Beyond the Iraq fiasco

Thomas E Ricks: The Gamble. Penguin, UK, 2009. ISBN 9781846141454. Online

The Gamble, by Thomas E Ricks ISBN 9781846141454Thomas Ricks is a senior journalist with the Washington Post. His first book on the Iraq war, Fiasco (2006), set out the background to the invasion of Iraq. The theme of each of his books is caught in its title.  

Fiasco described the failed planning, poor understanding of Iraq and of its people after years of Saddam and sanctions, and the gung-ho attitude of the previous US administration. The result was the appalling violence seen in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad. Thousands of Coalition troops were killed and wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed.

Gamble is Act II — the surge. Ricks takes us through the process of how US policy changed in Iraq to make the surge possible. He was able to interview many of the key players, so providing his readers with the detail that  helps them understand how the United States military made this significant shift in strategy.

General Petraeus and other senior officials, who sought to rethink the war and how it needed to be conducted, influenced the change most significantly. Petraeus was helped by a number of counter-insurgency strategists, such as Australian officer David Kilcullen. He was seconded to the Bush administration, and has now written his own book on counter-insurgency warfare, The Accidental Guerrilla.

Gamble describes the life of the United States forces in Iraq, and how the long war is slowly draining morale, money and power from the US. The book finishes with the election of President Obama and details the complexities faced by the new administration as it seeks to carry out its policy of withdrawing US forces from Iraq.

Maps and lists of characters and acronyms help the reader understand the story. Avid readers are able to study even the PowerPoint slides of the orders of US general Odierno!

General Odierno, like Petraeus, featured in Fiasco, where he was criticised by the author for his heavy-handed approach in Iraq. Whether the general read the book is not stated, but he clearly changed his approach.  Gamble describes Odierno as one of the leading United States generals who has promoted the new strategy that he did not accept in 2006.

Part of the new strategy for the US is a recognition that success in an insurgency conflict is slow, and can only take place when the occupying forces realise the important thing is to protect the Iraqi people, not to focus on killing the 'bad guys'. Ricks takes the reader through how this simple point was a factor that shifted the conflict from the disaster facing the US in 2006, to the improved, but still far from acceptable situation in Iraq in 2008.

One hopes the new administration with new policies will help bring further improvements, not just for the US troops, but for the long suffering Iraqi people.

Kerry MurphyKerry Murphy is a partner in the firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers where he represents clients at all stages of the Australian immigration process. He is a student of Arabic, former Jesuit Refugee Service coordinator, and one of Australia's top immigration lawyers recognised by last year's Australian Financial Review Best Lawyers survey. 

Topic tags: Kerry Murphy.The Gamble, Thomas E. Ricks, ISBN 9781846141454



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