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Blind Into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq Paperback – August 15, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, compiles in this slim volume a series of five articles he wrote for that magazine between 2002 and 2005, which collectively won a National Magazine Award. Along with an original introduction and afterword, the essays systematically chronicle the mendacity, insularity and incompetence of the Bush administration while developing and implementing its Iraq policy. Relying heavily on inside sources and declassified documents, Fallows (National Defense) shows that, before the war, the government had ample intelligence to forestall many of the disastrous consequences of the occupation, but Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others ordered their subordinates to ignore the reports. "Bush's Lost Year" addresses a topic that has received little attention: the effects of the buildup in Iraq on the campaign in Afghanistan and the broader war on terror. "Why Iraq Has No Army" studies one decision that has hampered the war effort ever since. For avid news readers, little will be new, though "Will Iran Be Next?"—an account of a high-level discussion convened by the Atlantic Monthly—may pique more interest. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Fallows' series of articles for the Atlantic Monthly between 2002 and 2005 that won the magazine a National Magazine Award are collected in this book, offering a backward look on the analysis that criticized the administration's plan for a preemptive war in Iraq and its woefully inadequate planning for the aftermath of war. Fallows' article "The Fifty-first State," published in November 2002, conveyed the complexity of dealing with Iraq after the war and the likelihood that the responsibility would be long term and consuming. The collection examines the questionable reports of Iraq's cache of weapons of mass destruction and how the administration could have known of the internal tensions within Iraq that would make managing the occupation extremely difficult. Fallows explores why Iraq has no army two years after the invasion and the threats posed by Iran. The collection provides an interesting perspective on the war, looking back on what was anticipated with uncanny accuracy, which raises even more questions about the administration's inability to foresee the difficulties of occupying Iraq. Footnotes provide additional information, background, and commentary since the articles first appeared. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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I’ve been a subscriber of The Atlantic for many years and have always enjoyed the work of Mr. Fallows. I recall reading most of these stories when they came out in the magazine, but still found re-reading them in this format to be beneficial. Of course from the perspective of early 2014 we know how the story ends but these essays provide snapshots of the tumultuous first few years of U.S. involvement in Iraq. Any serious study of the 2003 U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq should have Blind Into Baghdad in the bibliography.
Even if you don't agree with the author's conclusions--that the war in Iraq was handled badly--it DOES offer suggestions why Iraq and Iran in 2015 present such threats to America's security.
Fallows himself begins by describing the book's perspective (page x):
"The subject of the book is America's preparation for and conduct of its war in Iraq, whose combat phase began in March 2003. because that war played so large a part in the U. S. government response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, assessing the war naturally raises questions about the wisdom, competence, and effectiveness of the overall strategy against Islamic terrorism.
The cumulative argument of the book is that this strategy was gravely flawed in both design and execution."
The chapters cover various aspects of the Iraqi invasion and its aftermath. The chapter entitled "The Fifty-First State?" is based on interviews with knowledgeable players before the invasion of Iraq. The focus was on what was likely to happen after the invasion, since all assumed that the American forces would walk over the Iraqi army. The essay's predictions do not all pan out (and Fallows adds footnotes to note more current information). However, it is interesting to see how a number of these predictions did come to fruition.
Other chapters explore Paul Bremer's terminating the Iraqi Army and his extreme de-Baathification program, how George Bush's original war on terror focusing on Afghanistan began to lose focus with the invasion of Iraq, and so on.
His conclusions are exceedingly harsh and may irritate many readers. He notes, to provide a flavor of his reflections, that (page 229):
"The country failed because individuals who led it failed. They made the wrong choices; they did not learn or listen; they were fools. No one responsible for these errors was dismissed from the administration. No senior officer was relieved or reprimanded."
In the final analysis, because of the approach, some of the material does appear dated. However, this perspective also provides an interesting test of how well (or poorly) Fallows and those people whom he interviewed perceived accurately what the longer term situation would actually be.
The author provides both an introduction and a conclusion to the book that are unique to the book and set the articles in harmony as a whole.
There are other books that excel as retrospective reconstruction and finger-pointing, among which I would include HUBRIS, Squandered Victory, The End of Iraq, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, and most recently, State of Denial, but this is the only book to focus on all that we knew prior to the war about the daunting difficulties facing us in making the peace, and why the political leadership of the Executive did not want us to think about that, and why the political leadership of the Congress refused to play its role as a co-equal branch with the power of both the purse and the declaration of war exclusive to it.
James Fallows documents how virtually every sensible element of the federal government, from the military to the diplomats to the commerce and treasury and agriculture and others, all KNEW that invading Iraq was going to open a Pandora's box of sectarian violence, ethic conflict over resources, a collapse of good order, the failure of infrastructure the US would not be able to repair quickly enough, and on and on and on and on!
Objective observers, including the British, considered the claims of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz with respect to the ease with which Iraq qould be liberated, to be the "ruminations of insane people."
The author's bottom line is clear: the bureaucracy did its job and anticipated every single reason for not going to war, every single calamity that would befall us in Iraq. Where government failed was at the political level, with Dick Cheney closing out the policy process, spoon feeding the President lies from convicted thief and liar Chalabi, and with a full-court press backed by Wall Street and the media, to declare dissent to be treason--hence General Tony Zinni, former Commander in Chief for the Central Command, being called a traitor for sharing his knowledge.
The author and The Atlantic Monthly did not rely only on open sources. They sponsored a war game that came as close as possible to matching all that the US Government might be doing behind closed doors, using only open sources and overt experts, and here again, well in advance of the war, the conclusion was the same: don't do it!
The author concludes the book with several findings, all of which are completely consistent with the other non-fiction books I have read on Iraq and related blunders:
1) Corporations deciding on how to market a brand of toothpaste are vastly more meticulous and thoughtful that the political leadership in the Executive deciding to go to war on what proved to be whims, lies, and active mis-representation.
2) There was too little friction. The Administration got a "free ride" from the people, Congress, the media. Other than Senator Byrd, who shall long be my personal hero for his 80 speeches against the war (he alone among all the Senators stood fast on the matter of the Senate being equal to the Executive and having the right to question this idiocy--see my review of his book, Losing America), our Congress abdicated its responsibilities and failed the Nation. This was a bi-partisan failure, but the extremist Republican leaders were most to blame.
3) There has been no accountability. I remain shocked by the number of books and DVDs (see my list of Serious DVDs) that document the constant stream of lies and mis-representations from the political leadership and their tame uniformed members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (who should be fired for confusing loyalty with integrity). It is a sad commentary on the Nation that the pedophile charges against Congressman Foley seem to carry more weight with the public than our 65,000 amputees.
I like this book very much. It is important for all Americans to understand that good minds working only with open sources of information easily anticipated the reasons why an elective war on Iraq was not a good idea. It is important for all Americans to know that the good people in State, Defense, and elsewhere got it right, but Dick Cheney shut them down, shut them out, and alone, bears responsibility for leading a young President ignorant of national security matters, on a very irresponsible and costly course of action.
Dick Cheney has a great deal to answer for--none of the others could have achieved their ill without him.