"Fiasco," by Thomas Ricks

I did a search on this and Ricks’s book “Fiasco” has been mentioned a number of times, but generally only briefly; I’ve never seen a discussion of the book itself.

I just finished the book. I frankly have a lot of difficulty believing anyone who supported the war, or supports it now, could have read this. It’s simply the most devastating indictment I’ve ever seen of the war, and from a guy who is certainly not an enemy of the armed services.

Ricks avoids the usual partisan “Bush is evil” approach and instead concentrates on the ineptitude and incompetence of the people in charge. A full list of screwups would be impossible to type here, and indeed it is Ricks’s thesis that a fiasco of this magnitude is the result of many screwups by many people, not just one bad man. Ricks casts wide blame on administration officials and military leaders. If I could break it down to seven main problems:

  1. There was no plan at all for occupying Iraq,
  2. The major hawks, such as Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, and some generals, such as Franks, refused to accept that an insurgency was possible.
  3. The Coalition Provisional Authority was incompetently led by L. Paul Bremer, who was almost wholly inept and lied to Washington about what was really going on,
  4. The military and CPA never got along,
  5. The military was - to vary degrees, depending on the specific division - led stupidly, by generals who for the most part did not understand counterinsurgency warfare and in any case were never told to prepare for it,
  6. Since the war was started on false premises it shot U.S. credibility and also helpd the insurgency get its start, and
  7. The Bush administration consistently refused to accept anything that conflicted with their expectations.

I could find no fault with Ricks’s analysis; he did his homework and then some. (He does show an obvious love of the Marines over the Army.)

I’m honestly curious as to how anyone, anywhere, could read this book and honestly support the war - or, worse yet, pretend to believe it’s going well.

Perhaps because there’s something honorable in carrying out the stupid and pointless policies of superiors with total ferocious dedication, as opposed to just dragging ass.

:dubious: Is there?

It is immaterial whether or not the Iraq fiasco is a result of GW being “bad” or having an evil intent. Is the situation any better if he honestly believed that there was an iminent danger that Saddam had the intention to use WMD agains the US?

GW has a demonstrated incapacity to manage the task of planning and carrying out any operation. What might be worse is that he seems to believe that he has the competence, breadth of experience and judgement to be president of the US.

What’s even worse is that so many voters agreed with him. The American experiment in self government has never looked shakier than it does right now.

The book is on my desk right now as a matter of fact. It is not so much seminal as it is a fascinating collection of things we generally knew from elsewhere. An excellent piece of research.

I suspect some yet-unwritten book will displace this as the main history of this war in years to come, still this is an excellent first-draft of history.

Well, that “plan” thingy, quibble with that a bit…

Plans had been made, but the plans were ignored, IIRC, State drew up a lengthy and detailed proposal, and the President was very likely in the same room with the plan, at one point or another.

They weren’t going to need a plan, the blubbering gratitude of the Iranian people would grant tremendous leverage and a generous willingness to cooperate. They would simply pop out Saddam, install Chalabi, chuck out the odd Baathist or two, badda boom, badda bing instant bourgeous democracy, loyal American ally. Who needed a plan?

Of course.

Shh, don’t post spoilers for his next book.

I meant, I messed up Iraqi and Iranian.

Just a hunch, I think Bryan got that, luc’, his joke being that by doing so you “spoiled” Ricks’ next book, which would be about the next fiasco in…

I think it’s tenatively titled “Fustercluck.”

Actually, part of the problem was that there was more than one.

Actually, elucidator, the Iranians were also mighty grateful for our invasion of their neighbor state, and for our skillful campaign for generating hate toward America.

The Palast theory is neat, but the evidence shows no plan was in place as of May 2003. What was rolling around Paul Wolfowitz’s head simply was not communicated to anyone who actually was in Iraq. (I note that Palast claims Chalabi, Wolfowitz, and Perle studied economics together at the U of Chicago; actually, Chalabi studied math, Wolfowitz studied politics, and Richard Perle did not attend the University of Chicago; not everything is Milton Friedman’s fault.)

Between Ricks and Palast, I’ve no doubt Ricks is correct. Palast presents a rather complex conspiracy theory; Ricks presents a theory of incompetence that involves some conspiracy. The latter is vastly more likely.

This isn’t to say there isn’t truth in what Palast reported. However, that’s not relevant to what happened in Iraq, because what happened was a chaotic mess caused by a lack of a plan. What Palast is describing is a motive; it doesn’t include a plan for how to run Iraq after the fall of Saddam.

Oh, it included a plan, all right, it was just a really dumb one:

All of which Paul Bremer carried out – except for the privatization of state oilfields, which was unacceptable to the U.S. oil companies, for reasons Palast explains.


Brain, none of that is an occupation plan for post-war Iraq. I’m not sure how much more clearly this can be spelled out:








You’re describing theoretical commercial law, not an occupation plan. Great, you found a guy who claims the neo-conservatives had a plan to do something. It’s not a plan for occupying Iraq; it’s as relevant to Ricks’s book as a Betty Crocker cookbook. Do you have anything to say about the problem with there being no occupation plan?

Well, that’s my point. The neocon idiotologues seem to have been blind to the distinction. They assumed their version of economic shock therapy would be enough to turn Iraq into a thriving free-market paradise in a few months; how many troops would be needed to keep order was hardly worth discussion – the Iraqis are going to be free, rich and grateful, so what does an “occupation” plan matter?

The problem with Ricks’ book isn’t the book itself; it’s the timing.

Just as Woodward’s State of Denial is more aptly titled, “All the Bad Stuff About the Bush Administration at War That I Left Out of My Previous Two Books,” Ricks’ book would be more accurately titled, “All the Bad Stuff About Bush and Iraq That the WaPo Buried on Page A-17 During the Past Four Years, When It Printed It At All.”

With the sole exception of Knight Ridder (take a bow, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, and Tom Lasseter, and the editors who kept publishing your stories) and every major news organization in America checked its skepticism at the door when reporting on the buildup to war.

The absence of a plan for the postwar was evident on February 11, 2003, when Doug Feith and Marc Grossman testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the state of postwar planning. That should have been a major scandal, since the postwar was, by definition, the real game, and deposing Saddam just a preliminary.

If the war was ever winnable, in the sense of establishing a stable post-Saddam government capable of maintaining order in Iraq, this was the moment it should have been apparent to all that we were going to get our asses kicked.

But that hearing was a one-day story, then back to the cheerleading. The press made no effort to follow up on this story with attempts to get a more detailed picture of how the transition to postwar would work, it didn’t raise a stink about the lack of preparedness in editorials and op-eds, and so forth.

Ousting Saddam was the right thing to do; I don’t believe that the occupation was ever feasible. We should have left very shortly after bagging Saddam and his command. Iraq isn’t a Japan, devastated by bombing and isolated from the world; nor is it a Germany, split in two and fearful of the Soviet Union. I believe that had we left - with explicit warnings to neighbouring countries - Iraq would have fractured on its own, but with less violence than Yugoslavia. Painful in the short term, certainly, but better than what we have now. You can’t force different factions to co-exist.