Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Assasins Gate, by George Packer

This would undoubtedly have to be the best book I’ve read on Iraq so far. Every question you ever had about Iraq The Assasins’ Gate is able to answer. Author George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker and a novelist as well, explains the beginnings of the Iraq war, how it grew as an ideology from a small group of ‘neo-cons’, and how those ideas manifested themselves into an actual war. At one stage in the book Packer says how we may never really know why exactly America went to war – a strange admission indeed.

Packer himself started out as a sort of half-hearted supporter of the war. Before the war in Iraq Packer had befriended Iraqi exile and author Kanan Makiya. More than anything, it was the arguments of this author (Makiya had pulled apart in fine detail Saddam’s regime, to show in graphic detail all the human rights abuses of his reign) that persuaded Packer that invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam was the right, the moral thing to do.

Much to Packer’s credit, to kept on visiting and reporting from Iraq once the war had begun. From the ideology of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to the actual bombs, looting and occupation, Packer shows the stark differences between what was supposed to happen in Iraq and what actually is unfolding now.

More than anything this book makes you very sympathetic to the average men and women enlisted to fight this war, decent people who are trying to do a good job. This is contrasted with dreadful and utterly inept post-war planning. George W. Bush is presented as someone living in a bubble, with the only information being pumped into the bubble coming via Dick Cheney.Packer has a neat phrase for this, the ‘conspiracy of the old and powerful against the young and dutiful.’ Didn’t Michael Moore say something similar at the end of Farenheit 911? That it was the poor who always did the fighting for their country.

Near the end of the book Packer even says there are large parts of the country, rural areas, that are so dangerous to go into that we literally don’t know the conditions under which many Iraqis are actually living.

After listing so many of the post-war planning mistakes, Packer seems to be pointing to how Iraq was really a success story waiting to happen, cruelled by bad management. If only Bush, Cheney etc had had the decency of the men and women on the ground in Iraq, then the outcome in Iraq would have been much better. Maybe he is right. Maybe things would have been much better if things like electricity and security had been provided from day one.

My view is that America never invaded Iraq for humanitarian or security reasons. It was an old score to settle, something that had rankled for years. If the US was that turned off by Saddam, they would never have supported him whilst he committed some of his worst atrocities during the eighties.

Most commentators seem agreed now that no one really knows what is going to happen next in Iraq. It’s all a mystery. The United Stated has smashed the country to pieces and unwittingly created a hot bed for terrorist activities. Now the situation is out of the United States’ hands. Surely there must have been a better way of dealing with the problem of Iraq.

Anyone wanting to understand Iraq, and why the war happened, must read this thoughtful, brave, insightful, honest book.

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