Emmy-winning 60 Minutes producer Bonin tells the story of America’s (mis)adventures in Iraq through the lens of Ahmad Chalabi.
Chalabi is a fascinating figure, and the book is as much a biography of this persistent, intelligent, savvy and manipulative man as it is a history of how America became mired in Iraq. Chalabi was born into one of Iraq’s wealthiest and most influential families, and he lived a life of almost storybook privilege, at least until 1958, when the military overthrew the country’s monarchy. The Chalabi family was particularly vulnerable, as they represented the lavish success of the few in a country where most people had no access to electricity, potable water or sewage systems. The fact that the revolutionaries were overwhelmingly Sunni only added to the political dynamic and to young Chalabi’s resentments. When Saddam Hussein rose to power, Chalabi lived in comfortable exile abroad, always planning to return to topple the Hussein regime. As the United States became increasingly embroiled in events in Iraq, at first in support of Hussein’s regime and later as its foe, Chalabi always seemed to be at the center of the storm, maneuvering himself into positions of influence and power, often outsmarting organizations such as the CIA along the way. As with many biographies, the book occasionally suffers from myopia as all of the events are seen through the lens of Chalabi. Nonetheless, Bonin offers a welcome contribution to the growing library of books on modern Iraq.
This crisp, clean book won’t be the last word on the perplexing events in Iraq, but for now it’s one of the better ones.