Chris's Reviews > The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq

The Assassins' Gate by George Packer
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Jan 31, 2008

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bookshelves: history, current-events
Read in January, 2008

After finishing Babylon by Bus, I wasn't quite finished thinking about Iraq. LeMoine and Neumann had done a great job of detailing their personal experiences in the country, with occasional wider views to give their experiences some context, but I wanted to know more. So I picked up this book.

It was kind of like.... Like watching the video of the Challenger's last flight. You know what's coming, and you keep wishing it would go another way, but then it's "Shuttle go at throttle up" and there's beheadings, Fallujiah is burning and Bremer is flying out as fast is his charter jet will take him. And I can tell that Packer feels the same way. Through all his interviews and his examination of the people and decisions that led to the 2003 invasion and the Keystone Occupation, you can almost hear the yearning in his voice to find something, anything that will give him hope.

The story of Iraq is a classic tragedy. We have a Protagonist (the US) who is supremely confident in his ability to get away with doing what he wants. If you're going to be generous, you can give the Protagonist the benefit of the doubt and assume he had good intentions. After all, Oedipus didn't really mean to marry his mother, right? But the confidence isn't enough to carry the Protagonist through the task at hand - he needs help, wisdom and knowledge. But he refuses them and, inevitably, loses nearly everything he holds dear.

It was a - if I may be permitted to slip into the vernacular - a catastrophuck. And, as someone who knew this was a bad idea back in 2002, it's really hard not to say "I told you so." Because this is too big for "I told you so" - too big and too terrible. Too many opportunities were missed due to the backers of the war being utterly confident that they knew what they were doing. Too many mistakes were made by a military that was neither prepared for nor interested in nation-building. Too many lives were lost because absolute certainty in the rightness of one's belief outweighed the reality of the situation.

It's a great book, it really is. If you want to remind yourself how we got to where we are then I definitely recommend picking it up. Packer talks to everyone who will come forward - Americans, Iraqis, soldiers, mullahs, exiles, and even a few (unnamed) political sources. But don't expect to be particularly hopeful or happy when you finish it. There's no way out of this thing. Not in our lifetimes, anyway....
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