Some of the quotes on the dust-jacket would have you believe this is a straightforward anti-war book. My copy includes this from Peter Watts of Time Out: 'A necessary and honest antidote to the ideological buffoonery Iraq has encouraged. Hitchens, Cohen, Moore, Jenkins et al: read and learn'. Don't believe a word of it: the book is nothing of the kind. Rather, Packer is among those (and there are many of us) who could see the moral and strategic case for removing Saddam, were allergic to the simplistic slogans of the anti-war movement, but at the same time critical of the way the case for war was made, and of the incompetence of its execution.
It's the fact that Packer should have been a natural supporter of the war that makes his detailed critique of it particularly damning. The reader is left with an overwhelming sense of anger and frustration at the Bush administration for the sheer waste of lives, resources and opportunities that were the direct result of their incompetence. Once you've read this book, you'll find it hard to to dismiss Bush's laziness, incuriosity and lack of imagination as cute foibles. Together with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith and Rice, the president is shown to be morally culpable for a tragedy that need not have happened. At the same time, the book is full of examples of the dedication and initiative of ordinary US service personnel, shamefully let down by their leaders, and the resilience and optimism of ordinary Iraqis, despite the repeated dashing of their hopes.
Packer sums it up well:
I came to believe that those in positions of highest responsibility for Iraq showed a carelessness about human life that amounted to criminal negligence. Swaddled in abstract ideas, convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability, they turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one. When things went wrong, they found other people to blame. The Iraq war was always winnable; it still is. For this very reason, the recklessness of its authors is all the harder to forgive.