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Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraqby Thomas Ricks
A book so timely, it should be required reading. Hardly a polemic, this detailed and well-researched book succinctly explains how we got into this war and how each touchpoint has been bungled along the way.
Synopses & Reviews
The definitive military chronicle of the Iraq war and a searing judgment on the strategic blindness with which America has conducted it, drawing on the accounts of senior military officers giving voice to their anger for the first time.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post senior Pentagon correspondant Thomas E. Ricks's Fiasco is a masterful and explosive reckoning with the planning and execution of the American military invasion and occupation of Iraq, based on the unprecedented candor of key participants.
The American military is a tightly sealed community, and few outsiders have reason to know that a great many senior officers view the Iraq war with incredulity and dismay. But many officers have shared their anger with renowned military reporter Thomas E. Ricks, and in Fiasco, Ricks combines these astonishing on-the-record military accounts with his own extraordinary on-the-ground reportage to create a spellbinding account of an epic disaster.
As many in the military publicly acknowledge here for the first time, the guerrilla insurgency that exploded several months after Saddam's fall was not foreordained. In fact, to a shocking degree, it was created by the folly of the war's architects. But the officers who did raise their voices against the miscalculations, shortsightedness, and general failure of the war effort were generally crushed, their careers often ended. A willful blindness gripped political and military leaders, and dissent was not tolerated.
There are a number of heroes in Fiasco — inspiring leaders from the highest levels of the Army and Marine hierarchies to the men and women whose skill and bravery led to battlefield success in towns from Fallujah to Tall Afar — but again and again, strategic incoherence rendered tactical success meaningless. There was never any question that the U.S. military would topple Saddam Hussein, but as Fiasco shows there was also never any real thought about what would come next. This blindness has ensured the Iraq war a place in history as nothing less than a fiasco. Fair, vivid, and devastating, Fiasco is a book whose tragic verdict feels definitive.
"The main points of this hard-hitting indictment of the Iraq war have been made before, but seldom with such compelling specificity. In dovetailing critiques of the civilian and military leadership, Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Ricks (Making the Corps) contends that, under Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith, the Pentagon concocted 'the worst war plan in American history,' with insufficient troops and no thought for the invasion's aftermath. Thus, an under-manned, unprepared U.S. military stood by as chaos and insurgency took root, then responded with heavy-handed tactics that brutalized and alienated Iraqis. Based on extensive interviews with American soldiers and officers as well as first-hand reportage, Ricks's detailed, unsparing account of the occupation paints a woeful panorama of reckless firepower, mass arrests, humiliating home invasions, hostage-taking and abuse of detainees. It holds individual commanders to account, from top generals Tommy Franks and Ricardo Sanchez on down. The author's conviction that a proper hearts-and-minds counter-insurgency strategy might have salvaged the debacle is perhaps naive, and pays too little heed to the intractable ethnic conflicts underlying what is by now a full-blown civil war. Still, Ricks's solid reporting, deep knowledge of the American military and willingness to name names make this perhaps the most complete, incisive analysis yet of the Iraq quagmire. Photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Hubris, the ancient Greeks taught, is followed by Nemesis; overbearing presumption always finds the goddess of divine retribution and vengeance baying at its heels. Washington is learning that painful lesson again today — and Iraqi civilians and American troops are paying the price for the pride that drove the United States to try to implant democracy on the cheap in the heart of the Arab world.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) So who's to blame? It is fast becoming established wisdom that it was the Pentagon's political leaders — especially Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, his neoconservative first-term deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and the cocksure chief of their policy shop, Douglas J. Feith — who, above all, led us down the road to disaster in Iraq. But it's too neat to pin the culpability on the Defense Department's pinstripe-wearing civilian leaders and ignore the blunders of the uniformed top brass or, for that matter, the rest of the U.S. government; as they did in Vietnam, the nation's military and civilian leaderships share the responsibility for what's gone wrong. In his compelling and well-researched book, Thomas E. Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, painfully but clearly reveals an important truth about the Iraq debacle: It has a thousand fathers. As the title implies, 'Fiasco' pulls no punches. Sure enough, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith come off badly in Ricks' account. But so do most Democratic members of Congress (whom Ricks labels not doves but 'lambs' for their failure to oversee the executive branch) and the media, particularly the New York Times, which failed miserably to probe the Bush administration's war justifications and postwar planning. Ricks is also particularly scathing toward L. Paul Bremer, who led the civilian occupation authority in Iraq in 2003-04. Ricks quotes one colonel who described the efforts of Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority as 'pasting feathers together, hoping for a duck.' Troubling as these failures are, they are by now reasonably familiar; what's far less well-known is the bungling of the senior military leadership. With devastating detail, Ricks documents how U.S. generals misunderstood the problems they faced in Iraq and shows how poorly prepared the Army was for the unanticipated danger of a postwar Sunni rebellion. For ignoring the risks of an insurgency after Saddam Hussein's fall, Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of U.S. Central Command, 'flunks strategy,' Ricks writes; the war's commanding general designed 'perhaps the worst war plan in American history.' Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the invasion, and his deputy, Gen. Peter Pace (who's since been promoted to take Myers' old job), come off as smiling yes-men who went along with amateurish impulses from the Bush administration's political leadership and who forsook their duty to offer detached, professional judgments, acting instead as administration flacks in both private and public. As a result of the lapses of the top brass and the haughtiness of Rumsfeld's men, the U.S. military came into Iraq inadequately prepared — and hard-pressed to adapt. From the start, it failed to recognize that ensuring public order was the key to postwar success. As one general puts it, 'I was on a street corner in Baghdad, smoking a cigar, watching some guys carry a sofa by — and it never occurred to me that I was going to be the guy to go get that sofa back.' As the insurgency deepened, the Pentagon's military and civilian leaders first ignored it, then worsened it by using wrongheaded tactics. By emphasizing killing the enemy rather than winning over the people, the U.S. military made new enemies more quickly than it eliminated existing foes. Mass arrests and other attempts to intimidate Iraqis backfired, swelling the insurgents' ranks. U.S. units and troops deployed to Iraq turned over quickly, shuttling in and out of the country with little attempt to build a coherent intelligence picture of the situation on the ground or to sustain hard-won relationships with the local Iraqi officials trying to make their country work. Cities such as Mosul and Fallujah were liberated from insurgents and then abandoned; inevitably, the insurgents took over again. Such mistakes are depressing but not entirely surprising: The U.S. military has forgotten many of the lessons of counterinsurgency warfare that it learned bitterly in Vietnam and elsewhere. Having neglected counterinsurgency in the military's training and education programs, we should not be shocked that we are ill-equipped to wage it. Indeed, the picture Ricks paints is so damning that it is, at times, too charitable to say that the military and civilian leadership failed. 'Fiasco' portrays several commanders as misguided but trying their best, but others — particularly the hapless Franks — appear not to have tried at all. Worse, the overall war and occupation effort lacked the high-level White House coordination essential to victory, allowing Bremer to operate on his own, making major decisions without consulting the Pentagon or the National Security Council, let alone his counterparts on the military side of the occupation. These failures feel particularly raw given the sacrifices, grit and determination of the heroes of Ricks' book: the junior and noncommissioned officers risking their lives in Iraq's streets, as well as the few innovative senior officers, such as Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who have shrewdly tried (as the New Yorker's George Packer has put it) to win 'over the civilian population by encouraging economic reconstruction and local government.' Whether getting supply convoys past insurgent strongholds, identifying ways to defeat the rebels' dreaded IEDs (improvised explosive devices) or deciding whether to cow or charm local leaders, creative officers often invented new tactics and strategy on the spot. When they succeeded, they frequently did so in spite of their leaders. Interviews with such gallant soldiers, as well as their e-mails, blogs and private reports, form the core of Ricks' reporting. And that reporting is impressive indeed. News on Iraq usually comes in blaring headlines, with little sense of trends and context, but Ricks' work allows us to fit seemingly disparate events into an overall pattern. Take the moral and political catastrophe of the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib; Ricks shows the cruelty as not only a failure of command and discipline by the overmatched unit running the prison but also the result of obtuse higher-level decisions about how to fight the insurgents. Several army units, he reports, indiscriminately arrested Iraqis, making no attempt to separate the few who might know something about the insurgents from the many who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The detention system as a whole was chronically understaffed and overwhelmed by the thousands of detainees pouring in, Ricks writes. That did not make the depravity of Abu Ghraib inevitable, but it did make accidents far more likely to happen. Ambitious as it is, 'Fiasco' does not offer a comprehensive picture of Bremer's occupation authority or the shadowy insurgency itself. It concentrates on the first year of the occupation, often addressing the subsequent two years of struggle largely as a contrast to the occupation's early days. Beyond this narrow focus, Ricks' penetrating book has perhaps only one other weakness: He is too optimistic about how much the Army has done to embrace a Petraeus-style, hearts-and-minds-based counterinsurgency doctrine today. Ricks is right to note positive U.S. moves such as revamping training programs and changing leadership, but the Army is still too focused on winning battles against individual insurgents and not focused enough on providing security for the Iraqi people as a whole, which is the key to undermining the insurgents. But these limits do not detract from the value of this powerful book. Ricks begins 'Fiasco' with the ancient strategist Sun Tzu's admonition about how to achieve victory: 'Know your enemies, know yourself.' Clearly, those who took us to war in 2003 knew neither. The question today is whether they can learn. Daniel Byman is the director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution." Reviewed by Daniel Byman, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A]bsolutely essential reading for anyone interested in understanding how the United States came to go to war in Iraq, how a bungled occupation fed a ballooning insurgency and how these events will affect the future of the American military." Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times
"[An] extraordinarily well-sourced, highly-detailed portrait....Fiasco is for those who want a serious, on-the-ground picture of what's actually happened with the war." Christian Science Monitor
"Ricks has written an honest book that could help America move beyond the reflexive, red or blue coloring of the war and toward a more dispassionate discussion of the kind of Iraq we hope will emerge from today's near-anarchic state." Oregonian
"In his compelling and well-researched book, Thomas E. Ricks...painfully but clearly reveals an important truth about the Iraq debacle." Washington Post
"Fiasco is not a screed but a well-researched, strongly written account of the miscues that led from shock-and-awe to rampant sectarian strife." Los Angeles Times
From the #1 bestselling author of Fiasco and The Gamble, an epic history of the decline of American military leadership from World War II to Iraq
History has been kind to the American generals of World War IIandmdash;Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradleyandmdash;and less kind to the generals of the wars that followed. In The Generals, Thomas E. Ricks sets out to explain why that is. In part it is the story of a widening gulf between performance and accountability. During the Second World War, scores of American generals were relieved of command simply for not being good enough. Today, as one American colonel said bitterly during the Iraq War, andldquo;As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.andrdquo;
In The Generals we meet great leaders and suspect ones, generals who rose to the occasion and those who failed themselves and their soldiers. Marshall and Eisenhower cast long shadows over this story, as does the less familiar Marine General O. P. Smith, whose fighting retreat from the Chinese onslaught into Korea in the winter of 1950 snatched a kind of victory from the jaws of annihilation.
But Korea also showed the first signs of an army leadership culture that neither punished mediocrity nor particularly rewarded daring. In the Vietnam War, the problem grew worse until, finally, American military leadership bottomed out. The My Lai massacre, Ricks shows us, is the emblematic event of this dark chapter of our history. In the wake of Vietnam a battle for the soul of the U.S. Army was waged with impressive success. It became a transformed institution, reinvigorated from the bottom up. But if the body was highly toned, its head still suffered from familiar problems, resulting in tactically savvy but strategically obtuse leadership that would win battles but end wars badly from the first Iraq War of 1990 through to the present.
Ricks has made a close study of Americaandrsquo;s military leaders for three decades, and in his hands this story resounds with larger meaning: about the transmission of values, about strategic thinking, and about the difference between an organization that learns and one that fails.
Coming from The Penguin Press in February 2009, Thomas E. Ricks's The Gamble
Thomas E. Ricks 's #1 New York Times bestseller, Fiasco, transformed the political dialogue on the war in Iraq. Now Ricks has picked up where Fiasco left off-Iraq, late 2005. With more newsbreaking information, including hundreds of hours of interviews with top U.S. officials who were on the ground during the surge and beyond, The Gamble is the natural companion piece to Fiasco, and the two are sure to become the definitive examinations of what ultimately went wrong in Iraq.
About the Author
Thomas E. Ricks is The Washington Post's senior Pentagon correspondent, where he has covered the U.S. military since 2000. Until the end of 1999, he held the same beat at The Wall Street Journal, where he was a reporter for seventeen years. A member of two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams for national reporting, he has reported on U.S. military activities in Somalia, Haiti, Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Kuwait, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He is the author of Making the Corps and A Soldier's Duty.
Table of Contents
PROLOGUE: Captain William DePuy and the 90th Division in Normandy, summer 1944
WORLD WAR II
1. General George C. Marshall: The leader
2. Dwight Eisenhower: How the Marshall system worked
3. George Patton: The specialist
4. Mark Clark: The man in the middle
5. andldquo;Terrible Terryandrdquo; Allen: Conflict between Marshall and his protandeacute;gandeacute;s
6. Eisenhower manages Montgomery
7. Douglas MacArthur: The general as presidential aspirant
8. William Simpson: The Marshall system and the new model American general
THE KOREAN WAR
9. William Dean and Douglas MacArthur: Two generals self- destruct
10. Army generals fail at Chosin
11. O. P. Smith succeeds at Chosin
12. Ridgway turns the war around
13. MacArthurandrsquo;s last stand
14. The organization manandrsquo;s Army
THE VIETNAM WAR
15. Maxwell Taylor: Architect of defeat
16. William Westmoreland: The organization man in command
17. William DePuy: World War IIandndash; style generalship in Vietnam
18. The collapse of generalship in the 1960s
19. Tet andrsquo;68: The end of Westmoreland and the turning point of the war
20. My Lai: General Kosterandrsquo;s cover-up and General Peersandrsquo;s investigation
21. The end of a war, the end of an Army
22. DePuyandrsquo;s great rebuilding
23. andldquo;How to teach judgmentandrdquo;
IRAQ AND THE HIDDEN COSTS OF REBUILDING
24. Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, and the empty triumph of the 1991 war
25. The ground war: Schwarzkopf vs. Frederick Franks
26. The postandndash; Gulf War military
27. Tommy R. Franks: Two- time loser
28. Ricardo Sanchez: Over his head
29. George Casey: Trying but treading water
30. David Petraeus: An outlier moves in, then leaves
EPILOGUE: Restoring American military leadership
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