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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid


Claimed as an ‘International Best Seller’, Fiasco (ISBN 978-141-02850-7, Penguin Books, 2007) has been written by Thomas E. Ricks, a senior political journalist with the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. He has been in two Pulitzer Prize teams, and the sub-title of this book is “The American military adventure in Iraq”. The book is based on interviews and eye witness accounts from all levels in the American military machine, and in the halls of power in the Pentagon and White House. It also has pages of notes at the end of the book showing from where opinions and quotes were gathered.
The book is divided into three parts - Containment, Into Iraq and The Long Term, plus a new postscript, added in April 2007 with this Penguin edition.
The first part is the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq and details the double-dealings that went on between the advisors and the president’s entourage. Author Ricks gently dissects the information as it was slowly embellished. He is particularly critical of Judith Miller, the New York Times correspondent who went into print with a story from an Iraqi civil engineer defector who knew where the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were held. This gilded the path for those in favor of attacking Iraq, the WMD being the ‘reason’. As Ricks writes, “There was just one major problem with the story: It wasn’t true, not one bit of it.” Ms. Miller was later to spend time in jail for failing to name her ‘source’ and since then has been discredited as a journalist, says Ricks.
After the attack took place, the Americans relaxed. Saddam was deposed and they considered themselves the great liberators of Iraq. Unfortunately, the Iraqi people were not reading the same memos as the Americans. The ‘liberators’ were initially considered occupiers, and then considered enemies as relations soured even further.
Hicks details the fact that the invaders had no real plan as to what to do with Iraq after the ‘successful’ toppling of Saddam. Ad hoc concepts were used, tried, failed and discarded. In the meantime people were killed (including the US military) and guerilla groups proliferated to fill the power vacuum that had been produced. Disbanding the Iraqi police and military forces in one fell swoop put hundreds of thousands out of work and produced even more enmity.
Then came the Abu Ghraib POW camp tortures - another fiasco which was initially denied and then later shown to be true, and a very minor officer sacrificed for the ‘good name’ of the military. Hardly a salve for the Iraqis.
And so to the long term - and another fiasco. Is there no end?
B. 495 for around 500 pages makes it an inexpensive epic, but one that is well worth reading. It certainly was (is) a fiasco as described by author Ricks. It could have been entitled “Gullibles Travels” and been just as apt. How the American people fell for such duplicity and outright confabulation is mind boggling. The Iraqi people may not have liked Saddam Hussein, but after the US bungling, they don’t like America much either - and with good reason.