The Achilles Trap: Saddam Hussein, the C.I.A., and the Origins of America's Invasion of Iraq (Hardcover)

The Achilles Trap: Saddam Hussein, the C.I.A., and the Origins of America's Invasion of Iraq By Steve Coll Cover Image
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“Excellent . . . A more intimate picture of the dictator’s thinking about world politics, local power and his relationship to the United States than has been seen before.” —The New York Times

“Another triumph from one of our best journalists.” The Washington Post

"Voluminously researched and compulsively readable." Air Mail

From bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Steve Coll, the definitive story of the decades-long relationship between the United States and Saddam Hussein, and a deeply researched and news-breaking investigation into how human error, cultural miscommunication, and hubris led to one of the costliest geopolitical conflicts of our time

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, its message was clear: Iraq, under the control of strongman Saddam Hussein, possessed weapons of mass destruction that, if left unchecked, posed grave danger to the world. But when no WMDs were found, the United States and its allies were forced to examine the political and intelligence failures that had led to the invasion and the occupation, and the civil war that followed. One integral question has remained unsolved: Why had Saddam seemingly sacrificed his long reign in power by giving the false impression that he had hidden stocks of dangerous weapons?

The Achilles Trap masterfully untangles the people, ploys of power, and geopolitics that led to America’s disastrous war with Iraq and, for the first time, details America’s fundamental miscalculations during its decades-long relationship with Saddam Hussein. Beginning with Saddam’s rise to power in 1979 and the birth of Iraq’s secret nuclear weapons program, Steve Coll traces Saddam’s motives by way of his inner circle. He brings to life the diplomats, scientists, family members, and generals who had no choice but to defer to their leader—a leader directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, as well as the torture or imprisonment of hundreds of thousands more. This was a man whose reasoning was impossible to reduce to a simple explanation, and the CIA and successive presidential administrations failed to grasp critical nuances of his paranoia, resentments, and inconsistencies—even when the stakes were incredibly high.

Calling on unpublished and underreported sources, interviews with surviving participants, and Saddam’s own transcripts and audio files, Coll pulls together an incredibly comprehensive portrait of a man who was convinced the world was out to get him and acted accordingly. A work of great historical significance, The Achilles Trap is the definitive account of how corruptions of power, lies of diplomacy, and vanity—on both sides—led to avoidable errors of statecraft, ones that would enact immeasurable human suffering and forever change the political landscape as we know it.

About the Author

Steve Coll is the author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Ghost Wars and dean emeritus of the Columbia Journalism School, and from 2007 to 2013 was president of New America, a public policy institute in Washington, DC. He is an editor at The Economist in London, was a staff writer at The New Yorker for nearly two decades, and before that was a writer and editor at The Washington Post, where he received a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 1990. He is the author of nine books, including The Bin Ladens, Private Empire, and Directorate S.

Praise For…

“[E]xcellent . . . [A]n engrossing portrait of Hussein, which is drawn from interviews with U.S. officials, U.N. weapons inspectors and surviving members of the dictator’s government as well as what Coll calls the Saddam tapes . . . The resulting details he assembles give a more intimate picture of the dictator’s thinking about world politics, local power and his relationship to the United States than has been seen before . . . The new material captures a trained assassin and rural tribesman who could be sharp and worldly, but was more often erratic and paranoid . . . Unlike his main character, Coll succeeds in part because he has an eye for dramatic irony . . . ‘Narcissism is dangerous and can cost a man the opportunity to be wise,’ Coll quotes him saying. Saddam Hussein failed to understand that he might as well have been talking about himself.” New York Times Book Review

The Achilles Trap presents Hussein as a human being, not a caricature. Coll’s book, relying as it often does on newly translated Iraqi documents, couldn’t have been written back when it might have hindered a war. But it succeeds because of Coll’s willingness to reexamine the mutually reinforcing delusions of Hussein and four U.S. administrations . . . Hussein’s miscalculations were ultimately fatal. But at times he showed insight, and Coll is gambling that an American audience is now ready to hear about it . . . [A]nother triumph from one of our best journalists.” Washington Post

“[R]ichly detailed . . . The Achilles Trap—the title is a reference to the code name given to a covert CIA effort to topple Saddam—is a compelling tale even for those steeped in the sordid history of US-Iraqi relations . . . Coll’s narrative is also filled with refreshingly contrarian takes on what otherwise seems like settled history . . . By the book’s end, the 2003 invasion feels almost like a disastrous but inevitable coda.” Financial Times

“[V]oluminously researched and compulsively readable . . . Similar to Ghost Wars, Coll’s 2004 history of the C.I.A.’s encounters with Osama bin Laden before 9/11, the action is cinematic, moving from the Situation Room to the mountains of Kurdistan to the sixth floor of the C.I.A.’s original headquarters in Langley, Virginia . . . Coll’s book includes plenty of examples of Saddam’s cruelty and lust for vengeance, even against members of his own family. Yet the picture that emerges is of a more confounding figure, a power-obsessed but pedantic strongman who wrote romance novels in his spare time, corrected state-TV presenters for grammatical mistakes, and agonized over the failings of his eldest son, Uday.” —Air Mail

“This is the book I’ve been hoping for . . . Steve Coll has doggedly obtained documents and interviews to illuminate the Iraq perspective of events from the beginning to end of the Saddam Regime . . . Moreover, he does all this via an entertaining narrative featuring an array of fascinating characters.” —The Cipher Brief

“[Coll] draws on a mountain of documents, interviews, and Saddam Hussein’s transcripts and audio tapes, to examine the decades-long history of misunderstandings and missteps on both sides that led to a war that killed some 200,000 Iraqi civilians and thousands of American service personnel and contractors. The Achilles Trap is likely to be the best account of these developments we will ever have.” Jerusalem Post

“[C]lear, readable, and meticulous . . . Coll presents a lively narrative packed with eye-catching details.” Foreign Affairs

“[Coll is] a groundbreaking reporter and researcher who is able to uncover new information in a tightly wound arena, but also a deft stylist with a natural gift for both narrative structure and fluent yet surprising writing. Like a baseball player who can both pitch and hit with the best, the rare union places Coll at or near the apex of the craft . . . Though the events of The Achilles Trap concluded 20 years ago, there are few better roadmaps to where American foreign policy in the Middle East has ended up today.” BookPage (starred review)

“[A] tour de force examination of the events leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq . . . That the invasion ultimately proved disastrous has been well documented by others, but Coll’s unparalleled research into its background turns up a great deal of unfamiliar, illuminating information. Required reading for all conscientious citizens.” Kirkus

“Coll (Directorate S., 2018) draws on an enormous cache of unpublished documents here, many obtained by persistent FOIA requests, pertaining to the efforts of both sides in the roller coaster of U.S. and Iraqi relations over three decades. The result is a deep dive that illuminates previously unstudied and unexamined aspects of personalities, policies, events, and reactions of great consequence to both countries. Coll's chronicle is powerful and compelling, detailing many mistakes and failures by intelligence and elected officials that led to the disastrous invasion and occupation in 2003 . . . Expertly researched and written, the latest from Pulitzer Prize–winner Coll is a cautionary tale for the ages.” —Booklist

Product Details
ISBN: 9780525562269
ISBN-10: 0525562265
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: February 27th, 2024
Pages: 576
Language: English