I finally finished reading Thomas Ricks’ thoroughly depressing Fiasco. It’s a well documented and engagingly written account of the disaster in Iraq. It is also a tale of self-inflicted wounds in which those who make the choices are never the ones who feel the pain.
Since I first started reading Fiasco, the Democrats have taken back congress, Rumsfeld – one of the many villains in this sorry episode of our history – has been deservedly sacked with full honors, and Saddam Hussein executed. It’s not enough, though. We’re still stuck in this mess of our own choosing.
Ricks documents the rush to war in Washington and then the poor planning for the occupation. Much is made of the fact that strategic decisions were regularly made based on data summarized in that great shortcut to thinking PowerPoint, which while useful is probably not expansive enough a tool for developing war strategy and foreign policy.
Much of Fiasco is based on interviews with military commanders at all levels in the chain of command and what emerges is a portrait of the Iraq situation from the ground up. There appears to be much anger within the military regarding the way the Army and Marine Corps were thrown into this situation without proper training in and support for occupation and counterinsurgency.
Throughout the book, Ricks documents instances in which military commanders operate in the most counterproductive ways, flouting established methods for dealing with counterinsurgency. There are bright spots, where cooler heads and wiser generals operate in relative harmony with the local Iraqi population, but time and again these units that post records of reduced insurgent activity and very little abuse are rotated home and replaced by those with heavier hands.
There are some bright spots – Marine General James Mattis and Army General David Petraeus who both seem to grasp the nature of the task at hand. Just today, Petraeus was placed in charge of all troops in Iraq. It may not matter much, though.
The situation as Ricks paints it is bleak, and it is one that will surely haunt this nation for many years.