Friday, August 04, 2006

RocketFever Reviews: "Fiasco" by Tom Ricks

Since about 2004ish, I've been wondering where the reporting from Iraq was. Where was it? Why are stories all either "15 U.S. soldiers died" or "Abu Ghraib" or "Al-Sadr" without any of the nitty-gritty coming through. We cover "American Idol" or the average NFL trade with more scrutiny.

Tom Ricks, military writer for the Washington Post, found it and put it down to paper. And it's fairly apparently why we weren't getting a clear story of Iraq...because no one knew what was going on. And the few people who did weren't being listened to as the situation became more bleak. So the useless "should we/shouldn't we" debate continued to rage in the U.S. -- like passengers on a jet loudly debating whether they should have just driven 30 minutes after takeoff.

Time Well Spent
Ricks spoke at the Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Santa Monica on Thursday evening to a crowd of mostly anti-war types and the elderly. He's very well informed and thoughtful in his answers. How does he get info others don't? Well consider the WaPo spends $1 million a year on security in Iraq annually. Everywhere he goes, he can stay for 15 minutes before his detail evacuates him as he would be a very profitable kidnapping target. And he travels in an envoy of armored Land Rovers with a team of privately hired "shooters" whenever he moves around. As he said, "This is not journalism." Furthermore, he's got 20 years or so on the Pentagon beat at the WSJ and WaPo, so people trust him. Either way, he's got some ins and insight others don't.

To the book: Everywhere "One Percent Doctrine" fails, "Fiasco" succeeds. This is exactly what the general public has been missing since the war began -- honest information from the ground, from dissenters in the military and from government documents. Basically this book is from reporting, not guessing, connecting the dots or from posturing for a point of view. And what comes out is less about the military covering its AZZ because of what has happened and more about why they have been kept from promptly correcting course.

Big Nuggets of Juicy Info
  • Major takeaways from this book include: Iraqis hold pride above all else. When you round them up for questioning in a hostile manner in front of their families, you're basically forcing them to seek retribution against you.
  • Dissolving the Iraqi military was a major mistake. It was the only Iraqi source of national pride...really it's only national institution of note.
  • De-Baathification was a major mistake. The only people who had the clout to keep an insurgency from forming were banned from ever working for us.
  • There was a war plan based upon occupying Iraq in existence that was thrown out as Tommy Franks began his plan for the invasion.
  • Lots of military types asked for more troops.
  • We ignored virtually every tenet of anti-insurgency strategy -- promoting unemployment, shaming potential allies, not protecting current allies, not sealing the borders.
  • None of our troops, or leadership, were trained for an insurgency scenerio despite the obviously likelihood of one occuring.
  • We nearly LOST CONTROL of Iraq in early 2004...before Bush was even reelected.

Hud's Callous Take

This book is devastating. And it seems no part of our system of government is currently aimed at correcting the issues it brings to light, beyond portions of the military not under direct control of the administration. And we can go round and round about who to blame for this.

I'm more concerned with what we as normal folks can do in the future. Personally, the facts of this book, in the end, have created a new sense of animosity toward our political discourse in this country. While we should have been pressuring our administration to conduct this war in a thoughtful way by debating relevant issues like: "What are we going to do once we're in?" the conversation instead became the normal all-or-nothing "Bush is a liar" and "Support the Troops" nonsense we've been carrying on for going on four years. And last night in Santa Monica it seemed the same nonsense is still going on.

Those who supported the war are in a clear state of denial (Rumsfeld & Co. just admitted Civil War is at hand) and those who didn't are merely giddy at the thought of using this against the Rs in elections. But the point should be made that leaving now would be worse than going under false pretenses to begin with. You don't burn a guy's house down and then refuse to help him rebuild upon realizing you shouldn't have done it.

No matter where you came down before this war began, you were wrong. But Ricks with "Fiasco" delivers a clearer view of the reality of this war. And it will help us be closer to right in future debates.

1 comment:

Craig said...

And if those generals were right during their testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Ricks might be able to write a sequel. I'll be borrowing this book right away.