Thomas E. Ricks: Fiasco The American Military Adventure in Ira



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Although there is lots of detail provided in this aptly titled book about the fiasco that has been the US adventure in Ira that isn t eally the main point of this book or the eason why anyone should ead it It is also not the main lesson to be gained from eading it This book is than anything else an extended meditation on the central importance that military strategy ought to have played in the preparations execution and most importantly the peace that was to have followed the invasion of Ira To make this plain early in the book an important definition is provided strategy That is a grand sounding word and it is freuently misused by laymen as a synonym for tactics In fact strategy has a very different and uite simple meaning that flows from just one short set of uestions Who are we and what are we ultimately trying to do here How will we do it and what esources and means will we employ in doing it The four answers give ise to one s strategy Ideally one s tactics will then follow from them that is this is who we are this is the outcome we wish to achieve this is how we aim to do it and this is what we will use to do it But addressing the uestions well can be surprisingly difficult and if the answers are incorrect or incomplete or the goals listed not eachable then the conseuences can be disastrous As someone once said strategy is the science tactics the art The failures in Ira were in both science and art but the easons for these failures are placed suarely on the failure of strategy and leadershipThe fact is epeatedly made that the US was never uite sure who the we were in this conflict and therefore made epeated mistakes in understanding what we were supposed to be doing in Ira and therefore what it would take to do itThere is a wonderful part where it is explained that one of the major strategies was that a truly international force would spontaneously assemble to manage the peace when this miracle assembly of an international force did not eventuate there uite simply was no Plan B The central link to all of these mistakes was the leadership in Washington who so strongly believed their own version of eality that they simply could not conceive the possibility of their being wrong A truly stupid person is someone who can never admit to being wrong ever And this maxim has never held true than it did in Washington throughout the Bush Administration s handling of the Ira invasion No amount of evidence from the field was ever allowed to stand in the way of the absolute conviction that everything was going along swimmingly and working out to planIf like me you would gladly eat Bill Gates alive for inflicting PowerPoint on the world this book will help you to justify your loathing It seemed that orders were arely given from the Pentagon other than in the form of a PowerPoint presentation Oh Microsoft you have much to answer for Before the War I saw an interview on Australian television with a military historian of some description He was asked what will happen if it turns out that no weapons of mass destruction are found in Ira no chemical weapons plants no stores of biological weapons People were already wondering why these weapons hadn t been used against the forces while they were assembled on the Irai boarder ather than waiting for these to invade when it would seem a bit too late The guy esponded in much the way I would have esponded I guess in a way that utterly confirmed every cynics deepest fears by saying that the US would either find WMD or the US military would have to manufacture them Either way it was simply not an option to invade Ira and then not find weapons of mass destruction that much was abundantly clearWhen I was younger I liked to believe that somewhere in the US there were a group of conspirators maybe the CIA or perhaps something even shadowy and secret who would sit around a table and maybe that table would even be ound and develop plans for total world domination I couldn t say if they sat with cats on their knees that they stroked constantly or even if they had evolving bookcases where those who sought to undermine US interests would be brought to be punished or even if this punishment would involve large numbers of piranha All I was sure of was that someone was in charge and someone knew what was going on and when stuff happened it happened for a eason of their choosing and that eason was designed to always further US interestsI imagine some people might well think that this was a terrible and frightening vision of the world and of US foreign policy I guess they would even be grateful that I have been proven wrong I m not so sure that I am glad I ve been proven wrong I still haven t uite gotten over the shock of Bush effectively saying Well heck we ve looked and looked but I ll be damned if we can find those WMDs anywhere Oh well I d probably say C est la vie but I hate those damn cheese eating surrender monkeys so much I ll just have to say at least we e all free It is one thing to mess around with the world when you have a plan but to do so when the full extent of your post invasion plan is Once we ve kick in the door the people who live there will be so delighted to see us that they e bound to throw a party is terrifying I think I would prefer the guy with the cat to be uite honestThere were parts of this book where it was clear that if there had been a strategy to win the peace in Ira that is if US soldiers had not so consistently alienated the civilian population then things might have worked out uite differently My favourite uote was from a soldier who said that the only things the Irais understood were force and violence Given the soldier was unable to speak any of the local language and had no awareness of the local culture that he was slamming his boot into the face of his assessment was probably completely accurate the only way he could possibly make himself understood was by smashing someone and nearly frightening them to death That this could not be in the long term interests of the invading power hardly needs to be said Or maybe it needs to be said over and over and over again I can t decide whichNot everyone in Ira not even all of those in the leadership of the US forces comes out of this book badly General Petraeus seems like a man with his head screwed on properly and one of the very few people of any authority who comes out of this book easonably well Many people soldiers invariable understood early on in the piece that they were fighting an insurgency and therefore knew that what was needed was to use counter insurgency tactics to win the hearts and minds of the local population that they needed to do whatever it took to not further alienate the locals That those who ought to have been providing the strategy to facilitate this understanding were in fact actively undermining any talk of an insurgency meant that any hope of a coordinated effort that followed an effective strategy was doomed to failure When those with the task of providing leadership un around saying that every American soldier killed is proof that things are getting better I guess the logic being its counter intuitive so therefore it must be ight can t but have made those on the ground feel increasingly cynical and dispirited As someone said we will win every battle here and still end up losing the war because we aren t fighting the kind of war that would allow us to win As you can see this book s long meditation on the importance of strategy continues from start to finishIt is interesting to note that every aim stated prior to going to war by the Bush administration has subseuently failed to be ealised If you wanted to believe in a God that finds ironic ways to punish hubris this could easily serve as a defining example of that God s works I don t just mean that we never found WMD but Ira could hardly be seen today as the example to the est of the Middle East of the benefits of democracy that was once one of the stated aims of the war Ira wasn t previously involved in terrorism but now it is the Middle East s most effective training ground for adical Islamic terror fighters It would be hard to make up a comprehensive failure of both vision and policy I guess it is uite an achievement when people like Bush Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have gotten it so wrong and are still able in their own minds to say they have gotten everything completely ight well at least it defies satireThis isn t just my own personal hindsight bias talking Many people and the deepest and saddest irony being that many of these people were in the US military warned against this absurd adventure only to be ignored and worse by their civilian leaders This is a emarkable book and one that provides a very disturbing insight into the asylum that for a frighteningly long time had been taken over by the lunatics If humans were able to learn from history then this fiasco would be one of the lessons I would put on the curriculum Retrospective on another important book published some years ago on Ira How has the work held upThomas Ricks book Fiasco was part of an increasing body of literature featuring and books based on the words and experiences of insiders government and military officials talking after the fact ais Touted by John McCain and others as the definitive Ira War book Fiasco gives a detailed blow by blow account of the US 2003 invasion of Ira Writing as objectively as possible Ricks nevertheless gives a scathing account of the mismanagement of the war by Donald Rumsfeld Paul Bremer Paul Wolfowitz Doug Feith and the fiasco s chief architectsThe book is fascinating on many levels showing where people went wrong not only tactically but also ideologically Interestingly the only person who comes out looking good is Petreus who Bush ecently put in charge Too little too late What most surprised me about the book is that it gives the impression that with better management and a plan the invasion might have actually worked out on some level a proposition I had been eluctant to believeThe book concludes with four scenarios of what will happen when we leave the bad the worse the worst an a chilling fourth nightmare scenario If you e eluctant to buy this just ead this last part while standing in the aisle at Borders The failure of the 1991 Gulf War to take out Saddam Hussein left a small contingent of hawks looking for edress Most notable among these was then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz who eported to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney As a policy of containment took hold Wolfowitz complained for action against Saddam but in the Bush 41 administration he did not find a eceptive ear from Cheney Wolfowitz s disdain for containment may have been due to the loss of most of his Polish extended family in the holocaust Wolfowitz compared Saddam to Hitler and his security forces to the Gestapo Another advocate for action was Donald Rumsfeld who along with Wolfowitz and John Bolton belonged to an advocacy group that issued a letter to. This is the Story of The American Military Adventure in Ira The Heart of the story Fiasco has to tell which.

President Clinton in 1998 demanding egime change in Ira Even though in the 2000 presidential election Bush and Cheney doubled down on a non interventionist policy Bush made Donald Rumsfeld Defense Secretary and Wolfowitz Deputy Defense Secretary Initially however Wolfowitz s only strong interventionist ally in the Bush administration was Scooter Libby Cheney s chief of staff911 changed everything Rumsfeld became disillusioned with the intelligence community and again sided with Wolfowitz Then the New York Times chimed in with eporting by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Judith Miller claiming Ira had a WMD program housed in multiple hidden sites None of it was true but it had a big impact Bush made sure everyone knew that his administration s attitude had changed in his 2002 state of the union speech when he declared Ira along with North Korea and Iran to be an axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the worldtime is not on our side I will not wait on events while dangers gather Cheney eiterated in August 2002 saying We must take the battle to the enemy claiming There is no doubt Ira has WMD This would be proven false and to have been based on cherry picked bits of intelligence selected to prove what the hardliners already believed Cheney adically changed after 911 perhaps from fear of a epetition but also perhaps because he was suffering from serious heart problems The hardliners einforced each other and Cheney in particular intimidated the intelligence community Cheney s pressure culminated in CIA Director George Tenet eleasing a made to order National Intelligence Estimate summary supporting the WMD case that heavily influenced President Bush The detailed eport was far less clear than the summary In September 2002 NY Times columnist Judith Miller struck again this time on page one writing that Saddam Hussein was actively searching for A bomb parts later proven false By the fall of 2002 with the decision to go to war made and Congress offering no serious opposition Rumsfeld began planning Unlike Cheney in the Gulf War Rumsfeld overrode his military scaling back euired force estimates particularly for the aftermath Calling it planning is eally a misnomer Inexperienced civilian hardliners put together PowerPoints on what to expect Input from experienced people in the State Department or military was largely ignored Those that objected such as knowledgeable former generals Shinseki and Zinni were vilified The official line was that the troops would be welcomed as liberators uickly turn the government back over to the Irais and leave It was all politically generated and na ve In February 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell with Tenet sitting behind him gave a speech at the UN offering evidence of Irai WMD This abysmal low point in his career came about because he accepted the CIA summary and unverified input from the administration all of which was crafted to support a decision already made The US attacked in March 2003 Taking Baghdad proceeded pretty much as planned Little else did The Irai troops didn t defect in mass and support the Americans as the administration had predicted Once defeated most waited to see what the Americans would do Some melted into the civilian population and began organizing esistance starting by stocking up on arms that Saddam had stashed around the country General Franks did not take esponsibility for what followed in Ira after his victory in taking Baghdad The US had no plan to administer Ira after Saddam s fall US forces didn t secure the borders seize Saddam s arm stashes or maintain order Chaos ensued with widespread looting and vandalism American troops never expected to be an occupation force for which they were severely undermanned Some were busy hunting for WMDs that didn t exist Others were getting eady to go home as they had been promised Irais figured Americans didn t care or simply were incapable of taking control They soon lost any faith they may have had in their liberators Meanwhile on May 1 2003 Bush was uick to claim victory flying in a combat jet onto the deck of an aircraft carrier over which a banner claimed mission accomplished In May 2003 as the situation in Ira continued to deteriorate Paul Bremer was appointed to head the Coalition Provisional Authority He technically eported to Rumsfeld but Rumsfeld thought he eported to the White House National Security Council It didn t matter because Bremer did what he wanted General Franks was eplaced by General Sanchez who eported to Central Command in Tampa which eported to Rumsfeld No single person in Ira was in charge and Bremer and Sanchez could barely stand each other Bremer wasted no time disenfranchising Irais First he fired all senior Baathist party members from government un organizations That put 85000 people who knew how to operate the country s infrastructure on the street without jobs Next he dissolved the Irai Army putting 385000 men on the streets with no income and plenty of time to express their esentment Then he let go the 285000 working for the Interior Ministry which included police and security forces The US Army had not been notified in advance of these decisions Even Rumsfeld didn t seem to know about these decisions Bremer s actions ensured the occupation would be a long one and proved to be an excellent way to get the Irai insurgency up and unning Bombing and sniping increased and was widespread within a couple of months But back in Washington the Bush administration denied that there was a serious problem and still expressed confidence that that they would find WMD In July when asked about Irais attacking U S forces Bush said My answer is Bring em on A year later the Islamic Jihad Army eplied Have you another challenge Bombings increased Particularly significant was the bomb laden truck that crashed into the UN mission in Ira in August 2003 killing twenty two and wounding seventy The blast broke windows a half mile away The UN educed its presence to a token and ceased being the mediator between the US and Shiite leaders Other international organizations took note and began leaving The insurgency was being strategic cutting Americans off from constructive contact with Irais American forces were a hammer in search of a nail The US employed counterproductive conventional war tactics with ard vehicles patrolling through Irai neighborhoods mass oundups and imprisonments nighttime aids on personal esidences humiliating men in front of their families physical and mental abuse of detainees all guaranteed to alienate everyday Irais As Irai animosity intensified the IED the low tech oadside bomb became the weapon of choice for the insurgents The IED was very effective It was esponsible for one third of US troop deaths in the insurgency s first year and two thirds of casualties euiring medical evacuation out of Ira IED attacks would steadily increase throughout 2004 The IED further isolated US troops who became very eluctant to venture out among the Irais except as ordered on combat style missions General Sanchez provided little central direction thus area commanders used varying tactics some particularly harsh and alienating but a few such as General Petraeus in the Irai north employed proven counterinsurgency measures to good effect Counterinsurgency calls for winning over the people by engaging with them and especting them the opposite of what most US divisions were doingIn early October 2003 Bush still had the blinders on saying The situation is improving on a daily basis in Ira People are freer the security situation is getting better That month the Ramadan offensive got underway The insurgents sent a message to the US by launching ockets into the heavily protected American Green Zone Rockets struck the hotel where Wolfowitz was staying killing an Army officer on the floor below They also sent a message to Irais working with the Americans assassinating one of the Baghdad mayors Violence dramatically escalated to 45 attacks per day on American forces US helicopters were shot down 60 US troops were killed in two weeks All in all by November US troops had been killed from May to November 2003 than in the US invasion Rumsfeld and the Bush administration s plans still called for educing US troop strength based on their belief that things were going well but now doubts crept in Finally Rumsfeld changed his tune saying publically We e in a low intensity war that needs to be won Even the capture of Saddam Hussain in December didn t help Many Irai s felt now they could join the esistance since they would no longer be fighting for SaddamThe US Army was given the unexpected ole of administering Irai prisons including tens of thousands of detainees collected in the growing number of cordon and sweep operations While targeting known insurgents many innocent suspects were outinely detained in the sweeps and sent off to prison Abu Ghraib the main prison was overwhelmed Prisoners waited weeks and months to be interrogated Many were simply lost in the system The eserve MP troops unning the prison were not properly trained or supervised and abuse was prevalent not that abuse was confined to the prisons Individual field divisions varied widely in their treatment of detained Irais Detainees were freuently subject to violence and humiliation before entering prison Ricks spends many pages describing the myriad ways prisoners were mistreated injured and sometimes killed and much became public Then the news about abu Ghraib broke in April 2004 Americans Irais and people around the world were stunned Military leaders could claim they were unaware of much of the abuse in the field and prisons largely because many commanders had let it be known that they didn t want to hear about itAs 2004 unfolded the Irai insurgency hardened and spread Now the insurgents were better euipped and experienced But US forces otated out after one year Their eplacements had to learn all over again how war in Ira was fought It wasn t the war they were trained to fight The few good working elationships between Irai and US forces were lost A significant failure of those leaving was not properly training euipping and supporting Irai forces the US had ecruited This was essential given the inability of Americans to understand and deal with people of a different culture and language Another failure that undercut attempts to implement counterinsurgency doctrine was not providing security for the majority of Irais who were not insurgents The average Irai was terrified by uncontrolled crime Kidnappings obberies and apes were commonplace If the US couldn t protect them better to align with the insurgents Another failure was not getting basic services up and unning What were Irais with no electricity to think when they saw the bright lights emanating from the green zoneIn March 2004 Fallujah exploded A group of Blackwater security contractors bypassed a marine checkpoint were ambushed dismembered hung from a bridge then burned to cheering crowds. Has never been told before is that of a Military occupation whose leaders failed to see a blooming insurge.

Thomas E. Ricks ✓ 7 FREE READ

General Mattis and his Marines had taken over from the army in Fallujah just days earlier Mattis saw this as a ploy by the insurgents to draw them into a major battle Mattis who had trained his troops in counterinsurgency tactics wanted to wait then go after just the insurgents esponsible to maintain elations with city esidents He and his military bosses including Sanchez were overruled President Bush demanded major action immediately to offset the images on TV Without time to gather intelligence the marines went in clearing the city block by block in intense fighting The fighting spread to nearby Ramadi then Shiite militias attacked the south of Ira and in Shiite enclaves in Baghdad Sunni and Shiite attacks spread to other cities Attacks on convoys increased sharply Irai troops that Americans had ecruited efused to fight other Irais In April President Bush inexplicably said Most of Fallujah is eturning to normal Nothing could have been further from the truth The marines were forced by Bush to turn the city back over to those they had been fighting so he could claim victory The war strategy was being directed politically and ineptly from the White House Ira was on fire the insurgents were winning battles and the people fell in line At one US battalion H a sign ead Dilbert of the Day The key to happiness is self delusion Ricks goes on to describe many other battles As 2004 olled into summer both sides improved their tactics but the US still lacked a strategy to win or end the war echoing Viet Nam Special Forces were not being used effectively but given the debacle of conventional warfare in 2004 by 2005 they would be seen as the answer Special Forces were designed to engage in small scale precise actions designed to eliminate the enemy without alienating the people By 2005 two pillars of the ationale for invasion were laid to est There were no WMD and no linkage between Saddam Hussain s egime and al aeda The third pillar of the ationale liberation also looked incredibly weak After abu Ghraib and the toll of destruction and death experienced by everyday Irais how could it be said they were better off The New York Times and other newspapers that had lent support to the war hawks changed their tune Congress chimed in and began criticizing the administration for the handling of the war The fallaciousness of Judith Miller s eporting was exposed and she left the Times in 2005 In mid 2004 Bremer and General Sanchez were eplaced The new leadership began the transition to counterinsurgency tactics In November 2004 the second battle of Fallujah began This time with three times the number of troops months of planning and the use of Special Operations the marines took the city in fierce methodical block by block house to house combat Much of the fighting was at close uarters but the marines also fired four thousand artillery ounds and ten thousand mortar shells supplemented by ten tons of bombs dropped from the air Two thousand buildings in Fallujah were destroyed and ten thousand damaged The battle was important to show that the insurgents were not the inevitable winners but the destruction of Fallujah was hardly going to endear the esidents to their liberators The death of esidents was minimized since almost all left the city before the battle beganIn 2005 the insurgency became sophisticated and expanded The US began implementing new tactics that were anathema in 2003 This is where Ricks leaves us the book published in 2006 The takeaways are pretty obvious A politically driven disastrous war was entered into by an administration motivated by paranoid beliefs an administration that isolated itself ignoring experienced and knowledgeable input an administration that bought into any story that supported its preconceived notions an administration that could never admit it made mistakes an administration living in a delusion Ricks ends by exploring possible scenarios for the future of Ira He considers civil and egional war as possibilities Many of these scenarios and are still possible as our latest president know it all tinkers with forces he doesn t understand in the Middle East maintaining America s involvement in the Yemini Civil War and taunting Iran Reading how the Bush administration drove America to war in Ira sends a chill down my spine when I think about how our current president employs the same modus operandi This is the definitive book on the Ira War to date It provides ample evidence that the GW Bush egime along with the Pentagon and the CIA made a false casus belli for war with Ira keenly anticipating an easy victory with Irais greeting American soldiers with garlands of flowers as liberators That alas was not to be Further what was galling was that the US had absolutely NO comprehesive plan or set of plans for ebuilding the Irai economy and e establishing basic services for the Irai people By basic services I mean water electricity sanitation services and civil institutions such as the courts and fire and police services Nor were enough troops provided not only for waging the war but also for securing the borders and laying the foundations for a timely eturn to normality in Ira What was also appalling was that the US government principally used the services of organizations sent to estore basic services in Ira which were made up of people who had ABSOLUTELY NO TRAINING OR EXPERIENCE for the econstruction projects they headed Indeed many of these people several of them were ecent college graduates were chosen because of their political fealty to Bush CheneyTo uote the author it now seems likely history s judgment will be that the US invasion of Ira in the spring of 2003 was based on perhaps the worst war plan in American history It was a campaign plan for a few battles not a plan to prevail and secure victory Its incompleteness helped create the conditions for the difficult occupation that followed The invasion is of interest now mainly for its ole in creating those problemsI strongly urge any discerning eader with an interest in US foreign policy to ead this book with care comparing it with David Halberstam s The Best and the Brightest I ve always enjoyed Thomas Ricks eporting in WaPo WSJ etc as well as his earlier book Making the Corps What I appreciated most about Fiasco was its crisp prose and simple level headedness In that Fiasco confirmed a belief that I have slowly been coming to that even after we invaded Ira it still eally might have been ok not good necessarily but ok But we blew opportunity after opportunity to do the ight thing and it eally is unredeemable now The thing that weirds me out the most though Realizing how much of this basic narrative was available to me while I was neck deep in grad school Granted I was a military history freak in jr high and high school and still ead the news avidly even during seminary But if I could spot so many of our military and policy missteps as an overworked theology student what the hell was our White House and DOD doing Wasn t it their job to pay attention How bad was their information stream anyway Or were they eally that arrogantly impervious to uncomfortable truths Depressing but enlightening Thomas Ricks image from the Bangor Daily News Fiasco offers a very detailed look into the disaster that has been the US invasion of Ira For those of us who have ead than a few books on the subject there is an unavoidable epetition of information seen elsewhere but there is sufficient new material to justify one s time Ricks covers the ange of errors from the political to the strategic to the tactical to the diplomatic and offered analysis as to what went wrong and why But he also shows where lessons were learned from ecent experience although one of the major failures of the war was an unwillingness to learn from prior conflicts and tells of success stories where they occurred I learned about some of the military people involved in the war Generals Franks Petraeus Odierno Sanchez McMaster than I knew before and tha When Fiasco first came out naturally there were many opinions on it anging from fantastic to trash I kept some of the bad eviews I d seen and heard in mind as I ead this book trying to look for evidence to prove those bad eviews were well founded Frankly I didn t find any such evidence Two things come to mind here Firstly in one community online that I peek into now and then I skimmed over a discussion on the boards about it a few months ago One person argued the title of the book stating it was unfair to judge this war by such a title a fiasco until the war had come to a close and we had all evidence to judge by Something about that statement didn t uite sit well with me but I thought sure there might be a valid point to that at least looking at it from one angle From a different angle however I think it s possible to judge based on progress eports How else are you going to know if you e being successful or not if you don t analyze progress and mak I had initially ead the audio book of Ricks follow up to this book The Gamble and was impressed enough to get the print version of Fiasco It did not disappoint as a book even if it highlighted the problems with the current Ira WarRicks is a very fair judge He speaks well of many of the fine commanders on the ground men like Gen David Petreaus who are doing the best with what they have He faults primarily the dual esponse from Washington both civilian and some military to see a worst case scenario as a eason to go into Ira in the first place while counting on a best case scenario for an exit stradegy This leads to poor planning for the econstruction phase and not enough people asking What if Likewise Ricks is uick to point out when certain individuals do ealize how bad things are and make adjustments for the better though institutionalized problems still exist for example if a battalion or division is making eal progress towards uieting things down it seems inevitable that the entire division would be otated out for a less experienced with the locals eplacement division who wouldn t have the trust of the locals Ricks finds fault with the civilian government news media Congress and some top commanders but he ultimately explains things in a clear and thorough manner Critically important but very difficult book to ead As one who long supported Ira II to ead such a thorough evisceration of the justification and strategic prosecution of the war was frankly heart ending There were errors of negligence bull headed ness stress at every level There are two hopeful elements first I learned of this book because it is being taught as part of the curriculum at West Point This demonstrates an atypical and invaluable institutional capacity for self learning Second although slowly the US military itself kept searching for tactical adjustments at the field level to the institutional failings of DC Great innovation arely occurs at the center a strength of the West in general and the US military in specific. Ncy for what it was and as a esult lead their soldiers in such a way that the insurgency became inevitable.

Thomas Edwin Tom Ricks born September 25 1955 is an American journalist who writes on defense topics He is a Pulitzer Prize winning former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post He writes a blog at ForeignPolicycom and is a member of the Center for a New American Security a defense policy think tankHe lectures widely to the military and is a member of Harvard University