By Thomas E. Ricks
By virtue of the author’s wealth of sources within the American military and the book’s comprehensive timeline (beginning with the administration’s inflammatory statements about Saddam Hussein in the wake of 9/11, through the invasion and occupation, to the escalating religious and ethnic strife that afflicts the country today), “Fiasco” is absolutely 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. Though other books have depicted aspects of the Iraq war in more intimate and harrowing detail, though other books have broken more news about aspects of the war, this volume gives the reader a lucid, tough-minded overview of this tragic enterprise that stands apart from earlier assessments in terms of simple coherence and scope.
“President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 ultimately may come to be seen as one of the most profligate actions in the history of American foreign policy,” Mr. Ricks writes. “The consequences of his choice won’t be clear for decades, but it already is abundantly apparent in mid-2006 that the U.S. government went to war in Iraq with scant solid international support and on the basis of incorrect information — about weapons of mass destruction and a supposed nexus between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda’s terrorism — and then occupied the country negligently. Thousands of U.S. troops and an untold number of Iraqis have died. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent, many of them squandered. Democracy may yet come to Iraq and the region, but so too may civil war or a regional conflagration, which in turn could lead to spiraling oil prices and a global economic shock.”
Much of the material dealing with the time just before the war has been chronicled in earlier books (not to mention an outpouring of newspaper and magazine articles), but Mr. Ricks provides a succinct narrative that emphasizes how this period “laid the shaky foundation for the derelict occupation that followed.” He reminds us that when it came to the threat posed by Mr. Hussein, the administration consistently emphasized “worst-case scenarios” even as it was “ ‘best-casing’ the subsequent cost and difficulty of occupying the country.” And he shows how this blinkered outlook resulted in a failure to plan for the realities of the occupation and a failure to allocate sufficient manpower and resources.
Mr. Ricks’s narrative is based on hundreds of interviews and more than 37,000 pages of documents, and many of the book’s most scorching assessments of the White House and Pentagon’s conduct of the war come from members of the uniformed military and official military reports.
An after-action review from the Third Infantry Division underscores the Pentagon’s paucity of postwar planning, stating that “there was no guidance for restoring order in Baghdad, creating an interim government, hiring government and essential services employees, and ensuring that the judicial system was operational.” And an end-of-tour report by a colonel assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority memorably summarized his office’s work as “pasting feathers together, hoping for a duck.”