Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tom Ricks Explains Why He Did Not Write the Stories He Thought He Should Be Writing

Tom Ricks talks about the runup to the war on Iraq. Ricks has said that there were major failures of five different institutions: the Administration, the CIA, the military, the media, and congress. We understand why Ricks assigns blame to the Administration--Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and company. We understand why Ricks assigns blame to the CIA (although it did come under awful pressure from the Administration). We understand why Ricks assigns blame to the military. But congress? Congress did nothing. Why does Ricks assign blame to congress. That puzzled me.

Here he explains: He assigns blame to congress because without the aircover provided by senators asking touch questions at hearings, Tom Ricks found that his editors at the Washington Post would not let him write the stories he knew he should be writing to inform his readers of what was going on. Because congress did not do its job, Ricks thinks, he and his colleagues in the media could not do their job.

It's a very interesting point for Ricks to make.

Here's his conversation with Howard Kurtz:

CNN.com - Transcripts: KURTZ: Tom Ricks, your book, "Fiasco", has rocketed to No. 1 on the bestseller list. You argue that the administration is to blame, for not foreseeing many of the problems that are affecting Iraq today and 130,000 U.S. forces there?

RICKS: Well, not just the administration. Yes, the administration made huge mistakes, but the argument of the book is you don't get a mess as big of Iraq just through the mistakes of the Bush administration. That the U.S. military also bungled the occupation, and that other players also helped create this mess, including the media.

KURTZ: Including the media. In fact, you write, quote, in the run-up to the war, quote, "The media didn't delve deeply enough into the issues surrounding war, especially the threat of Iraq and the cost of occupying and remaking the country. We're seeing those costs right now." Why didn't the media delve more deeply? Was there a certain level of intimidation?

RICKS: I don't think it was so much as intimidation as partly a lack of information, credible information. Congress didn't hold hearings in which credible information was presented that said, no, the administration's case is wrong.

KURTZ: Since when do reporters have to wait for Congress to hold hearings?

RICKS: They don't. But Congress is kind of the engine of Washington, the engine of government. And if Congress is asleep at the wheel, if war seems inevitable, at some point your editors say, why do you keep writing about doubts about this war, when it's going to happen?

KURTZ: Do you include yourself in this indictment? Did you run into that kind of skepticism from your "Washington Post" editors?

RICKS: Absolutely. There was a sense that, look, this thing is going to happen. You've written a lot of stories about the doubts about the war. Give us more stories about the war plan, because it is going to happen, whether or not all these generals oppose it....

KURTZ: Welcome back. Tom Ricks, you are a beat reporter at the Pentagon for "The Washington Post". Now, you've written a book that concludes not only that the U.S. occupation there was a fiasco, but that the military made huge mistakes that contributed to the success of the insurgency. Doesn't that make it difficult to continue to cover the Pentagon as a objective observer?

RICKS: No, the striking thing to me has been the number of soldiers, in Iraq, who have sent me notes thanking me for writing this book. One battalion commander wrote to me, you finally said publicly what we've been saying privately for the last couple of years. The military wants to win in Iraq. And they appreciate somebody who comes along and sympathetically writes about the problems there, and also looks at some of the successes that have been neglected internally in the military.

KURTZ: And why were some of the mid-level people willing to talk to you, since obviously, to some degree they were contradicting their superior commanding officers?

RICKS: Because they've been worried about failures of leadership. It's an army that is very self-critical up to the level of colonel, but generals have remained off limits for criticism and that has led to real problems in Iraq. We've not had a single general relieved in Iraq -- a real change from other wars where generals routinely were moved out, while they were looking for good commanders.

Howard Kurtz, of course, should be fired immediately for his question: "[Y]ou've written a book that concludes... that the military made huge mistakes that contributed to the success of the insurgency. Doesn't that make it difficult to continue to cover the Pentagon as a objective observer?" Anybody who has not concluded that the military has made huge mistakes that contribued to the successof the insurgency is a shill who has no business claiming to be an objective observer.

And go buy Ricks's excellent Fiasco: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/159420103X.

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