Winging the Invasion of Iraq?

A journalist argues that the Bush administration failed to plan for the post-war

David Zhou

Buy “Fiasco” and read it now. I know the title makes it sound utterly polemical and biased, but it’s not. It is, quite simply, the only book worth reading about the war in Iraq.

See, the thing about it is that it’s not the usual idiot liberal critique that screams out “WAR IS BAD! ALL TROOPS OUT OF EVERYWHERE NOW!”

Indeed, if there’s a problem identified by Ricks—a lifelong Pentagon and war correspondent who currently works at The Washington Post—it’s that the so-called hawks in the White House were never hawkish enough.

The first third of the book is stuff we’ve heard before: the war was based on false pretenses, evidence was faulty, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney decided we would go to war long before there was anything Americans or Congress could do about it, etc.

It’s the most succinct and thoughtful summary I’ve read, but it’s a summary, nonetheless.

It’s the rest of the book that’s groundbreaking. It completely changes the terms of debate about the war.

While Democratic hacks like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are spending their time whining about how we shouldn’t have gone to war in the first place, Ricks accepts the reality that we did, and implicitly points out that there really was no way of ever conclusively knowing whether Saddam had nukes or not.

Instead, Ricks shows that the real crime was that the Bush White House didn’t plan to win the conflict they decided to start.

The interviews with top generals and Pentagon officials are stunning, and reveal a war that, horrifyingly, had literally no end-goal, let alone a strategy for achieving that goal. To this day, the war has no end-goal, and therefore can have no “end” in sight.

The on-the-ground tales of torture and violence are terrifying, but even more terrifying is Ricks’ conclusion that the Bush White House wasn’t listening to generals who told them a war would need far more troops than the number Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ended up sending to Iraq.

Again, the critique is one of realpolitik, and if anything, comes from the moderate right—Ricks is saying that we’ve made a mess, and the only way to fix it is with a Hail Mary decision to put more Special Forces troops into the fray.

The book is frightening, immensely readable, unbiased (shockingly, especially given the feelings it ends up instilling), comprehensive, and may come to be seen as the definitive historical record of a war that has changed the world forever.

—Reviewer Abe J. Riesman can be reached at riesman@fas.harvard.edu.

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
By Thomas E. Ricks
The Penguin Press HC
Out Now