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The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq by…

The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq (2005)

by George Packer

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9531314,027 (4.04)24
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)
  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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» See also 24 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Excellent. Packer’s account is balanced but fair. He doesn’t go easy on anyone. ( )
  Seafox | Jul 24, 2019 |
As good as it gets. ( )
  Periodista | Nov 8, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Hard as it is to believe, the Bush administration took on the largest foreign policy project in a generation with little planning or forethought. It occupied a foreign country of 25 million people in the heart of the Middle East pretty much on the fly. Packer, who was in favor of the war, reserves judgment and commentary in most of the book but finally cannot contain himself: "Swaddled in abstract ideas . . . indifferent to accountability," those in positions of highest responsibility for Iraq "turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one," he writes. "When things went wrong, they found other people to blame."
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Full title (2005): The assassins’ gate : America in Iraq.
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