A veteran British war journalist offers a diary of events on the ground from the overthrow of the Taliban to the rise of the Islamic State group.
In these edited journalistic briefs from the front line during four wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya), Independent Middle East correspondent Cockburn (The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, 2014, etc.) demonstrates how the West persistently believed what it wanted to hear rather than the facts on the ground. Romanticizing the role of the rebels, “who may be heroic defenders of their own communities but are quick to loot and kill when they advance beyond their home ground”; convincing the public, despite the evidence, that the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was sure to fall in the wake of the Arab Spring and ignoring the signs Iraq would again descend into a sectarian nightmare; and being surprised by the disintegration of the Iraqi army in 2014—these are some of the I-told-you-so moments that the forward-seeing journalist mentions without gloating. His dated dispatches are full of personal dealings with the war-torn participants, agents of violence as well as victimized civilians, and informed data and history. In one mystified entry from November 2006, in which the author was reporting on the growing Iraqi hostility to the U.S.–British military meddling, he quotes the German Chancellor in World War I: “When does the incompetence end and the crime begin?” The author illustrates how the gross “miscalculation” in Afghanistan by U.S.–British forces provoked the “insurrection that they were supposedly trying to suppress,” leading to thousands of dead and the ultimate return of the Taliban. Most moving are Cockburn’s more recent chronicles from Syria during the violent encroachments of the jihadis into civilian cities and the terrifying rule of the Islamic State group in Iraq (“Life in the Caliphate”).
A compelling series of dispatches from a journalist who has learned the hard golden rule in Iraq: “to forecast the worst possible outcome.”