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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strategic Chaos
This brisk account of the Iraq War (up to early 2006) is not the sensationalist anti-war tract that its title might suggest. Ricks (in line with his job as Pentagon correspondent of the Washington Post) concentrates principally on the way that the US instruments of invasion (specifically the Army, the Marines and the civil authority, the CPA) ended up - through a mixture...
Published on 6 Aug. 2007 by Sordel

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The U.S. Military in Iraq
Thomas E. Ricks "Fiasco" is an account of the preperation for and invasion of Iraq and the ensuing occupation. The book gripped this reader from beginning to end it being the sort of book that causes bus stops to be missed. I was one of the many who was against the war as it came onto the agenda in 2002. I was not surprised the U.S. and the small number of other forces...
Published on 22 Sept. 2009 by S Wood

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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strategic Chaos, 6 Aug. 2007
Sordel (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This brisk account of the Iraq War (up to early 2006) is not the sensationalist anti-war tract that its title might suggest. Ricks (in line with his job as Pentagon correspondent of the Washington Post) concentrates principally on the way that the US instruments of invasion (specifically the Army, the Marines and the civil authority, the CPA) ended up - through a mixture of incompetence, ignorance and sheer hubris - creating and then perpetuating a ferocious insurgency. The account is careful, precise and involves a good deal of repetition and accrual of evidence.

Due its anecdotal approach, Fiasco is a fairly effortless read. Moreover, there are points at which Ricks breaks from his generally prosecutorial approach to discuss dissenting voices, or the reasons given by his broad cast of characters for their success or failure. Nevertheless, one sometimes feels that Ricks is just as strategically narrow-minded as the people that he criticises. He advocates a style of counterinsurgency warfare which he insists would have worked, but at times this model seems to demand a different context from that under which the actual war was fought; I wonder whether the occupiers could have really got from the world in which they found themselves to the alternative world that he envisages.

It should also be noted that the thesis here is that folly and disorganisation is to blame: there is no conspiracy theory, and no inference of actual bad intentions at any level. President Bush is a minor player, Tony Blair little more than a footnote to a story in which individual officers generally take the starring roles. Also, while there are vivid recollections of the combat experience, this is not a "battlefield"-style history and does not attempt a comprehensive overview of developments in the theatre of war as a whole. It will therefore not suit readers of military history attracted by orders of battle and annotated maps. The focus of the book is thus at once both a weakness (since it misses a lot that might appeal to a general reader) and a strength (since what is said is measured and detailed).

Fiasco is undoubtedly a serious and informed discussion of how a high-minded liberation became a high-handed occupation, but it was written while the possibility of ultimate defeat was still being rubbished by the administration and only just being considered by the more critical US media outlets. Those buying over a year further down the road, and from, may find it less illuminating - and certainly less surprising - than did their counterparts across the Atlantic. That said, I enjoyed the book a lot and would recommend it.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beggars belief, 5 Jun. 2007
Chris Widgery (London) - See all my reviews
My wife saw this book and assumed from the title that it was an Andy McNab-esque action adventure romp. If only. I had always assumed that modern wars are started for a reason, that modern armies go into battle knowing what they are trying to do and that politicians at least think about what happens next, before they order the tanks and soldiers in. Not in Iraq.

Fiasco is entirely centred on the "American military adventure in Iraq", and it unveils clear and serious failings in the Army - an institution that was ill structured, ill trained and ill equipped to fight a counter insurgency semiwar (campaign? conflict?)

But it is the civilian leadership who come out worst of all. They ignored the facts and the advice of their own soldiers. They had no plan for what would happen after the war. They wanted the Marines to shoot up Fallujah so they did not look weak in the American press. They assumed they'd be welcomed with open arms and never thought "what if we'er not?" Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush - ideological, blind to conflicting viewpoints, deaf to bad news.

In places, what happened defies belief.

So, will you be interested? As an analysis of why things in Iraq have gone the way they have, and what the prospects for the future really are - this is fascinating. And as an insight into the men running the US at the moment - this is very frightening. Recommended
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Never was a book better named..., 30 Jan. 2007
Teemacs (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
This extraordinary book captures the staggering incompetence of the entire US occupation of Iraq, from the first flawed (and deliberately exaggerated and distorted) intelligence and justification to the present Mess-O-Potamia, as Jon Stewart would have it. The question one is tempted to ask is, could they have done it worse if they'd tried? Every voice of reason or knowledge and every opinion to the contrary of what the Bush Administration wanted to hear, was ignored, marginalised or sacked. The Administration believed the myth that US democracy is the default condition of mankind - remove the dictator and Republicans will automatically bloom. It believed that it would be welcomed with open arms. It won the war (as everyone knew it would) and then did precisely nothing about winning the peace. It was a monumental act of self-delusion, blindness and folly matched only by that of the British setting up the artificial creation called Iraq in the first place. And 3,000 fine young Americans and countless thousands of innocent Iraqis have paid the price for this folly and more pay every day, while its perpetrators sit in comfort, award themselves medals and spout delusions of "victory" and "mission accomplished". As I write, Dick Cheney is talking about the "tremendous progress" in Iraq. And he probably also believes that Saddam caused 9/11, that there really were WMD, that he is the King of Siam and that the tooth fairy is due any second.

This book makes for somewhat depressing reading; Mr. Ricks espouses the view that the US has finally got the message about the nature of the war it is fighting, but wonders whether it's a case of too little, too late. Hopefully the book will act as a wake-up call to all those who aren't so blind that they will not see - which naturally excludes the present incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, D.C.

In an afterword written in 2006, Mr.Ricks looks at possible future scenarios for Iraq. He saves the best for last. He mentions the possibility of the rise of a strong man who will unite Iraqis, who will be personally modest, courageous, chivalrous and genuinely devout. It has happened before; the previous one was a Kurdish gentleman whom Western history calls Saladin. Problem was, Saladin also united all the Islamic forces and drove the infidel from the Holy Land. Ever thought that we might one day look back at the days of Saddam Hussein as a sort of Iraqi Golden Age?
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57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Damming indictment of the war in Iraq, 11 Aug. 2006
MarkK (Phoenix, AZ, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Hardcover)
Thomas Ricks pulls no punches in his account of America's invasion and occupation of Iraq. Ricks begins with the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, one which was unsatisfying to men like Paul Wolfowitz. Throughout the 1990s, this group of neoconservatives kept up a steady drumbeat against Iraq, while the election of George W. Bush in 2000 gave some of them - most notably Wolfowitz and his former deputy 'Scooter' Libby - positions of power within government. Yet Ricks argues that they were on the losing end of the debate to intervene in Iraq until al-Qaeda's attacks on September 11, 2001. The attacks created an opening to reshape foreign policy, one that Ricks sees the neoconservatives as taking full advantage of the opportunity presented to push the administration towards a more aggressive posture internationally, one in which an attack on Iraq would be at the forefront.

With the decision to go to war essentially made by early 2002, the next question was how to win it. Here Ricks places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, which not only believed their unrealistically rosy predictions about what a war would look like, but also insisted that U.S. military planners adopt war plans which fit these expectations, even if the consequences flew in the face of experience and accepted military doctrine. Ricks sees a lot of buck-passing, as everyone stifled their doubts and worked with what they had. Making matters worse was the plan for war itself. Anticipating the type of large-scale armor clash that the Army had been planning for since the Cold War, it imposed a strategy that would prove damaging in retrospect.

None of this seemed to matter in March and April of 2003, as U.S. armored columns roared into Baghdad as if winning some sort of great race. In the aftermath of the capture of the Iraqi capital, the administration celebrated it as the triumphant climax of the war. Yet Ricks views it as only the first battle. Throughout this point, he details the missed opportunities, faulting the blunders of the Pentagon planners, the commanders in the field, and the new head of the occupation authority, Paul Bremmer, for crippling the chance for a peaceful occupation. By the summer of 2003 Iraq had reached a tipping-point, after which an insurgency increasingly challenged U.S. control of the country. Ricks finds the cause for this at many levels, from the willful blindness of the political leadership to the neglect of the Army of the lessons of Vietnam, all of which had a ripple effect in the thousands of encounters between U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians. By the spring of 2004 the situation had deteriorated into a level of warfare that the U.S. military had not faced in generations, and while a new set of commanders have attempted to adjust in response, Ricks is pessimistic about the prospects of achieving the type of hopeful outcome so confidently promised in the run-up to the war.

Ricks' book is a powerful and damming indictment of the conduct of the invasion of occupation of Iraq. Relying on thousands of documents and interviews with participants at all levels, he reveals in full detail the decisions and actions that have brought America and Iraq to the current situation there. Few groups come out of it with their reputations intact - the military, the civilian leadership, the media, and the Iraqis all receive a share of the responsibility for the mess described in the title. While a fuller picture would have been enriched Ricks's analysis further still - he covers the roles of both the international coalition and the private contractors in passing only - his is nonetheless the best account available of the ongoing crisis in Iraq, one that is required reading for anyone seeking to understand how we got to where we are today.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lions led by donkeys, 26 Aug. 2006
A. Wright (Monoblet, France) - See all my reviews
Thomas E. Ricks, Senior Pentagon Corrspondent of the Washington Post is the latest in a distinguished line of American journalists to offer a brilliant documentary account of the US army's build-up to the Iraq war, the triumphant dash to Baghdad and the subsequent spiral into a vicious war against an insurrection it did not understand and for which it was entirely unprepared. His familiarity with and access to all levels of the American military have enabled him to tell his story largely through the direct experiences and voices of soldiers of all ranks. The reader is left gasping that an invasion on such a scale could have been undertaken with, it seems, absolutely no plan for Iraq once the first invasion had succeeded. The tone of the writing is cool and unjudgemental but Ricks leaves us in no doubt that it is the civilian leadership including Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith,Donald Rumsfeld and of course George W Bush with whom the responsibility lies for what he bluntly describes as the Fiasco of the American adventure in Iraq. English readers will be reminded of the famous description of the British army in 1914-18 'Lions led by donkeys'and I imagine the book will be read and thoroughly pondered in today's British army. It should be: it is journalism of the highest order. As Iraq descends into the night of civil war in 2006, the tragedy continues. Ricks' book is unputdownable, indispensable reading for everyone seeking to understand the real facts of life, largely hidden in the daily mainstream media, of a tragedy which will haunt the world now for decades.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ricks gets it right...Detailed, sourced, and factual accounting of disastrous US involvement in Iraq, 11 Dec. 2006
This review is from: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Hardcover)
Thomas Ricks was always a good writer, but was best known for his work at the Washington Post until his excellent book "Making the Corps" hit shelves. It was a book full of rich detail and honest, factual conclusions. With "Fiasco" Ricks outdoes himself and dozens of writers who have tackled the quagmire that is the Iraq War. Drawing from hundreds of interviews, press conferences, and policy papers, Ricks reveals the progression of mistakes and bad decisions that turned a winnable war into a quicksand-like mess of epic proportions, without cloaking himself in partisan colors.

From CENTCOM to the Pentagon and White House, initial planning for the war took on a bare-bones, best case scenario. Rumsfeld and his sycophantic policy advisors Wolfowitz and Feith believed the Iraqis would welcome the US in, and few troops would be needed; they weren't afraid to bully their opinions into policy or twist vague intelligence to fit their theories. They believed that the war would end, a new Iraqi government would form, and America could walk away with a shiny new victory over the forces of evil. Any soldier worth their salt could tell you, though, you plan for the worst possible scenarios, so you are ready for any eventuality. While Rumsfeld and gang take some deserved hard hits, Ricks makes the interesting assertation that President Bush was not obsessed with going to war with Saddam as other authors have claimed, but that going to war with Iraq was a necessary next step after Afghanistan. The President comes across as a disinterested observer. I personally disagree with this assessment, but Ricks argues his case well.

Though the invasion was successful and fast, the fall of Baghdad didn't bring about the end; in fact the months that followed were merely the portent to the insurgency. Lacking any kind of cohesive plans for the post-war Iraq, both civilian and military stumbled their way forward. Ricks discusses many of Paul Bremer's horrendous decision making as head of the CPA, most notably the dissolving of the Iraqi Army which created a ready-made force of angry, unemployed young men with military training and experience. He addresses how the Army and Marines philosophy of overwhelming with superior firepower didn't adapt to the new reality of counter-insurgency. Ricks also points out how slow commanders in the field were to realize they needed to fight a counter-insurgency war and praises those like Marine General Mattis and Col.H.R. McMaster who did.

The book reads fast, despite some awkward grammatical structuring, and actually contains a extensive list of footnotes and source material used in writing the book, something James Risen should have paid more attention to. Ricks' sources give this book credibility, as does Ricks' refusal to sling mud for mud's sake. Ricks does slip a bit with a tendency to over-focus on negative incidents by units like the 4th ID and 1st Marines, casting a negative light on a division or regiment rather than the individuals involved. Overall though, he is incredibly fair and honest in describing what truly has become a fiasco, and this book should be required reading at all levels of the government.

A.G. Corwin

St.Louis, MO
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of Folly, 2 Jun. 2012
Pearls of wisdom transmute into truisms and then degrade into clichés but Santayana is exempt from this maxim: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Who can doubt that America's invasion of Iraq is another Jugurthine War writ large -and some might say that Thomas E Ricks is its Sallust even if he lacks the eloquence of the Roman historian. Even so, his achievement is praiseworthy.

Like its imperial predecessor, "in Washington everything is for sale," madcap crusades included and all for the betterment of General Electrics, Haliburton and ExxonMobil - praised be Plutocracy! It's all here in this masterly narrative: the bonfire of the neo-con vanities; the parade of bright buffoons - Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Perle, Condy and Paul Bremer the IIIrd (no less) - and the unending violence that slaughtered so many. Ricks astutely balances a birdseye view from the Capitol with the tragedy that was unfolding, IED by IED, in the hamlets and cities of Iraq. There is no better symbol of the horror than the photo of American corpses, charred to a crisp, hanging from the bridge at Fallujah; the author rightly includes it.

Ricks raises as many questions as he answers. So, this glorified peccadillo cost three trillion dollars - is there a return-on-investment? Does a subcutaneous regime-change in Baghdad equate to strategic success in the Middle East? Answers are not readily forthcoming in this volume or its successor. Sure, "the sleep of reason produces monsters" but there was a deeper failure here as this book makes clear: the word `evaluate' ultimately draws its power from `value'. Worse still, if the Yanks used the old Amex Card to fund the Cold War, this latest venture was underwritten by the Chinese loan-sharks - it remains to be seen what our inscrutable friends are going to do with all those treasury bonds. Tick, tick, tick.

As one reads this work - yes, the horrors of Abu Ghraib are fully aerated - sadness is attendant. What happened to the America that was once the light on the hill? Who transformed it into a latter-day equivalent of Diocletian's Tetrachy where greed, corruption and over-militarisation are sovereign? Surely not the Commodus (sans the vices) who reigned between 2000 - 2008: it predates his ascension to the purple. Was it Tricky Dicky, the Texan Longhorn or the Shagger from Boston? Who is to say but the putrescence has been thoroughly institutionalised and one looks in vain for a Tiberius or Gaius Gracchus to restore the Republic. Ever so sadly, this book should never have been written; due warning was given back in 1967 by a "Tiresias below the walls":

"And don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, `You're too arrogant! And if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I'll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I'm God.'"

So far it has been to no avail.

Be still and know this, Ricks warns us subliminally, sanctioned as he is by the Daddy Warbucks in the sky: the Day of the Locust is coming.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Surprising Misadventure Threatens to Ignite the Middle East's Oil Fields for Decades, 10 Oct. 2007
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
Surely, you remember all of those Weapons of Mass Destruction that President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, and The New York Times assured us were being hidden in Iraq. If you have a short memory about what we were told, Fiasco will remind you what came out of those horses' mouths in 2002 and 2003.

If you think back even further, you may also recall an attack on the United States in New York and Washington D.C. that led to about 3,000 deaths caused by an outfit called al-Qaeda headed by a fellow named Osama bin Laden. We haven't found that fellow yet, and we've invaded at least two countries to locate him. He doesn't seem to be in Iraq, either. Fiasco points out that there never was an Iraqi connection to that group of terrorists, but in the aftermath of our invasion Iraq has become the headquarters and training ground for the most active and effective terrorists in the world. Maybe we'll eventually lure bin Laden there.

So why read this book? Well, Mr. Ricks does a superb job of tracking down all of the planning, training and preparation for the post-invasion period that did not occur. As a result, it seems like the United States made virtually every major mistake possible in turning a liberation into a heavy-handed, insensitive occupation that turned the majority of the Iraqi people into opponents of the United States from being favorably disposed. As early as five months after Saddam Hussein was captured, 55% of Iraqis felt that it was more dangerous having American troops in Iraq than to have them all leave immediately.

If you are like me, you'll be disgusted, appalled and ashamed at the travesty of how the United States mismanaged the reconstruction of Iraq. Who is at fault? Well, it's hard to find people who aren't at fault. Feel free to list the usual Republican and Pentagon leaders, but add those in Congress who backed off from providing civilian oversight.

Can you imagine that serious counter-insurgency planning only began in August 2004? And we lost ground in 2005 on that front.

So where are we now? Apparently, we're worse off than if we had stayed home in 2003. The book ends with several scenarios of what might happen next, all of which are even more unpleasant than the reality we have today. Tens of thousands more will die, including thousands of Americans. Power will shift into less friendly hands. More terrorists will be trained. Our supply of oil will be less secure. Gasoline will hit $9.00 a gallon in one scenario.

The book also upholds the honor of the ordinary soldiers and Marines who have done tough duty, far beyond what could have been expected of them . . . without the proper training, support, leadership and resources.

My sense from this book is that a sequel will be written ten years from now called Quagmire.

Why did I grade the book down? Despite doing a fine job of tracking down the untold parts of the story, I found that Mr. Ricks loves to editorialize a little too much before he proves his point. Here's an example in the first sentence of the book: "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."

So what are the lessons for us as citizens? It looks like we should be sure that no one (of either political party) ever gets enough power to head off on such ego trips again. Gridlock looks pretty good as our primary option for getting the government back under control.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing, fascinating and sad, 15 Aug. 2007
R. T. Hughes (Hong Kong) - See all my reviews
I picked this book up in the airport on a whim, having promised myself many times that I would read something that would give me a better understanding of how this conflict was initiated and why it has gone so wrong.

This book is it.

It is not sensational or melodramatic. Nor is it a John Pilger-esk anti establishment conspiracy argument.

I thought it would be a bit impenetrable and heavy on inside Washington politics. Actually, it gives a clear account of the build up and the construction of the argument to waging this conflict, but in a very easy to comprehend way. By interviewing and quoting numerous people who were in meetings and worked on plans, it provides a very credible account of the personalities, motivations and rationales of people like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, plus numerous others. It is solid and fascinating. Surprisingly, for me, it was also a real page turner.

The biggest lesson I got from this book is this - It does not matter how big or respected an organization is - even the US government or the Pentagon, never assume leaders know what they are doing or are making decisions based on sound ideas. This book provides a fascinating insight into leadership and the decision making process in government and the military, when it works and when it does not, and the consequences - the destruction of a whole nation for no good reason.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SUPERB, 24 Sept. 2006
T. E. Bush - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Hardcover)
Most people interested in reading this book may already have the notion that the 'war was a bad idea' and that 'we made big mistakes whilst there,' as that opinion would make such a person interested in such a book.

What will come as a surprise to most however is not that 'bad decisions' were made, but by the number of 'bad decisions' that were made - by people working at all levels, many of which seem to be not only wrong but obviously wrong both from a tactical and and moral stand point. Put simply, they got nothing right, some indivdual commanders did at times in certain regions, but essentially they got everything wrong for a very longtime ignoring or sidelined those within the military and congress who new what the 'answers' were .

Extensively researched - it was for me suprisingly relaxed in tone and really easy to read and follow, considering its subject matter.

Anyone with an interest in the Iraq miltary actions / wars, politics, middle-east and the 'future posssible consequences' of the war should read this - book.

A truely outstanding piece of work
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