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An important, massively researched and revelation-filled work of history that uncovers how decisions made by the first Bush White House preordained the current administration’s decision to invade Iraq.
“Is this a one-time thing, or should we foreshadow more to come?”
This was the prophetic question posed by National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft in a secret April 1991 memorandum about the postwar management of Iraq, two months after the United States had defeated Iraqi forces in Operation Desert Storm—but left Saddam Hussein securely in power. Circle in the Sand challenges the widely held notion that Saddam’s survival was the result of a spur-of-the-moment decision by the first President Bush and his inner circle (especially the “Reluctant Warrior” Colin Powell) to call off the Desert Storm campaign “one day too soon.”
Through interviews with the Bush team’s principal decision makers—including President George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Brent Scowcroft, and Paul Wolfowitz—as well as hundreds of never-before-revealed White House documents, Christian Alfonsi shows how Saddam’s survival was the result of a calculated decision, albeit one with disastrous consequences, which had settled the issue of how the first Iraq war would end long before it even began. Circle in the Sand also provides the definitive account of the collapse of the first Bush administration’s Iraq policy after the war.
Unprecedented in its detail about the decision making inside the Bush White House during the first Gulf War, Circle in the Sand provides not only a dramatic portrait of history in the making but also a compelling rationale for the United States’ mishandling of the current situation in Iraq. Did we invade Iraq in 2003 to ensure that George W. Bush would not suffer an electoral fate in 2004 similar to his father’s defeat in 1992? Circle in the Sand forces us to consider that disturbing scenario and its larger implications for the American war on terror.
“Circle in the Sand could just as well be called ‘debacle in the sand.’ It goes to the heart of a national tragedy—how two generations of Bush family mismanagement and inept strategy in Iraq may have doomed early-twenty-first century American policy in the Middle East.”
—Kevin Phillips, author of American Theocracy and Wealth and Democracy
“The roots of the Iraqi tragedy start long before 9/11, and Alfonsi shows—through his use of newly declassified documents, extensive interviews, and rather remarkable records of official conversations—how Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others fatally misread the lessons of the 1991 Iraqi war to produce the debacle of the 2003 Iraqi invasion. This account is necessary for understanding that tragedy.”
—Walter LaFeber, Tisch University Professor, Cornell University
“I've read a score of books on Iraq and America, Saddam Hussein and the George Bushes, but not until Circle in the Sand has such a powerful light been thrown on the missing link in the chain of events that led from the first Gulf War to the second. Here is a riveting, can't-put-it-down account of how history kicks back and we keep getting it wrong.” — Bill Moyers
“Circle in the Sand is an important, exhaustively researched, and fluidly written analysis of the impact of the conduct of the first Gulf War on the outbreak of the second. Alfonsi argues, based on remarkable first hand interviews with the participants, that the misguided invasion of Iraq in 2003 was driven less by fear of WMD and terrorism than by fear that Saddam Hussein might once again triumph over a Bush national security team.”
— Louise Richardson, Executive Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, and author of What Terrorists Want
“This fascinating and well-documented book shows how the decisions made by the Administration of George Bush senior about Iraq and Saddam Hussein failed to meet its expectations and thus opened the way for the spectacular policy reversals carried out—sometimes by the same men—after George W. Bush came to power. Alfonsi demonstrates that very different definitions of the national interest can be profoundly flawed.”
— Stanley Hoffmann, Buttenwieser University Professor, Center for European Studies, Harvard University