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TO START A WAR by Robert Draper Kirkus Star


How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq

by Robert Draper

Pub Date: July 28th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-525-56104-0
Publisher: Penguin Press

An authoritative account of the background to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

A writer at large for the New York Times Magazine, Draper contrasts American Middle East policy with Iraq’s under Saddam Hussein since he took power in 1979; disturbingly, it remains unclear which was more dysfunctional. The author reminds readers that the U.S. supported Iraq after it invaded Iran in 1980 despite widespread atrocities perpetrated by Hussein. In 1991, American forces crushed Iraq’s army after it invaded Kuwait. Convinced that this humiliation would lead to Hussein’s overthrow, the U.S. withdrew. The war and ongoing sanctions impoverished Iraq, but Hussein’s rhetoric convinced everyone that he remained a threat. Draper paints George W. Bush as a decent man aware of his ignorance who surrounded himself with men of vast experience: Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. The author, who ably distills his deep research and reporting into a fluid narrative, is not the first to focus on Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and a veteran adviser since the Reagan administration, who took a dislike to Hussein after the First Gulf War and never ceased urging his overthrow. Unconvinced but then horrified by 9/11, Bush vowed not to be blindsided a second time. As a result, he came to accept that Hussein, rather than Osama bin Laden, was the major figure behind terrorism. It helped that Cheney and Rumsfeld were on board. What followed makes excruciating reading because the true believers got everything wrong. Under pressure to find evidence justifying war (weapons of mass destruction, a Hussein–bin Laden connection), the CIA waffled, so the hawks created their own intelligence group that found it. An evenhanded chronicler, Draper reminds readers that most Americans, most congressmen, and even the New York Times supported invasion. Today, almost everyone has changed their minds, and the trillions of dollars wasted would be useful right now.

A painful yet gripping, essential account of a disastrous series of decisions.