Naive America

A sobering review of a new book about Iraq:

Mr. Agresto argues that Americans too often underestimate the extent to which religious extremism can thwart pragmatic ideas, demonize moderation and undermine stability. He feels that the U.S. government - then and now - has put too much faith in Iraqis, who are culturally unaccustomed to standing up for themselves and taking responsibility for the society that they are a part of. For Mr. Agresto, misguided expectations threaten to destroy much of what America hopes to accomplish in Iraq.

An idealistic faith in the immediate, cure-all power of democracy has been part of the problem, in Mr. Agresto's view. Granting power to a Shiite majority without developing moderate parties or setting up a mechanism to protect Sunni interests, he says, merely exacerbated sectarian tensions.

The threat of religious extremism is not, of course, exclusive to Iraq.