Monday, September 13, 2010
The Neverending Story.
Tell Me How This Ends is a timely story. Following Gen. McChrystal's recent public excoriation, Gen. Petraeus became the ISAF and USFOR-A Commander, which is kind of like being simultaneously in the frying pan and the fire. Robinson's book, published in 2008 following the quelling of Iraq's nascent civil war, uses a workmanlike approach to analyzing General Petraeus' accomplishments in Iraq.
Although this book is ostensibly about Gen. Petraeus, Robinson actually reveals very little about her subject, aside from a few bits and pieces from interviews with his family and colleagues and some biographical information that isn't particularly groundbreaking. But it's actually fitting, in a way, since Gen. Petraeus is a very reserved figure - unlike the abrasive Gen. McChrystal. In fact, as Robinson reveals, Gen. Petraeus' military victories are due in large part not only to his tactical and strategic prowess, but to his extreme control under the most trying of circumstances, innate skill at diplomacy, and his extraordinary personal drive.
Although Robinson's book falls short as a biography, it does a commendable job taking the reader inside the unique and deadly conflagrations that engulfed different regions in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, during the bleakest days of the war. Although Robinson doesn't touch on the historical context of the Sunni/Shiite conflict (which is in itself the subject for another book, if not a couple of volumes), to her credit, she does devote a considerable amount of time providing the recent political context of the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, and how sectarian divisions so thoroughly derailed the stabilization process, ignited a firestorm of violence, and very nearly caused the dissolution of the shaky Iraqi government.
Robinson's writing becomes particularly vivid in describing the violence that American force faced in Ameriya and Adhamiyah, two towns with particularly brutal and entrenched insurgent activity. Robinson chose to present the struggle in Ameriya and Adhamiyah through the perspective of the officers from Charlie and Alpha Companies, companies that suffered very high casualties in the struggle to clear the cities. This close perspective pays off with a look into the inner workings of a very cohesive group of soldiers who made remarkable accomplishments under some of the worst conditions of the war.
Although Tell Me How This Ends does not really provide a multi-dimensional portrait of Gen. Petraeus (if such a project is even possible, particularly now), it is nonetheless a very valuable work, and provides some remarkable and informative insight into how intertwined political and military activity was (and still is) in Iraq.