Monday, August 6, 2007

Author of “Fiasco” discusses the surge in Iraq on Talk of the Nation with soldiers and veterans

Listening to the radio this Wednesday I was fascinated to hear NPR’s daily call in show, Talk of the Nation featuring the Washington Post's senior Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks, author of the critically acclaimed book, 'Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. The theme of the radio show was What do solders think about the surge and how the war in Iraq is going.”

Ricks had his best selling book Fiasco published in 2006. The paperback version has just come out with a postscript added of new insights about the surge strategy and war up to April 2007. His previous books, Making the Corps and A Soldier's Duty and his career military correspondent has given him an intimate knowledge and respect for Americans who serve their country in the military and the career officers who lead them.

Fiasco is a devastating and detailed report on ignorance, mistakes and bad leadership of Bush, Ru
msfeld, Bremer etc. and the senior generals that ran the war. Since it was published, Ricks' inbox began overflowing with emails from men and women in the service, practically all of it thanking him for reporting the truths of the Iraq “fiasco”. The book has received a great deal of praise and attention by the media and political reporters. In 2006 Ricks was interviewed by Charlie Rose for a full hour.

This Talk of the Nation radio show is great because it combines an interview of Ricks with his commentary on the surge strategy and the situation in Iraq today plus commentary by callers who are active duty and Iraq veterans. I encourage everyone interested in what's happening in Iraq to take 20 minutes and listen to the online NPR achive of this show.

Ricks starts out by qualifying that the US military is not a monolith. Marines and soldiers at all levels disagree with each other on the war as much as civilian Americans do. However it is obvious that the vast majority of American military service believe that Ricks got it right in Fiasco.

Ricks says, “I think what I did was give voice to what a lot of people in the military where thinking and told them first of all, you are not alone. There are a lot of other people in the military that have this view, and gave them a coherent narrative, and gave them the documentation that what you saw in your little corner of Iraq was not unique. That these problem where generalized. That you did indeed have poor generalship under General Sanchez. That Tommy Franks probably did put on the table the worst war plan in American History.”

He says, “One battalion commander wrote to me, “Thank you for saying publicly what we have been saying privately.”

Indeed Ricks says he has been told that his Fiasco book has been selected for the required reading starting this fall at the US Army War College.

Ricks is no anti-war pundit or partisan for any political point of view. He stresses, “The important thing for me is to remain open the possibility of a turn around in this war – a turn in the tide. At the same time we can’t rush to optimism and come to overly optimistic conclusions in the way the US military and the Bush administration has done repeatedly for the last five years.”

“I try to walk a tight rope between seeing accurately what’s happening without getting too entrenched. I don’t’ want to have people to say, he wrote the book “Fiasco” so he wants the war to be a fiasco. The first four years of the war have absolutely been a fiasco in my mind. Where it goes from now - it could change and I am open to that possibility. I don’t think it’s going to change. I think it’s going to be a real mess for many many years to come.”

Ricks clearly believes the military counteroffensive as he calls it is theoretically the right thing to do. While he bemoans that it took us four years to get to this strategy. But he is just as clear that it may be fatally flawed because it may be too little too late.

He says, “The purpose of this counteroffensive, called the surge, is not to just to improve security in Baghdad. Its stated purpose and strategic goal is to create political breathing space, an opening in which Iraqi political leaders could achieve reconciliation. Here we are now seven months into this new stated strategy and there is absolutely no sign of that effect occurring, of that strategic goal being realized. And our soldiers know that. So they are looking around and saying, OK, so what are we going to do now? The Iraqis are not showing up politically.“

He offers this ominous observation, “Iraqis are in a very difficult position. One of the things I believe that Americans don’t get is that Iraqis really don’t share our agenda. Iraqis have different goals than this. We are asking them to do things that they don’t want to do, can’t do or both. “

Rick concludes with this assessment, certainly open-minded, but certainly not optimistic. “General Petraeus is a unique leader; my worry is that just I wish we had done in 2004 what we finally have finally did in 2007. If anyone can do it, Petraeus can. But maybe nobody can do it. That is a very good summary of the general feeling I am hearing from Lieutenant Colonels and Colonels these days.

I believe this is a very good example of what most people know but hate to say; that we are past the tipping point. That every military and political option we have really is all too little too late.

Ricks feels we may be Iraq with troops for another twelve to fifteen years. Maybe he is right. Or maybe Congress will act to bring the troops out in twelve to fifteen months. The question is when do we realize, when do we admit, that anything America can hope to do to avoid defeat of its goals is too little too late. The Bush administration has driven American ship of state right into an iceberg with its Iraq war policy and the ship is sinking. Rearranging the deck chairs on a rapidly sinking ship is not a strategy for saving American or Iraqi lives. It is a strategy of too little too late.

The very real and often stated problem is that pulling American troops out condemns tens of thousands of Iraqis to death and raises the possibility of genocide. The American people and our soldiers can see that and know that. But unlike Bush and the dead-enders in Congress, we are willing to face terrible facts that their leadership has created. We as Americans have our own share of responsibility for re-electing Bush and company in 2004. But Americans voted very differently and very clearly in 2006. We are ready to brake out the lifeboats and see how many Americans and Iraqis can be saved.

Seven out of ten Americans want to bring our troops home from Iraq. The large majority of Iraqis want US troops out. And still the occupation grinds on.

We who call for bringing US troops home now are not isolationists. We do not have our heads in the sand. We certainly are not callus to the humanitarian crisis of death and destruction that is the reality today in Iraq and that will continue in the future. We simply believe that if you are dug into in a hole and you want to get out, you should stop digging and do something else.

Last night I had a chance to meet Tom Ricks at a bookstore signing. I got three copies of his book, One for my Dad and one for Robert Manning, a Korean War veteran and a driving force behind the Molly Ivins Campaign. Rick was very gracious and signed Robert's book, “Thank you for your service to our country”.

-Brian Webster
San Francisco