I finally finished Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Ricks the other day, which made it a very unusual book for me, as I cannot seem finish these books chronicling the idiocy of today's Bush regime. I get too frustrated at the lack of responsibility and culpability. Books like "Bushworld" by the late, great, Molly Ivins, or "Worse Than Watergate" by John Dean, get me throwing my hands up in despair at the prospect of our country ever recovering from its criminal mishandling by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld triumverate..
But "Fiasco" was different, despite how close to home it hits, as I have a nephew who is serving his second tour of duty over there, in a Stryker unit, on the front lines of urban assault teams. Maybe because it is more of a military history of the general disaster that is the Iraq quagmire that kept it from getting too frustrating. The politicos doomed the invasion right from the start, with mismanaged resources and fuzzy goals. Amazingly to me, Risk assigns plenty of the blame to Paul Wolfowitz, the assistant defense secretary, who showed amazing clout for such a low level position. In many ways, though, that symbolizes the Bush regime, where the shadowy masters control the stage from behind the curtains.
I had a great line ready to go, from a counterinsurgency expert quoted in the book, but unfortunately, I can't find the page I wrote it on. Basically, it was a sad retelling of the old "Those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it" maxim, especially vis-a-vis counterinsurgency. While the parallels with Vietnam are striking, the author also goes to great lengths to compare the Iraq fiasco with France's battles in Algiers during the 50s, where another foreign power tried to control an Arabic counterinsurgency. In fact, one of the commanders there wrote a very influential book on how to wage a counterinsurgency war, a manual that was sadly ignored in the lead up to this one. That reminds me - I should move the movie The Battle of Algiers up in my Netflix queue.
One of the most striking dichotomies documented by Ricks was how the Bush junta cherry picked all the intelligence for a worst case scenario when it came to making the case for war, while it continued to anticipate the absolute best possible scenario for its resolution, while making almost no plans for any other possible outcome. Rumsfield in particular is excoriated for underestimating the time, money and manpower needed to do the job right, which, in the end, made everything much worse. Paul Bremer, the diplomatic head of Iraq during the crucial early postwar reconstruction, also comes under heavy criticism for his heavy handed approach and lack of understanding for how things were working. Another favorite scapegoat was General Tommy Franks, the military leader in Iraq, who didn't seem to understand the special nature of a counterinsurgency war, instead thinking that a heavy hand could cure all ills.
The author did seem to think highly of General Patreus, recently named head of all troops in Iraq. In fact, the author wondered why he was passed over for this post at the end of the book, despite his considerable success in northern Iraq. So maybe there's some hope yet, although personally I don't have much confidence, given the incredible blunders made so far. So if you are interested in the best political and, most importantly, military history of the "situation" in Iraq, you need go no further than Fiasco.