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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Back then Powell was more often than not an ally of Cheney, who then was an unquestioned member of the hard-nosed realist school of foreign policy. “I was not an enthusiast about getting U.S. forces and going into Iraq,”Cheney later said. “We were there in the southern part of Iraq to the extent we needed to be there to defeat his forces and to get him out of Kuwait, but the idea of going into Baghdad, for example, or trying to topple the regime wasn’t anything I was enthusiastic about. I felt there was a real danger here that you would get bogged down in a long drawn-out conflict, that this was a dangerous, difficult part of the world.” Sounding like a determined foreign policy pragmatist, Cheney said that Americans needed to accept that “Saddam is just one more irritant, but there’s a long list of irritants in that part of the world.” To actually invade Iraq, he said, “I don’t think it would have been worth it.”

Likewise, Schwarzkopf would write in his 1992 autobiography, “I am certain that had we taken all of Iraq,we would have been like the dinosaur in the tar pit— we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of that occupation.”

Wolfowitz, for his part, penned an essay on the 1991 war two years later that listed the errors committed in its termination. “With hindsight it does seem like a mistake to have announced, even before the war was over, that we would not go to Baghdad, or to give Saddam the reassurance of the dignified cease-fire ceremony at Safwan,” he wrote in 1993. “Even at the time it seemed unwise to allow Iraq to fly its helicopters, and all the more so to continue allowing them to do so when it became clear that their main objective was to slaughter Kurds in the North and Shia in the South.”He pointed the finger at unnamed members of that Bush administration—“some U.S. government officials at the time”—who seemed to believe that a Shia-dominated Iraq would be an unacceptable outcome. And, he added, it was “clearly a mistake” not to have created a demilitarized zone in the south that would have been off-limits to Saddam’s forces and maintained steady pressure on him. Finally, he cast some ominous aspersions on the motivations of unnamed senior U.S. military leaders—presumably Powell and Schwarzkopf. The failure to better protect the Kurds and Shiites, he charged, “in no small part reflected a miscalculation by some of our military commanders that a rapid disengagement was essential to preserve the luster of victory, and to avoid getting stuck with postwar objectives that would prevent us from ever disengaging.”

Wolfowitz seemed at this point to be determined that if he ever again got the chance to deal with Iraq policy, he would not defer to such military judgments about the perceived need to avoid getting stuck in Iraq. A decade later he would play a crucial role in the second Bush administration’s drive to war, and this book will return repeatedly to examine his statements and actions. It is unusual for so much attention to be focused on a second-level official of subcabinet rank, but Wolfowitz was destined to play an unusually central role on Iraq policy. Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University foreign policy expert, is better placed than most to understand Wolfowitz, having first served a full career in the Army, and then taught at Johns Hopkins University’s school of international affairs while Wolfowitz was its dean.“More than any of the other dramatis personae in contemporary Washington, Wolfowitz embodies the central convictions to which the United States in the age of Bush subscribes,” Bacevich wrote in 2005. He singled out “in particular, an extraordinary certainty in the righteousness of American actions married to an extraordinary confidence in the efficacy of American arms.”

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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