We all know that the situation in Iraq was fucked up, but this knowledge doesn’t do us any good unless we
understand the details—the reasons why things got so fucked up over there. Ricks presents a history of the
United States’ conflict with Iraq from the first Gulf War through 9/11 and the run-up to the war, and finally the
occupation and insurgency as it has evolved over the years. The book is not only fascinating, but highly readable
and at times even hard to put down. Most of the facts brought to light provoke anger or astonishment at the Bush
administration’s incredible series of mistake after mistake which brought us to our present quagmire.
The book provides some valuable insight into the failure of intelligence in the run-up to the war regarding Saddam’
s weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to Al Quaeda, placing the responsibility on Rumsfeld and
Wolfowitz among many others in the administration, who had decided to invade regardless of the intelligence and
presented to the public and the world only those facts which would support their own foregone conclusions.
Many of these facts, it is revealed, were of so dubious a nature that their presentation as near-certainties can be
called criminal. In particular, the testimony of Iraqi exiles, such as Ahmed Chalabi, regarding Saddam’s stockpiles
of WMDs and terrorist training camps, was later revealed to be outright lies. The CIA knew that Chalabi and the
others were not trustworthy, yet the administration continued to parade him around through all of the major media
outlets—who warrant just as much responsibility for this war—because he was saying exactly what they needed
people to hear. I did not support the invasion even before it occurred, but I at least understood the position of
those who believed that Iraq posed a genuine threat, as the information we were being fed overwhelmingly
supported this conclusion.
Yet even if the hawks were correct and eliminating Saddam Hussein’s regime was the right thing to do, this book
proves without a doubt that we went about it in the worst possible way. The responsibility for our failures in Iraq
is placed mostly on the shoulders of Tommy Franks and General Paul Bremer. Franks who was responsible for
our strategy for victory, did not come up with a strategy but merely developed tactics. Prior to the war his only
focus was getting to Baghdad, and almost no planning went into Phase IV, or what to do after our troops had
taken the capital. Bremer made the two most fatal mistakes of the war: removing all members of the Baathist
party from their positions, and dissolving the standing Iraqi army. These incredibly stupid actions—which were
opposed unsuccessfully by many of the generals beneath him—served to destroy the existing infrastructures that
could have kept things running smoothly while a new government was put in place, and forced hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis who might have otherwise welcomed or at least accepted the army’s presence into
unemployment. There was nothing for these former soldiers to do now but exact revenge, and thus an insurgency
was born. Both Franks and Bremer were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Finally, the book explains the fundamental error of our tactics in fighting the war in its earliest stages. Our troops
were trained for combat operations; not an anti-insurgency campaign. In combat, the objective is to secure the
battlefield. But in an anti-insurgency campaign the objective is the people themselves. Knocking down people’s
door and dragging suspected insurgents out into the street, throwing them in prisons and degrading them, showing
absolutely no respect for their culture—these are not the kind of methods that win hearts and minds. One of the
only generals who seemed to be doing things properly was David Petraeus, who emphasized cooperation with
Iraqis and respect for their culture. Although things in Iraq now seem to be going slightly better under Petraeus’
command, Ricks concludes by asking whether it is too little, too late.
This book is absolutely essential reading for anyone who truly wants a greater understanding of what’s going on
over there, regardless of their opinion as to whether it was right to invade or what we should do now. If you are
going to have an opinion on Iraq, it might as well be an informed one.
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
Thomas E. Ricks - 2006