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
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2006, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2007, 512 pages

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American troops were pushing farther and farther south into Iraq. Alarms went off in Washington when officials at the State Department and National Security Council learned just how far south U.S. forces had thrust. In the words of the Army’s official history of Provide Comfort, “They expressed concern that the operation was getting out of hand.” In the words of Gen. Garner, looking back, “The State Department went berserk.”Orders soon arrived from the Pentagon to pull Abizaid’s battalion back to the town of Dahuk.

Zinni recalled that Wolfowitz was interested in seeing how this nervy mission was being conducted. With Garner, the two met briefly at an airfield built for Saddam Hussein at Sirsenk in far northern Iraq.How was the U.S. military operating? Wolfowitz asked.Well, Zinni explained, this Lt. Col.Abizaid is pushing out the Iraqi forces, and we’ve got more and more space here inside Iraq for the Kurds, and we’ve kind of created a “security zone,” or enclave, of some thirty-six hundred square miles.

“I started giving the brief and he really, really got into it,” recalled Zinni. “This was capturing him in some way, this was turning some lights on in his head. He was very interested in it. He was very excited about what we were doing there, in a way that I didn’t quite understand.” Zinni was puzzled. He had thought of the effort as a humanitarian mission—worth doing but without much political meaning.Wolfowitz saw it differently. “It struck me that he saw more in this than was there,” Zinni said. Carving out parts of Iraq for anti-Saddam Iraqis would become a pet idea of Wolfowitz’s in the coming years.

That meeting in Sirsenk would be one of the few times that Zinni and Wolfowitz would meet. But over the next fourteen years the two men would become the yin and yang of American policy on Iraq, with one working near the top of the U.S. military establishment while the other would be a sharp critic of the policy the first was implementing.Wolfowitz departed the Pentagon not long after his review of Provide Comfort, when the first Bush administration left office, and returned to academia.

Zinni went fairly quickly from being chief of staff in northern Iraq to deputy commander at Central Command, and then to the top job in that headquarters, overseeing U.S. military operations in Iraq and the surrounding region, from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia. In his command his main task was overseeing the containment of Iraq. In that capacity, he would be “kind of a groundbreaker for Marine four stars,” showing that a Marine could handle the job of being a “CinC” (commander in chief), or regional military commander, an Air Force general recalled. Other Marines had held those top slots, but until Zinni none had really distinguished himself in handling strategic issues.

Wolfowitz, by contrast, spent the 1990s in opposition. His path intertwined briefly with Zinni’s in the 2000 presidential election campaign, when both endorsed the Bush-Cheney ticket, though for very different reasons. After a year, Zinni would go into opposition against the Bush administration’s drive toward war with Iraq, while Wolfowitz would became one of the architects of that war. They are very different men: Zinni is a Marine’s Marine who still speaks in the accents of working-class Philadelphia,while Wolfowitz is a soft-spoken Ivy League political scientist, the son of an Ivy League mathematician. Yet both men are bright and articulate and utterly sincere. Retired Col. Gary Anderson, who knew Zinni in the Marines and later consulted with Wolfowitz on Iraq policy, said it was this very similarity between the two men that so divided them. “They both believe in their bones what they are saying,” he observed. “Neither one is in any way disingenuous.”

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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