Customer Reviews: The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008
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on March 17, 2016
I'm a big fan of Rocks' books, and this is no exception. Many of his rather harsh criticisms have been validated by those who would know if he's wrong, and there have even been few criticisms from those to whom he's been less than kind.
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on March 9, 2009
"The Gamble", Thomas Ricks's new book about the war in Iraq from 2006-2008, is terrific in its attention to the many aspects of this chapter of the war. The surge and David Petraeus are central to its theme and Ricks manages to tell his story with an unbiased view that few others have. The narrative is smooth but crackling and can be well-understood in layman's terms.

The author spends some time on the failures of the Bush adminstration and its generals to carve a successful first few years after the 2003 invasion. Not surprisingly, President Bush plays a reduced role here as this is a book that is much more about the new wave of generals and their thinking outside the box than it is about the "old guard". Besides General Petraeus, General Raymond Odierno, once thought of as heavy-handed in his approach to the war, is figuratively resuscitated and becomes one of the "good" guys.

The overall curve of "The Gamble" describes the willingness of the American military to get out among the Iraqi people, learn about them more and sometimes make deals with those who killed American soldiers. Why this wasn't done in the early stages of the war remains not so much a mystery but a lost opportunity. Strategies are discussed at length, but Ricks's keen eye lets him take us to the politics of the situation....Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki and his government, the U.S. Congress, public opinion both in America and Iraq and, of course, the politics among the generals, themselves. That comprehensive presentation is the best part of the book.

Ricks underscores the fact that putting the right people in the right positions at the right time is critical to success. But he also points out that he is not optimistic about a total withdrawal from Iraq. We will be in Iraq for years, he suggests, if not decades. "The Gamble" is a sobering look at the past two years of a war that is inconclusive as we begin our seventh year there.
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on January 28, 2015
Another great book by Thomas E. Ricks. 3 tours in Iraq in the 2004 - 2008 time frame one of which was with the Department of State the others Private Sector - Private Business so saw a lot of reality especially as it impacted the Iraqis trying to provide for their families and stay alive.
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on December 12, 2014
Thomas Ricks has written another wonderful book on the military and the importance of having the right generals during war. In this book he looks at the Surge of the Iraq war and the military leadership involved with the great “gamble” of achieving some kind of nominal success in winding down the war. Most Americans have little understanding about the Surge and those who are better informed often know about the Surge in the context of the heated partisan debate in 2006-07 between Republicans and Democrats sitting on Capitol Hill. Indeed few understood the strategy and operational perspective of the leaders “on the ground” and I think that include many politicians. It does not help that very little has been written about the military leadership that led the actual Surge since few journalists in my opinion are capable of understanding or appreciating the operational side of the military. I think Ricks is an exception to the rule and his writing as a journalist over the years has matured and display a great understanding and appreciation of military strategy and the importance of the right personnel at the level of General officers. For some he is a must read as a great introduction for military intellectuals.
In order to appreciate the surge one must first understand the military’s involvement in Iraq prior to the surge. Ricks in the book is blunt in his discussion of the early years of the Iraq war with its bad leadership, blunders and shortsightedness among those in the officer corps. He argues that bad leadership will result in ugly outcomes like that of Haditha and similar episodes. I know the incident in Haditha is rather contentious but he does make a point that how the Battalion commander and upper echelon commanders handled the incident show a lack of understanding of the basic premise of counter-insurgency is to win the people rather than further alienate them from the military’s objective. Ricks sees Haditha as a sort of turning point. The early years of Iraq was a difficult time as many Battalion, Regimental, Brigade and even Division Commanders didn’t understand just what kind of war they were waging. Ricks pointed out that the ones that did understood were actually the outsiders such as General Petraeus. General Petraeus was different than most of his peers in many ways: unlike most of the Army’s leadership in the early years of Iraq his career was spent mostly among light infantry rather than the heavy infantry (think Mechanized infantry). There is an unspoken code that officers are to separate themselves from political connection but Petraeus was comfortable with courting political support and in fact desired that. Petraeus was also highly educated and open to discussion among civilians for their expertise. This play a crucial role in his formulation of his doctrines on Counter-insurgency as General Petraeus is the one who led the re-writing of the modern Army’s Counter-insurgency manual. I have heard in the past that Petraeus wrote the manual with the legendary Marine Corps General Mattis but what I didn’t know before and learned in the book is how many people and how diverse was the make up of the group that help consulted and wrote the Counter-Insurgency manual. Petraeus had all kinds of experts ranging from the expected military officers to human rights lawyers and civilian historians of the military. What I appreciated in the book is how the author pointed out that for General Petraeus, the metric for measuring success in his strategy is not merely winning territory but winning the people instead. He saw the people not as “collaterals” in the way of a military objective but instead the people was the objective and the prize.
The war being conducted badly was what eventually drove politicians to re-evaulate how the war was being conducted—and it was also what led George Bush to finally be open for new and fresh military leadership. I appreciate the author describing the relationship of the old leadership versus the new leadership that was going to lead the surge. In particular I was delighted to read about the relationship between General Petraeus and Odierno who were both very different in temperament and approach but both worked together well. Previously I had thought of Odierno as the General who merely was famous for helping the US pack up after major military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and I had no idea how much of a role Odierno played in the surge. I’m glad I read this book! Odierno was the one who was the “hammer” while Petraeus was the soft spoken leader so to speak. Together they worked out a balance in approaching the insurgency.
There are far too many things I learned from the book and one should get a copy for oneself! At the time that I read this book towards the end of 2014, I realize that this book was published in 2009 and the book was limited in its coverage of Iraq between 2006-2008. Obviously one can’t help but to think of the future of Iraq. The author was realistic in my opinion and was no mere cheerleader for the Surge—he also caution that the objective of the Surge might fail if politicians don’t allow troops’ presence to continue longer and the author also saw that Iraqi politicians has the ball in their court to build partnership that stretches beyond partisanship in particular with the Sunni-Shiite-Kurds divide. How true that is in hindsight as 2014 has turned out to be the year of ISIS’ expansion. I think we must not forget that Iraq has now been more or less divided into three powers, the very thing that America wanted to avoid with Iraq’s future. I read this book with much nostalgia thinking about my own time in the military and deployment in Iraq. Like the author, I have many mix feelings, saw the Surge as a success but one with many limitation as to how far it will go if its not followed up on the political end both in Iraq and the United States. One thing that the author didn’t see coming that I can’t help thinking about as I read the book was how much of a role the current conflict in Iraq with ISIS owe its ability and strength from the “Sons of the Awakening” that the US military employed back in 2006 and onwards. Many of these were Sunni militants who switched sides who sought employment with the US as militias against Al Qaeda. Since the Iraqi government with its Shiite majority would have never supported this make shift army and didn’t want to incorporate them into the regular Army, what would have happened to these military aged men who were trained, armed and unemployed? It doesn’t require rocket science to connect the thought that these men would obviously be a source for ISIS to tap into once the Americans’ departure left a vacuum. I have come to a stronger opinion that the United States should really think long and hard before we train any militant groups as we can never predict what it will mean for us and the region five, ten and twenty years down the line. If history tells us anything, we often train and equipped our future enemies.
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on February 10, 2009
Another fascinating book from Thomas Ricks-- as well written and illuminating as "Fiasco"-- if you want to understand why the surge was a military success and a political failure, or what America's future may be in this never-ending war, I highly recommend "The Gamble".
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In this sequel to the bestselling "Fiasco," Tom Ricks has produced a well reported book on the American campaign in Iraq from 2006 to 2008. In exhaustive interviews with American political leaders, Ricks pieces together the situation in 2006 and the steps required, often through back channels, for the United States to change its policy and strategy objectives for Iraq. The heroes of this story, men such as General David Petraeus and General Ray Odierno and retired General Jack Keane, analyst Fred Kagan and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, struggle against the tide of their respective institutional leaderships to develop a new though risky program for the conduct of U.S. military operation in 2007, later dubbed the "surge."

Ricks has been criticized by some for having relatively few Iraqis in this book. I believe this criticism is unfair due to the fact that the thrust of the story is about American conduct in Iraq, not the Iraqis themselves.

Ricks is an incredibly connected Pentagon reported. His account of the run up to and conduct of the surge is well worth the read. While this book does give off some indications of being hastily written, with grammatical and spelling errors in many sections of the book, it is nonetheless valuable as a first cut at current history.

I highly recommend this book.
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VINE VOICEon April 25, 2015
A great book about the Surge in Iraq. By following conventional wisdom, we were losing Iraq to tribal warfare and Al Qaida. Instead General Petraeus came up with a strategy which started patrolling the streets of Baghdad, seeking contact with the Iraqi population, turning tribes against Al Qaida and turning things around. The result was less deaths and more hope in Iraq.

The last chapters tell how Iraq needed to have some American forces based there in the foreseeable future, so that Iraqi politicians would build a multi-sectarian state. Of course, Obama took our troops out, and now an even deadlier enemy ISIS is now ripping apart the Middle East apart. Apparently Obama didn't read this book.

This is a great book about how our Army learned in an armed conflict and evolved into a better organization. There are very intelligent people in our military who can turn a large organization into a more effective organization. It was too bad that our military didn't learn earlier from David Petraeus.
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on February 13, 2014
As an Iraq vet I think Ricks put a lot of good info in the book. Good insight into Petraeus and Odierno and the Bush administration. Good bird's-eye view of the strategy in Iraq. He obviously did his homework. A little bit of an oversimplification of the humen dimension at work in the psychology of the Iraqi. What did the Iraqi on the street think before and after the Coalition invasion? How did this influence the fiasco of squandering the victorious invasion? Why didn't they see us as liberators. I knew plenty of Iraqis that saw me as a liberator. I knew quite a few more that saw me as an infidel too. What needs did the surge satisfy in the Iraqi populace? He did touch briefly on some of the cultural aspects the surge addressed. But his book about the counterinsurgency skps over specifics on the ground that I know personally were transformational. Personal trust and honor transcends the Iraqi scene and that's what Petraeus wrote about in his Counterinsurgency Manual. Great book! People should know more about what he wrote. It's not what the press and politicians tell you about the Iraq war - whether left-leaning or right-leaning.
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on May 13, 2013
Timely and accurate reporting about one of the seminal events of the 21st century. Ricks, not necessarily previously well-known as a military historian, to my knowledge, writes about contemporary history with a reporter's advantages. His books about Iraq are far superior to that noted military historian John Keegan who fumbled the ball with his book too enamored with Tommy Franks. As a sign of his good judgment, in all his discussion of General Petraeus, he never mentions Paula Broadwell or even cites her gushing bio. Required reading for all military officers and political leaders.
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on March 5, 2009
Thomas Ricks book on "General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008,"is a masterpiece in that he explains lucidly the action taken by the Bush Administration finally after some long overdue changes at the top level. The author highlights the additional forces coupled with revised strategy and tactics by Petraeus,Ambassador Crocker, and the superb US military professional team have provided Iraq stability, possibilities of peace and a better future. Of many books read on this subject, Thomas Ricks has compiled one of the best accounts of this highly controversial response to the tragedy of Sept 11,2001.
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