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Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
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General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006–2008

A-The GambleThomas E. Ricks, author of the acclaimed Fiasco ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2006), the definitive book on the early phases of the Iraq War, is a special military correspondent for the Washington Post.

The Topic: For many people, Ricks’s Fiasco represented a turning point in their view of the Iraq war. Criticizing not just the case for war but the early years of the occupation, the book had few heroes and many villains. In The Gamble, a loose sequel to Fiasco, Ricks discovered heroism not just in the formidable General David Petraeus but also in the team of experts and advisers he assembled to advance his counterinsurgency strategy. But just because Ricks has found a sheriff doesn’t mean he thinks Iraq will end like a Western: in his view, the American military will not be riding off into the sunset anytime soon. Rather, he projects that no matter what the Obama administration says, American troops will continue occupying Iraq until at least 2015 and that "the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened."
Penguin. 400 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 1594201978

Telegraph (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Books that can influence military affairs are rare. Ones that are read by the Army’s commanders are rarer. In The Gamble, the American journalist Thomas E. Ricks has not only produced an accessible account of how the US turned from the path of defeat in Iraq; he has also articulated the new thinking in dealing with counter-insurgency." Thomas Harding

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"In his absorbing, impressively researched new book, The Gamble, Ricks examines how US goals in Iraq changed in late 2006. Through his impressive access to military and political leaders, Ricks demonstrates that what fueled this change was the lack of any recognizable progress in Iraq." Chuck Leddy

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Less chronicled [than the big story] is the small story: the day-to-day on the streets of Baghdad and in the Green Zone, the city-within-a-city where the Americans were based. … Ricks’s tale is based around good access and on-the-record quotes, in the style of Bob Woodward but thankfully with less personality intruding." John Kampfner

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[P]owerful and illuminating. … Mr. Ricks writes as both an analyst and a reporter with lots of real-time access to the chain of command, and his book’s narrative is animated by closely observed descriptions of how the surge worked on the ground, by a savvy knowledge of internal Pentagon politics, and by a keen understanding of the Iraq war’s long-term fallout on already strained American forces." Michiko Kakutani

Salon.com 4 of 5 Stars
"If you enjoyed Fiasco, thrilled to have your prejudices about the clueless Bush administration confirmed, it’s your responsibility to read The Gamble to have some prejudices challenged. … I still want troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. But reading this well-reported book may have changed even my notion of what that means." Joan Walsh

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"This is a terrific book, and the story that Ricks tells carries complete conviction. … The big sting in the tail of Ricks’s book is that he concludes his story of Petraeus’s extraordinary tactical success by raising doubts about whether it means a thing amid wider political failure." Max Hastings

Critical Summary

By and large, critics were less eager to assess Ricks’s work as an author and more interested in his opinions about the success of the "surge" and the future of Iraq. But this is perhaps the book’s greatest endorsement; whether they were liberal or conservative, American or British, critics viewed Ricks’s facts as unassailable and his analysis as strong. They were impressed not just with his unparalleled access to the main actors in Iraq but also with his ability to integrate two commonly held but seemingly irreconcilable views—that the war was a mistake and a catastrophe (as expressed in Fiasco) and that Petraeus and the surge represented an amazing turnaround. Thus, many critics found that although Ricks seems to express a consensus view, The Gamble is counterintuitive and challenging, refreshing yet sobering.