Sunday, January 07, 2007

Fiasco II

I had to lay off "Fiasco" for a few days to catch up on getting out the paper and the end-of-the-year billing, but I invested a couple of more hours in it this morning.

The most remarkable thing about the book is the hard look it takes at the military's failures during the war. All but the most rabid war supporters have conceded that civilian mistakes made the war much harder than it had to be, but Ricks is the first I have read who holds the military's feet so close to the fire.

His basic critique: The military was so traumatized by Vietnam that instead of learning that war's lessons about how to fight counterinsurgency it simply ignored those lessons. Hard-won wisdom about waging war on insurgents gathered in Southeast Asia, as well as by the French in Algeria and the British in colonial wars, simply was unknown in much of the U.S. military, Ricks said.

The result was that tactical successes have not translated into strategic gains. The real battle is not between U.S. soldiers and insurgents; the real battle is for the support of the Iraqi people. U.S. ignorance about Iraqi language and customs, and its insistence on using overwhelming force to minimize casualties, have helped fuel civil war.

Ricks quotes one commander who in unapologetically defending his unit's ruthless tactics pointed out that he had lost no soldiers in combat. But Ricks argues that commanders must place their highest priority on winning the war, not just on avoiding casualties. If the only goal is to keep soldiers from getting hurt, then everybody could have just stayed home.

It's a bit bracing to read such a stern critique from someone who obviously knows his stuff. I've always been amazed at right wingers who readily assume that every single government employee, from the Cabinet down through Congress to the lowliest clerk in the Social Security office, is lazy and incompetent -- with one huge exception: the military. There every soldier is a hardworking hero and every officer is fearless and wise.

The reality, of course, is that the military is plagued by many of the same obstacles that make other aspects of government function so inefficiently. It's refreshing to hear from a journalist who has the guts to say so openly.


Matt Singer said...

Good points -- except that the inefficiency isn't just in the civilian government and the military, it's in most institutions, especially large institutions.

We too often give the private sector a pass when the reality is that many private sector corporations have bloated bureaucracies, plenty of lazy employees, and mediocre management.

Pete Hansen said...

I feel the "Fiasco" involves the intererence of Washington "suits" in the mission of our military! We have a kickass military with the highest technology our tax money can buy. We assign our military a mission and then, to be politically correct, expecting "The World" to love us, hamper their mission and place their lives as risk by giving them "Rules of War" allowing their opponents to shoot first before being able to shoot back oir, restricting targets known to be hostile! Had George Bush Senior had the guts to continue the mission assigned to our troops when he had the support of most of the world, would be be in Iraq today? Would more than 3000 of our troops be in their graves? Let's accept the fact that we are never going to be loved by everyone on this planet and, dump the "John Wayne good guys in the white hats attitude" that continually allows the bad guys to draw first! MacNamera and the "Whiz KIds" of that era's administration proved that in Viet Nam! Is there no one who believes in reviewing history and avoiding the mistakes made then? Or, must our military forces pay, again and again, for that re-education? And, with the news today, trying to improve the situation by sending 20,000 more troops to the war, are we regressing to yet another Viet Nam wherein 500,000 troops weren't enough?

Mark Tokarski said...

Ricks (and you?) buy into the premise, the operating framework of the Administration and the Democrats, that we have a right to 'win' this illegal and immoral venture, and that doing so would be a good thing for the people of the region.

Nuts to that.

Best thing for everyone would be a US withdrawal. Peace might well break out. The people of Iraq as rational as we are. (Scary thought.) Let them run their own affairs as they would had there never been an invasion.

But that is not in the cards - it has always been about US control and dominance. And that is why the insurgency. The Iraqis see this clearly, which is why 87% of them want us to go home, why less than 5% believe we invaded for their benefit.

Mark Tokarski said...

That should read 82%. Less than one percent think thier security has imporved because of the occupation.

David said...

Pete, I think you are making the same mistake that Ricks accuses the military of making. You are looking at Iraq as strictly a military problem. But it ought to be obvious to everyone by now that the real war there is over politics, not on the battlefield.