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The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraqby Bing West
Synopses & Reviews
From a universally respected combat journalist, a gripping history based on five years of front-line reporting about how the war was turned around-and the choice now facing America
During the fierce battle for Fallujah, Bing West asked an Iraqi colonel why the archterrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had fled in womens clothes. The colonel pointed to a Marine patrol walking by and said, “Americans are the strongest tribe.”
In Iraq, America made mistake after mistake. Many gave up on the war. Then the war took a sharp U-turn. Two generals-David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno-displayed the leadership America expected. Bringing the reader from the White House to the fighting in the streets, this remarkable narrative explains the turnaround by U.S. forces.
In the course of fourteen extended trips over five years, West embedded with more than sixty front-line units, discussing strategy with generals and tactics with corporals. He provides an experts account of counterinsurgency, disposing of myths. By describing the characters and combat in city after city, West gives the reader an in-depth understanding that will inform the debate about the war. This is the definitive study of how American soldiers actually fought -a gripping and visceral book that changes the way we think about the war, and essential reading for understanding the next critical steps to be taken.
Praise for The Strongest Tribe:
"Balanced, panoramic assessment of the Iraq War by former Marine and Reagan administration veteran West (No True Glory, 2005, etc.), who heralds American soldiers as its unsung heroes amid the “fog of Washington”. . .A timely, eye-opening historical analysis that provides clarity around the difficult choices the next president faces."
--Kirkus (starred review)
"In this important new chronicle of the war in Iraq, Bing West reveals how America reached the brink of defeat in 2006 and then managed in 2007 to stage a stunning turnaround. With its vivid, on-the-ground reporting, his book is a fitting tribute to the honor, valor, and toughness of our soldiers. Notwithstanding numerous mistakes by their leaders, West shows that their sacrifices have made success possible--as long we do not withdraw prematurely."
--Senator John S. McCain
“Sometimes the best way to support the troops is to criticize the generals. Bing West does both well in this book, showing a sympathy for our soldiers and Marines, but also a great ear for military truth and a determination to render events accurately. This is his third and most important book about the Iraq war. Read it.”
-- Thomas E. Ricks, author of FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
“A brilliant exposition. Based on extensive experience in the war zone, Bing West recounts how Soldiers and Marines showed the President and the Pentagon the way to solve the Iraq insurgency problem. Echoing the admonition that "all politics are local", The Strongest Tribe convincingly argues that it was a grass roots strategy developed by on-scene officers who forged ties at the tribal level that brought stability to Iraq's turbulent Anbar Province and provided hope for all Iraq.”
-- Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor USMC (Ret.) Co-author of The Generals' War
and COBRA II: The Inside Story of the Invation and Occupation of Iraq
“Some four decades ago I told Bing West that his book, the Village, would become a classic in counterinsurgency warfare. And so it did. "The Strongest Tribe" will surely be West's second classic - a moving and detailed account of almost six years of war in Iraq.”
- Dr. James R. Schlesinger, Director of Central Intelligence Agency, Nixon administration; Secretary of Defense, Ford administration; Chairman, The Mitre Corporation
We interpret reality through the clouded prism of our own experience, so it is unsurprising that Bing West sees Iraq through the lens of Vietnam. He served as a Marine officer there, and he thinks politicians and the media caused the American public to turn against a war that could have been won. Now a correspondent for the Atlantic, West has made 15 reporting trips to Iraq over the last six years... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and is almost as personally invested in the current conflict as he was in Vietnam; this book, his third on Iraq, is his attempt to ensure that the "endgame" in Iraq turns out better than in his last war. It is increasingly possible to believe that it will. "The Strongest Tribe" is the first overview of the entire course of the Iraq war to be published since Gen. David Petraeus implemented a change in strategy that is likely to be eternally, if incorrectly, identified as "the surge." West briefly invokes the familiar litany of American errors that nurtured the Sunni insurgency early in the war — his first chapter is titled "How to Create a Mess" — and he presents a biting analysis of the muddled strategy that marked the war's second and third years, when the United States rushed to hand over control to an Iraqi military that was not ready to assume such responsibility. He calls it "a hope posing as a plan" that committed too few troops to accomplish the tasks they had been given: a classic ends/means mismatch. When al-Qaeda in Iraq destroyed the sacred Shia shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22, 2006, civil war between the Sunnis and the Shia erupted, and the contradictions and likely failure of U.S. policy eventually became impossible to ignore, even for a Washington that was tragically disconnected from reality on the ground. Enter Petraeus, co-author of a new field manual on counterinsurgency that focused on the protection of the population as the key to success in this kind of war — the same mission West had emphasized in Vietnam 40 years earlier. With his deputy (and now successor), Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, Petraeus pushed U.S. soldiers in Baghdad out of the big Forward Operating Bases that had isolated them from the Iraqi people, stationing them in Joint Security Stations with Iraqi soldiers and police. This change in how the troops conceived of their mission was far more important than the relatively small increase in the number of troops that the "surge" label overemphasizes. Petraeus also took full advantage of the opportunity presented when the Sunni tribes of Anbar province attacked al-Qaeda in a turnaround that, as West argues, "was to change the tide of the war over the course of 2007." The military was learning that in counterinsurgency, persuading your enemy to stop fighting against you — and, if possible, to start fighting alongside you — can be even better than killing him. West calls it like he sees it, and there is probably no American not wearing a uniform who has seen more of this war. A large number of senior (mostly Army) generals come in for scathing reviews in "The Strongest Tribe," but West reserves his most critical assessments for politicians and journalists. Democratic Congressman and former Marine John Murtha of Pennsylvania was responsible, with the assistance of the media, for "distorting and deliberately exaggerating" the Marine killings of civilians at Haditha. In West's opinion, President Bush failed at his primary responsibility, which was "to persuade the American people to support the war," and also failed to spread the burden of the war equally on all Americans. Instead, the soldiers and Marines who do the fighting and the dying endure repeated tours of duty because we have more war than our too-small Army and Marine Corps can handle. West tells the story of their sacrifices better than anyone else, with an infantryman's keen eye for combat and a father's love for those who engage in it. During the battle for Fallujah in 2004 (a fight West chronicled in an earlier book, "No True Glory"), an Iraqi colonel pointed at a Marine patrol and said admiringly, "Americans are the strongest tribe." But the American exit strategy requires that the government of Iraq earn that appellation from its own people, and in this reviewer's opinion the Iraqi government will become the strongest tribe in Iraq only if it enjoys the continued support of a U.S. advisory effort for a number of years. This was the course the United States adopted in Vietnam, but in the wake of Watergate, public support collapsed, advisers were withdrawn, and South Vietnam fell to the North. That loss had catastrophic consequences for Vietnam, Southeast Asia and the United States. The consequences of defeat in Iraq, West argues, are similarly severe, entirely foreseeable and preventable at an increasingly bearable cost. "Reducing the U.S. force in Iraq can be done prudently, as long as we don't promise a total withdrawal that signals America has given up," he writes. "That makes no sense given the progress that has been made." Looking through the prism of my own experience, I find it hard to disagree. John A. Nagl, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, fought in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. He is the author of "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam." Reviewed by John A. Nagl, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
From one of the most respected combat reporters in America comes a gripping battlefield history of how the U.S. military corrected its mistakes in Iraq and opened a path to victory. b&w photo insert.
About the Author
Bing West was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President Ronald Reagan. He served in the Marine infantry in Vietnam. Later, as an analyst at the RAND Corporation, he wrote the Vietnam classic The Village, that war colleges use as a primer in counterinsurgency. As a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, West has covered the war for five years. His books on Iraq - No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah and The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the United States Marines (co-authored with MajGen Ray Smith)-have won the Marine Corps Heritage Foundations General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award for nonfiction, the Colby Award for military nonfiction, and the Veteran of Foreign Wars Media Award. West is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; his articles appear in The New York Times, The Wall St. Journal, and other major newspapers. He appears on National Public Radio and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.
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