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The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq by…
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The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq (2005)

by George Packer

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  1. 10
    Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (rakerman)
    rakerman: Assassin's Gate gives a different but overlapping perspective on many of the issues covered in Imperial Life in the Emerald City; they are good companion books.
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George Packer has written a truly enlightening and intriguing book about our descent into Iraq. Packer is a lucid and engaging writer who can clearly summarize the intellectual debate between the neoconservatives and the realists. It's also a sad book. Learning how policy is arrived out and then justified and implemented can be very discouraging.

The neocons and Bush had decided to go after Iraq for a variety of reasons before 9/11. The concern then became how to sell that decision. Shortly after the fall of Baghdad Paul Wolfowitz fold an interviewer: "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S, government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction." The real rationale for the war was to realign American power in the Middle East, toward a democratic society and away from Saudi Arabia, home of the Wahhabi sect that virtually controlled Saudi society and government and had been the home to almost all of the 9/11 terrorists. (See Sandra MacKey's very excellent book on Saudi Arabia -- [b:The Saudis Inside the Desert Kingdom|511872|The Saudis Inside the Desert Kingdom|Sandra Mackey|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1175397999s/511872.jpg|1488726] -- for a detailed view of what it's like to live in such a theocracy.)

The job then became to selectively use pieces of intelligence that supported their common justification. "Just a year earlier, Iraq had been viewed as an outlaw state that was beginning to slip free of international constraints and might present a threat to the region or, more remotely, the United States in five years or so. Now, suddenly, there wasn't a day to be lost. . . It didn't matter that there was no strong evidence to back up the doomsday prognosis." ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Packer tells it like it is, with some strange but often helpful quirks of perspective – a lefty who supported the war in Iraq, but was disenchanted with the way it was conducted. ( )
  chriskrycho | Mar 30, 2013 |
This is a first-rate account and one of the best of the Iraq conflict. Packer weaves the big-picture view of the conflict with the personal and everyday lives of combatants, victims, and those caught in the middle of the Iraq conflict. It features interesting sidelights into the personalities of his figures and includes discussion questions at the end which would work for a discussion group seeking to understand Iraq more fully.

Packer relates a compelling story, not the least of which is his account of Kanan Makiya (b.1949, Baghdad). Makiya is an Iraqi academic, who gained British nationality in 1982. He is the Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University. As a former Saddamist exile, he was a prominent member of the Iraqi opposition, a "close friend" of the quixotic and notorious Ahmed Chalabi, and an influential proponent of the 2003 Iraq War. His life is documented in British journalist Nick Cohen's book What's Left (there is also information about Makiya in Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, pp. 54-57, 108).

Makiya's Republic of Fear (1989) became a best-seller after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, in which he argues that Iraq had become a full-fledged totalitarian state, worse than despotic states such as Jordan or Saudi Arabia. His next book, The Monument (1991), is an essay on the aesthetics of power and kitsch.

Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World (1993) was published under Makiya's own name. It was awarded the Lionel Gelber Prize for the best book on international relations published in English in 1993. According to a 2007 profile of Makiya in The New York Times Magazine, the 1993 book "posed a devastating critique of the Arab world's intelligentsia, whose anti-Americanism, Makiya argued, had prompted it to conspire in a massive, collective silence over Hussein’s dungeons."

Makiya is widely known to have been a strong proponent of the 2003 Iraq War and advocated for the "complete dismantling of the security services of the regime, leaving only the regular police force intact" (Cf. Transcript of Iraq Seminar with Richard Perle and Kanan Makiya" National Press Club, March 17, 2003. Accessed July 13, 2008). As U.S. forces took control during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, Makiya returned to Iraq under their aegis and was given the position of Advisor to the Iraq interim governing council by the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Makiya is quoted as having said, "As I told the President on January 10th, I think [the troops] will be greeted with sweets and flowers in the first months and simply have very, very little doubts that that is the case." His support for the war followed an idealistic line, as recounted in the New York Times Magazine in 2007:

In the buildup to the Iraq war, Makiya, more than any single figure, made the case for invading because it was the right thing to do - to destroy an evil regime and rescue a people from their nightmare of terror and suffering. Not for oil, Makiya argued, and not for some superweapons hidden in the sand, but to satisfy an obligation to our fellow human beings.

If it sounded idealistic, Makiya went even further, arguing that an American invasion of Iraq could clear the ground for Western-style democracy. Years of war and murder had left Iraqis so thoroughly degraded, Makiya argued, that, once freed, they would throw off the tired orthodoxies of Arab politics and, in their despair, look to the West.

Edward Said, a professor of English at Columbia University and supporter of Palestinian rights, was a vocal critic of Makiya. Said contended that Makiya was a Trotskyist in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but that he later "switched sides," profiting by designing buildings for Saddam Hussein. George Packer asserted in The Assassin's Gate that Said's accusations were untrue and Makiya had never worked for Saddam (although his father had). Said also claimed that Makiya mistranslated Arab intellectuals so he could condemn them for not speaking out against the crimes of Arab rulers. Makiya had earlier criticised Said for encouraging a sense of Muslim victimhood and offering inadequate censure to those in the Middle East who were themselves guilty of atrocities.

Related titles:
1. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks
2. Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
3. Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael R. Gordon
4. Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib by Seymour M. Hersh
5. State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III by Bob Woodward
6. The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 by Ron Suskind
7. Rise of the Vulcans by James Mann
8. Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward
9. Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War by Anthony Shadid
10. Postwar by Tony Judt
11. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll
12. The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
13. Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff
14. The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina by Frank Rich
15. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer
16. The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
17. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner
18. State Of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration by James Risen
19. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin
20. Bush at War by Bob Woodward
  gmicksmith | Jun 20, 2010 |
They lose faith in us by the minute: My headline is a quote from the book and refers to Iraqis' attitude soon after the invasion. The level of neglect and incompetence was beyond belief and gave rise to the most amazing conspiracy theories.
Packer describes his own pre-war attitude as "ambivalently pro-war liberal", meaning he came somehow from the same direction as Tony Blair, who publicly based his support for the invasion mainly on the human rights view that the regime needed to be removed (that's at least what he said after the wmd scam was destroyed). I can respect that, although I never bought it. My main objection always has been, that I did not trust the invaders to do the job.
One of the main themes of the book is to show how the main leaders of the invasion never wanted to do more than invade, assuming or believing, on whatever basis, that things would be alright once liberation was achieved. Rumsfeld's dictum that "bad things happen" when people are free exemplifies this attitude. I assume he meant that good prevails in the end. Well, it does not seem to do so.
I wish I could feel good about this "told you so" attitude of mine. The situation is too damaging to enjoy having been right.
The book is worth reading for mainly two reasons: it gives a broader overview of the political schools of thought involved in the run up debates, in this way tracing the motives for the war. I became more clearly aware of the two different reasons to want to invade, i.e. the neocons' national missionarydom and the hawkishness of the human rights school. I think Packer describes this process very fairly, although it is obvious where his sympathies are. I also learned to be aware about the two opposing historic analogies that were used in the debate: pro war positions referred to the Munich appeasement before WWII, while anti war debaters spoke about the Tonkin deception which led to a larger engagement in Vietnam.
Second reason to read the book: it shows how the lack of planning for "phase IV", i.e. the time after the victory of the invasion, led to the downward spiral of destruction and murder that we are observing now. I find the current debates, whether this is civil war already or not yet, utterly ridiculous.
The sad thing is that this kind of book will be wasted on the true believers of the government line. Just look at the recent review here who found the book "too liberal".
  mugwump2 | Nov 29, 2008 |
I took this course called Why War and we covered A LOT of material philosophical and historical mostly. The end of the course was devoted to Iraq and we read Packer's book. I have to say that out of all the books on Iraq we covered, his was the most well-rounded at covering pre-phase planning and what led to the horrors of Phase IV. His time spent in Iraq and talking with the people was so enlightening as to how complicated everything really is. Also, he spends time on the Iraqi exiles who helped form some of the American opinions on what they thought Iraqis wanted. It's a must read for anyone looking to get some insight into the years leading up to invading Iraq and how some of the Iraqi people really felt. ( )
  flh4ever | Feb 19, 2008 |
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Full title (2005): The assassins’ gate : America in Iraq.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374530556, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:42 -0400)

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This book recounts how the United States set about changing the history of the Middle East and became ensnared in a guerrilla war in Iraq. It brings to life the people and ideas that created the Bush administration's war policy and led America to the Assassins' Gate--the main point of entry into the American zone in Baghdad. The consequences of that policy are shown in the author's reporting on the ground in Iraq for The New Yorker. We see up close the struggles of American soldiers and civilians and Iraqis from all backgrounds, thrown together by a war that followed none of the preconceived scripts. The book also describes the war in American life: the ideological battles in Washington, the ordeal of a fallen soldier's family, and the political culture of a country too polarized to realize such a vast and morally complex undertaking.--From publisher description.… (more)

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