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Attacking President George W. Bush has become a popular sport lately. With his low approval ratings, it’s not surprising that Republican candidates are distancing themselves from him on the stump. Even neoconservative columnists such as William F. Buckley and New York Times Iraq hawk Thomas Friedman have joined the chorus challenging Bush on Iraq. All this couldn’t be better news for Washington Post Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks. The shift in opinion has only increased attention to Ricks’ new book, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, which details the period leading up to, and, according to Ricks, the ultimate failure of, the war. He writes, “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.” Ricks provides an extensive history of the war, starting with the spring of 1991, when President George H.W. Bush invaded Kuwait. He moves on to describe the current president’s invasion of Iraq, undertaken with little international support and on the basis of incorrect information — namely that there were weapons of mass destruction. Ricks characterizes the war as based on a series of misguided beliefs and possibly the worst war plan in American history. Though Ricks’ work follows a slew of other books on Iraq and terrorism, this is the definitive post-invasion Iraq history, written with the detailed accuracy of a reporter frequently embedded with the troops. Fiasco describes political appointees planning an invasion based on idealistic scenarios where Iraqis would see Americans as liberators, not occupiers. Throughout the book, Ricks blames Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and key planners such as Paul Wolfowitz for whittling away troop size and turning a blind eye to the aftermath that continues today in Iraq. Ricks also criticizes the virtual silence of Congress and the military, admonishing them for not questioning the administration’s assertions that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. The press also does not escape scolding. Ricks chastises his colleagues for acting like cheerleaders, especially former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, whose faulty reports helped the Bush administration make its case for going to war.
Here are some recent books on the war, terrorism, and U.S. foreign policy.• The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence WrightWright looks at the rise of the al Qaeda terrorist network by tracing the lives of four men — two terrorists and two men who tracked them. Wright explores the events leading up to 9/11 with new insight and depth. • Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts by David Dunbar and Brad ReaganThe book expands on an investigation by Popular Mechanics proving that the information that conspiracy theorists most often use to show the United States actually aided or even carried out the terrorist attacks is in fact false or misinterpreted. The book investigates the 20 most prominent conspiracy theories.• Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael Gordon and Bernard TrainorNamed after the U.S. military operation to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime, Cobra II details the invasion from the start of the war to right after the invasion.• The One Percent Doctrine by Ron SuskindIn November 2001, Suskind writes, Vice President Dick Cheney announced that if there was “a one percent chance” a threat was real “we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” He added, “It’s not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence.” Suskind shows the interplay among key Bush confidants as well as the administration’s handling of the day-to-day operations of the war on terror. • State of War: The Secret Relationship of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration by James RisenNew York Times reporter Risen describes a domestic spying program, the military’s foreign policy, and a president who is kept in the dark about matters of national security. He also uncovers the dysfunctional relationship between the CIA and the executive branch.

Throughout the book, Ricks exposes the schism between the Bush administration and career military personnel. While reports have started to surface in newspapers recently, Ricks outlines how complicated the relationship between the executive branch and the military on the ground in Iraq was from the start. A student of historical military acumen, Ricks blends stories from the battlefield with reporting that focuses on the complete lack of strategy in Iraq. The book comes to a crescendo as the military’s tactic of fighting with force ultimately fails. He shows how three years later, the military takes an almost completely opposite approach, focusing on winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Ricks gets many senior Pentagon officials and military personnel on the record, adding clout to his assertions. At times the level of detail in this 439-page book becomes tedious, with descriptions, for instance, of many minor military skirmishes. But that level of detail also gives depth to the thinking of key commanders in Fallujah and Baghdad. He blames the Bush administration for cajoling foreign allies into joining the United States’ battle against terror and then forcing them into battle instead of into the humanitarian missions they were promised. Ricks also blames the military for not punishing senior commanders when subordinates abused Iraqis. In his estimation, punishing senior officials would have sent a message to low-level officers that that type of behavior would not be tolerated. “The abuses that occurred later in 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison weren’t an anomalous incident but rather the logical and predictable outcome of a series of panicky decisions made by senior commanders, which in turn had resulted from the divided, troop-poor approach devised months earlier by Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Franks,” Ricks writes. Throughout the book, Ricks compares Iraq and Vietnam and comes to the conclusion that instead of taking the lessons of the counterinsurgency in Vietnam and applying them in Iraq, the military instead tried to erase Vietnam from its memory. Ricks’ book offers a detailed timeline that is a must-read even for those who think they’ve followed the war closely. And for those who haven’t, the book touches on the day-to-day events and leaves readers in “shock and awe” at the horrific details and mismanagement of the war. Pointedly, Ricks ends the tome with scenarios imagining the future of Iraq. He asks how the United States would fare should Iraq turn into the kind of foe against which “the West would have to consider a war of preemption — but this time its soldiers might really face nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.” It’s a scary thought, indeed.

Anna Palmer can be contacted at [email protected].

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