Booting Ricks "Fiasco"

Max Boot:

This is a good book with a bad title. Anyone picking up a volume called Fiasco, with a snarky subtitle referring to "The American Military Adventure in Iraq," might expect another tome from the Michael Moore School of Policy Studies, with its level of analysis restricted to bumper-sticker slogans like "Bush Lied, People Died."

In fact, this is a carefully researched account of the Iraq war by one of America's premier defense correspondents--Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post. His findings of pervasive high-level ineptitude, based on hundreds of interviews and thousands of pages of documents, will be much harder for reflexive defenders of the Bush administration to dismiss than the usual farrago of ideologically motivated accusations from political adversaries.

Which is not to say that Ricks avoids all the traps of administration critics. He sometimes indulges in hyperbole, calling the Iraq war "one of the most profligate actions in the history of American foreign policy" and suggesting that it "was based on perhaps the worst war plan in American history." Really? When did the conflict in Iraq, where fewer than 3,000 American soldiers have died, become worse than the clashes in Korea and Vietnam, where 95,000 Americans perished?

Ricks also delivers a few cheap shots against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. He rather mysteriously claims that Bush was "at times more in sync with the attitudes of sixties radical Jerry Rubin than with those of Winston Churchill." How so? He explains that Bush was "willing, a bit like Jerry Rubin, to take a chance and then groove on the ensuing rubble." As a bit of character analysis this is no more convincing--and no less insulting--than his suggestion that Dick Cheney went from being an advocate of containing Saddam Hussein in 1991 to overthrowing him in 2002 "perhaps because of his heart ailments, which can alter a person's personality." Or perhaps the reason was that Cheney saw that containment wasn't working.

This is Ricks's big blind spot. He is passionately committed to the view, espoused by retired Marine general Anthony Zinni, that "containment worked" and that Saddam posed no threat to anyone by 2003. He is too quick to accuse the Bush administration of distorting prewar intelligence without noting that the Clinton administration and our European allies reached the same conclusions about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. (Which is why so many Clinton veterans backed the invasion.) Amazingly enough, Ricks never once mentions the U.N. Oil-for-Food program, which had been perverted by Saddam into a mechanism that allowed him to siphon off billions of dollars for his own nefarious purposes while leaving Iraqi babies to starve. Nor does he mention that U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council on January 27, 2003, that "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance--not even today--of the disarmament which was demanded of it."

There is much more. I think Boot does a pretty good job of describing the books weaknesses with its occassional strengths. While Ricks attempts to come across with some expertise in small wars, Boot's Savage Wars of Peace actually shows more insights. I am still working on finishing the book for my own review. It is not a quick or interesting read, and like Boot, I am constantly thinking about his failure to disclose and comment on relevant information that goes counter to his arguments. His fawning discussion of Zinni and his time as head of Centcom, and his cartoonish discriptions of Franks make clear he was not into a fair and balanced presentation of the personalities or all the facts.


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