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The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama Audio CD – 2012
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Title notwithstanding, The End Game starts from the beginning. The early stuff has been covered elsewhere before, but is appreciated nonetheless. In particular, The End Game is focused on the colonels and generals, rather than, as most of the books on the subject I’ve read, the highest military brass and civilian leadership.
We get the disaster of Bremer (he basically scuttled the entire Iraqi infrastructure, but never seriously invested in replacing it). In fact, the entire early war effort is a tragedy of errors. Casey was another disaster. He completely focused on a drawdown, when more and more evidence was pointing to its futility and the potential of counterinsurgency (a counterinsurgency strategy (under the guise of an “ink blot” strategy) was put forward as many as 16 months before the surge). Gordon and Trainor make a convincing case that our strategy was a failure even before Samarra blew the powder keg.
We faced two serious problems. Suuni insurgent attacks led to Shiite Iraqis terrorizing Sunni Iraqis, often using the arm of the state. That opened the door for Al Qaeda to wage war directly against the Americans in Iraq.
It’s always been fascinating to the see the slow progress from virtually full support for a drawdown to the conclusion that the full surge, not simply a small increase. Petraeus had been pushing counterinsurgency, but it was viewed with great skepticism by his superiors. President Bush may have boldly accepted a large surge, but it was the generals on the ground who set the strategy for how the additional battalions would be used.
The Sunni Awakening was one of the great surprises of the Iraq War. For all the arguments for the Surge, the effect of the Surge on the Awakening was not fully appreciated. The Awakening may have preceded the Surge, but the counterinsurgency tactics of the Surge took the Awakening out of Anbar. The Awakening started as “a bottom-up phenomenon driven by local Iraqis and the American units they encountered in the field. It was not something the generals . . . had organized from on high.” But recognized and appreciated, they were complementary and fed off each other.
Sadly, this isn’t a story with a happy ending. We see the political tail wagging the policy dog in an administration dominated by former Senators. Both militaries wanted a continued US military presence, but the politics for the politicians were much trickier on both sides. It was a fundamental error by both the Bush and Obama administrations to allow the Office of the Vice President greater influence than the State Department. The Office of the VP can never bring the kind of resources and infrastructure to bear that the State Department can. Despite the success of the surge, feckless decision making is leaving us back where we started before the surge. But then, I question whether, whatever the military success of the surge, we ever did the other things necessary to “win.”
This review is of the Kindle edition. Just over 20% of the Kindle edition is devoted to reference material, etc., including acknowledgments, notes (hyperlinked both ways, and taking up 12% of the Kindle edition itself), index (hyperlinked), short bios of the authors, illustrations, maps and charts, and an ‘also by.’
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