Mary's Library

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Bab al-Qasr Gate

The Seattle librarian, Nancy Pearl, has a formula for how deeply you should delve when you’re evaluating a book. Subtract your age from 100. The result is the number of pages that you need to read before deciding the book is or isn’t worthwhile.

Using that formula I’ve perused some of the NY Times’ “10 Best Books of 2005.” One of them is THE ASSASSINS’ GATE: America in Iraq (2005), by George Packer.

Packer’s book is not a diatribe. That makes it superior to well over half of the books being written about the Iraq War. The author attempts to be fair. He points out that “it might be years or even decades before the wisdom of the war can finally be judged.”

On the other hand, this book was chosen as among “the best” by the NY Times, which guarantees it isn’t going to be in favor of much that the Bush Administration has done. As expected, Packer is more readily persuaded by the arguments against our invasion of Iraq than those in favor of it. That said, the author’s is a rational voice in this often irrational argument.

On 30 October 2005, in his NY Times review, Fareed Zakaria, quoting from the book said, “The story of America in Iraq is one of abstract ideas and concrete realities. ‘Between them,’ Packer says, ‘lies a distance even greater than the 8,000 miles from Washington to Baghdad.’” The disastrous tactics and resulting chaos in the early days of our presence in Iraq demonstrate this disjunction. Whatever the validity of the decision to invade Iraq, the actual invasion was inadequately planned and poorly carried out.

Packer, although it’s clear he doesn’t like them, presents clearly the history and rationale of the pro-war voices in the Bush administration. He has read a great deal and talked to many people on both sides of the issue. He has been to Iraq and talked to both Iraqis and Americans there. He describes dispassionately the disturbing early days of the war. He thought carefully about all this before he began to write. His writing is readable. He is often persuasive. If you are going to read a book about the war, this is the book to choose.


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