book review

Army kicking down a door - illustration by Tom Ferguson

Fiasco The American Military Adventure in Iraq 2003 to 2005 by Thomas E RicksWhat first struck me about Thomas E Ricks’ book, Fiasco The American Military Adventure in Iraq 2003 to 2005, was the sheer number of establishment figures who opposed the war, many of whom predicted the general consequences to include Isis. Bush the elder, General Colin Powell (despite his eventual disgraceful performance at the U.N.), General Schwarzkoph, Brent Scowcroft, and Marine General Anthony Zinne – who, addressing a gathering of the U.S. Naval Institute and the Marine Corps Association, mocked the premature victory declaration and strategy of the administration, comparing it to Vietnam and received a standing ovation from many in this hawkish audience.

Below the level of top generals and yes-men, the military tended to question the invasion on basically the same grounds as the peaceniks: force was a first rather than last resort; falsified justification – WMDs and Hussein’s ties to Al Queda. However, orders from the top demanded rhetorical conformity.

Our beloved media failed, as usual, to bring us these alternative views, preferring instead to build consensus behind the war: the highly rated Phil Donahue’s firing from MSNBC as the studio head did not want the network to be seen as anti-war; CNN’s sending an executive to oversee coverage in Atlanta who stated on Democracy Now, one of the few outlets not captured by war fever, that the dialogue is over, the decision has been made, time to fall in line. You can guess where Faux News fell on this issue.

I remember a million person march in NYC, and across the planet in even greater numbers, which got scant mainstream coverage. Since significant establishment figures were in opposition though, they brought more of that into the media than usual.

As Chomsky has said, the range of opinion in the mainstream media reflects the range, and only that range, among the rulers. On the congressional front, Democrats, according to Ricks, were gun-shy since those who opposed Bush 1’s 1991 invasion did not fare well. That was certainly the case in Georgia, remember Wyche Fowler? Byrd was the lone senator to vote against the legislation that gave Bush his Gulf of Tonkin resolution.

But the book is less anti-war than, as its title implies, a critique of the project, especially the occupation. Which boils down to this: so arrogant were the designers of the folly, assuming Iraqis would welcome with open arms the invasion of their country and even happily pay for it, that they made virtually no plans to govern in the aftermath. The military saw the administration as amateurs ignoring their expertise and blundering blithely into a quagmire. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz outmaneuvered Secretary of State Powell and all comers until, up to their necks in quagmire they later attempted to wash their hands of it.

The military war colleges make a distinction between strategy and tactics, the former being the overall goals that guide the latter.

The Beltway bandits wanted yes-men below them and Senior Commander General Sanchez accommodated them. His failure to focus beyond tactics contributed mightily to the occupation’s failure. World War II. tactics were used, despite the lessons learned in Vietnam about counter insurgency about the importance of winning the hearts and minds of the population.

Military tactics mostly ended up aiding the insurgency. By rounding up all males between 14 and 60 years, busting into their homes at 3:00 A.M., humiliating them before their families, damaging property, and marching them off to Abu Ghraib for torture sessions preceded by long interments, they served as very effective recruiters.

In his Doonesbury strip, Trudeau made his character Duke Viceroy of Iraq. It was close to the truth.

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) made the disastrous decision to de-baathize the Iraqui army and police. This left thousands of armed and trained Iraquis unemployed, with quite predictable consequences. Especially in tandem with the brutal military treatment of Iraqui men. One diplomat, a former Special Forces officer lamented that the three counter-insurgency “fixes”, Police, Power (electricity) and Political Process were not a priority. He failed to convince his “superiors” to take this seriously. While lavish commodities and life style were shipped into the Green Zone, the greater Iraqui populace languished without the “fixes” – not to mention food.

When reading books by reporters for mainstream media I take into account the vetting process that ensures that employees for these institutions embrace the establishment viewpoint. Knowing that advancement there depends on continued assurances of the embrace, ever more strictly the closer to the top, it is wise to bring one’s critical faculties along for the read.

In this case, Washington Post writer Thomas Ricks goes easy on the Bush administration, leaving out of his critique the widely held conclusion among anti-war groups that 911 was a convenient and dishonest justification for an invasion of Iraq that was among the foremost yearnings of its quest for empire. Oil as motivation is also hardly mentioned. On the other hand Ricks describes the invasion of Iraq as one of the most profligate decisions made in the history of U.S. foreign policy.


Image: the illustration is by the author, Tom Ferguson.
Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson

Tom is a painter, a cartoonist, a musician, a thinker and more. View some of his web sites:

  • (Painting)
  • (Political Cartoons)
  • (Music)
  • (blog)