Saturday, August 05, 2006

That's the title of Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks' new book: Fiasco: America's Military Adventure in Iraq.

It's also an apt description of the book's premise. Because I couldn't pick it up for 30 seconds without running into a series of boneheaded tropes.

Here's just the first paragraph:

President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 ultimately may come to be seen as one of the most profligate actions in the history of American foreign policy. The consequences of his choice won't be clear for decades, but if already is abundantly apparent in mid-2006 that the U.S. government went to war in Iraq with scant solid international support ...

Stop right there, Thomas, because I'm not buying that assertion for a second, on two levels.

First of all, the notion that international support for the toppling of Saddam Hussein was lacking is an outright lie. The effort didn't run into a UN snag because of a lack of broad support among the community of nations, but because a few long-time allies of tyrants and despotism, France, Russia, and China, stood in a position to veto any UN security council invation specifically authorizing an invasion in so many words. The reality is there was a great deal of support for the US war effort.

In fact, according to Global Security, as of July 2005, some 26 nations not only supported the United States in Iraq, but actually committed their own troops to the conflict.

Another eight countries committed soldiers to the NATO security force operation there.

Mr. Ricks is substituting the unexamined falsehoods of America's far left for a close examination of the facts.

Second, and more subtly, Mr. Ricks' entire construction here is an elaborately crafted and sly red herring: After Saddam Hussein had already been found in violation of the cease fire AND some seventeen separate Security Council resolutions, in which Saddam Hussein had repeatedly been declared in "material breach" of the cease fire, and which had threatened him with 'serious consequences' if he did not comply, the United States, as a sovreign nation, did not require any further international support whatsoever in order to complete the war begun in 1991 and interrupted with a cease fire agreement.

International support, broad as it was, was simply irrelevant to the question. The assumption underlying Ricks' central argument is this: That the United States is not a sovreign nation, that it has no standing to enforce the terms of a cease fire to which we ourselves were signatory, and that America's strategic decisions are not ours to make, but are bucked up to handwringing bureaucrats in Geneva, in Brussels, and at Turtle Bay.

I wholly reject not only his false factual assertion, but the lies underpinning his entire argument.

Back to you, Tom!

...and on the basis of incorrect information -- about weapons of mass destruction and a supposed nexus between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda's terrorism

Woah! That's quite a mouthful. It is true that intelligence was imperfect about a whole host of things. I would ask Mr. Ricks when anyone could ever have a reasonable expectation of perfect intelligence? Intel certainly wasn't perfect when Clinton was bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and napalming convoys full of refugees in Kosovo. At any rate, though, it's worth pointing out that the argument that Saddam was in violation of the UNSC resos and the terms of the 1991 cease fire does not rely on 100% of the intelligence being 100% accurate.

In fact, Saddam Hussein can be conclusively shown to be in violation of both using information that is not in dispute:

1. Saddam retained a nuclear centerfuge, which he had kept buried in a garden in a scientists' home.

2. Saddam retained a number of chemical munitions, including 17 122mm chemical rockets discovered in January 2003.

3. Saddam retained stocks of hundreds of chemical weapons, despite his obligation to destroy them. Not some of them. All of them.

4. The bipartisan 9/11 commission themselves conceded that there were "all kinds of ties - all kinds of connections" between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. They never disputed those ties. In fact, the 9/11 report documented a number of known connections, mostly centering around cooperation with Al Qaeda's effort to obtain chemical weapons through Sudan.

5. Leaving aside the UN, Saddam Hussein was giving shelter to one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and had him on the payroll.

6. Saddam Hussein was giving shelter to Abu Nidal, who was a terrorist responsible for the murders of numerous Americans and other westerners.

7. Saddam Hussein was also giving shelter to Abu Abbas, another terrorist who was likewise responsible for the murders of numerous Americans and other westerners.

8. Saddam Hussein was also giving substantial material support to Hezbollah, subsidizing their suicide bombers. Hezbollah, in 2003, was responsible for the deaths of at least 244 Americans that I know of.

9. Saddam Hussein, through Ibrahim Izzat Al-Duri, personally invited Al Qaeda's #2 man Ayman al-Zawahiri at a conference in Iraq 1998 - while Al Qaeda's war against the United States was well underway.

These facts - none of which are seriously in dispute, more than account for the US decision to go to war, and are sufficient justification in and of themselves. Our information on those counts turned out to be correct. In addition, Charles Deulfer's report found that Saddam continued to operate in violation of the UNSC and cease fire terms by maintaining a 'variety of weapons of mass destruction programme activities.'

The decision to go to war does not rely on us being right about EVERYTHING the intelligence agencies suspected. The decision required only that an analysis of the risks and rewards of removing him from power warranted the invasion. The decision to go to war is justified not by us being right about everything, but on us being right enough on a few important things.

And that was our call to make; not Kofi Annan's, Mr. Ricks.

The Administration was wrong about some things. But it was right about enough.

Ricks can't get through his first paragraph being right about anything.

Back to Tom:

...And then occupied the country negligently

Objection, your honor. Makes charges not in evidence. Mistakes in complicated endeavors do not in and of themselves establish negligence.


Thousands of U.S. troops and an untold number of Iraqis have died. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent, many of them squandered.

Yes. And many dollars were well spent, and wisely invested. Tom: Please cite an example of a major government undertaking involving hundreds of thousands of people in which many dollars were not squandered.

Back to Tom:

Democracy may yet come to Iraq


Tom, in case you hadn't noticed, Democracy's been in flower in Iraq for more than a year and a half, with three overwhelmingly successful elections under its belt. Iraq has a democratically elected President, a duly appointed Prime Minister, and a democratically elected Parliament. It has debated and approved a constitution, recognizing the rights of minorities.

What's more, a lot of those Americans and Iraqis whom Ricks just mentioned gave their lives for that democracy.

If anything is negligent, it's Tom Ricks' "analysis."

Sloppy. Atrocious.


...But so too may civil war or a regional conflagration, which in turn could lead to spiraling oil prices and a global economic shock.

Once again, Tom's entire argument rests on a false set of assumptions. Tom is assuming, for instance, that leaving Saddam Hussein in power could NOT have led to spiraling oil prices and a global economic shock.

Which is, frankly, stupid.

All you have to do is go back to 1990, when Saddam invaded Kuwait. Saddam's invasion itself caused a spike in oil prices and a global economic shock which was partly responsible for the 1991 recession. Saddam's very presence risked a future Gulf war, it risked the destruction of the Saudi and Kuwaiti oil fields, it risked the destruction of Iranian and Iraqi oil infrastructure in the Western persian gulf and all the way up and down the Iraqi frontier with Iran.

Indeed, the installation of a friendly regime in Iraq - one grateful to the U.S. and desperate for short-term cash - arguably lessens the risk of an OPEC induced global oil shock in the future, since it is less likely to vote as a bloc with Iran and the other Arab Gulf States over something stupid, like an Israeli war.

In fact, the fact that OPEC has not embargoed oil supplies now, as they did after the 1973 war, is proof of this.

If anybody causes an oil shock, it is NOT going to be the United States. It will be the OPEC members. The fact that Ricks seeks to blame the Administration for an oil shock that might occur in the future someday serves as evidence that Ricks' reasoning has become, to put it gently, unsound.

Indeed, Ricks has, like so many, fallen victim to Bush Derangement Syndrome.

All that from one single paragraph in the front of his book.

Splash, out


Jason, ref the WMD stuff, you forgot to mention that Saddam not only possessed, but actually employed banned long range missile systems by firing them at Kuwait during the first weeks of the invasion. We found dozens of others that he never got the chance to use once we had liberated Baghdad.
Oh yeah, everything's just great. Nice job, guys, but where are those sweets 'n flowers?

Yeah, I didn't get too many flowers. Maybe I was just distracted by the throngs of people running after our trucks in the streets by the thousands screaming "Thank You George Bush" and "We love you."

The novelty wore off, of course. But it happened. I Witnessed it.

Oh, there were a lot of sweets, too. That was all year long. And hummus by the gallon.

So anyone who tells me there were no "sweets and flowers" pretty much does nothing but establish their ignorance, as far as I'm concerned.
It all kind of wore off, didn't it? And now we have a quagmire and civil war. Think of it: The U.S. military is being defeated in a country of 26 million people. Unlike in Vietnam, the enemy has no regular troops and no major outside supplier or Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Oh well. Shit happens.
The Incompetent Liar-in-Chief Prepares to Cut 'n Run

I wonder if he'll apologize to the families of the 2,500+ American soldiers that have died for his lie, or to the 8,000+ seriously wounded for his lie, or to the families of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, wounded or made homeless for his lie. Will he apologize to Americans for ruining this country's reputation by instituting a policy of torturing enemy combatants and civilians?

What about the people of Iraq, whose country he had ruined, and who will be left in the lurch when he yanks American troops out of there? And how about the consequences of such a highly visible U.S. defeat 'n retreat?

Oh yes, George W. Bush and his final act of desertion. What will the knee-jerk right-wing liar followers say? What will Faux News and Bill O'Leilly say? We know that none of you believe in accountability or personal responsibility, so who will you blame the defeat on? Cindy Sheehan? The New York Times? Death rays from outer space?



The Bush administration insists Iraq is a long way from civil war, but the contingency planning has already begun inside the White House and the Pentagon. President Bush will move U.S. troops out of Iraq if the country descends into civil war, according to one senior Bush aide who declined to be named while talking about internal strategy. "If there's a full-blown civil war, the president isn't going to allow our forces to be caught in the crossfire," the aide said. ...

If the country did someday meet the definition of civil war and the U.S. pulled out, military officials warn, the consequences would be disastrous. "All the neighboring powers would be drawn in," said one senior military official who has examined the scenarios and is not authorized to speak on the record. "It would become a regional war."
Thanks for the scathing review. I had some trouble finding one to balance the mostly positive one's I've read so far. I haven't read Fiasco, and probably won't, but based on what I've seen of Tom Ricks in interviews, it seems he does have some valid points to provide. Not his own, frequently, but relayed from one his numerous military contacts. I hope you're able to slog through the rest of the book in order to come up with some additional criticisms of his later ideas. Looking forward to checking back. (Too lazy to do my own thinking...)
Appreciate that you had the stomach to pick up this book. I was furious when I saw the cover of "Fiasco"...The combat photo clearly shows U.S. Marines carrying one of their fallen covered with the American Flag.

Ricks chose to use a photo of someone who has just made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his country. What gives him the right to use a serviceman's death to be the focal point for his writings?

This photo was clearly chosen for it's inflamitory nature. It's clearly designed to cut through reasoning and ivoke a readers emotional response...Combining the words "Fiasco" on a servicemembers body is horrible and disrespects to the highest order...

For Ricks to profit from it's use is disgusting...

Mike M.
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