Published in 2006, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
, a historical non-fiction book by Thomas E. Ricks, follows the path of the Iraq War from planning to combat, arguing that the endeavor was poorly planned and badly mismanaged by both the George W. Bush administration and the US Army. It was one of the finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. Ricks, a senior Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post
, in 2009, published a sequel, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008
After more than twenty-five years of reporting on the US Military, a career that includes hundreds of interviews and the review of more than 37,000 documents, journalist Thomas E. Ricks makes his feelings on the Iraq War clear with the title of his book: Fiasco
. He writes, "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." At the time of the book's publication in 2006, the Iraq War was still ongoing (it officially ended in 2011), but more-recent editions now include a postscript that briefly explores the years after the war.
After the events of 9/11, the Bush Administration spins a narrative around the presence of supposed "weapons of mass destruction" linking Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq with the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the attacks. Using his sources within the US Military, Ricks discovers that there is virtually no evidence to back up these claims. Despite this, however, these events "laid the shaky foundation for the derelict occupation that followed" when the United States invaded Iraq.
Many Middle East experts and military veterans do their best to warn of the difficulty of such an operation. In 2002, a meeting of seventy national security experts and Mideast scholars concludes that invading Iraq will "be the most daunting and complex task the U.S. and the international community will have undertaken since the end of World War II."
The U.S. invades Iraq in 2003; the effort is not well planned. The US Military has little understanding of the culture or the situation in Iraq. It sends far too few soldiers, and those that are sent are drastically unprepared for what they encounter. Furthermore, no real plan is put in place for what the soldiers are to accomplish during their occupation. "There was no guidance for restoring order in Baghdad, creating an interim government, hiring government and essential services employees, and ensuring that the judicial system was operational," Ricks writes. The US Military is "pasting feathers together, hoping for a duck."
To make matters worse, infighting plagues the highest offices of those captaining the invasion: between Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Bush White House; between the State and Defense Departments; between the civilian employees of the Pentagon and the military. Expert advice is routinely ignored, and the lack of adequate troops means that areas secured are almost impossible to maintain.
In addition, the growing Iraqi insurgency that springs up after the fall of Saddam Hussein means that the US Military must change and adapt its ground strategy—something Secretary Rumsfeld is reluctant to do. Ricks asserts that, instead of remembering the counterinsurgency lessons of the Vietnam War, the US Military emphasizes force and retaliation in the name of protecting American troops. However, this only strengthens the insurgency's resolve. Many troops, who have not been adequately "trained or mentally prepared for the mission," respond harshly and often violently to local citizens. This leads to occurrences such as the scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison, where the US Army and the CIA committed human rights violations against prisoners.
Following the occupation of Baghdad in the early stages of the invasion, the US Military makes two crucial mistakes. The first is not sending additional troops to help secure the city. The second is prohibiting thousands of Iraqis from returning to their government jobs, including the Iraqi army. These actions help to fuel the young insurgency, ensuring that it has the manpower to be a real threat to the U.S.'s efforts in the country. In addition, American soldiers routinely conduct cordon and search operations, invading tens of thousands of Iraqi homes to detain innocent civilians; the ill-will created by such actions lends sympathy and support to the insurgency.
As the war drags on, the costs mount. Wolfowitz originally claims that the invasion will pay for itself through the oil revenue that the U.S. will gain from the occupation. But the reality is somewhat different: American taxpayers are forced to fund $5 billion per month in costs during 2004 and 2005. By funneling resources away from the U.S., the Iraq War leaves the American homeland vulnerable to additional threats by terrorists—which, ironically, are being created in ever-greater numbers thanks precisely to the botched attempts by the U.S. to contain them.
Rather than make the world a safer place to be, the Iraq War "stressed the U.S. Army to the breaking point," creating a situation that will have far-reaching consequences for years to come.