Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post senior Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks's Fiasco is masterful and explosive reckoning with the planning and execution of the American military invasion and occupation of Iraq, based on the unprecedented candor of key participants.
The American military is a tightly sealed community, and few outsiders have reason to know that a great many senior officers view the Iraq war with incredulity and dismay. But many officers have shared their anger with renowned military reporter Thomas E. Ricks, and in Fiasco, Ricks combines these astonishing on-the-record military accounts with his own extraordinary on-the-ground reportage to create a spellbinding account of an epic disaster.
As many in the military publicly acknowledge here for the first time, the guerrilla insurgency that exploded several months after Saddam's fall was not foreordained. In fact, to a shocking degree, it was created by the folly of the war's architects. But the officers who did raise their voices against the miscalculations, shortsightedness, and general failure of the war effort were generally crushed, their careers often ended. A willful blindness gripped political and military leaders, and dissent was not tolerated.
There are a number of heroes in Fiasco - inspiring leaders from the highest levels of the Army and Marine hierarchies to the men and women whose skill and bravery led to battlefield success in towns from Fallujah to Tall Afar - but again and again, strategic incoherence rendered tactical success meaningless. There was never any question that the U.S. military would topple Saddam Hussein, but as Fiasco shows there was also never any real thought about what would come next. This blindness has ensured the Iraq war a place in history as nothing less than a fiasco. Fair, vivid, and devastating, Fiasco is a book whose tragic verdict feels definitive.
- Pulitzer Prize
The main points of this hard-hitting indictment of the Iraq war have been made before, but seldom with such compelling specificity. In dovetailing critiques of the civilian and military leadership, Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Ricks (Making the Corps) contends that, under Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith, the Pentagon concocted "the worst war plan in American history," with insufficient troops and no thought for the invasion's aftermath. Thus, an under-manned, unprepared U.S. military stood by as chaos and insurgency took root, then responded with heavy-handed tactics that brutalized and alienated Iraqis. Based on extensive interviews with American soldiers and officers as well as first-hand reportage, Ricks's detailed, unsparing account of the occupation paints a woeful panorama of reckless firepower, mass arrests, humiliating home invasions, hostage-taking and abuse of detainees. It holds individual commanders to account, from top generals Tommy Franks and Ricardo Sanchez on down. The author's conviction that a proper hearts-and-minds counter-insurgency strategy might have salvaged the debacle is perhaps naive, and pays too little heed to the intractable ethnic conflicts underlying what is by now a full-blown civil war. Still, Ricks's solid reporting, deep knowledge of the American military and willingness to name names make this perhaps the most complete, incisive analysis yet of the Iraq quagmire. Copyright 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 25, 2006
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Excerpt from Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks
1. A BAD ENDING
President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 ultimately may come to be seen as one of the most profligate actions in the history of American foreign policy. The consequences of his choice won't be clear for decades, but it already is abundantly apparent in mid-2006 that the U.S. government went to war in Iraq with scant solid international support and on the basis of incorrect information--about weapons of mass destruction and a supposed nexus between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda's terrorism--and then occupied the country negligently. Thousands of U.S. troops and an untold number of Iraqis have died.Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent, many of them squandered. Democracy may yet come to Iraq and the region, but so too may civil war or a regional conflagration, which in turn could lead to spiraling oil prices and a global economic shock.
This book's subtitle terms the U.S. effort in Iraq an adventure in the critical sense of adventurism--that is, with the view that the U.S.-led invasion was launched recklessly, with a flawed plan for war and a worse approach to occupation. Spooked by its own false conclusions about the threat, the Bush administration hurried its diplomacy, short-circuited its war planning, and assembled an agonizingly incompetent occupation. None of this was inevitable. It was made possible only through the intellectual acrobatics of simultaneously "worst-casing" the threat presented by Iraq while "best-casing" the subsequent cost and difficulty of occupying the country.
How the U.S. government could launch a preemptive war based on false premises is the subject of the first, relatively short part of this book. Blame must lie foremost with President Bush himself, but his incompetence and arrogance are only part of the story. It takes more than one person to make a mess as big as Iraq. That is, Bush could only take such a careless action because of a series of systemic failures in the American system.Major lapses occurred within the national security bureaucracy, from a weak National Security Council (NSC) to an overweening Pentagon and a confused intelligence apparatus. Larger failures of oversight also occurred in the political system, most notably in Congress, and in the inability of the media to find and present alternate sources of information about Iraq and the threat it did or didn't present to the United States. It is a tragedy in which every major player contributed to the errors, but in which the heroes tend to be anonymous and relatively powerless--the front-line American soldier doing his best in a difficult situation, the Iraqi civilian trying to care for a family amid chaos and violence. They are the people who pay every day with blood and tears for the failures of high officials and powerful institutions.
The run-up to the war is particularly significant because it also laid the shaky foundation for the derelict occupation that followed, and that constitutes the major subject of this book.While the Bush administration--and especially Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and L. Paul Bremer III--bear much of the responsibility for the mishandling of the occupation in 2003 and early 2004, blame also must rest with the leadership of the U.S. military, who didn't prepare the U.S.Army for the challenge it faced, and then wasted a year by using counterproductive tactics that were employed in unprofessional ignorance of the basic tenets of counterinsurgency warfare.