Excerpt from Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fiasco

The American Military Adventure in Iraq

by Thomas E. Ricks

Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2006, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2007, 512 pages

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1. A BAD ENDING
SPRING 1991

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.

The undefeated Saddam Hussein of 1991

The 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq can’t be viewed in isolation. The chain of events began more than a decade earlier with the botched close of the 1991 Gulf War and then it continued in the U.S. effort to contain Saddam Hussein in the years that followed. “I don’t think you can understand how OIF”— the abbreviation for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. military’s term for the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq—“without understanding the end of the ’91 war, especially the distrust of Americans” that resulted, said Army Reserve Maj.Michael Eisenstadt, an intelligence officer who in civilian life is an expert on Middle Eastern security issues.

Excerpted from Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, (c) 2006 by Thomas E. Ricks. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Penguin Press. All rights reserved.

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