The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq
Penguin Group US, Feb 10, 2009 - 416 pages
Fiasco, Thomas E. Ricks's #1 New York Times bestseller, transformed the political dialogue on the war in Iraq-The Gamble is the next news breaking installment Thomas E. Ricks uses hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews with top officers in Iraq and extraordinary on-the-ground reportage to document the inside story of the Iraq War since late 2005 as only he can, examining the events that took place as the military was forced to reckon with itself, the surge was launched, and a very different war began. Since early 2007 a new military order has directed American strategy. Some top U.S. officials now in Iraq actually opposed the 2003 invasion, and almost all are severely critical of how the war was fought from then through 2006. At the core of the story is General David Petraeus, a military intellectual who has gathered around him an unprecedented number of officers with both combat experience and Ph.D.s. Underscoring his new and unorthodox approach, three of his key advisers are quirky foreigners-an Australian infantryman-turned- anthropologist, an antimilitary British woman who is an expert in the Middle East, and a Mennonite-educated Palestinian pacifist. The Gamble offers news breaking information, revealing behind-the-scenes disagreements between top commanders. We learn that almost every single officer in the chain of command fought the surge. Many of Petraeus's closest advisers went to Iraq extremely pessimistic, doubting that the surge would have any effect, and his own boss was so skeptical that he dispatched an admiral to Baghdad in the summer of 2007 to come up with a strategy to replace Petraeus's. That same boss later flew to Iraq to try to talk Petraeus out of his planned congressional testimony. The Gamble examines the congressional hearings through the eyes of Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and their views of the questions posed by the 2008 presidential candidates. For Petraeus, prevailing in Iraq means extending the war. Thomas E. Ricks concludes that the war is likely to last another five to ten years-and that that outcome is a best case scenario. His stunning conclusion, stated in the last line of the book, is that "the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered by us and by the world have not yet happened."
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The travails of us policy and military engagement in Iraq have been dominating the news for the better part of five years since the invasion in 2003 until some time in 2008. The reason is quite obvious: what was supposed to be a very quick and decisive military operation that would turn Iraq into a free and peaceful society turned out to be a military and political disaster. And yet the news from Iraq stopped dominating the headlines some time in 2008. The reason for this dramatic turnaround is quite clear: it is the new US strategy that was designed to increase the number of US troops on the ground and engage with the Iraqi society on a much more direct basis. This strategy and the way that it came about is the theme of this book. Unlike many other books that have come out in recent years, this one is largely written from the military's point of view. If there is a single name that come to symbolize "The Surge" that would be the name of general Petraeus. Unjustifiably maligned by some war opponents early on in his new assignment of turning the situation in Iraq around, he has become a stellar example of professionalism and success with one of the most difficult military assignments ever. But Petraeus was not the only one in the military who contributed to the development of the new strategy. There are many others, either on active duty or as civilian advisers, who have helped shape and develop the new strategy. This book does a very good job of describing those contributions and giving credit to people who have largely labored behind the scenes. It features many combat commanders and their troops, and it gives many examples from the frontlines that help illustrate and affirm the main points.
What makes this book particularly interesting and valuable is the sheer amount of first-hand interview material. Almost all of the main military protagonists are featured, and many of their most important experiences recoded and presented in an easy journalistic style. The approach to policy that the book adopts is pragmatic rather than ideological. It gives as sober of an assessment of what happened during the war as one can find these days. It concludes with a sobering prediction of where the military engagement is headed, and a prediction that a substantial US presence is likely to remain in Iraq for many more years, if not decades.
The only issue that I have with the book is that it may contain too much information: some of the points could have been made with far less material. But otherwise this is an excellent read and a must for anyone who is interested in what has really been happening with The Surge and why it worked in the end.