that war. When Saddam Hussein was allowed to stay in power with a good amount of his weaponry still intact and was permitted to slaughter tens of thousands of his countrymen that rose up against him partly inspired by a call from our government and we stood by. And for some of the key neo-conservatives whom I write about in my book, and I would begin with Paul Wolfowitz, this was an appalling thing to watch. Paul Wolfowitz was in that earlier Bush administration, he was number three in the Pentagon, and he, perhaps more than anyone else, was arguing for some kind of intervention to stop the slaughter. And perhaps even to arrange the overthrow of Saddam back then. He wasn't saying we should march on Baghdad but he certainly didn't like what he saw. But that was a minority view in the Bush presidency. Because the reigning idea of that presidency was what you'll hear about tomorrow night from Steven Walt, realism. That is to say a foreign policy view that sees stability as coming from a balance of power between nation states and what goes on the privacy in another country's borders, if Saddam wants to kill the Shia and the Kurds, that's unfortunate but that doesn't concern us, that's, its not a threat to our vital interest. Well neo-conservatives, in the aftermath of the Cold War, took another view. Their view was that the end of the Cold War was not an occasion to pair down our commitments to the world, to come home, to benefit from the peace dividen, which was really the consensus view of both the mainstream Republican party and the Democratic party. The neo-conservatives were the odd one out. They saw the end of the Cold War rather as an opportunity to expand and extend our power and to in a sense become the guarantor of order around the world in a kind of pax americana that would both stabilize the world, extend out our interests and our values because to them these were pretty much the same thing, and would deter any rivals from emerging. So the language that we've become to be familiar with in the second Bush presidency, unilateralism, pre-emption, freedom as a sort of foreign policy, all began to emerge in the thinking of this small group Paul Wolfowitz and others, who came out of that first Bush presidency and who were out of office in the '90's. In the '90's they watched the Clinton administration, as they saw it, pretty much flounder from crisis to crisis and expend our strategic advantage and waste this opportunity at the Cold War to bestride the world as a benevolent superpower. And very much in reaction to Clinton, especially Clinton's policy in Iraq, were he seemed to be letting Saddam Hussein slip free, of the constraint that had been put on him at the end of the Gulf War, the neo-conservatives began a very powerful, intellectual counterattack which argued against both their own mainstream Republican views and the democrats. And when George W. Bush became president in 2001, he was not a neo-conservative then. He was, I think if he was interested in foreign affairs at all, basically a pale copy of his father. But he, almost by accident really, placed at key positions around National Security Bureaucracy, the neo-conservatives of the '90's ending with Paul Wolfowitz who became number two at the Pentagon, so that two or three positions below the president, there was a team of foreign policy advisers who absolutely knew what they though about American power and its uses around the world, and who only needed an opportunity to carry it out. And the opportunity of course came on September 11, 2001 when George W. Bush himself became a neo-conservative. He looked around for a response, for a vision of the world and of America's role in it and there was a group around him, in key positions, who were ready with one, and he embraced it. And its not a surprise, because really he's a fundamentally different man from his father, he's much more of a risk taker, more of a missionary, more of a moralist and less of a conciliator. And all of these characteristics, and this is much a story of human character and the way in which its quirks lead to um far reaching decisions and consequences. His character drove him toward the group that he had placed in position of power. That's the story of the first few chapters of my book, this, this group, who were really the architects of the thinking behind the Iraq war. There's another character in this part of the book whose an Iraqi, his name is Kanan Makiya. He, you may have heard of him, I think he's one of the leading Iraqi writers and intellectual. He wrote a book called "Republic of Fear", which more than any other book, made Iraq a human rights concern in the West. Until then most people pretty much had written off the fate of Iraqi's as a sad story taking place on the other end of the earth, about which we could do nothing. But "Republic of Fear", diagnosed the regime of Saddam Hussein as very much in the nature of 20th century, totalitarian regimes, the Nazis, the Soviets under Stalin. And Kanan Makiya's book made it impossible to ignore what was going on in Iraq for anyone who was willing to pay attention. And he was, for more than anyone, a spokesman for the moral case for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. And when regime change became the policy of George W. Bush, Kanan Makiya, whom I knew quite well over the years in Cambridge and who was very much one voice in one of my ears in the months leading up to the war, Kanan Makiya became a key advocate, a kind of a, their bonify days, if you will, in the months before the war. And he lent his prestige and his moral authority to the war. The book then takes a turn and there is sort of a hinge chapter which essentially shows what happened when these ideas, because what I've said up to now is rather lofty and abstract, when these ideas were implemented on the ground in Iraq, in the days and weeks after the fall of Baghdad and what happened in those days and weeks. Essentially, after the fall of the regime, we had no plan for what would follow, and as a result of that failure to have a plan, chaos is what followed and looting and the rise of militias and fairly quickly the first stirrings of an insurgency, which in many ways was sort of continuous with the looting, the criminality and the violence and that haunts us to this day. And one project of my book was to try to understand how this could have happened. How could an administration that had rolled the dice in as dramatic a way as ours did in invading Iraq have no plan for what would follow? And what I came to conclude was that this lack of a plan was in a way deliberate and came directly out of the thinking, the ideas of the neo-conservatives that I traced back to their origins at the end of the Cold War. By that I mean, they believed in regime change in Iraq but they did not believe in nation building in Iraq. Nation building to the neo-conservatives, and this was their argument throughout the 1990's was the waste of American power, was the wrong use of the American military, our soldiers should not be rebuilding schools was sort of the short hand version of this, and because they had no intention of committing American troops and money and energy and will to staying with Iraq after the fall of the regime and making sure that there was stability and reconstruction, they needed a kind of alternative reality to put forth. And the alternative was named Ahmad Chalabi, who was an Iraqi exile and friend of Kanan Makiya, who was the escape clause for the administration. He would be the post war, he and a group of exiles around him would take over the running of Iraq and by September 2003 we would be down to 30,000 troops, which was the Pentagon's plan. You may well remember at the moment the looting had began and the Secretary of Defense had stood up and was asked about it and he replied, "Stuff happens, free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." That, in those words which sound like a kind of a glib brushing off, and they were certainly that, but they were also telling because what they reveal is the thinking, the philosophy behind the effort to remove the regime, which was this, when you get rid of a tyranny what follows is freedom. That was the political philosophy, I would argue, of the administration. Which is why they could imagine that one man, an exile who hadn't lived in Iraq since 1958 Ahmad Chalabi , could possibly gain enough legitimacy to run the country in the post war. It was a kind of utopian thinking almost that in the absence of tyranny there is freedom. When common sense and history tell us that in the absence of tyranny there is chaos because people are bad and given a chance they will do bad things and freedom is not a natural state, it's a difficult arrangement of people in society who agree to give up certain autonomy in order to be spared the violence of others. It's a social contract, its manmade rules and laws all of this is, is the enlightenment. This is the 18th century. But this administration's political philosophy was in a way pre-Enlightenment, it was before John Locke and the results were found on the streets of Baghdad on the hours and days after the fall of the regime and haunt us to this day. We've been in a hole ever since. Before the fall of Baghdad, the Secretary of Defense's spokesman, a man named Lawrence DiRita, who really carried the weight of Rumsfeld, went to Kuwait to join the team of Jay Garner, you might remember retired General Jay Garner, a very decent man who was over his head as the first administrator of post-war Iraq. Before Garner's team went to Baghdad to try to get control over this country of 25 million people and the team was about 180 officials of the U.S. government. Lawrence DiRita, spokesman for the Pentagon, met with Garner's inner circle his first night in Kuwait. And when Garner's deputy in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq said rather urgently, we need to show the Iraq's immediate benefits, DiRita's answer was to pound the table and to say, "We don't owe the Iraqi's anything, we're giving them their freedom, that's enough." Which was the policy of the department he represented, the Department of Defense, which had fought for and won control over post-war Iraq. So the chapter about this planning fiasco is the turning point, if you will, from the ideas to their consequences, from the abstractions of the nineties and of the rise of the neo-conservatives, to the reality on the ground in Iraq. The rest of the book is about Iraq under American occupation. And it's a good deal less abstract than what I've just described. Its very much a story of individuals. Iraqi's and American who I came to know in my four trips I took there and whose lives I wanted to follow to see what happened to them over the course of these two years. And the model I had in mind really was that of a novel. I wanted to write a book which felt like a novel, which you followed characters who appeared and then temporarily disappeared and then reappeared later in a new way and who met each other and whose lives kept changing as history kept changing because its really a story about the way individual caught up in history, far bigger and stronger than themselves, try to make sense of it, try to take the chance. And so the book in its last two-thirds is very much a story of people and the reason for that is that I wanted, as much as I could to make you feel what it is like to be in Iraq and to be around this strange and unprecedented situation where Americans are in the middle of an Arab country trying to help its people remake its society, really, in a way, just an incredible historical project and to feel it, to feel the intensity of it and the difficulty of it you have to know what its like to be those individuals. They never fit our version of them. They never fell into our political categories. Each time I came home I had to, I almost had a kind of mental whiplash trying to adjust to the arguments taking place here because they never seemed to fit what I had just seen over there. And its been, I think, one of the sad stories of this war that our media and our politics have been so inadequate to grasping, to grappling with the complex reality of Iraq under American occupation. So that's the agenda of my book, to make that real to you, to force you out of your, whatever your preconception, whatever team your on to get you off of that team so you have to experience, for at least a while, what its like actually in Iraq. And what I'm gonna end with is a few pages from the beginning of the book, um prologue which will give you an idea of what I set out to do in the "Assassin's Gate" and it will also tell you were the title comes from. And then there is plenty of time for us to have a conversation about it. And I hope you'll have some questions. "In the shade of a high sandstone arch, a Bradley fighting vehicle and a platoon of American soldiers from the first armored division, guarded the main point of entry in the vast and heavily fortified green zone along the west bank of the Tigris river where the coalition provisional authority governed occupied Iraq. When I arrived in Baghdad in the summer of 2003 and first saw the arch, I mistook it for one of the city's antiques gates built during the time of the Caliphs to keep out Persian invaders. The American soldiers referred to it by a name that seemed to come straight out of "the Thousand and One Nights", the "Assassin's Gate". Early every morning, before the sun grew dangerous, crowds of Iraqis gathered at the "Assassin's Gate" some were job seekers, other were protesters carrying banners "Please reopen our factories", "We wish to see Mr. Frawly". Demonstrators brought their causes here and sometimes turned into rioters. A man handed out copies of a table printed in English and Arabic entitled "The Names of Victims of Execution of My Family". Many people carried letters addressed to L. Paul Bremer the Third, the top civilian administer in Iraq. With the old order overthrown, the Bath party authorities purged and the ministries striped bare by looters, most Iraqi's didn't know where to take their grievances, petitions, where to unload the burden of their personal histories. So like supplicants to the Caliph of ancient Baghdad, they brought them to the front gate of the occupation but few Iraqi's had the credentials to enter into the green zone and interpreters at the gate were rare. The Iraqi's stood on one side of coils of concertina wire gesturing and trying to explain why they needed to get in. On the other side stood American's doing twelve-hour shift of check point duty in body armor keeping them out. One day in July a tiny woman in a salmon colored veil, stepped out of the crowd and thrust a hand written letter up at me. She was a school teacher, about thirty with glasses and thick white face powder and an expression so exaggeratedly solemn that she might have been a mime performing grief. The letter, which was eighteen pages long, requested an audience with "Mr. Respectable , merciful American Ambassador Paul Bremer" it contained a great deal of detailed advice on the need to arm the Iraqi people so they could help fight against the guerilla resistance. The teacher who was well under five-feet tall wanted permission to carry an AK47 and work alongside American soldiers against the beasts who were trying to restore the tyrant or bring Iranian style oppression. She had left her position teaching English at a girls school in the Shiite slum called "Slaughter City" rather than submit to the radical muslims who had taken charge after the overthrow of Saddam and ordered the staff to poison the girl's minds against the Americans." In the beginning Americans treat the Iraqi people well", the teacher said , "but later, because Iraqis are beasts they attack Americans and kill them and this will effect American psychology badly and so they live in more isolation from Iraqi people." She had information. It came from the most reliable source in Baghdad she said, the children in the street. That the tyrants were cutting off the heads of Americans. This was almost a year before the first known beheading in Iraq. The stories had made her ill. She was having trouble sleeping she said and had all but stopped eating. A man with a can hobbled over from the line. His left hand, wrapped in a bandage, was missing the thumb. He explained to the teacher in Arabic, that his father had been killed by a missile in the Iran/Iraq war, that he had been paralyzed in a car accident while fleeing Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War. He had lost the piece of paper entitling him to hospital care. Now that the Americans were in charge, he felt emboldened to ask for another copy and so he had come to the "Assassin's Gate". The man unshaven and wretched looking, began to cry. The teacher told him not to be sad, to trust in God and to speak with the American soldiers at the checkpoint. He shuffled back into line. "Please sir, can you help me", she continued, "I must work with Americans because my psychology is demolished by Saddam Hussein. Not just me, all Iraqis, psychological demolition." Our conversation was brief and it would have been briefer if my driver and translator, both of them thought the woman completely insane, had succeeded at pulling me away at the start. Months later I saw her again. She had somehow landed a job translating for the American soldiers who inspected ids and searched people entering the green zone through another checkpoint. She had grown fat and acquired a pair of designer sunglasses. I seldom think about Iraq without remember the schoolteacher standing outside the "Assassin's Gate", the abrupt intensity of her stare and speech, the sense that there was madness and truth in her all at once. That first summer after the Americans arrived, Iraq had the heightened, vivid, confused quality of a dream washed in the relentless yellow sunlight. The hesitations and niceties of normal life dropped away. Something extraordinary was happening. No one knew what it was or how it would go but it mattered more than anything and there wasn't much time. Later on I learned that I had been wrong about the "Assassin's Gate". It was not ancient. Saddam built it some years ago in grandiose imitation of Baghdad's classical entrances. It wasn't even the "Assassins Gate", not to the Iraqis. The name drew blank looks from them and then annoyance. They called it more prosaically ----, the palace gate, because the road that passed under the arch led to Saddam's republican palace, a mile or so away where the occupation authority had its headquarters. "Assassin's Gate" came from the nickname of the soldier's position there who belonged to alpha company, "A" for assassins like kilroy was here. It was an American invention for an --- Iraqi monument, a misnomer for a mirage. Iraq's complained about the way U.S. military renamed their highways and buildings and redrew their district lines. It reminded them that something alien and powerful had been imposed on them without their consent and that this thing did not fit easily with the lives they've always known. It pulled and chaffed although it had also relieved them of a terrible curse. The mesh demanded judgment and patience from both sides and already in that first summer these were in short supply. The name "Assassin's Gate" stuck with the American's in Iraq and eventually with some of the Iraqi's too. The original assassins were originally 12th century heretics. They were said to consume hashish and gardens of earthly delights before going out to kill. And they made murder such a public spectacle that it became a form of suicide as well. The assassin set upon his target at noon, Friday in the mosque with a knife knowing he too would die. Over time in Iraq, as the violence surged and the "Assassin's Gate" disappeared behind watchtowers and concrete blast walls and everything began to deteriorate, the name came to fit in a peculiarly evocative way. I imagined a foreign traveler walking under the glare of the sun through the front gate of an old, walled city believing that he was safe and welcome in this unfamiliar place, not knowing that hidden dangers awaited him just inside. At other times it was the foreigner that I saw as the assassin, taking aim from his perch, high up on his arch. The road that led America to the "Assassin's Gate" is long, and not at all direct. The story of the Iraq war is a story of ideas about the role of the United States in the world and of the individual who conceived and acted on them. It has roots deep in history. Yet there was nothing inevitable about the war and the mere fact of it sometimes astounds me. During the nearly interminable build up to the war, I never found the questions about it easy to answer and the manner in which the country argued with itself seemed wholly in adequate to the scale of what we were about to get into. I first went to Iraq and then kept going back because I wanted to see past the abstractions to what the war meant in peoples lives. Nothing I felt in that summer of 2003 was fixed yet. The most important struggles were the ones going on inside the minds of the Iraqis and Americans alike. The wars meaning would be the sum of all ways that all of them understood one another and the event that would thrust them together. In the end it would some down to just these encounters. Millions of them like the one at the "Assassin's Gate"". So that's the prologue to the book and that's all I have to say. And so, thank you. Q & A