As the last U.S. combat battalions depart Iraq, a journalist tallies the staggering cost of the invasion and occupation.
American officials have largely deemed the surge in Iraq a success. Led by Gen. David Petraeus, the counterinsurgency strategy to integrate Iraqi army and police with U.S. forces to impose an overall security plan has now become the blueprint for Afghanistan and, who knows, for any future showdown with Iran. Rosen (In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, 2006) acknowledges that the surge, contrary to his expectations, has ended for now the civil war in Iraq, but views our entire involvement, from the invasion through today’s occupation, as disastrous. With Middle Eastern features inherited from his Iranian father, this New York City native has deftly employed his “melanin advantage” to blend into the countryside, the mosques, the villages and the neighborhoods of Iraq to report on the chaos, violence and terror attending America’s effort to remake the country. For Rosen, it’s an unrelenting tale of bombing, death squads, overflowing prisons, heightened factionalism, economic devastation and brutal suppression. Even the surge’s effectiveness he attributes less to an inspired general’s grand plan and more to an Iraqi resistance bought off by billions of American dollars. The American occupation, he maintains, has destroyed much, built little and only encouraged the spread of radical Islam. He charts the flow of fighters into Iraq, the exodus of millions of refugees and the war’s spillover into neighboring Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. He also traveled to Afghanistan for a heart-stopping visit as a “guest” of the Taliban. America entered Iraq promising liberation and democracy. Instead, writes the author, we substituted a different kind of terror from that imposed by Saddam, installed a corrupt government, further destabilized the region and lost most of our influence among the Arabs. As the Obama administration considers the way ahead in the Middle East, as the calendar in Afghanistan flips forward, Rosen’s account couldn’t be timelier.
Courageous ground-level reporting.