Book Review: The Assassin's Gate

Named one of the Best Books of 2005 by The New York Times, The Washington Post Book World, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The New York Times Book Review, USA Today, Time, and New York magazine.Good Reads: 4/5Amazon: 4½/5

Personal Preface

Growing up in post-9/11 America, I was lambasted by daily coverage of the Iraq occupation and US operations in Afghanistan. Soundbites from the news ranged from "Insurgency levels rise", "Another IED kills US troops", or "Shi'ite and Sunnis clash in skirmish". The constant flux of news blended these two conflicts synonymously in my mind. No adults that I knew discussed the differences between the two countries or what each country meant strategically.  The consensus among Americans was that we were attacked on home soil and this was our rightful response to exact justice. End of story. So we watched the news with muted anticipation, wondering when the big breakthrough would happen that would end the war.My understanding of war growing up was dated, naive, and misinformed. Therefore, the unconventional warfare of our Middle East campaign was frustratingly complex. I couldn't believe the attrition of our poorly equipped enemies fighting against the largest, most advanced military in the world. The democracy project we endeavored to fulfill in Iraq instilled even more pessimism about our involvement in the Middle East.Fourteen years later and no conclusive victory in sight, I believe that Iraq and Afghanistan have years, if not decades, of more conflict ahead of them. However, this stretch of time gives us a great deal of information to reflect on. A lot has happened in the past fourteen years in my life alone: I completed middle school, high school, and college, observed two presidential administrations, and have lived across the world. With the resurgence of conflict in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, I felt compelled to learn more about how our past involvement shaped the Middle East today. I came across the book, Assassin's Gate: America's Involvement in Iraq, and was immediately hooked. This book is a must-read for all Americans, especially those who lived during post-9/11 America. You are doing yourself and future generations a disservice by not learning about the planning, execution, and (lack of) follow through during the Iraq occupation. I hope my review gives you further motivation to pick up this  page-turner.

Review of Assassin's Gate

Packer's book is composed of three parts: analysis of the school of thought that guided the Iraq war, breaking down the fictitious argument used to go into Iraq, and then his personal accounts of what actually transpired on the ground 6,000 miles away from D.C.. George Packer's chronology from the planning days in DC to the anarchic streets of Iraq is a journey fraught with anxiety, despair, and moral nadir. It is a relentlessly disturbing showcase of reckless neoconservative idealism, treacherous group think, poor planning and communication between US agencies, and underwhelming resource support for the occupational authority and US ground forces in Iraq. Each facet of the book is hailed as the best account of what happened by former US government employees, soldiers, and the Euphrates Institute founder Janessa Gans Wilder.The opening section is an exposé on the dangers of the ivory tower of idealism that is later contrasted with the consequently poor execution of this misguided idealism in the bleak forlorn state of Iraq. Packer describes the intellectual basis of invading Iraq through Straussian philosophy, and its "disciples": two neoconservative heavyweights Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. These two were the lead idealists in the Bush administration that called for intervention and regime change through military action. Packer captures the confusion and anxiety of the American public by stating that he's not a neoconservative, but claims that he initially believed that invading Iraq and deposing Sadam was the right thing to do. A gamble we Americans were willing to bet on because of the reasons we were told when we invaded Iraq... which leads us to part II.The second part details the indoctrination of Wolfowitz's longtime dream to implement his version of liberal internationalism. In layman's terms, his doctrine was interventionism (spreading democracy through diplomatic and limited military might) justified by American exceptionalism. This would later be known as the "Bush Doctrine". September 11th served as the perfect storm to begin the Bush Doctrine. The Bush Administration ardently looked for legitimate causes that would give former President Bush the green light to invade Iraq. Sadam's human rights abuses weren't enough to begin a military escalation. However, past UN inspections of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) proved that there had been components present in order to create biological and chemical weapons, (though none of the evidence validated that there was the actual creation of WMDs). However, the Bush Administration used past inspections as reasons to believe that there were WMDs in Iraq that were being sold to and used by terrorists.The Bush administration claimed there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda, especially between Hussein and Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi was deemed a collaborator of Osama bin-Ladin. However, after the invasion was in full force, the WMD and al-Qaeda argument was discredited by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Department's Inspector General's Office. It was too late though. Packer further explains that the Administration quietly tiptoed around its misstep and changed its reasoning that the invasion was addressing human rights abuses under the Sadam regime, subsequently bringing democracy to Iraq.Finally, Packer's journey takes us to the lawless, contentious cities of Iraq. Packer illustrates the various sociological histories of the Iraqi people from the privileged Ba'ath party members to the long muted Shi'ites to the horrors of the Kurds to the older secular generations and young Iraqis hoping for a better Iraq. The contrast of history and the invasion's ensuing disastrous effects on society are caught with eye-opening detail. Packer shows great empathy and cultural understanding in his writing. This is best evidenced by his visit to the historically Kurdish city of Kirkuk where he takes the reader through the various tribal, ethnic and religious rivalries explained by the people of Kirkuk. As stated earlier, Packer supported getting rid of Sadam's regime, but his belief was challenged by the rising conflict on the ground throughout the book coupled with the inefficiency of US occupational forces.Ultimately, Packer blames the hawkish members of the Bush administration and their arrogant carelessness toward human life for many of the problems he witnessed in Iraq.  He wrote, "Swaddled in abstract ideas, convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability, they turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one. When things went wrong, they found other people to blame. The Iraq War was always winnable; it still is. For this very reason, the recklessness of its authors is all the harder to forgive." Assassin's Gate will leave you in shock and dismay.

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