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The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 148 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 860-1401700838
ISBN-10: 0374530556
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As the death toll mounts in the Iraq War, Americans are agonizing over how the mess started and what to do now. George Packer, a staff writer at The New Yorker, joins the debate with his thoughtful book The Assassins' Gate. Packer describes himself as an ambivalent pro-war liberal "who supported a war [in Iraq] by about the same margin that the voting public had supported Al Gore." He never believed the argument that Iraq should be invaded because of weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he saw the war as a way to get rid of Saddam Hussein and build democracy in Iraq, in the vein of the U.S. interventions in Haiti and Bosnia.

How did such lofty aims get so derailed? How did the U.S. get stuck in a quagmire in the Middle East? Packer traces the roots of the war back to a historic shift in U.S. policy that President Bush made immediately after 9/11. No longer would the U.S. be hamstrung by multilateralism or working through the UN. It would act unilaterally around the world--forging temporary coalitions with other nations where suitable--and defend its status as the sole superpower. But when it came to Iraq, even Bush administration officials were deeply divided. Packer takes readers inside the vicious bureaucratic warfare between the Pentagon and State Department that turned U.S. policy on Iraq into an incoherent mess. We see the consequences in the second half of The Assassins' Gate, which takes the reader to Iraq after the bombs have stopped dropping. Packer writes vividly about how the country deteriorated into chaos, with U.S. authorities in Iraq operating in crisis mode. The book fails to capture much of the debate about the war among Iraqis themselves--instead relying mostly on the views of one prominent Iraqi exile--but it is an insightful contribution to the debate about the decisions--and blunders--behind the war. --Alex Roslin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

[Signature]Reviewed by Christopher HitchensIt is extremely uncommon for any reporter to read another's work and to find that he altogether recognizes the scene being described. Reading George Packer's book, I found not only that I was remembering things I had forgotten, but also that I was finding things that I ought to have noticed myself. His book rests on three main pillars: analysis of the intellectual origins of the Iraq war, summary of the political argument that preceded and then led to it, and firsthand description of the consequences on the ground. In each capacity, Packer shows himself once more to be the best chronicler, apart perhaps from John Burns of the New York Times, that the conflict has produced. (I say "once more" because some of this material has already appeared in the New Yorker.)A very strong opening section traces the ideas, and the ideologists, of the push for regime change in Iraq. Packer is evidently not a neoconservative, but he provides an admirably fair and lucid account of those who are. There is one extraordinary lacuna in his tale—he manages to summarize the long debate between the "realists" and the "neocons" without mentioning Henry Kissinger—but otherwise he makes an impressively intelligent guide. Of value in itself is the ribbonlike presence, through the narrative, of the impressive exile Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, upon whom Packer hones many of his own ideas. (I should confess that I myself make an appearance at this stage and, to my frustration, can find nothing to quarrel with.)The argument within the administration was not quite so intellectual, but Packer takes us through it with insight and verve, giving an excellent account in particular of the way in which Vice President Cheney swung from the "realist" to the "neocon" side. And then the scene shifts to Iraq itself. Packer has a genuine instinct for what the Iraqi people have endured and are enduring, and writes with admirable empathy. His own opinions are neither suppressed nor intrusive: he clearly welcomes the end of Saddam while having serious doubts about the wisdom of the war, and he continually tests himself against experience. The surreal atmosphere of Paul Bremer's brief period of palace rule is very well caught, but the outstanding chapter recounts a visit to the northern city of Kirkuk and literally "walks" us through the mesh of tribal, ethnic and religious rivalry. The Iraq debate has long needed someone who is both tough-minded enough, and sufficiently sensitive, to register all its complexities. In George Packer's work, this need is answered. (Oct. 15)Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His book Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (HarperCollins) was published last week.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (September 19, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374530556
  • ASIN: B004KAB5AA
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,111,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark Shanks VINE VOICE on December 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The title itself refers to the main gateway into Baghdad's Green Zone, the heavily fortified compound area from which the Coaltion Provisional Authority "governed" Iraq in the months after the invasion. As it turns out, the Assassin's Gate doesn't get it's colorful 1,001 Nights-flavored name from any historical allusion, but simply from the Alpha Company unit that was stationed there. I would be hard-pressed to come up with a more appropriately ironic name.

What gives Mr. Packer considerable credibility in writing this book is that he supported the invasion and ouster of Saddam Hussein. He has no ideological ax to grind, and lays out the history and philosophy of the key players in the government who pressed for this action dispassionately. Only the "true believers" could take exception to the facts as presented here, although I think he understates the objectives and influence of the "Project for the New American Century", or PNAC, political group. To the reviewer who claims that Packer's Iraqis all seem to be negative, I can only answer that he definitely gives equal time to those who have an optimistic outlook for their country.

But even attributing the most benevolent (if naive) motivations to all concerned in the rush to war, there is no covering up the antipathy (to put it mildly) of those same players to the concept of any sort of post-war planning. And therein lies the primary thesis of the book. In fact, the war itself really isn't covered except in passing. There simply WAS no plan. Iraq would be liberated, and that was what was important. Any thought given to contingencies was considered disloyal at best, and going public with any doubt or question inevitably resulted in early retirement, usually accompanied by character assassination.
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Format: Hardcover
George Packer has repackaged and expanded his reporting of the Iraq War for the New Yorker magazine into this magnificent tail of lethal occurrences coming together at the crossroads of Iraq.

The first of these occurrences is the absolute incompetence of the Bush administration and the neocons leading the Iraq War policy to see beyond what they have dreamed up in their think tanks or been told by the many Iraqi exiles eager to tell them what they want to hear. This incompetence led to a failure to plan for post-war occupation and governance of Iraq, and a failure to be straight with the American people about the real costs and consequences of the Iraq war.

The second occurrence is what happened to the Iraqi people once they were liberated from the totalitarianism of the Saddam Hussein regime. After nearly four decades of his iron fisted rule, it appears that Iraqis almost didn't know how to experience their freedom. Vast voids and crevices opened in Iraqi society that were quickly filled with Saudi and Iranian backed religious parties, eager to impose their own vision of society on the majority of Iraqis.

These two points coming together in March 2003, has led to where we are today in Iraq. It now appears that the Bush administration ahs no clue how to move forward from the morass that is the situation as of the first of the year in 2006. Recent elections have brought to power those organized religious parties who are vastly opposed to American and Western ideals. The big winners of the entire exhibition appear to be the theocrats, while the losers are the majority of the Iraqi population, the prestige of the United States, the military, and our own future security.

For an explanation of how this situation came to pass I highly recommend George Packer's book.
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Format: Hardcover
George Packer has written as good a book as an American foreign correspondent could have written on contemporary Iraq. But this isn't enough for me, and it shouldn't be enough for most American readers. As Packer himself admits, as the strength of the insurgency grew, "foreigners were cut off from Iraqis... [I]f you were honest about it, you had to admit that you knew less and less about the thinking of Iraqis and the circumstances of their lives."

In his vignettes, Packer captures the lives of disaffected doctors, obsequious sheikhs, drivers, bodyguards, and translators that he is lucky enough to meet, who are brave enough to speak to him, and who (often) speak English well enough to impress upon him their stories.

If Packer's journalism is one-sided, it is not in his conclusions (as some reviews have claimed), it is his sources. The Iraqis he does get through to are but a small and biased set. But when he profiles Americans in Iraq, Packer is incisive and honest. Here we see Marine captain Prior, Paul Bremer's bureaucrats, and others grappling with the enormity of the goal of a stable, democratic Iraq -- against the backdrop of crippled infrastructure and deteriorating security on which that goal depends.

My regret after reading this book is that the fog that has settled over Iraq has not been lifted, only presented in greater detail. Perhaps Packer cannot see through this fog as well as I would have hoped. But what is unsettling is that he appears to see further and clearer than our American leadership, for whom a deep understanding of Iraqis is so much more critical.
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