The Assassins' Gate

America in Iraq

By George Packer
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374299637, 480pp.)

Publication Date: September 22, 2005

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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Description

THE ASSASSINS’ GATE: AMERICA IN IRAQ recounts how the United States set about changing the history of the Middle East and became ensnared in a guerilla war in Iraq. It brings to life the people and ideas that created the Bush administration’s war policy and led America to the Assassins’ Gate—the main point of entry into the American zone in Baghdad. The consequences of that policy are shown in the author’s brilliant reporting on the ground in Iraq, where he made four tours on assignment for The New Yorker. We see up close the struggles of American soldiers and civilians and Iraqis from all backgrounds, thrown together by a war that followed none of the preconceived scripts.
The Assassins' Gate also describes the place of the war in American life: the ideological battles in Washington that led to chaos in Iraq, the ordeal of a fallen soldier’s family, and the political culture of a country too bitterly polarized to realize such a vast and morally complex undertaking. George Packer’s first-person narrative combines the scope of an epic history with the depth and intimacy of a novel, creating a masterful account of America’s most controversial foreign venture since Vietnam.

George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of several books, most recently Blood of the Liberals, winner of the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Award. He is also the editor of the anthology The Fight Is for Democracy. He lives in Brooklyn. Winner of the Overseas Press Club's Cornelius Ryan Award for Best Nonfiction Book on International Affairs
Winner of the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book AwardA New York Times Best Book of the YearA New York Times Notable BookA Chicago Tribune Best Book of the YearA Boston Globe Best Book of the YearA Washington Post Best Book of the YearA San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq recounts how the United States set about changing the history of the Middle East and became ensnared in a guerilla war in Iraq. It brings to life the people and ideas that created the Bush administration's war policy and led America to the Assassins' Gate—the main point of entry into the American zone in Baghdad. The consequences of that policy are shown in the author's reporting on the ground in Iraq, where he made four tours on assignment for The New Yorker. We see up close the struggles of American soldiers and civilians and Iraqis from all backgrounds, thrown together by a war that followed none of the preconceived scripts.

The Assassins' Gate also describes the place of the war in America life: the ideological battles in Washington that led to chaos in Iraq, the ordeal of a fallen soldier's family, and the political culture of a country too bitterly polarized to realize such a vast and morally complex undertaking. George Packer's first-person narrative combines the scope of an epic history with the depth and intimacy of a novel, creating a masterful account of America's most controversial foreign venture since Vietnam. "A comprehensive look at the largest foreign policy gamble in a generation, by a New Yorker reporter who traces the full arc of the war, from the pre-invasion debate through the action on the ground."—The New York Time Book Review "A comprehensive look at the largest foreign policy gamble in a generation, by a New Yorker reporter who traces the full arc of the war, from the pre-invasion debate through the action on the ground."—The New York Time Book Review "Masterful . . . Packer's sketch of the prewar debates is subtle, sharp and poignant . . . His reporting from Iraq was always good, but the book is even better, putting the reader at the side of Walter Benjamin's angel of history, watching helplessly as the wrechage unfolds at his feet."—Gideon Rose, The Washington Post Book World "A deftly constructed and eloquently told account of the war's origins and aftermath . . . Although he works in snapshots and anecdotes, every time an image might allow him to settle into a simple conclusion about the war's worthiness, he turns his attention—and his considerable powers of description and dramatization—to another image that points to the opposite conclusion. The cumulative effect is a wrenching cognitive dissonance—the kind, Packer observes, that few Americans can stand but with which Iraqis live every day . . . Packer makes it deeply human and maddeningly vivid."—Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Los Angeles Book Review "[Packer] has succeeded in creating a book that is not only relevant but discerning and provocative. Using on-the-ground reporting and a talent for storytelling, he offers the vivid detail and balanced analysis that have made him one of the leading chroniclers of the Iraq war."—Yonatan Lupu, San Francisco Chronicle "Packer covers the same ground as the other authors — the war dreamed up by fevered minds in Washington, the strange world of diaspora politics, the lack of planning in the Department of Defense, the occupation, and the insurgency — but he does it from the perspective of a journalist rather than of a participant. The result is a beautifully written, poignant, and fair-minded narrative of two dreams deferred."—Mark Leonard, The Chronicle of Higher Education "Read George Packer's book The Assassin's Gate . . . And I wish . . . I had been able to help George Packer write that book. In some places I could have given him a hell of a lot more specifics . . . But if you want to read how the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal flummoxed the process, read that book. And, of course, there are other names in there, Under Secretary of Defense Doug Feith, whom most of you probably know Tommy Frank said was the 'stupidest blankety blank man in the world.' He was. Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man. And yet, and yet, after the Secretary of State agrees to a $400 billion department, rather than a $30 billion department, having control, at least in the immediate post-war period in Iraq, this man is put in charge. Not only is he put in charge, he is given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw themselves in a closet somewhere. That's not making excuses for the State Department. That's telling you how decisions were made and telling you how things got accomplished. Read George's book."—Larry Wilkerson "A brilliant new book."—Richard Holbrooke, The Washington Post "[Packer's] own reportage of the effects of the war on the individuals involved . . . [is] much fresher and more compelling."—The Boston Globe "Brutal analyses and trenchant on-the-spot reportage for the New Yorker magazine over the past two years provide the core of this devastating critique . . . Mr. Packer brilliantly describes the evolving mindset of the neoconservatives who took hold of policy towards Iraq in the run-up to the war, as well as the hopes and arguments of their assorted Iraqi allies in exile . . . Where he scores most is in his portraying the psychology of Iraqis, their ambivalence to the liberation/occupation . . . . Mr. Packer empathizes with them in all their diversity, drawing a remarkable cast of sharply defined characters."—The Economist "George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, blends on-the-scene reporting and thoughtful analysis in a sobering account of the unfinished war in Iraq and its impact on Americans and Iraqis. He cheers the demise of Saddam, while questioning a war with deep roots in history, but far from inevitable."—USA Today "The Assassins' Gate is almost certain to stand as the most comprehensive journalistic account of the greatest foreign-policy debacle in U.S. history . . . the best book yet about the Iraq war . . . Packer is a rare combination: an excellent reporter, a sophisticated analyst and a fine writer. He was also ubiquitous. No other journalist can match the breadth of Packer's Iraq coverage . . . exceptional—varied, empathetic and intelligent . . . The Assassins' Gate is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the terrible predicament in which we now find ourselves, how we got there, and why we must not repeat the same tragic mistake."—Gary Kamiya, Salon "Wrenching dispatches from the heart of the war that won't end."—New York Magazine "The great strength of George Packer's book is that it gives a fair hearing to both views. Free of cant—but not, crucially, of anger—Mr. Packer has written an account of the Iraq war that will stand alongside such narrative histories as A Bright Shining Lie, Fire in the Lake and Hell in a Very Small Place. As a meditation on the limits of American power, it's sobering. As a pocket history of Iraq and the United States' tangled history, it's indispensible. As an examination of the collision between arrogance and good intentions, it could scarcely be improved upon . . . In short, The Assassins' Gate is a book every American needs to read."—The New York Observer  "In The Assassins' Gate, the most complete, sweeping, and powerful account of the Iraq War yet written, George acker tries to see, to really see, how this all happened and what has happened since . . . The tale of [Packer's] disillusionment is slow, eloquent, but if you've been following the news, unsurprising . . . It is heartbreaking to read, because we know how it will end . . . Was it right to invade Iraq? . . . He never gets any answers, but becasue he keeps going back, the characters in his book develop, return, advance, fail. The middle 200 pages of The Assassins' Gate are like a great big-picture realist novel, from the top American administrator on down, and though Packer never quite says as much, the portrait he paints of Iraq in the year and a half after the invasion is full and vivid and utterly, utterly damning . . . Packer has done something more valuable than write the tale of his own disillusionment. He has depicted in stark colors the disillsuionment of an entire nation. By the end of the book, all the people who'd had great hopes for the Americans no longer do."—Keith Gessen, New York Magazine

"Want to know what really happened in Iraq? This intelligent, vivid account from an 'ambivalently pro-war liberal' chronicles the buildup to the war and its repercussions firsthand and doesn't let ideology get in the way."—Details "A brilliantly reported analysis of the war in Iraq."—GQ "The best book yet written on the Iraq war."—The New York Sun "[The Assassins' Gate] isn't a 'policy' book or an 'I-was-there' battlefield account. It is a rigorous, sustained inquiry into the clashing expectations for Iraq, how the war was planned, and the staggering wreckage of Iraqi society."—Bob Ruby, The Baltimore Sun "A sobering tale . . . It's hard to think of a journalist better suited to the task . . . first-rate on-the-ground reporting and gritty insider accounts."—John Freeman, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) "Extremely powerful . . . consistently moving and provocative."—David Glenn, Columbia Journalism Review "[Packer anchors] a complex narrative with rich and insightful portraits of the people caught up in the conflict."—Charles Matthews, The San Jose Mercury "In the midst of a war that has raised thousands of questions, George Packer has given us a brilliant, moving, and essential book with answers. Packer, who was an up close witness to the pre-war debates and the wartime carnage, cuts past the simplistic recriminations and takes us on an unforgettable journey that begins on a trail of good intentions and winds up on a devastating trail of tears. If you want to understand how Iraq became a quagmire, and who the human beings are who suffer its consequences, you must read this book."—Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide  "Memorable . . . and of surpassing immediacy."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "It is a pleasure to find a work that strives for balance, fairness, and understanding in surveying the causes and course of the ongoing Iraqi war . . . This is a troubling but deeply moving examination of a struggle that seems far from resolution."—Jay Freeman, Booklist "What a mess! That is Packer's analysis of America in Iraq. He summarizes the political and intellectual basis for the U.S. presence there as emerging from the neoconservative thinking of Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, William Bennett, and other Bush administration figures. He also points to the justification embedded in Arab tyranny, weapons proliferation, strategic threats to oil, the weakness of Democratic party leadership, and security for Israel. Political philosopher Leo Strauss is characterized as the intellectual spinal cord of the Republicans, in neat contrast to Packer's implication of the lack of intellectual capacity or practice by members of the Bush administration. Packer (staff writer, The New Yorker; Blood of the Liberals) moves the focus in the second half of his work from Washington to Iraq to record the experiences and thinking of the lower-level administrators and soldiers as they apply neoconservative policy. Although it has been said that truth is the first thing to disappear in war, Packer meets head on the failings of Washington policy as implemented by those administrators and soldiers on the ground in Iraq . . . disturbing and thought-provoking."—Library Journal "The Iraq debate has long needed someone who is both tough-minded enough, and sufficiently sensitive, to register all its complexities. In George Packer's work, this need is answered . . . Packer shows himself once more to be the best chronicler . . . that the conflict has produced . . . He makes an impressively intelligent guide . . . Packer has a genuine instinct for what the Iraqi people have endured and are enduring and writes with admirable empathy. His own opinions are neither suppressed nor intrusive: he clearly welcomes the end of Saddam while having serious doubts about the wisdom of the war, and he continually tests himself against experience."—Christopher Hitchens, Publishers Weekly "The Iraq book to watch this season."—Publishers Weekly




About the Author

George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of several books, most recently Blood of the Liberals (FSG, 2000), winner of the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Award. He is also the editor of the anthology The Fight Is for Democracy. He lives in Brooklyn.




Praise For The Assassins' Gate

"In the midst of a war that has raised thousands of questions, George Packer has given us a brilliant, moving, and essential book with answers. Packer, who was an up close witness to the pre-war debates and the wartime carnage, cuts past the simplistic recriminations and takes us on an unforgettable journey that begins on a trail of good intentions and winds up on a devastating trail of tears. If you want to understand how Iraq became a quagmire, and who the human beings are who suffer its consequences, you must read this book." --Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide  "The Iraq debate has long needed someone who is both tough-minded enough, and sufficiently sensitive, to register all its complexities. In George Packer’s work, this need is answered . . . Packer shows himself once more to be the best chronicler…that the conflict has produced . . . He makes an impressively intelligent guide . . . Packer has a genuine instinct for what the Iraqi people have endured and are enduring, and writes with admirable empathy. His own opinions are neither suppressed nor intrusive: he clearly welcomes the end of Saddam while having serious doubts about the wisdom of the war, and he continually tests himself against experience." --Christopher Hitchens, Publishers Weekly  Praise for Blood of the Liberals:

"I was fascinated and touched by [Blood of the Liberals], which can be described as 'memoir plus,' part personal recollection, part essay about subjects seldom treated as reverberating with such intimate meanings." --Scott Turow, The Washington Post Book World

"A remarkable story . . . This book belongs on the shelf next to Angela's Ashes, The Liars' Club, and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." --Jack Hitt, The New York Times Book Review

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