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Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005

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Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005 [Paperback]

Thomas E. Ricks
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (422 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 31, 2007 0143038915 978-0143038917 Reprint
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
One of the Washington Post Book World's 10 Best Books of the Year
One of Time's 10 Best Books of the Year
USA Today's Nonfiction Book of the Year
New York Times Notable Book

The definitive account of the American military's tragic experience in Iraq

Fiasco is a masterful reckoning with the planning and execution of the American military invasion and occupation of Iraq through mid-2006, now with a postscript on recent developments. Ricks draws on the exclusive cooperation of an extraordinary number of American personnel, including more than one hundred senior officers, and access to more than 30,000 pages of official documents, many of them never before made public. Tragically, it is an undeniable account—explosive, shocking, and authoritative—of unsurpassed tactical success combined with unsurpassed strategic failure that indicts some of America's most powerful and honored civilian and military leaders.

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Editorial Reviews Review

Fiasco is a more strongly worded title than you might expect a seasoned military reporter such as Thomas E. Ricks to use, accustomed as he is to the even-handed style of daily newspaper journalism. But Ricks, the Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post and the author of the acclaimed account of Marine Corps boot camp, Making the Corps (released in a 10th anniversary edition to accompany the paperback release of Fiasco), has written a thorough and devastating history of the war in Iraq from the planning stages through the continued insurgency in early 2006, and he does not shy away from naming those he finds responsible. His tragic story is divided in two. The first part--the runup to the war and the invasion in 2003--is familiar from books like Cobra II and Plan of Attack, although Ricks uses his many military sources to portray an officer class that was far more skeptical of the war beforehand than generally reported. But the heart of his book is the second half, beginning in August 2003, when, as he writes, the war really began, with the bombing of the Jordanian embassy and the emergence of the insurgency. His strongest critique is that the U.S. military failed to anticipate--and then failed to recognize--the insurgency, and tried to fight it with conventional methods that only fanned its flames. What makes his portrait particularly damning are the dozens of military sources--most of them on record--who join in his critique, and the thousands of pages of internal documents he uses to make his case for a war poorly planned and bravely but blindly fought.

The paperback edition of Fiasco includes a new postscript in which Ricks looks back on the year since the book's release, a year in which the intensity and frequency of attacks on American soldiers only increased and in which Ricks's challenging account became accepted as conventional wisdom, with many of the dissident officers in his story given the reins of leadership, although Ricks still finds the prospects for the conflict grim. --Tom Nissley

A Fiasco, a Year Later

With the paperback release of Thomas Ricks's Fiasco, a year after the book became a #1 New York Times bestseller and an influential force in transforming the public perception (and the perception within the military and the civilian government as well) of the war in Iraq, we asked Ricks in the questions below to look back on the book and the year of conflict that have followed. On our page for the hardcover edition of Fiasco you can see our earlier Q&A with Ricks, and you can also see two lists he prepared for Amazon customers: his choices for the 10 books for understanding Iraq that aren't about Iraq, a collection of studies of counterinsurgency warfare that became surprisingly popular last year as soldiers and civilians tried to understand the nature of the new conflict, and, as a glimpse into his writing process, a playlist of the music he listened to while writing and researching the book. When we spoke with you a year ago, you said that you thought you were done going back to Baghdad. But that dateline is still showing up in your reports. How have things changed in the city over the past year?

Thomas E. Ricks: Yes, I had promised my wife that I wouldn’t go back. Iraq was taking a toll on both of us--I think my trips of four to six weeks were harder on her than on me.

But I found I couldn't stay away. The Iraq war is the most important event of our time, I think, and will remain a major news story for years to come. And I felt like everything I had done for the last 15 years--from deployments I'd covered to books and military manuals I’d read (and written)--had prepared me to cover this event better than most reporters. So I made a deal with my wife that I would go back to Iraq but would no longer do the riskiest things, such as go on combat patrols or on convoys. I used to have a rule that I would only take the risks necessary to "get the story." Now I don't take even those risks if I can see them, even if that means missing part of a story. Also, I try to keep my trips much shorter.

How is Baghdad different? It is still a chaotic mess. But it doesn't feel quite as Hobbesian as it did in early 2006. That said, it also feels a bit like a pause--with the so-called "surge," Uncle Sam has put all his chips on the table, and the other players are waiting a bit to see how that plays out. One of the remarkable things over the past year for a reader of Fiasco has been how much of what your book recommends has, apparently, been taken to heart by the military and civilian leadership. As you write in your new postscript to the paperback edition, the war has been "turned over to the dissidents." General David Petraeus, who was one of the first to put classic counterinsurgency tactics to use in Iraq, is now the top American commander there, and he has surrounded himself with others with similar views. What was that transformation like on the inside?

Ricks: I was really struck when I was out in Baghdad two months ago at how different the American military felt. I used to hate going into the Green Zone because of all the unreal happy talk I'd hear. It was a relief to leave the place, even if being outside it (and contrary to popular myth, most reporters do live outside it) was more dangerous.

There is a new realism in the U.S. military. In May, I was getting a briefing from one official in the Green Zone and I thought, "Wow, not only does this briefing strike me as accurate, it also is better said than I could do." That feeling was a real change from the old days.

The other thing that struck me was the number of copies I saw of Fiasco as I knocked around Iraq. When I started writing it, the title was controversial. Now generals say things to me like, "Got it, understand it, agree with it." I am told that the Army War College is making the book required reading this fall. And what are its prospects at this late date?

Ricks: The question remains, Is it too little too late? It took the U.S. military four years to get the strategy right in Iraq--that is, to understand that their goal should be to protect the people. By that time, the American people and the Iraqi people both had lost of lot of patience. (And by that time, the Iraq war had lasted longer than American participation in World War II.) Also, it isn't clear that we have enough troops to really implement this new strategy of protecting the people. In some parts of Baghdad where U.S. troops now have outposts, the streets are quieter. Yet we're seeing more violence on the outskirts of Baghdad. And the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk make me nervous. I am keeping an eye on them this summer and fall.

The thing to watch in Iraq is whether we see more tribes making common cause with the U.S. and the Iraqi government. How long will it last? And what does it mean in the long term for Iraq? Is it the beginning of a major change, or just a prelude to a big civil war? You've been a student of the culture of the military for years. How has the war affected the state of the American military: the redeployments, the state of Guard and Reserves troops and the regular Army and Marines, and the relationship to civilian leadership?

Ricks: I think there is general agreement that there is a huge strain on the military. Essentially, one percent of the nation--soldiers and their families--is carrying the burden. We are now sending soldiers back for their third year-long tours. We've never tried to fight a lengthy ground war overseas with an all-volunteer force. Nor have we ever tried to occupy an Arab country.

What the long-term effect is on the military will depend in part on how the war ends for us, and for Iraq. But I think it isn't going to be good. Today I was talking to a retired officer and asked him what he was hearing from his friends in Iraq about troop morale. "It's broken," he said. Meanwhile, he said, soldiers he knows who are back home from Iraq "wonder why they were there." Not everyone is as morose as this officer, but the trend isn't good. You quote Gen. Anthony Zinni in your postscript as saying the U.S. is "drifting toward containment" in Iraq. What does containment of what will likely remain a very hot conflict look like? You've written in your postscript and elsewhere that you think we are only in act III of a Shakespearean tragedy. I wouldn't describe Shakespeare's fifth acts as particularly well contained.

Ricks: I agree with you. Containment would mean some sort of stepping back from the war, probably beginning by halving the American military presence. You'd probably still have U.S. troops inside Iraq, but disengaged from daily fighting. Their goals would be negative ones: prevent genocide, prevent al Qaeda from being able to operate in Iraq, and prevent the war from spreading to outside Iraq. (This was laid out well in a recent study by James Miller and Shawn Brimley, readable at

Containment probably would be a messy and demoralizing mission. No one signs up in the U.S. military to stand by as innocents are slaughtered in nearby cities. Yet that might be the case if we did indeed move to this stance and a full-blown civil war (or a couple) ensued. And there surely would be refugees from such fighting. Either they would go to neighboring countries, and perhaps destabilize them, or we would set up "refugee catchment" areas, as another study, by the Brookings Institute, proposed. The open-ended task of guarding those new refugee camps likely would fall to U.S. troops.

The more you look at Iraq, the more worrisome it gets. As I noted in the new postscript in the paperback edition, many strategic experts I talk to believe that the consequences of the Iraq war are going to be worse for the United States than was the fallout from the Vietnam War. A year and a half is a long time, but let's say that we have a Democratic president in January 2009: President Clinton, or Gore, or Obama. What prospect would a change in administration have for a new strategic opening? Or would the new president likely wind up like Nixon in Vietnam, owning a war he or she didn't begin?

Ricks: Not such a long time. President Bush has made his major decisions on Iraq. Troop levels are going to have to come down next year, because we don't have replacements on the shelf. So the three big questions for the U.S. government are going to be: How many troops will be withdrawn, what will be the mission of those who remain, and how long will they stay? Those questions are going to be answered by the next president, not this one.

My gut feeling is the latter: I think we are going to have troops in Iraq through 2009, and probably for a few years beyond that. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if U.S. troops were there in 15 years. But as I say in Fiasco, that's kind of a best-case scenario.

From Publishers Weekly

The main points of this hard-hitting indictment of the Iraq war have been made before, but seldom with such compelling specificity. In dovetailing critiques of the civilian and military leadership, Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Ricks (Making the Corps) contends that, under Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith, the Pentagon concocted "the worst war plan in American history," with insufficient troops and no thought for the invasion's aftermath. Thus, an under-manned, unprepared U.S. military stood by as chaos and insurgency took root, then responded with heavy-handed tactics that brutalized and alienated Iraqis. Based on extensive interviews with American soldiers and officers as well as first-hand reportage, Ricks's detailed, unsparing account of the occupation paints a woeful panorama of reckless firepower, mass arrests, humiliating home invasions, hostage-taking and abuse of detainees. It holds individual commanders to account, from top generals Tommy Franks and Ricardo Sanchez on down. The author's conviction that a proper hearts-and-minds counter-insurgency strategy might have salvaged the debacle is perhaps naive, and pays too little heed to the intractable ethnic conflicts underlying what is by now a full-blown civil war. Still, Ricks's solid reporting, deep knowledge of the American military and willingness to name names make this perhaps the most complete, incisive analysis yet of the Iraq quagmire. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143038915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143038917
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (422 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews
610 of 666 people found the following review helpful
I've spent the better part of the past 36 hours inhaling Thomas Ricks' "Fiasco" and I have to say it is easily the best book so far produced on the Iraq War. I say this as someone who supported the original rationale for going into Iraq and who still supports the war effort. But support should never be blind and I think there's much that opponents and supporters of the war can gain from reading Mr. Ricks' "near-term history" of the conflict. He has produced a remarkable book that synthesizes a broad range of information and yet does so in an immensely readable fashion. The author is to be genuinely congratulated. For me, the book was particularly insightful in offering a cogent narrative of how the insurgency came to be. It presented a detailed inventory of the political and military mistakes of the period stretching from immediately after Baghdad's fall in the late spring of 2003, through the rise of the insurgency later that year and into the middle of 2004.

Is the book perfect? No and doubtless as more time passes and as more information becomes available some of the conclusions and narratives presented here may change. But for the time being, the book is the best contemporary record of the events of the past three years in Iraq and I can't imagine it being surpassed anytime soon. I found it far more useful than the somewhat tepid "Cobra II" and the better-but-not-as-good "Assassin's Gate."

What most impressed me was the way Ricks dealt honestly with the shortcoming of the US military and particularly the US Army.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Fiasco' - And It's Only Gotten Worse September 17, 2006
Thomas Ricks has been the senior Pentagon reporter for the Wall Street Journal and later the Washington Post. He is no enemy of the US military (in fact, he does not advocate US withdrawal). This book really should be read by every American not just for what it tells us about the Bush Administration and the Iraq war, but as a cautionary tale about the limits of military power.

Let me be clear: I opposed this war before President Bush chose to start it mainly because it was a distraction from fighting terrorism. `Fiasco' details the choices made by the Administration, the willful ignorance of facts that didn't fit their chosen path.

Fiasco is strongest in describing the false premises upon which the Administration built its case for war, the lack of planning for Phase IV (post-war plans), and Bremer's enormous false steps. And Ricks' admiration for the US military shines through as he relates its failures, successes, and `lessons learned'. There is indeed much to be admired in the US military - such as the Army's Center for Army Lessons Learned where the whole point is to review what the Army did, what it did right, what it did wrong, and how to apply those lessons in the future. Sounds like something the White House should try.

Fiasco is such an important book that I would like to give it a `5' star rating and it really should be read, but the book lacks structure, other than simple chronology and after a while begins to read like a string of newspaper articles. The concluding Afterword was especially weak with brief descriptions of what might lie ahead. Ricks is best at description, okay at prescription, and poor at prediction. Fortunately, most of the book is descriptive and very little is predictive.

Nonetheless, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the story of the Iraq War.
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358 of 411 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Conservative that thinks this needs to be read. July 25, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have just finished the first part of the book and believe that the content needs to be addressed. The book has the right title because it is a fiasco in Iraq. I will not go so far as to say it will never workout because only time will tell; however, I do respect Thomas Rick's viewpoint that ill preparation doomed the Iraq war so far. The soldiers on the ground are doing the best that they can, but the type of battle will have to be shifted to defeat the insurgency.

Ricks discusses alot about the containment theory with Saddam Hussein and how it could have worked; one is to never know now that he has been overthrown. I did like how Ricks did the opposite of what all media has done today and simply blame Bush for all the trouble. Ricks starts off with Paul Wolfowitz and explains his views were the beginning of Iraq for a war target. Ricks does not character assassinate Wolfowitz or anyone else for that matter. Ricks simply looks at the people that brought us to war and compares their strengths and weaknesses. I love how he did this. Ricks lets the reader form their own opinion on the subject.

Ricks points to Tommy Franks, Dick Cheney, and George Tenet at fault for the run-up to war. Tommy Franks is blamed for rejecting ideas from subordinates, "meddling in tactical issues and did not address key strategic questions". Cheney started the run-up to war when he gave a speech on August 26th 2002 to the VFW. Cheney stated at the time that there was no doubt Iraq had WMDs. Bush did not have much choice but to go along with his VP on the issue. Ricks says this really started the ball rolling to war on Iraq. Then Ricks points toward George Tenet for the intelligence failures. Ricks states that after Desert Fox, Iraqi intel went downhill because the sources were afraid to speak out.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting
Published 12 days ago by maryloureally
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it after reading American Sniper and all those Iraq ...
Read it after reading American Sniper and all those Iraq stories from navy seal. We should honor those who are actually out there fighting for us, no matter what political opinion... Read more
Published 15 days ago by GWON
4.0 out of 5 stars It really was a fiasco.
In case you had any doubt, it really was a fiasco.
Published 2 months ago by bb user
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it and weep
For anybody wanting a definitive account of the American misadventure in Iraq – this is it. As the senior Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post, and with a thorough... Read more
Published 2 months ago by D. Friedman
1.0 out of 5 stars Reading this now in 2015 could be why I am disappointed about it
I was genuinely surprised to see such high reviews for this book. It is also possible that the information was more relevant around the time this book was published. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Richard A. Carracedo
4.0 out of 5 stars Fiasco, Indeed!
Filled with surprising news, controversial accounts that discredit initial ones, like the media controls the world and makes anyone believe just about anything, rumors of weapons... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Eddie Wannabee
5.0 out of 5 stars Tells It like It Is
What a great read. Leaves no doubt about what's happening with the U.S. military. Ouch!
Published 4 months ago by PJ Rellaw
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read, a must for everybody to understand how ...
Wonderful read, a must for everybody to understand how the war was brought up and the ice ball started rolling.

Well researched book, and plan to reread it again later.
Published 4 months ago by Desert Eagle
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for any American
Well written why we are losing the war in Iraq and what can be done to win based on historic successful counter insurgencies.
Robin Rebhan
Published 5 months ago by Cheryl E. Rebhan
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard but True
I found the book very much at odds with my earlier perceptions of the Iraq war. After a careful read it's difficult to argue with its conclusions. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Robert Metzger
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Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005
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No mention of Gaddafi's aborted nuclear bomb building project (due to...
One, that's a matter of opinion.

Two, it's irrelevant to the points argued in this book.

Ricks doesn't look too much at why we invaded. He's addressing HOW we managed Iraq after the invasion. It should be a matter of obvious record that that has been a "fiasco." What happened in... Read More
Oct 9, 2006 by Traveler |  See all 7 posts
I respond and explain why Gadadfi's aborted nuke bomb building project...
Your statement is too black and white. I did read Shopping for Bombs and your statement is ever-so-partially correct. Gaddafi had a lot more to gain by giving up his "off the shelf" nuclear program. Which by the way, you never mentioned never had the hope of getting of the ground. ... Read More
Oct 16, 2006 by Mike Beri |  See all 5 posts
New bestselling book mentioning important fact about Gadhafi quitting...
Do you really think there is a cause/effect relationship between the two events, that the one was planned with the intention of causing the other to occur? If you do, then you're far too gullible to be allowed to vote.
Aug 15, 2007 by boris jimski |  See all 3 posts
Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith and Franks should be held accountable
"The left wingers of America would not permit a far more huge (sic) US force to go to Iraq?" Which party controlled both houses of Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court on March 19, 2003? Which party held the title "Commander in Chief?" Now, just how many troops... Read More
Aug 15, 2007 by boris jimski |  See all 3 posts
Enemies by Design: A fiasco the neo-con neo-nazi nihilists wanted in Iraq
I agree that J. Leonard's conspiracy theories of the left are not helpful. However, I also believe that those on the right need to open their minds and recognise that those who oppose the war, do not oppose the war aims - defeating terror and spreading democracy. I applaud those ideals but... Read More
Aug 22, 2006 by SYMON |  See all 11 posts
The Disbanding of the Iraqi Army and the Purging of the Ba'athists Be the first to reply
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