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National Review/ Report Thomas Ricks's FIASCO - book's a

National Review/ Report Thomas Ricks's FIASCO - book's a
must read.

*National Review*

   *SEPTEMBER 11, 2006**  **VOL. LVII, NO. 16*

   *Bing West on Thomas Ricks's **/Fiasco/*

    /Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq/,/ /by Thomas E.
   Ricks (Penguin, 416 pp., $27.95)

   *Iraq: Phase One*

   /(Mr. West, who served in the Marine infantry in Vietnam and later
   as assistant secretary of defense, is the award-winning author of
   several military histories, including The Village: A Combined Action
   Platoon in Vietnam and No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the
   Battle for Fallujah. He has been to Iraq nine times, accompanying
   over 20 battalions on operations.)/

   Tom Ricks, who has a keen eye and a depth of contacts in the
   military, believes the likely outcome in Iraq will be a net loss for
   America. “There is a small chance the Bush administration’s
   inflexible optimism will be rewarded,” he writes, and “a greater
   chance that Iraq [will offer] a new haven for terrorists.”

   Ricks builds a devastating case, with a focus exclusively upon the
   military aspects of Iraq. He portrays systemic failures of
   political-military leadership, of a kind not seen since World War I.
   The scale is vastly different, of course, but there are undeniable
   similarities—both in the initial unwillingness to adapt and in the
   unswerving loyalty accorded to self-assured incompetents. At the end
   of 2004, President Bush presented the Medal of Freedom to Gen. Tommy
   Franks and Amb. L. Paul Bremer. Ricks does not mince words about his
   opinion of those three men: “The U.S.-led invasion was launched
   recklessly (Bush), with a flawed plan for war (Franks) and a worse
   approach to occupation (Bremer).”

    Ricks’s premise is that invading Iraq turned into a military mess
   that could have been avoided. The first portion of the book
   addresses the run-up to the war, the swift seizure of Baghdad, and
   the chaotic aftermath in May 2003. Numerous books and articles have
   examined this period, and Ricks presents findings similar to theirs:
   President Bush had Saddam in his sights since 9/11; deputy secretary
   of defense Paul Wolfowitz pushed an idealistic dream of transforming
   the Middle East by establishing an enlightened democracy in Iraq;
   the influential Iraqi expatriate Ahmed Chalabi was untrustworthy;
   secretary of state Colin Powell opposed invading but was
   outmaneuvered; etc. This familiar catalogue is enlivened by a
   portrayal of Franks, then head of Central Command, as abusive and
   impatient, “a cunning man, but not a deep thinker,” who “ran an
   extremely unhappy headquarters.” Franks, according to the author,
   had no plan for the occupation, and no intention of remaining the
   commander responsible for implementing it.

    In the middle section of the book, Ricks explains in detail how the
   U.S. military, once confronted with an insurgency, responded in 2003
   and 2004 with sweeps, raids, and arrests that only inflamed the
   opposition. He lays the blame on three factors. The first was the
   appointment of Paul Bremer as the president’s proconsul. Bremer
   wielded his wide-ranging powers decisively but not judiciously. His
   key failure was to disband the Iraqi army, an error the American
   military did not appeal to secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld to
   overturn. The second mistake was the appointment by Central Command
   of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez as commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq.
   Sanchez was out of his depth, at loggerheads with Bremer, and
   incapable of developing a comprehensive campaign plan. This led to
   the third error: unilateral American offensive operations.

    U.S. land forces had fought two successful campaigns in Iraq (in
   1991 and April 2003) based on swift, aggressive mounted maneuver. As
   the insurgency gained steam in late 2003, most of the American
   divisions in Iraq responded with armored sweeps and cordons. Senior
   commanders were demanding more “actionable intelligence”—which
   generated an attitude of “us versus them,” resulting in tens of
   thousands of peremptory searches and thousands of questionable
   arrests, leading in turn to an overflow at the prisons, subsequent
   poor standards, and finally to the disaster at Abu Ghraib.

   Ricks indicts what can best be termed the “General Officers’
   Protective Society.” He describes how division commanders inculcated
   a command climate of aggressive tactics inappropriate to winning the
   support of the resentful Sunni population. Gen. Tony Zinni is quoted
   time and again, damning the civilians for geopolitical naïveté, but
   Ricks does not let the generals escape criticism: He points out that
   it was not Rumsfeld but rather the Joint Chiefs and Central Command
   who dismissed Zinni’s operational plans as half-baked.

    While Ricks lays into some generals with a verbal broadsword, he
   compliments others —in particular, Gen. George W. Casey and Lt.
   Gens. David Petraeus and James Mattis. Ricks explains why these
   three generals understood the nature of the war. The last third of
   the book deals with the faltering steps to implement the
   counterinsurgency campaign championed by Casey, who took over
   command in July 2004.

    Ricks shows how Casey was hampered by two bizarre events. The first
   was the protective mantle the Shiite leadership cast over the
   dangerous demagogue Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr had ordered his Shiite
   militia to revolt in April 2004; when he was cornered, the U.S. high
   command, importuned by Shiite leaders, let him go free. In August
   2004, Sadr revolted a second time. Casey rushed to Najaf as U.S.
   troops again cornered Sadr; but again the Shiite leadership
   negotiated his freedom. Today, Sadr is busy creating the equivalent
   of Hezbollah in Iraq; fresh battles between the Iraqi army and
   Sadr’s militia are inevitable.

    The second stumbling block in Ricks' narrative was the imprudent
   interference of senior U.S. officials that extended and confused the
   battle for Fallujah. Prior to Casey’s arrival, the White House and
   Bremer could not decide on a consistent course of action toward
   Fallujah, the stronghold of the insurgency and the lair of terrorist
   Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Marines were first ordered to seize the
   city, then not to seize it, then to invest it while the insurgents
   grew stronger. Ricks believes this wishy-washy strategy encouraged
   the insurgents and diverted the Marines from Casey's sensible plan.
   After the August battle against Sadr, Casey turned his attention to
   Fallujah; a November 2004 assault drove out the jihadists and
   leveled half the city.

    It was not until 2005 that Casey could begin a comprehensive
   campaign to clear and hold a string of Sunni cities. Ricks points
   out that this counterinsurgency mission has been slow in gathering
   momentum. The fastest means of developing an indigenous security
   force is to embed them with American soldiers, along the lines of
   the KATUSA program in Korea and the Special Forces A teams and
   Combined Action Platoons in Vietnam. In 1968, one Marine division
   combined infantry squads with local militia platoons in more than 80
   villages. When the CAP was suggested for Iraq, according to Ricks, a
   general firmly advised against it—because the squads would suffer
   casualties.

   Iraq marked a sea change in the American way of war. “Force
   Protection”meant minimizing casualties—so that over three years,
   there were fewer fatalities than in that one awful day of 9/11. Mess
   halls morphed into “dining facilities” offering salad bars, pizza
   bars, fast-food counters, Middle East cuisine, or good,
   old-fashioned steak and lobster, followed by ice cream, at a cost of
   about $34 a meal. Soldiers slept in air-conditioned rooms, chatted
   on the Internet, and played video games. We chose to fight a war
   that a veteran of Vietnam would not recognize. (Thrown into the
   cauldron of Fallujah, though, U.S. soldiers and Marines displayed
   courage and aggressiveness equal to any American generation.)

    Somewhere between 1966 and 2006, the conditions of war and the
   acceptability of misery and friendly casualties had changed. We
   didn’t have enough troops in Iraq partly because of how we chose to
   fight the war; Ricks blames this on shortcomings in military
   doctrine, but it may be equally attributable to the current mores of
   American society.

   Like a prosecuting attorney, Ricks weaves together a narrative to
   make his case, with a focus mainly on 2003 and 2004. He does not
   attempt to provide a comprehensive history. Indeed, his “Cast of
   Characters” includes fewer than 70 men. He searched for general
   trends, rather than for what each division did or did not do. His
   chief pedagogical technique is to limn a crucial event, contrasting
   what occurred with what someone said about it later, or recalled
   saying at the time. Since we are all proficient quarterbacks on
   Monday, this technique tends to produce paeans such as /Band of
   Brothers /after a successful war, or condemnations such as /Paths of
   Glory/ after a futile war.

   Will a new set of authors revise what Ricks has written? I doubt
   that his view will be seriously challenged. He makes a solid case
   for each of his indictments.

   One shortcoming of the book is that Ricks introduces the reader to
   no Iraqis, enemy or friendly, and highlights no interaction between
   Iraq’s politicians and the war effort. This might seem like a
   slight, but Iraq’s political elite has not led; the country’s
   “leaders” have been simply terrible. The fundamental flaw in Iraq,
   in fact, was not American military missteps but a dearth of Iraqi
   leadership. The major intelligence failure was the lack of a warning
   that Iraq had fallen apart as a society. True, the U.S. military had
   no doctrine for dealing with the killings between Shiites and Sunnis
   and the virulence of tribal religiosity. But it is hard to win
   hearts and minds when the Sunni imams are preaching opposition to
   the infidel crusaders who have brought the accursed Shiites to power
   and Shiite militia hide behind the Ministry of Interior while
   killing Sunnis.

   Secretary Rumsfeld has said repeatedly that the U.S. military does
   not do nation-building. He is mistaken. In Iraq, building a nation
   is exactly what Gen. Casey and his subordinates are trying to do. It
   is the only way to succeed. The U.S. military has undertaken that
   staggering task because the rest of the U.S. government did not show
   up for this war.

    If, in the end, Iraq emerges intact and moderate, it will not be
   because of its political leaders. It will be because the Iraqi army,
   modeling its behavior to live up to the standards of the American
   army, is able to defeat both the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite
   militia. Of course there will be all kinds of political deals; and
   underlying each of them will be the cold calculus of who will
   prevail in a fight. The Iraqi Army - not its national assembly or
   its police or its religious and political personages - is the last,
   best hope for Iraq.

   While acknowledging that the U.S. military is beginning to get it
   right, Ricks concludes by asking whether it is too late to head off
   a low-level civil war that will result in a fragmentation of Iraq
   equivalent to that of Lebanon in the mid-1980s (or perhaps today).
   Ricks’s pessimism rests on his doubt that America will sustain its
   effort. That happened in Vietnam after the Tet offensive in 1968;
   although battlefield conditions markedly improved over the next two
   years, attitudes had hardened against the war and against our South
   Vietnamese allies.

    The danger comes when people make up their minds on political
   grounds and become impervious to facts. Ricks quotes Casey as saying
   that the average insurgency lasts for nine years. President Bush has
   16 months to put Iraq on a trajectory that will be sustained by
   either a Republican or a Democratic administration.

    Throughout /Fiasco, /Ricks is hard on the U.S. military; but he
   left me with more hope than he expressed, precisely because he
   approved of Casey and the other generals now in charge, and because
   it was, after all, our military that gave him the access, documents,
   and insights that went into the writing of this book. As both Victor
   Davis Hanson (/Carnage and Culture) /and Max Boot (/War Made New/)
   have exhaustively documented, the martial superiority of the West is
   anchored in self-criticism leading to battlefield adaptation.

    With the critique offered in /Fiasco, /Ricks makes a solid
   contribution to our shared understanding.
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