Reviewed 6/09/2008

Fiasco, by Thomas E. Ricks
The American Military Adventure in Iraq
Thomas E. Ricks
New York: Penguin, July 2007




ISBN-13 978-0-1430-3891-7
ISBN-10 0-1430-3891-5 482pp. SC/BWI $16.00

From the notorious Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, north to Tikrit and Mosul, or west to the isolated village of Ar Rutbah, this book provides a month by month (sometimes week by week) chronicle of the debacle that our military adventure in Iraq turned into through lack of planning and neglect of corrective measures. These and other trouble spots are shown on two maps at the front of the book.

Thomas Ricks has been a Pentagon correspondent since 1982, first for the Wall Street Journal, moving to the Washington Post in 2000. He was twice part of a Pulitzer-Prize-winning team of reporters. His two previous books, Making the Corps and A Soldier's Duty, are well-regarded. In this 2006 book, he reveals in exhaustive detail the discussion and planning (or lack of same) behind the war in Iraq and the largely incompetent conduct of that war.

The U.S. military occupation of Iraq seems almost to have been designed for failure.1 The deliberate lack of planning for Phase IV (post-conquest operations) Ricks shows us was bad enough. It was compounded by mistakes made throughout the conduct of the war. These included:

Compounding these errors were the hostility and poor cooperation between military commanders and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) run by L. Paul Bremer. Although Ricks keeps his principal focus on the military's activities, he gives us enough insight into the CPA to show Bremer's incompetence as its head.2 In addition, he recounts how the administration held on to Ahmed Chalabi3 far past the point where he was clearly a liability, and how the "coalition of the willing" was largely a sham compared to the one put together for Desert Storm.

Ricks had remarkable access to the officer corps running the war, both Army and Marines.4 He also did painstakingly thorough research into the available documentation. (A number of relevant documents remain classified.) The result is an account of what the military leadership did wrong (and right) in Iraq that is hard to equal. The text contains very few errors, and is supplemented by 31 annotated photographs. Extensive endnotes and a thorough index are provided. I recommend the book to anyone wishing to understand our position in the Middle East. For those building a personal library on the subject, it is a vital addition.

1 Almost but not quite. As in most such cases, incompetence and hubris are far more likely than a nefarious conspiracy.
2 Ricks describes Bremer as a generally able and likable man who, for whatever reason, was totally unsuited to run the CPA and made a botch of it.
3 On page 104, Ricks records the following exchange: The undersecretary of defense for policy was livid with him afterward for his attitude toward Chalabi, Garner recalled. "Feith loved him."
4 Unsurprisingly, he had relatively poor access to those officers he blames most for the failures. This is a good rule-of-thumb gauge for who they are.
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