Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Book Review: Fiasco - The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks

[ISBN 0143038915]

Fiasco takes a look at the run up to the American invasion of Iraq and the first years of the American occupation attempting to follow the thought and decision making processes of senior American political and military leaders. In the same vein of Bob Woodward's Plan Of Attack, Ricks is trying to paint a picture of how the American political and military establishments works (or does not). His picture is an ugly one, of a political establishment that is disfunctional in its ability to process information and tolerate dissent. His picture of the military is mixed, it is of a military that has a range of those who were inflexible, and those who were trying to learn how to fight a different kind of war, in a political environment that was resistant to learning.

One area that Ricks differs greatly from Woodward is in providing context. Both report on the words and explanations the principle participants used at various times to understand what information was available and the state of mind they received this information in. Ricks goes one step further and gives contextual information. The result is a damning indictment of the political establishment c. 2001-2005 in its misrepresentation of the information available and its protestations that the events were not expected and could not be handled better. His treatment of military leaders was mixed. He describes and Army that was fighting with the political establishment about the nature of war with mixed results. He shows some whose styles were utterly unsuited for this war amongst the people with its ambiguities (like Sanchez or Franks), and other who got it from the beginning (like Patraus and company) and others who learned along the way (like Odierno).

While Woodward seemed very conscious of telling "the first draft of history" and avoiding interpretation, and Atkinson in "In the company of soldiers" was telling a story, Ricks is writing a history, not letting the principles tell the story, but surrounding their words and actions with the context those words and actions appeared in. It provides many lessons in how decisions are made, arguments are won or lost, and the hazards of a political system resistant to dissent.
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