Saturday, October 08, 2005

Beyond The Gate

Having, back in 1988-90, studied the nature of Saddam's regime, I was, in 2002 and early 2003, still in a grey area not too far from the fringes of what George Packer reportedly calls "the tiny, insignificant camp of ambivalently prowar liberals" (see That Global Emotion). So I’m looking forward to reading Packer’s new book The Assassin's Gate, noting the following reviews among other so far.

Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times (Grand Theories, Ignored Realities) welcomes it warmly and finishes with a direct quote with which Kakutani presumably agrees:

If his assessment in these pages of the Bush administration is scorching, it is because [Packer] writes as one who shared its hopes of seeing a functioning democracy established in Iraq and who now sees the chances of that happening dwindling in the wake of the administration's bungled handling of the war and occupation…

"Swaddled in abstract ideas," [Packer] writes, "convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability, [the US administration] 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."

Adam Kirsch in the New York Sun (Moral Luck and the Iraq War), welcomes it as the best book yet written on the war. He says it "demonstrates beyond a doubt the administration's failure to plan for the inevitable postwar occupation".

Michael Hirsch in the Washington Monthly (Confessions of a Humvee Liberal) is tougher on Packer, concluding:

Wars are always deadly, no matter how perfectly planned. That's why one tries so hard to avoid them—and why the whole idea of a "war of choice" is a sin in itself. George Packer, one of the very best chroniclers of America's Iraq experience, should know that better than almost anyone. If only he had told us.

David Glenn in the Columbia Journalism Review (Unfinished Wars) notes:

Packer remains as committed as ever to the principle of liberal interventionism, even if in a highly chastened form. "You can’t lose that impulse entirely," he says, "or else you become Henry Kissinger."

..."I took almost a pleasure in watching my preconceptions start to crumble,” [Packer] says. “I knew that, even though personally and politically that’s a painful thing, as a writer it’s where the action would be."

Anthony Barnett, who was against the war, says:

"Packer's qualities as a writer and observer mean that you can draw different conclusions from the evidence he reports than he himself might wish, and this makes him a true journalist in the very best sense" (personal communication).

And the larger context – the US and global economic and geopolitical context in which this all takes place? Perhaps that should include critiques of both John Lewis Gaddis’s Surprise, Security and the American Experience (insightful but misguided?) and David Harvey’s The New Imperialism and Brief History of Neoliberalism.

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