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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Help Wanted: A secular strongman, with demonstrated ability to maintain law and order, and opposed to Iran.
The Gamble is Thomas Ricks' blow-by-blow account of the conception and execution of the "surge" in Iraq and is a sequel to his well-received "Fiasco" which documented the stages of the war prior to this putative turning point (and whose title speaks for itself). Ricks belongs to the Woodward school of history, providing detail of the protagonists' inner thoughts and...
Published on 10 Mar 2009 by Diacha

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book poorly prepared for the Kindle
Rick's has written an excellent & insightful - which has been badly let down by being poorly prepared for the Kindle, lacking chapter markings or tools to navigate the text.
Published 23 months ago by Recall


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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Help Wanted: A secular strongman, with demonstrated ability to maintain law and order, and opposed to Iran., 10 Mar 2009
By 
This review is from: The Gamble: General Petraeus and the Untold Story of the American Surge in Iraq, 2006 - 2008: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (Hardcover)
The Gamble is Thomas Ricks' blow-by-blow account of the conception and execution of the "surge" in Iraq and is a sequel to his well-received "Fiasco" which documented the stages of the war prior to this putative turning point (and whose title speaks for itself). Ricks belongs to the Woodward school of history, providing detail of the protagonists' inner thoughts and conversations throughout based on triangulated interviews. Thus his narrative takes on the pace and tone at times of a novel. He tracks the genesis of the surge from the development of counterinsurgency doctrine at Fort Leavenworth through its reluctant adoption by the US Army and Marines in the field and its cooption by the President's men who were desperately seeking a face saving alternative to withdrawal. The story, necessarily, has a different balance from Bob Woodward's "The War Within", as Ricks points out.

The change in approach to the occupation in Iraq promoted by General David Petraeus and General Raymond Odierno has been termed the "Surge" because of the defiantly, counter tidal move by President Bush to commit more forces at a time when virtually everyone including most of the generals in place was demanding a stepdown. In fact, the change was more characterized by an entire shift in doctrine (which to be sure required more boots on the ground) radically resetting the mission from "kill and capture" insurgents to protect the Iraqi people. This shift in mental paradigm altered how the forces behaved and how they were received by the local population. Although there were many initial casualties it worked as a means of greatly reducing violence and creating a degree of what Petraeus calls "sustainable stability."

The story of how the new strategy came to be adopted constitutes both a disturbing indictment of the politicisation, in-fighting, cognitive biases and sheer bureaucratic inertia of the massive US military machine (at one point we are told that Petraeus left Iraq briefly to address the promotion ceremony for forty - yes forty - new generals in Washington) on the one hand, and a more uplifting demonstration of how effectively the actual forces on the ground can learn and change. As Gen. Odierno's testy, English advisor. Emma Sky, remarks, sometimes "America doesn't deserve its military." As an aside, President Bush comes across more positively in this account than one might expect, more intelligent, informed, engaged and flexible than his image as the "Decider" suggests.

However, we also learn that a further key success factor behind the new stability, was Petraeus' willingness to cut deals with warlords who had American blood on their hands. These included Moqtada al-Sadr on the Shia side and many Sunni militias who were financially induced to turn against al Qaeda. At one point these "Sons of Iraq" were on Uncle Sam's payroll to the tune of $30,000,000 a month - but that was alright since it was such a tiny fraction of the total cost of the war. War critics tend to downplay the fact that it is not really the Americans or Brits who have been killing Iraqis but other Iraqis. The country is seething with warring tribes that are armed to the teeth. The government, the police and the army are often part of this pattern. General Petraeus bought stability for a time, but as an Iraqi cabinet minister observed, it is one thing to play with a crocodile when it is a baby, another when it is fully grown.

Thus to the bottom line. Petraeus posed the question before the mission as to "How all this ends?" Well, it appears that Obama will draw down US presence and that the Iraqi government, despite some new confidence on the part of Prime Minister al Maliki, did not use the umbrella of temporary "sustainable stability" to build a framework for permanent sustainable stability. The crocodiles will start snapping. Moqtada may stop biding his time. The prognosis by one US colonel that the real Iraqi civil war has yet to be fought may prove tragically correct. Ricks thinks that Lebanonisation is a likely outcome, with Iran exerting considerable influence.The opportunity provided by the almost certainly temporary success of the surge was not taken.

As for the general on the cover of the book, Ricks paints a portrait of David Petraeus as exceptionally smart, tough, driven and aloof. He is promoted before the end of the story in the book to Centcom commander with responsibility for both Iraq and Afghanistan. Ricks predicts that he may appear at some point as Obama's National Security Advisor. It would not be totally surprising if his thoughts about the White House were not so limited.

This book could easily have been shorter- there is far more journalistic recreation of events than is needed to convey the argument or the story - and there could have been more on the role of Iran. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and found it thought provoking. Anyone who wishes to feel qualified to express an opinion on the war should read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A calculated risk, 18 May 2011
By 
Dr. Bojan Tunguz (Indiana, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
The travails of us policy and military engagement in Iraq have been dominating the news for the better part of five years since the invasion in 2003 until some time in 2008. The reason is quite obvious: what was supposed to be a very quick and decisive military operation that would turn Iraq into a free and peaceful society turned out to be a military and political disaster. And yet the news from Iraq stopped dominating the headlines some time in 2008. The reason for this dramatic turnaround is quite clear: it is the new US strategy that was designed to increase the number of US troops on the ground and engage with the Iraqi society on a much more direct basis. This strategy and the way that it came about is the theme of this book. Unlike many other books that have come out in recent years, this one is largely written from the military's point of view. If there is a single name that come to symbolize "The Surge" that would be the name of general Petraeus. Unjustifiably maligned by some war opponents early on in his new assignment of turning the situation in Iraq around, he has become a stellar example of professionalism and success with one of the most difficult military assignments ever. But Petraeus was not the only one in the military who contributed to the development of the new strategy. There are many others, either on active duty or as civilian advisers, who have helped shape and develop the new strategy. This book does a very good job of describing those contributions and giving credit to people who have largely labored behind the scenes. It features many combat commanders and their troops, and it gives many examples from the frontlines that help illustrate and affirm the main points.

What makes this book particularly interesting and valuable is the sheer amount of first-hand interview material. Almost all of the main military protagonists are featured, and many of their most important experiences recoded and presented in an easy journalistic style. The approach to policy that the book adopts is pragmatic rather than ideological. It gives as sober of an assessment of what happened during the war as one can find these days. It concludes with a sobering prediction of where the military engagement is headed, and a prediction that a substantial US presence is likely to remain in Iraq for many more years, if not decades.

The only issue that I have with the book is that it may contain too much information: some of the points could have been made with far less material. But otherwise this is an excellent read and a must for anyone who is interested in what has really been happening with The Surge and why it worked in the end
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book poorly prepared for the Kindle, 7 Aug 2012
Rick's has written an excellent & insightful - which has been badly let down by being poorly prepared for the Kindle, lacking chapter markings or tools to navigate the text.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trying not to lose in Iraq, 22 Sep 2010
By 
Aidan J. McQuade (Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gamble: General Petraeus and the Untold Story of the American Surge in Iraq, 2006 - 2008: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (Hardcover)
A fine and thought provoking work of journalism, focusing on the efforts of a relatively small group of senior US officers to change US military policy in Iraq from its murderous post-invasion approach to something more humane that, if not guaranteeing victory, at least staved off the prospect of defeat and ignomy.

While the writing style is not the most elegant Ricks analytical approach, weighing up the evidence from his extensive interviews and coming to a careful judgement, shows up the likes of the recent works of Bob Woodward on the Iraq war.

The author's admiration for Petraeus and his colleagues is clear, and on the basis of the evidence presented seems very justified: As Petraeus and Obama have both pointed out just because you invade a country stupidly does not mean you should leave it stupidly. Nevertheless in spite of the at least partial accomplishment, of increasing security in the face of escalating civil war, one still leaves the book with a sense of sorrow: for the devastation visited upon the Iraqi people by an illegal war started by a thoughtless cabal in Washington and London, and for the ordinary soldiers who are required to sacrifice themselves in trying to clean up the mess left by those who have since retired to make their fortunes and accept acclaim on the lecture circuits of the world.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Follow up to "Fiasco"', 19 May 2009
By 
CM Weston (Warsaw) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Gamble: General Petraeus and the Untold Story of the American Surge in Iraq, 2006 - 2008: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (Hardcover)
For those, like me, who enjoyed, "Fiasco", this is the next episode in the continuing saga of the US`s unhappy foray into Iraq. There is something of the air of redemption in this book - "Fiasco" left off with the US and coalition forces facing almost near disaster in Iraq and indeed this book kicks off with the bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra in Febriary 2006 and Iraq`s near descent into civil war, but due to the efforts of a group of officers, such as retired General Keane, General Petraeus takes over. He and other likeminded individuals such as Odierno, his deputy, employ classic counterinsurgency tactics such as the forces living among the Iraqis to improve security - "the populace are the prize", cutting deals with the Sunni and Shia insurgents to bring them over to the US side rather than the previous "commute to work" from large bases and "insurgency on two fronts", the decline was at least halted, if not reversed.
Some of this background has already been outlined in Bob Woodward`s book - the involvement of Bush and Cheney in effecting the senior personnel changes, and the politicking surrounding the decision to proceed with the "surge" of US forces. Some of the previous reviewer`s comments re Bush are correct although Hicks is very clear that he believes the personnel and tactical changes should have been made several years earlier and that this was Bush`s responsibility.
Despite the reductions in incidents, fatalities (both military and civilian),as a result of the revised senior military line up and tactics, the book`s conclusions on the "Gamble" make sober reading. Petraeus and his successor, Odierno, very much believe that this is a a 'long war' and that a US military presence will be likely for many more years yet - redemption is therefore "work in progress". The "surge" tactics have only been limited in their success since they were also implemented with a view to allowing the politicians to begin to craft a political solution to the problems faced by Iraq following the fall of Saddam. In the Northern Ireland context, this was described as aiming at an "acceptable level of violence" or "holding the ring" while the politicians negotiated a resolution. This took decades to take effect in a place where the intensity of the conflict, albeit bitter, pales in comparison with that experienced in Iraq over the last six years. In addition, the three parties, Shia, Sunni and Kurds, are still struggling to make the compromises necessary. Meanwhile, the US is in a major economic crisis and its attention is being diverted to the Af/Pak conflict.
Petraeus posed the question about the US involvement in Iraq: "How does this end?" Not any time soon and the answer is unlikely to be so clearcut...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb analysis of the Iraq War, 28 Aug 2009
By 
The Gamble needs to be viewed as the second part to Ricks book Fiasco which begins the story of the US military adventure in Iraq.
The Gamble picks up where Fiasco ended and concentrates on the change in strategy by the US army who belated saw the light and transformed their strategy and tactics on the ground finally learning from painful and costly mistakes.

The book deals with two worlds, the political and the military. More time is spent on the military and this is not a comprehensive political account of what happened. It is however a fairly comprehensive one of the military strategy, tactics, policy and personnel.

Based on detailed interviews with many of the main protagonists it is an honest and unbiased account of how the US military under the leadership of Odierno and Petraeus with the influential Jack Keane in the background regained the initiative against all the odds with the Surge.

The book gives a very good macro view of the broad tactics and strategic decisions and mistakes and brings these to life with countless on the ground examples and accounts.

If you're interested in finding out exactly what hapenned in Iraq, the good the bad and the ugly then Fiasco followed by The Gamble will give you the full picture.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My review, 9 May 2013
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Excellent book very well written. It uncovers the difficulties that the Army had to deal with thanks to the lies of Rumsfeld and co.

Martin Mc Larnon
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