So, I knew from the start that endeavoring to read 50 books in 52 weeks was asking a lot of myself, considering the pressures of work, beer, TV, beer, movies, beer and XBox (still vanilla, no 360 yet...) I don't think I helped my cause by taking such a large bite first. The Assassin's Gate is an unflinching look into the second Iraq war, starting with an overview of the underpinnings of the neoconservative ideology espoused by Wolfowitcz and Feith, continuing with the actual war planning (and, of course the absence of post war planning) moving on to the insurgency, and the effects felt here in the U.S.
The meat of the book deals with the situation on the ground, from the perspetive of both Iraqis of all stripes (Sunni and Shiite; Arab and Kurd) and classes, as well as Americans civilian and military. Chapter after chapter illustrates how truly ill-prepared we were to do any sort of reconstruction.
Packer's early ambivalence towards the invasion, and later disgust at the occupation are clear, but rarely overpowering. It's hard to really identify a hero of the piece - one of Packer's earliest and more sympathetic subjects is Iraqi expat author Kanan Makiya, yet his idealism carries much of the blame for the postwar incompetence: It was he who told Bush that U.S. soldiers would be greeted "with sweets and flowers." There are villains aplenty, however, from radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (portrayed as a brutal and opportunistic fraud), to Paul Bremer, to of course Donald Rumsfeld.
Ultimately, Packer lays much of the blame at the feet of the Adminsitration. In the epilogue, he sums up much of what came before:
Swaddled in abstract ideas, convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability, they turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one. When things went wrong, they found other people to blame. The Iraq war was always winnable; it still is. For this very reason, the recklessness of its authors is all the harder to forgive.Pooh sez: Read it all. Be prepared to be made angry.
Next up: Lies, Damn Lies and Red Sox ("Mind Game" by the people who run Baseball Prospectus.)