Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tom Ricks is great

Tom Ricks' The Gamble is an excellent book about the Surge, a subject that was largely discussed in terms of the Presidential debate. Ricks doesn't ignore that context, but he is more interested in how it happened and what it means. His takes a mixed view. He argues that the operational goal, the stabilization of the situation, worked, but the long term goal, creating a means for the US to exit, did not. If you are interested in the subject, then you really need to read the book. Rather than talk about the book itself, I'd rather talk about what makes Ricks writer on the topic.

Bob Woodward is justly known for his contacts within DC. His books are filled with insights gained from a series of interviews that few can get. Ricks has similar connections within the military leadership. Woodward's book on the surge tells the story from DC, Ricks tells it from Baghdad.

Despite this deep integration into the military he remains analytically distant and keeps the writing at a level understandable to a reasonably educated reader. Someone as plugged into his subject might come to avoid criticism. Even when praising his subjects, he takes time to show those that have a different view. Maybe even more impressive, at the end of the book he questions whether everything he has been telling you really matters.

Despite talking almost exclusively about military operations, and in particular counterinsurgency or COIN as it is known, Ricks keeps the language at a level you might find in a newspaper, instead of a specialty journal. Makes sense, as he made his living as a newspaper reporter, but it makes the book so much easier to read when you don't have to wade through jargon and inside baseball.

It is unfortunate he no longer works as a reporter, but if we can get more books like his Iraq books, I think it will be a good trade.

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