Saturday, April 21, 2007

Review: Fiasco by Thomas E Ricks

Ricks finished his story of the Iraq war disaster in mid 2006. He had seen modestly encouraging signs in 2005. General Casey, the new man in charge, understood the problem and adopted some sensible strategic principles. In a few cases, like second Iraq tour of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, impressive local successes were achieved. On this tour, the Third ACR was commanded by one on the Army's best, Colonel H. R. McMaster, a warrior scholar with a PhD who had written a notable critique of the command of the Vietnam War (Dereliction of Duty). Alas, most of those gains too were subsequently lost.

Ricks' finale is a comparison of historical counterinsurgency counterparts and prospects for the future. The most unequivocal past success was in the Phillipines, which the US occupied for half a century, suppressing insurgency through massive carnage and ultimately wiser policy, producing the slightly democratic nation of todday. In the other "positive" examples, such as Algeria, the occupier lost, but managed to survive the experience.

The most dangerous scenario consequent on abject failure is that the Iraqi civil war becomes a regional conflagration. This is in fact highly plausible. In the wake of an unconditional US pullout, the Kurds are likely to move to sieze Kirkuk, plausibly triggering invasion by Turkey. Iran is likely to aid the Kurds as well as the Shiites of the south in their war against the Sunni. Saudi Arabia and Syria are likely to side with the Sunni.

In Ricks' "nightmare scenario" a new Saleh ed-Din Yusuf, (or Saladin) emerges from the chaos to unify the Arabs against the West. Other, perhaps more dangerous scenarios, are easy to imagine.

For anyone who wants to know how we got to where we are now in Iraq, Fiasco is an important book. Ricks has been on the story from the start, has read a vast pile of documents, and interviewed most of the principals. I have followed the story closely, and I learned a lot from Ricks that I hadn't known before. Fiasco has a clear and direct style that illuminates the pattern underlying all the complexities - something that is particularly needed in the case of Iraq, since our leaders give us only lies and obfuscation.

Bush is an offstage presence in this book, but his folly has driven the war and all its blunders. Many of the confusions and wrong directions of the war stem from Bush's failure to understand what he was trying to do or insist on a coherent plan for accomplishing it - his failure to perform the first strategic task of the leader referred to in the Clausewitz on Bush post linked below.

I have written nine previous posts related to Ricks and his book, most of which should be considered components of this review.

Fiasco ,

It Takes a Family ,

My Appearance on Meet The Press , (fluff and a tantrum)

Doctor Brainiac's War , (a post Fiasco look at the then new strategy of General Petraeus,

Impervious to Evidence , (the origin of the war and Wolfowitz),

A Genius for Incompetence , (Douglas Feith)

Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry , (The blunders of Paul Bremer, with some updates and commentary from Arun),

Clausewitz on Bush and

Reflections on Tom Ricks' Fiasco .