News of Iraq rarely turns up in U.S. media reports nowadays. But Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, two veteran military correspondents, have stayed on the story and done an important service for history by writing The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, From George W. Bush to Barack Obama (Pantheon, $35). This is the most comprehensive account to date of the ill-fated U.S. war in Iraq. Drawing on many interviews as well as quite a few classified documents, the authors trace the full arc of the American experience in Iraq, from the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the initial years of occupation to the Obama administration’s missed opportunities in setting Iraq on a more stable course. They break new ground, particularly in documenting how Obama fumbled chances to reengage with Iraqi leaders and shape a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq. Instead, the president remained narrow-mindedly intent on winding down America’s military involvement.
In his previous book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Rajiv Chandrasekaran exposed the failures and follies of the first years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. His new book, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (Knopf, $27.95), is a depressingly similar tale about wellintentioned military and development plans gone awry, this time in Afghanistan. The story is filled with inflexible generals, uninformed diplomats, misguided development experts, distracted political leaders, and squabbling administration officials. But for all the ineptitude, poor co-ordination, wasted resources, personal rivalries, and lack of effective oversight that Chandrasekaran documents, he maintains a very even, exceedingly non-polemical tone. “For years,” he writes in conclusion, “we dwelled on the limitations of the Afghans. We should have focused on ourselves.”