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The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq Paperback – September 15, 2009
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This is West’s third book about the war in Iraq; his previous one (No True Glory, 2005) is an account of the ferocious battle of Fallujah in 2004. This one pivots on the war’s major strategic development since then, President George Bush’s December 2006 decision to reinforce American troops; describing the so-called surge—its political origin, strategic concept, and tactical implementation—is West’s purpose here. Subscribing to the general opinion that the initial occupation of Iraq was bungled, West briskly dispenses his critique of the years 2003–5 to intently examine the situation as of 2006. His inspection assumes the narrative form of accompanying American units on patrol, conveying a gritty sense of counterinsurgency war and the frustrations American officers have experienced conducting this one. West seems relieved to introduce the commanders of the surge in Iraq, Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, and he unreservedly extols the courage of soldiers and marines who have carried it out. Arguing they have retrieved the situation, West encourages optimism about the outcome of America’s war in Iraq. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Balanced, panoramic assessment of the Iraq War by former Marine and Reagan administration veteran West (No True Glory, 2005, etc.), who heralds American soldiers as its unsung heroes amid the "fog of Washington". . .A timely, eye-opening historical analysis that provides clarity around the difficult choices the next president faces." —Kirkus, starred review
"In this important new chronicle of the war in Iraq, Bing West reveals how America reached the brink of defeat in 2006 and then managed in 2007 to stage a stunning turnaround. With its vivid, on-the-ground reporting, his book is a fitting tribute to the honor, valor, and toughness of our soldiers. Notwithstanding numerous mistakes by their leaders, West shows that their sacrifices have made success possible—as long we do not withdraw prematurely."—Senator John S. McCain
"Sometimes the best way to support the troops is to criticize the generals. Bing West does both well in this book, showing a sympathy for our soldiers and Marines, but also a great ear for military truth and a determination to render events accurately. This is his third and most important book about the Iraq war. Read it."
—Thomas E. Ricks, author of FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
"A brilliant exposition. Based on extensive experience in the war zone, Bing West recounts how Soldiers and Marines showed the President and the Pentagon the way to solve the Iraq insurgency problem. Echoing the admonition that "all politics are local", The Strongest Tribe convincingly argues that it was a grass roots strategy developed by on-scene officers who forged ties at the tribal level that brought stability to Iraq's turbulent Anbar Province and provided hope for all Iraq."
—Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor USMC (Ret.) Co-author of The Generals' War
and COBRA II: The Inside Story of the Invation and Occupation of Iraq
"Some four decades ago I told Bing West that his book, the Village, would become a classic in counterinsurgency warfare. And so it did. "The Strongest Tribe" will surely be West's second classic—a moving and detailed account of almost six years of war in Iraq." —Dr. James R. Schlesinger, Director of Central Intelligence Agency, Nixon administration; Secretary of Defense, Ford administration; Chairman, The Mitre Corporation
"West calls it like he sees it, and there is probably no American not wearing a uniform who has seen more of this war." —Washington Post Book World
"An authoritative testament . . . full of eyewitness accounts . . . [Bing] West, who served in Vietnam as a Marine infantry officer, is more than a battlefield observer. He is a military analyst who wants to show how counterinsurgency works."—Wall Street Journal
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The author provides especially interesting coverage of the years following the 2004 Battle of Fallujah. First, he does a comprehensive job of describing the "the Surge." This decision by the president was one of two crucial factors in turning the war around. Despite popular opinion, the Surge was not solely the idea of Generals Petraeus and Odierno. The author describes how several people developed this strategy over a period of time. Once Generals Petraeus and Odierno signed up to the idea, they provided the crucial support needed for its success.
The second major event was the Sunni "Awakening." Mr. West describes how several Sunni tribes became fed up with Al Qaeda's brutal hand and joined forces with the U.S. in self defense. The U.S. military and the Sunnis formed a working alliance despite objections from al-Maliki's Shiite government.
Of note is that this book is unbiased and well balanced. For example, the author both praises and criticizes many senior leaders such as President Bush, Senators McCain, Feinstein, & Biden, General Sanchez, and Ambassador Bremer. These are individuals from both ends of the political spectrum.
Bottom line: This is an even handed and extremely thorough book. It is well researched and easy to read. As with his previous books, the reader will receive an insider's view of the war.
If you are coming to Iraq history unsure where to start among the numerous narratives, this would be the best place to begin. Author Bing West gives the reader enough higher-level perspective to put all the events together, while also spending time at the ground level with the soldiers doing the job. It's quite a feat.
The importance of this book is also that it opens the door to other books. For example, 'Kaboom' by Matt Gallagher deals with sometimes confusing tribal dealings, but they will make a lot more sense once you've read 'Strongest Tribe.'
The meaningful history of the Iraq war deals with 2006-2009, when the effects of the 'surge' began to take hold. It was full of complicated events (some of which I saw as an embedded journalist in Iraq myself). West's book educates the reader but never patronizes or glosses over events. He holds the right people accountable for the many failures, and gives credit where its due for the successes that were finally found (whether those successes last now that US participation has ended is history that's yet to be written).
West's effort, work and risk has paid off in this fantastic narrative.
The work's only limitation is its episodic style. Each section could be read independently, I suspect that's how West maintains the remarkable "you are there" style. For a student of the conflict, it can be a bit frustrating. The included photographs give some faces to the key players, although more maps and timelines would help add continuity to the story.
The unintiatied non-military reader should be warned that West's comfort for military jargon is not tempered for his reader! He frequently devolves into militarese to speedily identify units and operations. A well composed index will help the novice.
Bing West is clearly a fan of the United States military. His history and experience would be hard presssed to result in any other bias. Nonetheless, he is crticial where he needs to be and finds much to improve in regards to our tactics and strategy in this conflict. If you are seeking a nuts and bolts guide detailing the challenges, successes and failures in Iraq, look no further than this work.
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