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Customer Review

42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good, but not as good as Cobra II, October 2, 2012
This review is from: The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama (Hardcover)
This a book covering the Iraq war and in particular the wind-down of the war. Its mostly from a military perspective. The authors are very serious writers and have a good track record in terms of past works on the war.

The problem with the book is that the authors lose their objectivity and distance. Rather than covering the war, they become cheerleaders for "the surge" and the individuals (like Petraeus and company) associated with the strategy. The book is in three parts: Why the war was bad before the surge, how great the surge was and how things got worse after the surge. The research is good. The writing is generally good. But the book bends over backwards to warp events to promote its designated heroes. That brings it down.

I think the book overvalues the idea of "counterinsurgency" and often fails to consider other aspects of the situation. How much does one really credit counterinsurgency and how much does one credit the simple fact that a "surge" puts more boots on the ground. Was the so-called Sunni Awakening due to American troops acting tough and how much was it due to political changes within Iraq as regards the Sunni. By its nature, a military study like this tends to neglect wider issues and effects. But when the authors crossed the line from looking at counterinsurgency to promoting that strategy and its leaders, they probably needed to widen their focus.

The book is not particularly kind to either the Bush or Obama Administrations. At some level, it doesn't tend to see their strategies (around the surge) as being all that different. The authors also buy into the questionable idea that AQ operating in Iraq was a serious issue. There is AQ and there is the Zarqawi organization "AQ in Iraq". They are different things. Far too often, the book uses "AQ" when it means Zarqawi's "AQ in Iraq" organization. That slight difference in words can create a radically different perception of the insurgency in Iraq for the reader.

Despite the title, the authors have a difficult time suggesting what a better "endgame" might have looked like. The thing about the counterinsurgency strategies they have come to believe in is that while they can improve a situation, they can't end the situation. As in Iraq, the best they could seem to offer is a better stalemate.

The book presents an enormous amount of detail about the later years of the conflict and perhaps in time the book can serve as a jumping off point to more objective analysis done from a greater distance than the authors of this book managed.

I gave it three stars because I think its a flawed book, but did enjoy reading it. While its not a perfect history of the war, it does make the case of the counterinsurgency crowd in a very credible way.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 3, 2012 11:16:58 AM PDT
This is a good and useful review--with the caveat that I haven't read the book yet.

My only point of disagreement is that al-Qaeda in Iraq was a serious issue. I don't mean to wade into the issue of the extent of the connection of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, or AQI with 9/11 terrorism (others can hash that out). But, post 2003, AQI was a real source of sectarian violence and U.S. casualties.

Posted on Oct 3, 2012 5:56:03 PM PDT
Yes, this was a good overall review - but from 2004-2008, AQI was definitely a big problem.

One can argue, accurately, that AQ did not exist in Iraq in the 2003-04 timeframe, but once the sectarian violence opened up a vacuum of security, Al Qaeda filled it and made things a lot worse.

Posted on Oct 3, 2012 8:50:08 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 3, 2012 8:53:43 PM PDT
Mark bennett says:
I tried to make a complicated point with a few words and it came out in a way certain to confuse. There is the Zarqawi organization which was popularly known since around 2005 as AQ in Iraq and there is the activity of "AQ" as an organization in Iraq. I meant the latter rather than the former.

When the author's say things like Zarqawi's organization was a "local franchise" of AQ, I think that creates a distorted impression. As well, the authors use "AQ" on many, many occasions (as in AQ launched a wave of car bombings) when they mean AQ in Iraq/the Zarqawi organization. That distinction is very important in my opinion. Its important in discussing the insurgency to make it clear that many of those using the AQ name in Iraq were doing so opportunistically. In terms of understanding the insurgency, in my opinion, its best to look at individuals (and their history) to understand real organizations rather than implying too much from current group names. If the "1921 patriots of Islam" suddenly call themselves part of "AQ in Iraq" in 2006 in a communication but keep the same leaders and keep operating independently, more is attributed to AQ than is deserved.

Its admittedly a technical point on my part. But the words used in describing the insurgency create perceptions that are often not quite correct. If I had to reduce it to one sentence, I think it was wrong for the authors to so often use "AQ" without the qualifier when talking about "AQ in Iraq".

I didn't mean to suggest that Zarqawi's organzation in Iraq and groups that often acted in the name of his organization were not a military problem. Obviously they were. I've edited the review slightly to clarify.

Posted on Oct 12, 2012 5:24:48 AM PDT
Back in the day, a surge used to be called sending in reinforcements. No one spins language quite like the military.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2012 6:53:52 AM PDT
That is because the "Surge" was about more than just sending reinforcements, but sending in reinforcements to wage a counter-offensive with a radical new doctrine whereby civilians were "shifted from annoyances on the soccer field to being the goals" (a quote by a british counterinsurgency expert). In the military it is known as modern Counter-Insurgency (COIN) and based on Field Manuel 3-24.

Posted on Oct 22, 2012 7:02:10 AM PDT
Zarqawi's organization actually was created before 911, but he didn't want to be subservient to Bin Laden so it was always very separate. After 911 his organization fled to northern Iraq via the ancient smuggling routes in northern Iran (the Silk Road) to meet up with Ansar Al Islam. When the Kurds and American SF attacked them in 2003 he left again and found sanctuary for his shrinking organization with the Sunni Tribes in Anbar province. The tribes were unhappy because they had liberated most of Anbar (and had been in de-facto control since Saddam was weakened in 1991).

Zarqawi declared his organization as "Al Qaeda in Iraq" in November 2004 because it was trapped in Fallujah and the Americans were about to attack again. He knew he needed funding and personnel (mainly as suicide bombers, the Iraqis would plan the operations, but it was largely the foreigners who pushed the button) to reconstruct after the battle. This is why it is largely called a franchise.

As a caveat my Master's Thesis was about the "Surge" and I served over there early and late war.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2012 10:41:57 AM PDT
Mark bennett says:
Many of the stories told about Zarqawi are questionable. The story you are telling tracks back roughly to the story Colin Powell used at the UN and other places in the runup the Iraq war. Powell tried to link Zarqawi to Ansar Al Islam as part of a chain that led to Saddam Hussein and linked Hussein to AQ. While parts of those stories have been shed (such as the "master poisoner" angle), other parts of them live on.

As far as smuggling routes, there is nothing "ancient" about those in eastern Iran. Thats where the drugs go.
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