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The American Military Adventure in Iraq

A-FiascoIn Fiasco, award-winning journalist Thomas E. Ricks follows the United States’ plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein without any clear idea of how the peace might be won. "It is difficult to overstate what a key misstep this lack of strategic direction was," Ricks writes, "probably the most significant miscalculation of the entire effort." He places the continuing troubles in Iraq—particularly escalating sectarian violence—squarely at the feet of a shortsighted and inflexible leadership that continues to squander its resources and goodwill. Ricks doesn’t entirely dismiss the notion that democracy might eventually take hold in Iraq, though he finds less desirable outcomes more likely.
Penguin. 496 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 159420103X

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"Through a meticulous reconstruction of recent history and a sometimes overwhelming abundance of sources, Ricks has captured the elements of a political and military debate that should have occurred years ago. … The power of Fiasco is not found in its storytelling but rather in its persistent, even relentless attention to the particulars of a war that has not transpired as the Unites States’ leaders said it would, or indeed continue to say that it has." Robert Little

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Fiasco is not a screed but a well-researched, strongly written account of the miscues that led from shock-and-awe to rampant sectarian strife. Ricks … had access to top officers and their planning as well as ‘after-action’ documents." Tony Perry

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"[Ricks’s] authoritative narrative, which weaves together the voices of retired officers, civilian experts, line commanders, infantry grunts, and Iraqis themselves, is the best analysis yet of America’s adventure in Iraq. … Ricks has written an honest book that could help America move beyond the reflexive, red or blue coloring of the war and toward a more dispassionate discussion of the kind of Iraq we hope will emerge from today’s near-anarchic state." Mike Francis

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In his compelling and well-researched book, Thomas E. Ricks … painfully but clearly reveals an important truth about the Iraq debacle: It has a thousand fathers. … Ambitious as it is, Fiasco does not offer a comprehensive picture of Bremer’s occupation authority or the shadowy insurgency itself." Daniel Byman

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Fiasco … offers a comprehensive and illuminating portrait of the willing blindness of the Bush administration to Iraqi realities. … At some points, the amount of detail will overwhelm all but the most hardened wonk, but Ricks makes a powerful case that, far from being inevitable, the insurgency was the direct product of American bungling." Jacob Heilbrunn

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Of the war books now landing like mortar shells in our midst, Fiasco is making people jump. … Ricks is at his best explaining how beliefs and institutional bias shaped the [war in Iraq]." Bruce Ramsey

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"Few would disagree with the analysis in Fiasco. … But [Ricks] does not take account of what may underlie the whole insurgency, which is the rise of Islamic militancy across the Muslim world." John Keegan

Critical Summary

Thomas E. Ricks, the Pulitzer Prize–winning senior Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post and for 17 years a Wall Street Journal reporter, uses unprecedented access to senior military personnel and his impressive experience in military reporting in most of the world’s hot spots to examine the United States’ efforts in Iraq. Ironically, the depth of the research is one of the few aspects of the book with which critics take issue, since it might distract the layperson from the thread of the author’s argument. Still, Fiasco might be the most important book to date in helping us to understand the intricacies of the war and the landscape of the post-9/11 world. Ricks’s previous books include Making the Corps (1997), which follows a Marine Corps training platoon through basics, and A Soldier’s Duty (2001), a novel.