If You Don't Have Time to Read "Fiasco," at Least Listen to Tom Ricks on KQED
Let me urge everybody who isn't going to read Tom Ricks's Fiasco to at least listen to Ricks explain his themes and judgments on Michael Krasny's "Forum" program on San Francisco's KQED. The first 40 minutes of the show are extraordinarily good radio. And Ricks is--for all my complaints about how I wish he had told America more of this stuff and less "he said, she said" two years ago when it would have mattered more--an extraordinarily incisive and keen-witted analyst of America's armed forces and of the Pentagon.
I don't think you get a mess this big from the mistakes of two or three people. Absolutely. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made serious mistakes, both during the run-up to the war, and during the occupation. But to get a mess this big you really need a systemic breakdown is the argument at the beginning of the book. I look to five basic groups: the Bush Administration, the CIA and the intelligence community, the media, the military which I think is an area that really needs to be looked at more, and finally Congress which is in this case the dog that didn't bark. The other institutions were basically sins of commission. Congress's sins were essentially sins of omission, a lack of oversight, a lack of accountability.
So kind of ineptly and in my own way I stepped up to the plate and tried to get answers to the questions that I wished Congress had been asking and getting answers to. Why has the occupation gone the way it has? Was it inevitable? Are resources being spent well or are they being squandered? I don't have the power of subpoena. I don't have massive resources. More important, I don't have the power of the purse string. But I went at it and asked a lot of these questions and looked at a lot of documents and tried to answer as best as possible and say here's what happened here's how it happened here's why it happened. But I'll never do as good a job as the Congress could do. It's just that I did what I could do.
It's especially worrisome to me because when you don't look at the military errors then things go wrong. Troops die unnecessarily. Iraqis die unnecessarily. And we don't win. One of the reasons I gave this book its provocative title, "Fiasco," was to put up a blinking red light and say "Hey, let's pay attention here. This could have been done better."... There's a big difference between the troops and the generals, and one way to support the troops is to question and to criticize the generals. Yet in this war not a single general has been relieved....
Franks's war plan was a war plan that looked more like a plan for a coup d'etat in a banana republic, where you zip to the capital and decapitate the regime and you leave. The original war plan called for us to be down to 30,000 troops by August 2003. In fact, here we are three years later August 2006 and we're at 127,000 troops and growing. So, the assumptions on which Franks based his war plan were incorrect, and he didn't have Plan B. He spent 80% or 90% of his energies looking at how to get to Baghdad and very little of his energy at what to do once he got there. And that was the hard problem. There was no question that we were going to get to Baghdad pretty fast, but there was very little serious thought, planning, for OK what to do once you get there. And what if your assumptions are wrong. What if you are not greeted as liberators. And that fecklessness in the plan, I think, gave the insurgency valuable time in which to coalesce and grow and plan their attack....
There's not a lot of self-examination among many generals.... There's a lot of hubris.... So there was not an inclination to really critically and soberly look at the situation and look at their own actions and think about whether some of those actions were counterproductive. A good example is in the fall of 2003, when the insurgency started to rise and we started to crack down on them, they conducted big coordinate-sweep operations. In certain areas all military-age males were scarfed up, frequently humiliated in the course of the arrest, sandbags placed over their head, shipped off to Abu Ghraib or other prisons like that, kept there for ninety days, maybe eventually released. During those ninety days they might have been abused by yahoos from Abu Ghraib who were running the prison. And they were also held cheek-by-jowl with hard-core Al Qaeda types. And this might be Ahmej Achmed the farmer. Well when Ahmej Achmed went in, he was one guy, and when he came out he probably was a little less pro-American than when he went in. So that kind of big coordinate-sweep operation, I think, was unproductive...
Here is Forum:
KQED | Programs A-Z: Forum: Home: KQED's live call-in program presents wide-ranging discussions of local, state, national and international issues, as well as in-depth interviews. http://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/forum/2006/08/2006-08-03b-forum.mp3
Here's a partial transcript of what Ricks said: