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Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq Hardcover – Print, July 25, 2006 by Thomas E. Ricks (Author)

As a linguist who knows personally some of the U.S. commanders in this book and also translated for them, I can say that FIASCO is one of the best books written on Iraq. I am very shocked to discover that after the destruction of Iraq and the waste of American tax payers money by Paul Bremer, he is not hold accountable by the American and the Iraqi governments. Paul Bremer must put on trial of what he did in Iraq costing American lives. Check it out! Review Fiasco is a more strongly worded title than you might expect a seasoned military reporter such as Thomas E. Ricks to use, accustomed as he is to the even-handed style of daily newspaper journalism. But Ricks, the Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post and the author of the acclaimed account of Marine Corps boot camp, Making the Corps, has written a thorough and devastating history of the war in Iraq from the planning stages through the continued insurgency in early 2006, and he does not shy away from naming those he finds responsible. His tragic story is divided in two. The first part–the runup to the war and the invasion in 2003–is familiar from books like Cobra II and Plan of Attack, although Ricks uses his many military sources to portray an officer class that was far more skeptical of the war beforehand than generally reported. But the heart of his book is the second half, beginning in August 2003, when, as he writes, the war really began, with the bombing of the Jordanian embassy and the emergence of the insurgency. His strongest critique is that the U.S. military failed to anticipate–and then failed to recognize–the insurgency, and tried to fight it with conventional methods that only fanned its flames. What makes his portrait particularly damning are the dozens of military sources–most of them on record–who join in his critique, and the thousands of pages of internal documents he uses to make his case for a war poorly planned and bravely but blindly fought. –Tom Nissley Making a Fiasco Thomas Ricks spent five tours in Iraq during the war, reporting for the Washington Post and researching and writing Fiasco. Like many of the officers he most admires, when he wanted to understand what was happening as American troops encountered stronger and longer-lived resistance to the occupation than expected, he turned to recent and classic accounts of insurgencies and counterinsurgencies, from the U.S. occupation of the Philippines through the lessons of Vietnam, and he reports on his favorites for us in his list of the 10 books for understanding Iraq that aren’t about Iraq. You can also get a glimpse into his writing process with a much different list he has prepared for us: the music he listened to while writing and researching the book, from Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell to Ryan Adams and Josh Ritter. And he took the time to answer a few questions about Fiasco: As military correspondent for the Post, you have made five trips to Iraq over the last four years. How has it changed over that time? Thomas E. Ricks: It has been markedly worse each time, in terms of security. On my first trip, in April-May 2003, we would walk out on the streets of Baghdad at night, albeit with caution. Even on my second trip, in the summer of 2003, I would feel comfortable hopping in a car and driving 100 miles north from Baghdad to Tikrit. To do either of those things now would be suicidal. In January and February of this year, Baghdad felt worse to me Mogadishu did when I was there in 1993 or Sarajevo did when I was there a few years later. It appeared to me that there was no security, except what you provided for yourself with armed men and careful planning. One Army major described the city to me as being in “the pure Hobbesian state” in which everybody is fighting everybody. By the way, contrary to what I see asserted occasionally, most reporters don’t live in the Green Zone, the walled-off area in central Baghdad that is the headquarters of the American effort in Iraq. Reporters live out in the city, and I think generally have a better feel for what is going on than do people living in the Zone or on big American military bases. In the area of Baghdad I stayed in, I constantly heard gunfire and explosions. Yet an American colonel told me that my neighborhood was deemed “secure.” I think that really meant that U.S. troops could drive through it while heavily armed–say, with a .50 caliber machine gun atop a Humvee–and usually not be attacked. I worry that what the Americans measure are threats to U.S. troops and the killings of Iraqis. That neglects a huge spectrum of other significant activities–rapes, robberies, kidnappings, acts of extortion, and, most importantly, acts of violent intimidation. You cite many strategic errors in the planning and execution of the war, but perhaps the central one is that the U.S. military leadership failed to recognize that they were fighting an insurgency, and their methods of fighting in fact helped to create that insurgency. Can you explain those methods, and their effects? Ricks: The U.S. military that went into Iraq in 2003 was the best military in the world for fighting another military. But it was woefully unprepared for the task at hand. For example, U.S. military culture believes in bringing overwhelming force to bear. Yet classic counterinsurgency doctrine calls for using only the minimal amount of force necessary to get the job done. U.S. soldiers and their commanders, untrained and unschooled in the difficult art of counterinsurgency, tended to improvise. So in the summer of 2003, some soldiers in Baghdad decided that the best way to deter looters was to make them cry–and they sometimes did this by threatening to shoot the children of looters, and even conducting mock executions. More broadly, the Army in the fall of 2003 fell back on what it knew how to do, which was conduct large-scale “cordon-and-sweep” operations. These missions scarfed up thousands of Iraqis, most of them fence-sitting neutrals, and detained them. U.S. military intelligence officials later concluded that 85% of those detained were of no intelligence value. The detention experience frequently was humiliating for Iraqis, a violation of another key counterinsurgency principle: Treat your prisoners well. (Your readers who want to know more about this should read a terrific little book by David Galula titled Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.) Not every unit was ineffective or counterproductive. I was struck at how successful the 101st Airborne was in Mosul in 2003-04. And some units showed remarkable improvement–the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment had a mediocre first tour of duty in Iraq, but when it went back in 2005 for a second tour, it did extremely well. Col. H.R. McMaster, the regimental commander (and author of a very good book about the Vietnam War, Dereliction of Duty) told his troops that, “Every time you disrespect an Iraqi, you are working for the enemy.” I was especially struck by how his regiment handled its prisoners–it even had a program called “Ask the Customer” that quizzed detainees when they were released about whether they felt treated well. This recognized the lesson of past wars that the best way to end an insurgency is to get its leaders to put down their guns and enter the political system, and to get the rank-and-file to desert or switch sides. But it will be harder to discuss the sewage system with the new mayor next year if your troops beat him in his cell when he was your prisoner last year. But today’s military leadership was formed in Vietnam, when all of those lessons of counterinsurgency were supposedly learned before. Why didn’t that experience translate into a preparation for the current conflict? Ricks: Military experts, such at Andrew Krepinevich (The Army and Vietnam) and Lt. Col. John Nagl (Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife) say that after that war ended, the Army washed its hands of the entire experience and essentially concluded that it was never going to do anything like that again. It was almost as if the very word “counterinsurgency” was banned from official Army discourse. In Iraq, there was a tiny minority of American soldiers early on who understood how to win the occupation. These generally were civil affairs officers and other Special Forces types. But their wisdom often was disregarded. “What you are seeing here is an unconventional war being fought conventionally,” one Special Forces lieutenant colonel glumly commented one day in Baghdad. You’ve been writing about the military for the Post and the Wall Street Journal for years now, and Fiasco is built from the testimony of a remarkable array of sources up and down the chain of command, some off the record but many more on the record. Can you talk about your sources? Is this level of public criticism of a war from within the military precedented?? Ricks: Yeah, reporting the book was a pretty emotional experience. Even having covered this war as it unfolded, I was taken aback by the rage that some officers felt toward the Bush Administration, and especially toward Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. And also toward Paul Wolfowitz, who was then the no. 2 guy at the Pentagon. I think the rage is probably like what the military felt about Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War. What is unprecedented, I think, is that many officers had doubts about the wisdom of invading Iraq, especially in the way we did it. The emotions also hit me pretty hard at times, especially when I was writing my chapter 13, about how widespread abuse was by American soldiers in 2003-04, often because they hadn’t been trained for the mission they faced. I have spent more than 15 years covering the military. I tend to like and admire these people. So when I learned about a 4th Infantry Division soldier shooting an unarmed, handcuffed Iraqi detainee in the stomach, and the investigating MPs saying the soldier should be charged with homicide, and instead the commander simply discharged the soldier from the Army–well, that bothered me. Another thing that struck me with sources was the mountain of information that was available. I read over 30,000 pages of documents for this book. At the end of one interview a guy gave me a CD-ROM with every e-mail he had sent to Ambassador Bremer, who ran the civilian end of the first year of the occupation. Other people showed me diaries, unit logs, official briefings, and such. Also the ACLU did a great job of obtaining and releasing piles of official U.S. military documents related to abuse–so I could see the time stamp on an e-mail in which an intelligence officer stated that “the gloves are coming off” in interrogations, and one soldier recommended blows to the chest while another wrote back recommending low-level electrocution. Unfortunately the Army wouldn’t release the details of citations for valorous acts by soldiers, which means that the Pentagon made it easier for me to learn about the sins of soldiers than about their acts of bravery. The Marine Corps did give me those “narratives” that support the bestowing of medals, which I really appreciated. Those documents really brought home to me the fierceness of the two Battles of Fallujah, in April and November 2004–probably the toughest fighting American troops have seen since Hue and Khe Sanh in the Vietnam War. In the last section of the book, you project a variety of possible scenarios for the next 10 years in the Middle East, mostly grim ones, and just in the past two weeks the sudden violence between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon is leading to talk of a wider regional conflict. Where do you think those events are leading us? Ricks: We are really in unexplored territory. We are carrying out the first-ever U.S. occupation of an Arab nation. This is also almost the first time we have engaged in sustained combat ground war with an all-volunteer force. (I think the suppression of the Philippines insurrection might count as a small precedent.) Even more significantly, I think the Bush Administration doesn’t really like “stability” in the Middle East. In its view, “stability” has been the goal of previous administrations, but pursuing it led to 9/11. It is not the goal, it is the target. So they are for rolling the dice, both in Iraq and in Lebanon. I think the big worry is those wars spilling over borders. Fasten your seat belts.

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq Hardcover – Print, July 25, 2006 by Thomas E. Ricks (Author) Review

Thomas Ricks has done a great job with this book. Not only is his account detailed and well written, it makes you go back in time and relive the moments that led to the war that followed. Im going to write this review based on points I found important during my reading;- Ricks starts the account from the Gulf War; he gives us an insight of the measures that were taken at the end of it and how there measures influenced the policy towards Iraq in the years that followed. – We get to know the guys that had been pro-war since after 91 (like Wolfowitz, Perle ecc) and why they thought the war would be "good". – Gen. Anthony Zinni is a key figure during the first chapters of the book and his missions (Desert Fox and the containment policy) are given a detailed account. Also during the whole war in Iraq he is given a judgemental say on how the war is going and how it can get better. – The "mistakes" made in the pre-war period and the source of the "bad intelligence" are also treated in detail. You get to learn where the chain got broken ecc. – The way the war starts and its the first months and the inside of those days at the Bush administration take the greatest part of the book. Practically until page 300 (out of 450) you find yourself still in midsummer 2003. Then with the deterioration of the ground situation the reporting changes too. Because the journalists couldn’t get out of the safe zones, the reporting details of those months diminish too. – Ricks has this fashion of portraying all the US citizens who take part in the war effort (be it the soldiers, their commanders, the generals or the Bush adm. officials) as good men inside and quite skilled. They are all very hard working, believe in what they say (officially at least) and have PhDs form the Ivy League, but they all find themselves missing the main point of the day. Everyone seems to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. – A detailed account is also given on the abuse cases; who did what and how it was "punished". You get to read how the US soldiers viewed the iraqi civilians and why they got so hated. – "The insurgents" as they are referred during all the book never get a proper name. I mean everybody knew back then that al-Qaeda and the sunni tribes were the main players for the sunni side and that Jaish al-Mahdi (who had infiltrated the police and the army; point which is not touched in the book) was for the shias but they are referred as one during the whole reading. Also nothing is mentioned about the leaders of the insurgency, except for Muqtada Sadr. – A point that I personally found very interesting is when Ricks lays out the possible outcomes of the war in Iraq as "best outcome", "middle" "bad" and "nightmare". At the "nightmare" section he draws a possible scenario in which Iraq is used as a base to form a Caliphate. And he also says that he fears the coming of a "young, energetic, moral, modest, austere. .." leader, like Saladin he even adds, and that the muslims will rally after him to fight the westerners. Considering the events that have occurred these last months in Iraq and the region, it seems like the nightmare is coming to life. – Ricks end the book with the coming of Gen. Petraeus as the general commander of the Iraqi mission. Clearly he loves him, because there is a section filled only with the praising of him and the intellectuals that surrounded him. It gives you a taste of what his second book (The gamble) would be like. To sum up, the book is a must read for those who want to have a general view of the beginning and development of the first years of the infamous war in Iraq. The book is well researched and according to my opinion, quite truthful. -Read Reviews-

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 will I suspect always be controversial, and the subject of endless debate. I supported the war without qualification, and even now, believe it was necessary. Saddam Hussein had after all, violated U.N. Resolutions 18 times. An acquaintance, holding the opposite view and detesting George W. Bush, suggested around 2007 that I read Fiasco, by Thomas Ricks. With the recent rise of the terrorist group ISIS, the withdrawal of our troops, and the country perhaps headed for civil war, I decided finally to read it, to determine, as best I could from a book authored by someone to the left of my own views, how we started there and why we had so much trouble at the outset. Because of the title itself, I expected Ricks’ book to be a bit of a diatribe. I was in the main,wrong. Although he clearly believes, based upon General Anthony Zinni’s assessment, that Saddam Hussein was contained, and the invasion unnecessary, Ricks, formerly a Pentagon correspondent at the Washington Post and a thoughtful liberal now working on defense issues at a think tank, is careful to give detail to his story. And except for an unpardonable cheap shot at Bush 43 in which he compares him to the old Yuppie Jerry Rubin, he is fair, even if he disagrees with others. He gives everyone their say if he interviewed them. For example, there is plenty of criticism of the rough tactics of the 4th Infantry Division, led by General Ray Ordierno. But he interviewed Ordierno and allowed the now Army Chief of Staff to air his views. Importantly, too, Ricks has great respect for the military, even a certain reverence, which is why it must have distressed him to point out so many flaws in its strategy and tactics. While only covering 2003 through 2005, the book’s theme is clear. Civilian and military leadership failed for a number of reasons, personal arrogance, lack of strategic planning, poor tactics and a misunderstanding of the type of war the military was fighting. Not only was the National Intelligence Report on the question of WMD dubious as to the existence of such weapons, there was no understanding of how Operation Desert Fox, a four day bombing campaign in 1998, crippled Iraq’s ability to make chemical weapons. There is a small, although I think important sentence about the NIE. Neither the President nor Condoleeza Rice read the full 92 page report. That the President relied on a 5 page summary is not surprising. Some people absorb more through auditory learning, as did FDR. And presidents have a plethora of people with whom to consult on issues of national security. But the National Security Adviser relying on the same 5 page report? I find that astonishing. General Shinseki’s belief that 300,000 troops would be needed to invade and occupy Iraq was dismissed by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz on the theory that all the troops had to do was depose the dictator, conquer Baghdad, and the rest of Iraqi society would welcome us with open arms. Speed would trump the concept of overwhelming force, commonly known as the Powell Doctrine. But Colin Powell was running the State Department, and felt he had to tread lightly over the field of military strategy. According to Ricks, the suits at the Department of Defense were making their own war plans, never mind that is what the military is trained to do. The military itself thought it a conventional war similar to World War II, the same mistake made in Vietnam. The top brass never understood this war was different. There were exceptions like Generals Patraeus and Batiste and Colonel McMaster, now a major general, and the only one of the three remaining in the military. But they, highly educated and holding doctorates were exceptions. Most in command never understood the concept of winning the hearts and minds of the people. And of course, there were the terrible abuses at Abu Ghraib, another example of poor planning, which left the prison overcrowded, the staff overwhelmed. So many failed, Rumsfeld, through his arrogance, which caused many in the military to dislike him, his Deputy Secretary,Wolfowitz, the quiet chief theorist who thought it necessary to create a democracy in Iraq, and Douglas Feith, who ran the policy shop. Tommy Franks was detached and uncaring, like many others, about an occupation strategy to pacify the country. He and Feith were particularly obtuse after the initial invasion. Perhaps the greatest mistake, personnel-wise was making Paul Bremer the head of the Conditional Provisional Authority. Much like the key Defense Department honchos, he refused to listen to others, not so much a diplomat, but an autocrat. Bremer decided to tear up the Iraqi military, police force and entire government structure, figuring he could rebuild them from scratch, never mind the population needed foundations to rally around. Of such mistakes are insurgents made. Unbelievably, during the occupation, there was no unity of command, a first principle of war. Bremer had certain powers, as did General Rick Sanchez, autocratic himself but a good man in over his head. And according to Ricks, they detested each other and stopped talking to one another. There are some weaknesses here. Ricks believes that the war was a product of neoconservative philosophy, the foreign policy school that government, based on moral principles, should do large things. It is not that simple an answer. People can view issues from different perspectives and reach the same conclusion. Nor is it clear just when the effects of Desert Fox were understood by the military or the civilian leadership, before or after the invasion. Ricks relies on statements by the civilian leaders, he does not interview Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other key government players, for some of which he has obvious contempt They were perhaps too busy to grant him audiences, but it is not clear what the Commander-in-Chief was being told. He omits entirely the statement made to Bush by CIA Director George Tenant that it was a “slam dunk” that Saddam had WMD, a glaring omission. Also, at an event at which retired General Zinni attended, Dick Cheney made the absolute assertion that Saddam had WMD. Ricks lays blame at Cheney’s feet for making the war a certainty. But we really do not know the basis of Cheney’s declaration. But his history was one of a man immersed in detail. So the question arises as to what the intelligence agencies were showing him, too. Vice Presidents after all, do not go out in the field and acquire intelligence themselves. True, Zinni says he almost fell off his chair at the statement, for he had kept his clearance to view highly classified information, and there was no such indication, but there is no showing he saw or was told the exact things Cheney might have seen or was told. Much of the time, Ricks relies on Washington Post stories written by others. The book drifts a bit aimlessly after Bremer and Sanchez are replaced by better men, John Negroponte and General George Casey, who worked well together, although Casey himself was later replaced by Patraeus. Perhaps Ricks had a deadline to meet and could not shape the final chapters as he might have. Fiasco, focusing on a limited time period, does not cover the Surge, which was in fact the essence of strategic counterinsurgency, and brought a temporary victory, and what could reasonably be called a calm to Iraq. But given its scope, and the difficulty of obtaining information, Ricks has done an outstanding job. But I wish Amazon would find an alternative phrase for a 5 star rating other than “I loved it. ” It seems inappropriate to classify books about real war and real death in the same way one might enjoy Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

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