I am raving about "The Gamble" by Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post.
His topic is the surge in Iraq and this book follows his earlier "Fiasco - The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005".
'Fiasco', believe it or not, is highly critical of the US planning and execution of the invasion of Iraq. The Gamble goes in a different direction, which will surprise some - here is Joan Walsh of Salon:
Imagine my surprise, and also perhaps Ricks', to find his new book, "The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq 2006-2008," telling an admiring, often inspiring story of the way the American military came back from humiliation thanks to the so-called surge, which so many Democrats, myself included, passionately opposed. 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. In "Fiasco" decisions are made by knaves and buffoons like Donald Rumsfeld, Iraq reconstruction czar L. Paul Bremer and Iraq's first commander, Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez; in "The Gamble," the action is dominated by men Ricks respects, like retired Gen. Jack Keane, along with David Petraeus and his deputy, Gen. Raymond Odierno.
Interestingly, Gen. Odierno is one of the buffoons of "Fiasco" but he is hailed as the biological father of the surge and a re-made leader in the latest.
The LA Times has lots of detail in their review. Ricks is a very long way from declaring victory in Iraq:
The points that stayed with me:
1. TACTICS V. STRATEGY: Some of the tactics of the surge may have conflicted with the long term strategic goal of a stable, unified Iraq. For example, arming the Sunni Awakening and allying with them them against Al Qaeda in Iraq had short term benefits, but promoted a strong Sunni faction rather than a strong central government. That said, well armed Sunnis may deter a civil war (or deliver a bloodier one).
2. WAITING FOR THE MAN ON A HORSE: Ricks makes the troubling point that as we develop the Iraqi Army and security forces we are creating Iraqi generals who actually have troops on the street protecting the population and working wth local leaders. Meanwhile, the purported national "leaders" of Iraq are out of sight and out of mind in the Green Zone, backstabbing each other but becoming irrelevant to the populace. That is a perfect recipe for a coup.
3. WAITING FOR THE HISTORY: The probable best case is that the US is in Iraq for years during a grinding transition to a stable, authoritarian government. Ricks emphasizes the notion that the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered (Coup? Massive civil war?) almost surely have not yet occurred.