BOOKS | July 25, 2006
Books of The Times: >From Planning to Warfare to Occupation, How Iraq Went Wrong
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Dan Grobstein sent in this important report after hearing the author:
Thomas E. Ricks, a reporter for The Washington Post, serves up a devastating portrait of the war as a misguided exercise in hubris, incompetence and folly.
I went to see Thomas E. Ricks at the Barnes & Noble on upper Broadway in New York last night. He did an interesting short talk, took questions from the audience, and signed his book, "Fiasco, The American Military Adventure in Iraq."
He's reported from Kosovo, Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia and he's never seen a situation as bad as Baghdad right now. He feels that the US will be in Iraq for the next 10 or 15 years. He was asked if this was a war for oil. He pointed out that gasoline prices have doubled since the war started. If the Iraq war and/or the Israel-Lebanon war spills over into a wider war in the Middle East, we can expect $10 per gallon gas. Everything outside of the green zone in Baghdad is known as the red zone. All the journalists live in the red zone. The Washington Post has a house (he won't give the exact location). He was there one day working on his notes and the bureau chief came in. He told her that he'd heard 2 explosions and some machine gun fire (dangerous because it goes through walls). She immediately said "quiet day." He feels that Bush and the other officials actually believed their WMD stories.
He's amazed that after we've been at war almost as long as World War II that no generals have been sacked. (George C. Marshall fired 200 generals early in World War II). And there have been no Congressional hearings on the conduct of the war (unlike World War II). Abu Ghraib was not the fault of the lower ranking servicemembers. It is a failure from higher up. Officers are not supposed to speak out on political subjects, but because their commissions are granted by Congress, if Congress asks them a question, they are supposed to answer to the best of their ability.
The people who said that there were no WMDs in Iraq had their facts exactly right. He said he has been briefed by Hans Blix and the briefing could put you to sleep and he was ready to tell him to just mail him the report. He says that Colin Powell was used in the run up to the war. Powell thought that he'd won the argument before 9/11 to continue sanctions against Iraq and that the sanctions would be improved. The speech he was given to give at the UN was all lies.
Some officers had the right idea about dealing with the Iraqi public. He feels that if you deal with them with respect and ask what you should do we would have a better chance of peaceful interaction. Some units did that and had a relatively peaceful area. But then they were rotated out and new units moved in without the same attitude and the area became much more violent. He told the story of one officer who wanted to get the local government people paid. The money was in the local bank. He went to the banker and the banker told him that he couldn't release the money without the permission of the Ministry of Finance. The officer told him that the Ministry of Finance no longer existed. Some people would have gone in and blown up the safe to get the money. This officer asked the banker how he could get the money. The banker said that the officer had the authority so the officer wrote out a document telling the banker that he had permission to release the money. The banker asked where the officer's official seal was so the next day he had a rubber stamp made and stamped all his documents from then on and everyone was happy.
One officer had all detainees interviewed when they were released about how they were treated and how they felt about Americans and what could we do better. He also made sure that all his men were trained and understood that they were to treat the Iraqis they came in contact with with respect. One officer met with insurgent leaders and told them that he understood why they were fighting us and that it was an honorable thing because after all they were defending their homes. When the US came in we were like a blind man and didn't understand the situation. But we did now and would be behaving differently. It was a good way to tell them that if they didn't cooperate they would be fought and it gave them an honorable way to calm things down. It worked, but then the unit was rotated out and a new unit moved in that didn't think that way.
The Iraq situation will be a major problem for the next president.
Also of interest: Back To Iraq: Dispatches from the GWOT GSAVE "Long War"
I don't know about you, but this whole Israeli invasion of Lebanon seems to me to be the complete opposite of what works. I guess they didn't learn anything from Dubya's invasion of Iraq. on the other hand, dubya didn't learn anything from Israel's earlier invasion of Lebanon.
It looks like they're trying to destroy the government of Lebanon. Who else is going to control the country? You have to learn from what the British finally did with the IRA and the Spanish with the Basques.
This whole situation, with the grownups running the US government and not even trying to stop it has me scared to death. Especially after hearing Rick's talk about US government decision-making last night (the government policy: if you disagree, you're not invited to any more meetings).
I usually stay away from commenting on Middle Eastern stuff because it is and has been a such a mess for so long, but this is ridiculous. It used to seem hopeless to me. Now it's worse.
[Editor's Note: The Middle East makes me feel confused and helpless. Always has. When Rae was younger, she told me she never read the paper or listened to news on the radio because it was the same thing every day--Israel does this, the PLO does that. Why read the news if it never changes, she asked.
When I accepted an appointment to the Orinda Planning Commission, my plan was to always do what was obviously right for the community, with maybe a little sympathy for the property owner. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that virtually every issue that came before us had two or more sides, each equally valid, and that all decisions end up being unfair to someone. This business of governing is much trickier than it appears.]
Don't miss a moment of this administration straddle/squirm, which offers the added benefit of making White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten look incompetent (what a surprise--a senior Bush administration official who's incompetent), and makes Rove out to be a blowhard ignoramus. More proof, if more were needed, that this is not a "reality" based administration. The transcript and the analysis are both worth reading. Bolten can't defend the indefensible…Josh Bolten Squirms During Stem Cell Questions… Bolten Defends Rove’s False Claims on Stem Cells: Karl ‘Knows A Lot of Stuff’… Meet the Press Transcript for July 23 Josh Bolten, Tom Ricks.