The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq recounts how the United States set about changing the history of the Middle East and became ensnared in a guerilla 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 brilliant reporting on the ground in Iraq, where he made four tours on assignment 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 Assassins’ Gate also describes the place of the war in American life: the ideological battles in Washington that led to chaos in Iraq, the ordeal of a fallen soldier’s family, and the political culture of a country too bitterly polarized to realize such a vast and morally complex undertaking. George Packer’s first-person narrative combines the scope of an epic history with the depth and intimacy of a novel, creating a masterful account of America’s most controversial foreign venture since Vietnam.
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