The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008

by Thomas E. Ricks

Hardcover, 2009

Call number

956.7 R



Penguin Press HC, The (2009), Edition: First Edition, 400 pages


"The Gamble," the story of Gen. David Petraeus and the American military, reveals that many high-level officials were opposed to the 2003 invasion.

User reviews

LibraryThing member millerzl
For those not familiar with strategic and operational decision making, this book will enlighten. I appreciated it for its portrayal of the important players that were not necessarily in the headlines. Major General David Fastabend's important contributions to the surge strategy were especially insightful.
LibraryThing member bruchu
Evaluating the Surge

One can view "The Gamble" as the necessary sequel to "Fiasco" which was Thomas Ricks first book about the American military adventure in Iraq beginning in 2003. To truly appreciate "The Gamble" I do think readers should read "Fiasco" first, so as to fully absorb the missteps which led to the great turn in 2007.

Again, if you liked "Fiasco", then you'll like "The Gamble". Ricks writes in his familiar chronological style highlighting the most relevant details along the way. Most valuable are the actual quotes from several high-ranking officials used throughout the book.

As for the content, Ricks' interpretation would be considered orthodox. Ricks attributes the American midterm elections in 2006 which brought in a democratic majority in both houses as the single most decisive change which set the momentum of the Iraq war onto a new path. Specifically, the change from Rumsfeld to Gates as Secretary of Defense, and the selection of counter-insurgency expert Gen. David Petraeus to lead the troops on the ground. Though I agree with Ricks here, I think that changes were inevitable and the midterm election results just accelerated the reforms.

Ricks is quite right in pointing out that the success of "The Surge" strategy was mostly due to the paying off of Sunni insurgents, the creation of the "Sunni Awakening". He is also quite right to point out that this fragile peace has not led to political reconciliation between the sectarian groups. Each remains heavily armed and any spark of violence could lead to an all out battle again. The analogy used, the "lebanonization" of Iraq is an accurate one in describing the situation. The big unknown remains, when the Americans finally stop paying the Sunni Awakening, will the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad step up to pay?

Although Ricks predicts the war in Iraq will last another 5 to 10 years, since Obama has announced the complete withdrawal of US forces by 2011, one wonders if the war will continue without the US.

Overall, a fine book by a fine writer. When all is said and done 30 years from now, both "Fiasco" and "The Gamble" will serve as the definitive accounts of the Iraq war.
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LibraryThing member reannon
The Gamble is one of those rare books that has entirely changed what I know and what I think about a topic. It is about the change in U.S. military strategy in Iraq in 2007, what is usually called "the surge". I have been opposed to the war in Iraq, and was opposed to the surge, but I now know that I didn't know what it meant.

The big lack was in not understanding what counterinsurgency means as a strategy. Its first goal is to protect the population, and then to isolate the insurgents and so starve them of support. This meant a huge change in the previous strategy, which was to capture and kill, not being concerned about civilian casualties, and to operate out of large bases not near the population. Counterinsurgency requires higher numbers of troops, because they have to live, patrol, and hold territory in the population centers.

The whole book is fascinating, and well-written, in telling how the new strategy came to be adopted, by who, and what effects it had. It meant a change in military top brass as well as in strategy, and it is remarkable how much change was driven by people outside the normal chain of command. An Australian counterinsurgency expert, David Kilcullen, wrote one of the leading documents, and a retired general, Jack Keane, saw how badly the war was going and pushed for change. But primarily the two responsible for having the new strategy adopted and implemented were David Petreaus and Raymond Odierno. Petreaus was in charge of a team that wrote the Army's new counterinsurgency manual, and then took over operational control of Iraq. Odierno was more in charge of the day-to-day operations that made the new strategy happen.

The new strategy had its biggest successes in turning the Sunni tribesmen in Anwar away from Al Quaeda in Iraq. And all over, when protecting the population became the main goal, terrific things happened. The soldiers got to know the people they were protecting, understanding them better, which led to people sharing intelligence with them that made for greater success in defeating the insurgents. And over the course of several months, deaths began dropping dramatically.

The book, thus far, is a rather thrilling adventure about what had failed by not caring about people turned into a success by caring about them. It is an uplifting story.

However, in the final section of the book, Ricks brings it all back down to earth again. The surge worked, militarily. Deaths dropped dramatically. The military was irrevocably changed in its culture and approach. Yet military success did not breed political success in creating a more stable Iraq. Ricks finds it unlikely that Iraq will ever be the kind of secular integrated democracy that Bush so grandly envisioned yet failed to have any realistic plan for. Iraq may yet have more dictators in its history. Even worse, it is almost inevitable that some U.S. troops will be required for many years to have even a mildly acceptable Iraq, one that isn't a flash point in a regional war.

I highly recommend this book for those who want to understand Iraq and U.S. relations with it.
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LibraryThing member rrees
This is an excellent look at the US Army's reinvention of its counter-insurgency strategy and tactics after being on the brink of defeat in Iraq. It is a journalistic recent history which means that the main historical narrative is peppered with interviews and biographical or geographic sketches.

The author has excellent access to the principals and a lot of the documents and the result is a politically neutral look at a large organisation re-inventing its approach and radically rethinking what it is prepared to do and say to achieve some form of victory in the face of defeat.

Although the central figure in the narrative is David Petraeus the portrait is balanced and the contributions, influence and leadership of others is given due weight.

It's an interesting read to understand contemporary politics and the thinking behind recent military strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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LibraryThing member DeaconBernie
Interesting to read a book that was timely when written but it is three years later. Some of what Ricks thought would happen actually has happened but he partially missed on the new President. His evaluation of Mr Bush is typical and without substance -- not surprising.
Ricks clearly has great admiration for Generals Petraeus and Odiierno, and especially for various staff members. And yet, even after 10 chapters, he cannot say that The Surge did any good. Three years later, we do have a more peaceable country but which has lately turned the wrong way. It is hard to say what purpose this book serves.… (more)
LibraryThing member mahallett
i never intended to listen to this when i saw what it was about but i took it on a holiday as a spare. and since i never intended to spend so much time in the car(12 hours!) i ended up listening to it. so i was very prejudiced. but tada it was ok. i learned a lot.
LibraryThing member gmicksmith
I would be the first to admit my prejudices were against enjoying this book. I thought that with his other Pulitzer Prize effort it really should have easy to document a fiasco. However, I was pleasantly surprised that this is an even handed account of the gamble portion of the surge that turned out to have been successful. Petraeus does not appear until later in the work yet the General is largely credited fairly with turning the American effort in Iraq around. It is in fact one of the most dramatic and incredible re-castings of military strategy in history yet it is little appreciated just how momentous and impressive the re-thinking of a flawed effort was. Ricks has done an admirable job here in demonstrating how the principals turned the situation around.… (more)




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