(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

The title Fiasco encapsulates Thomas E. Ricks’s assessment of American military involvement in Iraq, a judgment based on twenty-five years of reporting on the U.S. military and on hundreds of interviews and more than 37,000 pages of documents. While Ricks has a clear point of view about what caused the fiasco and who should be held accountable, he is scrupulously evenhanded, for example, allowing some generals whose performance is judged scathingly by their peers and subordinates to respond in paraphrase and direct quotes.

Ricks points out an advantage of modern technology, sending a short description of a military action taken in Anbar Province to one of the participants querying whether the report is accurate and receiving an answer from seven thousand miles away in the next thirty minutes. He is harsh about Bush, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz for falling for Saddam Hussein’s bluff that he possessed formidable weapons of mass destructiona bluff that intimidated his enemies and neighbors. He describes how their optimism about the Iraqi reception of American troops and their relentless optimism about progress in Iraq combined with a lack of engagement allowed the neoconservative war hawks in the Bush administration to run roughshod over all cautions about the dangers of invasion and to grossly underestimate the number of troops required.

Ricks finds Rumsfeld, in particular, a polarizing figure who saw his real task as reform of the military and whose consequent, relentless paring down of the number of troops set up the conditions of the insurgency. He reports how Rumsfeld’s policies came under increasing fire from within the military, especially after his comment that we go to war with the army we have, not the army we would like to have. Ricks is also harsh about Air Force general Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and about General Tommy Franks, who led the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan and the successful invasion of Iraq but who never understood the need for long-term strategic planning as opposed to short-term tactics. These critical evaluations are backed up by testimony and quotes from documents.

Ricks’s recurrent theme is that wishful thinking and a shocking lack of cultural understanding led the Pentagon and the upper levels of the U.S. Army to invade Iraq with an inadequate number of troops. He acknowledges that the actual invasion worked very well, though perhaps against an enemy far less capable than originally thought. However, like the dog that caught the car he was chasing, the military was completely unprepared for what to do with Iraq once it had been taken. Bush and his advisors consistently ignored warnings, like those of former commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, General Anthony C. Zinni, who Cassandra-like repeatedly criticized the proposal to invade Iraq as ill advised and the actions of the Bush presidency in general as problematic.

Bush and Rumsfeld also rejected the advice of Colin Powell, a tragic figure in Fiasco, an honorable soldier who wasted his credibility by assuring the United Nations that Saddam Hussein was known to have weapons of mass destruction. The Colin Powell Doctrine, formulated after the debacle of Vietnam as a means of avoiding such quagmires, asserted that no war should be engaged in without overwhelming force capable of rolling over the enemy and a clear goal or exit strategy for the far end. This doctrine was not simply ignored but was actually negated...

(The entire section is 1430 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

The Atlantic Monthly 298, no. 2 (September, 2006): 124-125.

The Christian Science Monitor, October 17, 2006, p. 16.

The Economist 380 (August 19, 2006): 71.

Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2006, p. E17.

The New York Times 155 (July 25, 2006): E1-E6.

The New York Times Book Review 155 (August 13, 2006): 26.

Publishers Weekly 253, no. 32 (August 14, 2006): 28.

Washington Monthly 38, no. 10 (October, 2006): 60-63.