Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend
 

Oct 19 - Nov 2, 2005
Issue #86

  ..Buffalo's Best Fiend
   
Grand Perjury
A Miller's Tale
Allan Uthman

Disrobed
Are Female Genitals Enough to Qualify for the Supreme Court?
Paul jones

Getty Some
Hot Movement Action
A Monkey
Jurassic Dork
Michael Crichton's Science Fiction
Kit Smith
Harold Who?
Ode to Pinter in 1 Act

Alexander Zaitchik

Theatre of War
Inside the Psy-Ops Studio
Matt Bors

Drown Together
On Katrina & Disaster Fatigue
Jeff Dean
FAUX-TURES
After terror threats, New York begins efforts to clean shit out of pants
Clayton Byrd
An Open Letter to Jessica Alba
Irresponsible Mayoral Speculation:
What do Bflo's candidates have to do to win/lose?

Shop for Porn Like a Pro!
Hyman Bender

BOOKS
The Assassin’s Gate
America in Iraq
by George Packer
Review by John Freeman
The Big Wedding
9/11, the Whistle-Blowers and the Cover-Up
by Sander Hicks
Review by Russ Wellen
LOCAL
Buffalo Soldiers
Hutch Tech's New Program: Forcible Conscription
Allan Uthman
Another Corporate Psycopath
The Barnacle at Delphi
Chuck Richardson

The BEAST Blog
Irresponsible vitriol on a near-daily basis

[sic] - Letters
Wide Right
Bills Football & other sports
Ronnie Roscoe
Kino Korner: Movies
Michael Gildea
Page 3
Separated at Birth?
Beast-O-Scopes
 
 Cover Page

COMIX:
Idiot Box
Perry Bible Fellowship
Bob the Angry Flower

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The Assassin’s Gate: America in Iraq
By George Packer
New York: FSG
$26; 467 pages
 
Reviewed by John Freeman

The memory hole created by our 24-hour news cycle is vast and
deep, and nothing suffers because of it quite like our understanding of the war in Iraq. It is useful to remember that the Bush administration sold this war to Americans (and the world) as a matter of national security and WMDs. If we waited too long, Bush said, our smoking gun might just come in the shape of a mushroom cloud.

As we now know, this kind of talk was mostly marketing. The Bush administration planned on removing Saddam long before they took office. They simply needed a reason that would galvanize the American public.

New Yorker staff writer George Packer generously accepts this bait and switch job as politics as usual, but he is curious about how an administration that campaigned on a platform of isolationism became firm believers in the most far-reaching foreign policy adventure in decades.

In his new book, The Assassin’s Gate, Packer tracks this evolution within the White House and out onto the battlefield, emerging with a sobering tale about the danger of big ideas.

Like several journalists before him, Packer finds the real smoking gun of this war not in WMDs or even 9/11, but in a 13-year-old policy paper called, “Defense Planning Guidance of 1992,” which was commissioned under the first President Bush by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.

The paper argued that in the wake of communism’s demise, America’s number one national security goal ought to be “precluding the reemergence of a new rival.” Regime change in Iraq was the centerpiece of this vision.

After September 11th, this paper became the blueprint for America’s involvement in the War on Terror, opening up, as Packer shows, a window of opportunity for players who wanted to put pet ideas into motion.

For instance, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld looked to Iraq as a larger scale testing ground for his new, leaner army, which had just won a stunning, if short-lived success in Afghanistan.
 
But Rumsfeld was so wedded to his vision of a 21st century fighting force that when his own army Chief of Staff, Anthony Shinseki, estimated that he would need “several hundred thousand” troops for the job in Iraq, he demoted and then effectively fired the four-star general.
 
In fact, the most alarming part of this book is how often this administration, when faced with news it didn’t want to hear, refused to listen and then reprimanded (or even fired) the people who spoke up.
 
When Bush’s economic adviser Lawrence Lindsay came up with a price tag of $200 billion for the war – which has turned out to be low – he too was reprimanded and then fired.
 
Other people got the message. If they weren’t on board, they were off the boat. As a result, Packer reveals, the U.S. was sorely unprepared for the realities of life in Baghdad after Saddam was toppled.
 
This led to a staggering degree of incompetence in the field, which Packer documents in a series of vivid dispatches from Baghdad, revealing why his reporting from Iraq won him a George Polk Award.
 
After the city fell, a 25-year-old was put in charge of overseeing “the creation of the Baghdad stock market,” writes Packer, “and another 25-year-old...helped write the interim constitution while filling out his law school applications.” (184)

A list of sites to secure from looters was drawn up by one Harvard trained academic by consulting a Lonely Planet guide. His recommendations, which would have saved $12 billion in damage, got lost in the shuffle.

Meanwhile, the Iraqis’ patience was winding down. Power was sporadic, sewers weren’t working, and revenge killings against former Baath party members were common. One of Packer’s most chilling reports comes from a morgue where their bodies start turning up.
 
Tolerance for this chaos ran out on the watch of L. Paul Bremer III, the second head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Packer says Bremer made the key failures of not securing the city from looting, disbanding the Iraqi army, and of disbursing funds too slowly.

Unlike Anthony Shadid’s tremendous work of reportage, Night Draws Near, The Assassin’s Gate does not attempt to present these failures in the context of Baghdad’s rich, if troubled history. Sensing, perhaps, his limits as a white reporter working in an Arab country through translators, Packer keeps his eye fixed on America’s shifting presence within present-day Iraq.
 
But he does find room to note that Americans are not the only ones who fell prey to big ideas in this debacle. Visiting Iraq on and off over two years, Packer manages to meet and talk to dozens of Iraqis; more often than not they are yet hopeful. Several of them even waited out the years of Saddam’s power in exile, harboring wild dreams of a new beginning. They do not let go of these visions lightly.
 
Their presence in this narrative just goes to show that no one in this war has relinquished their plans easily. But the failure of optimistic views, be they Iraqi or American, has led to the rise of a far darker and more dangerous belief, held by a growing part of the Iraqi population: resistance at all costs. In the end, Packer notes, that might just prove the most unbending idea of them all.

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