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Showing 1-10 of 48 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 153 reviews
on July 30, 2016
Packer is one of those writers that, if I see his name on anything printed, I'll stop to read his thoughts. This book, which does a great job at taking the reader through all the stages that lead to the Iraq War and then through the mismanagement of this great achievement (to topple Saddam with very little bloodshed on both sides) did something very meaningful for me. I didn't support the war when it took place and was dismayed to see what has happened to Iraq under, during, and after the American involvement. But I was fairly ignorant of the who and why and for what. If you'd have asked me in real time I would have most likely said that the war is (only) about oil and that president Bush is, to quote Packer, "not very curious about the world". Now I know better, the war was (also) about oil, but also about big ideas and the future of the world and simple faith that America can make great and positive things happen in our complex and bogged down world. I'm not sure much of that faith will be around in the next decades. In a very bleak and ashen way this book makes the reader believe once more that big ideas do actually matter, perhaps because of the time given in it to Kanan Makiya. Who remains a powerful figure throughout the years this book covers.
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This is one of the better books on America's incursion into Iraq. It is also another in a string of books that are, as a whole, depressing in their analysis and conclusions. Whether one reads Rory Stewart's book, "Prince of the Marshes" (focusing on Iraq outside of Baghdad) or others that look specifically at the war from a Baghdad perspective (think, for example, of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City"), one gets a queasy feeling that this venture into Iraq was fated not to work out well.

The title of the book is based on a gate in Baghdad, named by American troops as "The Assassins' Gate." It represented one entry point into the Green Zone, with people lining up there to seek jobs or protest or whatever.

The book discusses the run up to the war, including the roles of people such as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, the Vice President, and so on. The story includes the role of exiles. Among the more well known, of course, is Ahmad Chalabi. The book also introduces us to another important exile who made the case for invasion--Kanan Makiya.

Packer discusses, among other issues, planning for war. He concludes in a lugubrious assessment (page 147): "Like the President. Cheney maintained an almost mystical confidence in American military power and an utter incuriosity about the details of its human consequences." Postwar planning? As Packer summarizes the view of the Administration (page 147): ". . .there was no need to worry." Perhaps the song, "Don't worry, be happy" best describes this heinous lack of thinking things through.

The narrative proceeds by exploring how the invasion became an occupation. One line tends to capture the descending trajectory after the invasion (Page 295): "By the end [of the attempted suppression of Muqtada al-Sadr], much of what the occupation had been trying to achieve in Iraq lay in ruins." Then, the insurgencies (in the plural) began, again not anticipated by the American leaders. The fact that insurgency (page 298) "caught the U. S. military by surprise" is a scandal. Many had projected that insurgency was inevitable. That the United States had not planned thoroughly for this is almost criminal negligence.

The unwillingness of the Administration to consider views counter to their own, in Packer's view, is a symptom of a very dangerous problem in decision-making--"groupthink." Here, people tend to agree with one another and not critically examine issues. He defines it as (page 319) "the uniform mind set that takes hold of any hermetic, hierarchical institution with strong leaders and a sense of common mission, where bad news is unwelcome and no one wants to be the one to ask the truly unsettling questions."

In the end, Packer concludes that (page 448) "those in positions of highest responsibility showed a carelessness about human life that amounted to criminal negligence."

This book, then, is one among a number of well researched and reported volumes that must make us question the competence of the American government and its leadership. It will be interesting to see how the history books judge this adventure in Iraq.
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on March 3, 2017
Serious look into Iraq...with particularly great insight into culture and conflict. Highly recommended
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on August 23, 2016
Here's how we got sold a war. Here's how we'll be sold the next one and why we are assailed by US haters who previously had no interest in fighting us.
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on January 29, 2011
This is a good book that does an excellent job explaning the history behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the intellectual underpinnings of that effort, and the combination of bad decisions and poor coordination that hampered the U.S. and its coalition throughout the first years of the occupation. It covers a great deal of material in a fairly readable style, although some of the early chapters on intellectual theory and history may discourage some readers.

The book ends on somewhat of a negative note in early 2005 with an Afterword covering the start of the 2007 surge. I would be interested in Mr. Packer's assessment of the current situation in Iraq, which he would probably characterize as a limited success.
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on April 4, 2015
George Packer is a wonderful writer--very clear and concise in his story-telling. Really enjoyed the book.
I loved his other book The Unwinding, equally as well, for a comprehensive report on what is happening to American society in the 21st century.
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on June 18, 2015
Intelligent, well researched, lively written, a masterpiece of contemperary history. A must read in order to understand the arrogance, ignorance and moral corruption of the Bush gouvernment (including Rumsfeld of course and a certain Bremer).
This trio managed to make the world a very dangerous place for generations to come
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on July 10, 2006
A lot of ink has been spilled over Iraq during the past four years, and for good reason. With any subject so controversial and contested, there will obviously be a lot of polemical and harmful writing from both sides of the argument, but thankfully, a lot of well-informed and intelligent writing as well. With so much out there, sifting through it all can be demanding, but anyone that comes across The Assassins' Gate will have in their hands one of the true gems on the subject. If you are only going to read one book on what is currently happening in Iraq, I passionately believe that this should be the book.

It's hard to tell exactly what you're going to get just by looking at the title and what's on the back cover, but I can assure you that all of the comments on the back (made by some of the most respected foreign policy critics) are dead on in their assessment. What you'll find in this book is the story of how the U.S. (again) found itself in Iraq. The beginning chapters foucs on the decision making process; who was making them and how. This is perhaps the most well-written and intelligent description of these events, and I have read more than several of them. You will gain more insight on how we got into this war from reading Packer's book than from perhaps anywhere else. He gives the reader wonderful character sketches of people like Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan, and Kanan Makiya. These are the people that really had a large hand in what was happening, and by focusing on them rather than the bigger names like Bush or Rumsfeld, Packer does a much better job at explaining these events than his peers.

The rest of the book deals with Packer's personal experiences in Iraq during the war. Each chapter deals with a different theme, such as the insurgency & the potential for a civil war, and while the scope of what's covered in the bulk of the book is somewhat more narrow than the first three or four chapters, Packer still gives the reader a very satisfying account of the war as a whole.

This book's biggest strenght is that it blends nearly flawless political analysis with the readability of a novel. Packer is a superb writer and I found it very hard to put this book down. From an academic point of view the book is close to flawless. This in itself is very impressive, because it does not appear that Packer had much previous experience with Iraq. I've read the works of those considered to be area experts and some of them can't even hold a match to Packer's work here. This is exciting and depressing all at once.

I found this book to be particularly good because it also fit perfectly with my own personal feelings about the war. As someone that wanted to see Hussein gone, I had to support the idea of removing him (and still do). But beyond that initial decision, the way the Bush administration handled the war has been negligent at best, criminal at worst. Packer has not written a polemical rant here, but by the end of his book, he lets you know that very real and harmful mistakes have been made. He occupies that well-intentioned, but pragmatic middle ground that this debate so sorely needs.

This book will appeal to casual observers and serious analysts alike. While books by Diamond and Feldman that cover similar themes are also excellent and should be read, Packer's book is by far the best, and I believe that no one can claim to truly have a grasp on what's happening in Iraq unless they have read this book. We can only hope that Packer will continue to produce work of such extraordinarily high quality on this and other foreign policy issues.
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on October 15, 2006
With a futile effort at journalistic objectivity, Packer lays out step by step the incompetence and lack of planning that led to the botched war in Iraq. He shows both the political and the human face of the war and weaves them together into a coherent whole.

Meet the Iraqi people, the victims of this debacle. Unprepared for democracy after years of a brutal totalitarian regime, they looked to their liberators for guidance and found a disorganized ground force that lacked a comprehensive plan for reconstruction. Packer makes it obvious that the architects of this war failed miserably to understand and plan for the most basic of physical and psychological human needs.

This isn't just a disquistion on the mechanics of a war, it is a glimpse into a culture whose mores, not to mention social structures, are so different from our own, that we cannot understand their needs. What leaps off every page is that Americans keep making the same mistakes over and over, assuming that other peoples (Vietnamese, Iraqis) are simply us with a different name. This is a tribal culture, fragmented for centuries, with demographics that make it clear that a unified and democratic Iraq will take far longer to create than its liberators ever anticipated.

Reading this book, it is difficult to reconcile the genuinely good intentions of so many involved in the occupation, with the Machiavellian manipulations of the administration that talked America into it.

Assassin's Gate makes it clear that the state of affairs in Iraq is too complex to be reduced to simplistic concepts like winning or losing. Whatever happens, Iraq will never be the same, and whether this is for good or ill, only history will tell.
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on January 28, 2006
Whatever else, and whatever the outcome, the Iraq War will most likely go down in history as one of America's most ambivalent wars. Those who in the 1990s regretted America's attention to nation-building assumed the task themselves, and those who complained about the country's courtship of dictatorship in the Middle East opposed the greatest possible infusion of liberty in the region. In the political campaign which preceded the war, the world's greatest superpower (and for many the greatest force for freedom in the world) lost a public relations battle to one of the world's most brutal and homicidal dictators.

It is difficult to capture the subtlety and variety of the intellectual and political background which culminated in the Iraq war. It involves debates about America's power, about international law, and about the state of affairs in the Middle East; it is also a discussion about what war can accomplish and whether democracy has be imposed from abroad.

It takes a gifted writer to navigate through this complexity without falling back on partisan attacks and superficial arguments. And it takes an honest narrator to strike a balance between the arguments of the war's proponents and opponents-to balance between the apparent incompetence of the Republican administration in managing Iraq's postwar transition with the inadequacy of the Democrats either to offer an alternative path or to oppose the war in a convincing and coherent way that would reassure the American public as well as win the war.

George Packer, of the New Yorker, accomplishes this task, in part because he is writing about his own feelings (he calls himself a pro-war liberal), and in part because he speaks to a great number of people who felt inspired by the war but who also became progressively disillusioned by it. The "Assassins' Gate" is told through various people, Americans and Iraqis, who capture the range of the story unfolding there (ether Iraqi exiles, American administrators or military, Iraqi Sunnis, Shia or Kurds, etc.). If journalism is the first draft of history, the "Assassins' Gate" is both a very good draft and one that future writers will read to gain a great insight into the war, its genesis and its immediate aftermath.
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