Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ricks - Fiasco

Ricks, Thomas E. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

Iraq was began on the basis of wildly inaccurate expectations, unrealistic assumptions, initial missteps, and incompetence. The 1999 strikes on Iraq were, in fact, more successful in eradicating WMDs then suspected, and thus the information that Colin Powell brought to the UN was incorrect. There were voices in the military warning against the invasion, but the Bush administration was intent on going forward. Militarily, the pre-surge phase (the paperback's postscript was written in April 2007 as the surge was about to be implemented) was marked by tactical brilliance in removing Saddam's regime offset by strategic failure in facing an unexpected insurgency.

Overview - Three Sections
Containment - 1991 to 2003: covers the unrecognized success of 1999's Operation Desert Fox in destroying WMD production (and, in fact, causing such a psychological effect that it nearly toppled Saddam). Contrast's Wolfowitz's desire to invade with Gen. Zinni's (overseeer of Desert Fox) opposition and premoniscent (whatever that word is) warnings. Explains the prewar factors leading to both the invasion (9/11 much?) and the insurgency

Into Iraq - 2003 to Dec 2005: The invasion and the Abu Ghraib scandal. Explains the emergence of the insurgency, the inadequacy of the US response, and ties the US mis-treatment of prisoners to the overall problems in the war.

The Long Term - 2004 to mid-2006: looks at US steps to regain the initiative and examines the possible outcomes, the most optimistic being Philippines from 1899-1946

Major Problems
Lack of preparedness for counter-insurgency (all these years after Vietnam, the army still wasn't ready for such strategy)
Lack of enough soldiers
Failure to ensure post-war security

The Good - From the final chapter
The dissenters against the military strategy have turned into the heroes of the Iraq turnaround - David Petraeus and Col HR McMaster. McMaster's success in securing Tal Afar is one of the few military brightpoints of the book. Ricks credits McMaster with improving treatment of detainees (failure works for the enemy) and emphasizing cultural understanding. Rather than begin his efforts with a major raid (as was commonly done from 2003 until 2007), he worked on dismantling the insurgent support infrastructure first. He began his efforts in May 2005. By the end of the summer he was receiving cooperation from local Sunnis who had previously been sympathetic to the insurgency. Still resisting an attack on Tal Afar, McMasters ringed the city with a dirt fortification with a few checkpoints in order to observe and control movement. Civilians were strongly encouraged to leave the city (insurgents were captured trying to leave with them). In Sept he launched his attack - a slow moving sweep of the city designed to minimize casualties to IEDs. After securing the city, McMaster finished with a pre-determined plan - using local police and steady military patrols, he kept a consistent observation to watch for bomb planting. Limits: 1.) McMaster himself along with his troops would rotate out, bringing in new blood lacking his local understanding 2.) Tal Afar was much smaller than many problematic cities, particularly Baghdad.

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