February 10, 2009

The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008

In THE GAMBLE: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (embargoed until Tuesday, February 10, 2009), CNAS Senior Fellow Thomas E. Ricks documents the inside story of the Iraq war since late 2005. Using hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews with top officers in Iraq and extraordinary on-the-ground reporting, Ricks—working in the tradition of his highly lauded bestseller Fiasco—examines 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 newsbreaking information, revealing behind-the-scenes disagreements among top commanders. Petraeus gave military expert Ricks extraordinary privileged access to himself and his team during the past two years, and the result is a chronicle of astonishing vividness and analytical depth. 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. 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.”

“The title of this devastating new book about the American war in Iraq says it all: Fiasco. [Thomas E. Ricks] serves up his portrait of that war as a misguided exercise in hubris, incompetence and folly with a wealth of detail and evidence that is both staggeringly vivid and persuasive…Fiasco is absolutely essential reading…[T]his volume gives the reader a lucid, tough-minded overview of this tragic enterprise that stands apart from earlier assessments in terms of simple coherence and scope.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Few, if any, journalists know the U.S. military better than Ricks, its organizational strengths, its flaws, its capacity for battlefield heroism and it’s a tendency to do the wrong thing with the right motive…Fiasco is not a screed but a well-researched, strongly written account of the miscues that led from shock-and-awe to rampant sectarian strife.” —Los Angeles Times

“In his compelling and well-researched book, Thomas E. Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, painfully but clearly reveals an important truth about the Iraq debacle: It has a thousand fathers. As the title implies, Fiasco pulls no punches…devastating…damning…[Thomas Ricks’s] reporting is impressive indeed. News on Iraq usually comes with blaring headlines, but Ricks’s work allows us to fit seemingly disparate events into an overall pattern…powerful.” —The Washington Post

“Few would disagree with the analysis in Fiasco. Mr. Ricks makes several convincing points about what underlay the insurgency, notably the supreme importance of the value of respect for personal dignity in Arab society…gripping.” —John Keegan, The Wall Street Journal

Watch the video from our launch event, hosted by the Center for a New American Security:


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