For anyone looking to make sense of the very complicated issues surrounding the buildup to the Iraq War, the lack of post-war planning and the insurgency on the brink of civil war, The Assassin’s Gate is an invaluable asset, what the author calls “primarily a book on reporting.”
The issues are complex and deserve careful consideration by anyone who seeks to understand the dynamics of this engagement post-9/11 and a changing world view of American foreign policy. The events of the last few years - our unfinished business in Iraq, the neoconservative agenda, the fall of Baghdad, the occupation, the insurgency and the threat of civil war - are thoroughly researched and written in an unbiased manner.
Packer first examines the Gulf War and the decision not to depose Saddam Hussein, followed by the quiet birth of a new foreign policy that would be embraced by Reagan, incorporating British colonialism and promoting American hegemony: “American power, Reagan said, was a force for good in the world.” The Republican Party was charged, finally, “to purge the party of realism and restore the higher aims.”
The neoconservative strategy for American diplomacy, according to Paul Wolfowitz, demands the “spread of democratic forms of government and open economic issues” primarily meant as a gesture; regarding the Middle East, “our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve US and Western access to the region’s oil.”
Enter 9/11, Americans charged with fear and a need for leadership. The Bush Administration already staffed with neoconservatives, the stage is set for a radical change in America’s response to implied threat from any quarter, wherein Afghanistan becomes a template for a new policy, the stepping stone to dominance on the world stage.
As we now know, the flaws are in the details, the lack of post-war planning a critical failure of judgment. Packer reveals the stunning assumptions and refusal to acknowledge mistakes that has defined the White House, Bush’s messianic impulses, and a cadre of yes-men who shield him from reality. The key players - Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the single-minded, oblivious Bremer – have left soldiers’ families to sort out their losses and make sense of the war that took the lives of their children.
In the Bush Administration, the consensus is “we’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” But Packer stresses that victory is a process, “with fundamentally political rather than military goals” and that such victory “lay beyond the reach of American power alone.” This is essential reading for understanding the Iraq War and its connection to terrorism, as well as thorough documentation of a dramatically changed American foreign policy.