In This Review

Circle in the Sand
Circle in the Sand
By Christian Alfonsi
Doubleday, 2006, 480 pp.

The blurb for this book claims that it shows how "decisions made by the First Bush White House preordained the current administration's decision to invade Iraq"; it does not. The opening sentence forecasts that it "will overturn much of what you may know, or think you may know, about the two Bush presidencies and their respective wars against Saddam Hussein"; it does not. What it does provide is a thorough treatment, with lots of interview material, of the decision-making surrounding the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in particular the decision to stand aside as Saddam crushed the postwar insurrections by Kurds and Shiites. This was certainly a fateful decision, largely because thereafter both Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition were stuck with Saddam, and there were a limited number of options for dealing with him. The reliance on interviews encourages Alfonsi to develop his themes by reconstructing encounters between presidents and their senior officials. This works well for the administration of Bush senior, because of the detail with which the events were covered. But Alfonsi's method breaks down when it comes to Bill Clinton and Bush junior, as the coverage becomes much more sketchy.