Neocon Men

The Assassins' Gate
America in Iraq
George Packer
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, 454 pp.

As the epigraph for his new book on the politics of America’s intervention in Iraq, George Packer has chosen a verse by the Arab nationalist poet Nizar Qabbani: “Dive into the sea, or stay away.” The poet’s charge aptly captures the thesis of The Assassins’ Gate: a great enterprise requires unequivocal commitment; to act half-heartedly is worse than not acting at all.

From the day it began planning to invade Iraq, according to Packer, a staff writer at the New Yorker, the Bush administration violated this dictum. “Swaddled in abstract ideas, convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability,” the senior officials who conceived the Iraq war (and the ideologues who egged them on) underestimated the magnitude of the task they were so eager for the United States to take on. As a consequence, this war of choice—which Packer, situating himself among the “ambivalently prowar liberals” hoping to free Iraq from the yoke of brutal dictatorship, had supported—evolved into a bloody and intractable mess.

Packer fixes the blame for this outcome squarely at the top. Among senior U.S. national security officials, the well-being of the Iraqi people figured at best as an afterthought. For Bush and Cheney, with their “mystical confidence in American military power,” for Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, and for...

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About the Author

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations emeritus at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies.