Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq

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From the Washington Post's two-time Pulitzer-winning senior Pentagon reporter, the definitive military chronicle of the Iraq War-and a searing judgment of its gross strategic blindness-drawing on the accounts of senior military officers giving voice to their anger for the first time.

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From the Washington Post's two-time Pulitzer-winning senior Pentagon reporter, the definitive military chronicle of the Iraq War-and a searing judgment of its gross strategic blindness-drawing on the accounts of senior military officers giving voice to their anger for the first time.

Unabridged CDs - 20 CDs, 24 hours

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Editorial Reviews

Daniel Byman
Indeed, the picture Ricks paints is so damning that it is, at times, too charitable to say that the military and civilian leadership failed. Fiasco portrays several commanders as misguided but trying their best, but others -- particularly the hapless Franks -- appear not to have tried at all. Worse, the overall war and occupation effort lacked the high-level White House coordination essential to victory, allowing Bremer to operate on his own, making major decisions without consulting the Pentagon or the National Security Council, let alone his counterparts on the military side of the occupation … Ricks begins Fiasco with the ancient strategist Sun Tzu's admonition about how to achieve victory: "Know your enemies, know yourself." Clearly, those who took us to war in 2003 knew neither. The question today is whether they can learn.
— The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
By virtue of the author's wealth of sources within the American military and the book's comprehensive timeline (beginning with the administration's inflammatory statements about Saddam Hussein in the wake of 9/11, through the invasion and occupation, to the escalating religious and ethnic strife that afflicts the country today), Fiasco is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in understanding how the United States came to go to war in Iraq, how a bungled occupation fed a ballooning insurgency and how these events will affect the future of the American military. Though other books have depicted aspects of the Iraq war in more intimate and harrowing detail, though other books have broken more news about aspects of the war, this volume gives the reader a lucid, tough-minded overview of this tragic enterprise that stands apart from earlier assessments in terms of simple coherence and scope.
— The New York Times
Michiko Kakutani
The title of this devastating new book about the American war in Iraq says it all.... Absolutely essential reading ... [This] volume gives the reader a lucid, tough-minded overview of this tragic enterprise that stands apart from earlier assessments in terms of simple coherence and scope.
The New York Times
The New York Times Book Review
A comprehensive and illuminating portrait of the willful blindness of the Bush administration to Iraqi realities.
Los Angeles Times
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.
It is not an exaggeration, or at least not much of one, to say that with his new book, Fiasco, Thomas Ricks has changed the debate over Iraq.... It may leave your hand shaking just a bit when you finish and put it down. (
The Washington Post
Compelling and well-researched ... Fiasco pulls no punches.... News on Iraq usually comes with blaring headlines, but Ricks' work allows us to fit seemingly disparate events into an overall pattern.
Library Journal
Why the war in Iraq angers the military, as told by senior officers to the Washington Post's top Pentagon correspondent. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143059066
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 7/25/2006
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas E. Ricks is an adviser on national security at the New America Foundation, where he participates in its "Future of War" project. He was previously a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and is a contributing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, for which he writes the prizewinning blog The Best Defense. Ricks covered the U.S. military for The Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. Until the end of 1999 he had the same beat at The Wall Street Journal, where he was a reporter for seventeen years. A member of two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams, he covered U.S. military activities in Somalia, Haiti, Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Kuwait, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He is the author of several books, including The Generals, The Gamble, and the number one New York Times bestseller Fiasco, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I Containment
1 A bad ending 3
2 Containment and its discontents 12
3 This changes everything : the aftermath of 9/11 29
4 The war of words 46
5 The run-up 58
6 The silence of the lambs 85
Pt. II Into Iraq
7 Winning a battle 115
8 How to create an insurgency (I) 149
9 How to create an insurgency (II) 189
10 The CPA : "can't produce anything" 203
11 Getting tough 214
12 The descent into abuse 270
Pt. III The long term
13 "The army of the Euphrates" takes stock 301
14 The Marine Corps files a dissent 311
15 The surprise 321
16 The price paid 363
17 The corrections 374
18 Turnover 390
19 Too little too late? 413
Afterword : batting against history 430
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 23 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 19 of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2008

    FIASCO - An Outsider's View

    Thomas Ricks writes an excellent book taking a braod view and very neatly breaking down the salient issues of the Iraq War. The book takes a top-down approach. Those looking for low level perspective won't find it in this book although Ricks does include some insights from troops-in-the-ranks level. His view is decidedly liberal in that he advocates for leaving Iraq and painting the war as a mistake. Ricks assails the Bush Administration policy very well. However, this is only part of the story and does not delve into what the Army and Marine Corps senior commands in Iraq are doing to address the shortcomings of the Rumsfeld Department of Defense policies. This is a useful book to gather information. It's gretest flaw is that it's long on criticism and very short on offering better solutions. Any reader serious about studying the Iraq War needs to give this book a read. The book has great reasearch value.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2007

    Very good book

    For those that follow the news and know a little military history, the general thrust of this book is nothing new. But the level of detail is very good and I enjoyed how the author seems to have done a very thorough job of research. It appears the US military is finally starting to realize the type of war we are fighting in Iraq (an insurgency coupled with a civil war), but it really may be too late to make a difference. Some mistakes you can't just make good. It is a very good book through, well written and very detailed. While obviously with a title like Fiasco is dwells a lot of the negative, but the author also writes about some of the things that have worked. The mess in Iraq was not a foregone conclusion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2007

    FIASCO is the best word to describe America in Iraq

    I was in Iraq as a contractor in 2004-2005. I went there believing we would rebuild Iraq and be a force for good in the world. It was a bitter disappoint to see the self inflicted mess in Iraq unfold. A part of me died there. But the book title, 'FIASCO - The American Military Adventure in Iraq', is not descriptive of what I saw there. The military was not the problem. The root cause of the FIASCO was the dishonesty, corruption and incompetence of President Bush combined with his crass cronyism. I thought the book would be more to the point if that reality was told with more force and outrage. Fiasco - the George W. Bush legacy, is the only way to describe Iraq.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2007

    A reviewer

    A solid, thorough overview of the lead-up to the insurgency and the lack of strategy/unity of command that would have narrowed its scope. Detailed reporting, so you can tell that this was written by a journalist. On the down side, I found some sections a bit redundant and just about went crazy with the hundreds of different names! Overall strongly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2006

    A poor attempt at distracting from the facts.

    Fiasco misses because it tries to compare the Iraq War to other recent conventional wars. A war such as this has never been fought before, it requires new rules and has different victory conditions. This is why this title will never be suitable for a true military history of the Iraq War. If you go by conventional terms, we defeated the Iraq army and occupied Baghdad in record time. What came after was seperate from the initial operations. The author simply does not understand this. Since other reviewers gave thier personal feelings on the issue, here is mine. This war has been prolonged on purpose. Anti-US terrorists are now halfway across the world fighting trained soldiers instead of blowing up women and children in the United States. I think that was our current administration's plan from the beginning and that is why it is a success. That is also why this book fails - it judges the war in a theater outside of its intended purpose. Holding true to its' political bias, it also tries to illustrate that this war belongs solely to Bush's regime, which is simply a lie. Many notable democrats and others not only supported the war but also voted for it to take place. It will take more facts and less of the same old Anti-Bush lies and propaganda from the media and liberal authors that is crowding the literary world for a book like this to be a success.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2006

    Good but Incomplete

    This is a nice presentation on the war in Iraq. However, the author should have discussed more about other factors that led to the war such as what are discussed in 'The New Iraqi Dinar Investment Guide' which gives great detail on the oil shortage and insurgency.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2006

    One of the best books yet on the war against Iraq

    This is one of the best books on the war against Iraq. Thomas Ricks, the Washington Post¿s senior Pentagon correspondent, argues that the invasion has been the worst US foreign policy decision ever. With 655,000 Iraqis killed, more than 2,810 US troops dead and more than 21,600 seriously wounded, the occupation of Iraq is a disaster. The 9/11 Commission concluded unanimously that there was no evidence that Iraq and Al Qa¿ida ever had `a collaborative operational relationship¿ and no evidence that Iraq had ever been involved in any attack on the USA. The USA¿s leaders presented their wishful thinking as fact - about Iraq¿s non-existent Al Qa¿ida links and about the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So the US¿s rulers should have had just one target ¿ those who carried out the attack. Instead, they attacked three - Al Qa¿ida, Afghanistan¿s Taliban, and Iraq. A study by Jeffrey Record, published by the War College¿s Strategic Studies Institute, said, ¿Of particular concern has been the conflation of al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein¿s Iraq as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat. This was a strategic error of the first order because it ignored crucial differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to U.S. deterrence and military action. The result has been an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq that has created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al Qaeda. The war against Iraq was not integral to the GWOT [Global War on Terrorism] but rather a detour from it.¿ Ricks also observes that the US¿s rulers understated the difficulty of remaking Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, one of the war¿s architects, characteristically said in December 2002, ¿people are overly pessimistic about the aftermath.¿ He also said, ¿I don¿t see why it would take more troops to occupy the country than to take down the regime.¿ He claimed that the US force would need to be only 30,000 by August 2003, and that Iraq¿s oil would pay for occupying and rebuilding Iraq. In the real world, the USA now has more than 150,000 troops there and the war has cost the USA more than $300 billion. In a textbook example of how to create an insurgency, the US occupation authority destroyed Iraq¿s administrative structure, army, police and industries. Oil production is half pre-war levels. A member of the Coalition Provisional Authority described it as `pasting feathers together, hoping for a duck¿. A four-star general said that it was almost as if the USA was working `to create the maximum amount of chaos possible¿. The occupation forces¿ presence and actions feed the fires. The US and British states are using 60,000 mercenaries, who are unregulated and unaccountable. There are almost 21,000 British `private security guards¿ in Iraq, three times the number of British troops. The US state institutionalised abuse: its military intelligence ordered, ¿we want these individuals broken.¿ In the first 18 months of the occupation, 40,000 Iraqis suffered detention in US¿run prisons. There were 34,131 insurgent attacks in 2005, up from 26,496 in 2004. The war has exposed every part of the US ruling class¿s system as a failure ¿ the executive, the military establishment, the intelligence agencies, the media, Congress, NATO, `the special relationship¿. (Ricks mentions Blair only three times, each time as standing next to Bush.) The rulers¿ cheerleaders now lie that `we all got it wrong¿ no, the US and British ruling classes got it wrong the working classes of the world got it right, opposing the war from the start, by huge majorities.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2006

    A Surprising Midadventure Threatens to Ignite the World's Oil Fields for Decades

    Surely, you remember all of those Weapons of Mass Destruction that President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, and The New York Times assured us were being hidden in Iraq. If you have a short memory about what we were told, Fiasco will remind you what came out of those horses' mouths in 2002 and 2003. If you think back even further, you may also recall an attack on the United States in New York and Washington D.C. that led to about 3,000 deaths caused by an outfit called al-Qaeda headed by a fellow named Osama bin Laden. We haven't found that fellow yet, and we've invaded at least two countries to locate him. He doesn't seem to be in Iraq, either. Fiasco points out that there never was an Iraqi connection to that group of terrorists, but in the aftermath of our invasion Iraq has become the headquarters and training ground for the most active and effective terrorists in the world. Maybe we'll eventually lure bin Laden there. So why read this book? Well, Mr. Ricks does a superb job of tracking down all of the planning, training and preparation for the post-invasion period that did not occur. As a result, it seems like the United States made virtually every major mistake possible in turning a liberation into a heavy-handed, insensitive occupation that turned the majority of the Iraqi people into opponents of the United States from being favorably disposed. As early as five months after Saddam Hussein was captured, 55% of Iraqis felt that it was more dangerous having American troops in Iraq than to have them all leave immediately. If you are like me, you'll be disgusted, appalled and ashamed at the travesty of how the United States mismanaged the reconstruction of Iraq. Who is at fault? Well, it's hard to find people who aren't at fault. Feel free to list the usual Republican and Pentagon leaders, but add those in Congress who backed off from providing civilian oversight. Can you imagine that serious counter-insurgency planning only began in August 2004? And we lost ground in 2005 on that front. So where are we now? Apparently, we're worse off than if we had stayed home in 2003. The book ends with several scenarios of what might happen next, all of which are even more unpleasant than the reality we have today. Tens of thousands more will die, including thousands of Americans. Power will shift into less friendly hands. More terrorists will be trained. Our supply of oil will be less secure. Gasoline will hit $9.00 a gallon in one scenario. The book also upholds the honor of the ordinary soldiers and Marines who have done tough duty, far beyond what could have been expected of them . . . without the proper training, support, leadership resources. My sense from this book is that a sequel will be written ten years from now called Quagmire. Why did I grade the book down? Despite doing a fine job of tracking down the untold parts of the story, I found that Mr. Ricks loves to editorialize a little too much before he proves his point. Here's an example in the first sentence of the book: '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.' So what are the lessons for us as citizens? It looks like we should be sure that no one (of either political party) ever gets enough power to head off on such ego trips again. Gridlock looks pretty good as our primary option for getting the government back under control.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2006

    Its like the best book ever

    Oh my Gosh. After reading the first few pages of this book I couldn't beleve that it was so emotional.. I cried like 10 times.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2006


    This was a well written book, however I always stuggle with the question,'why?' I think the book 'The Game of Life: it's almost over' by Linda Dipman, should be read along with it to help understand this question.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2006

    Peace Lost to Expediency?

    Thomas Ricks rightly states that the U.S. effort since 1991 should be characterized as a long war made up of four distinctive steps: 1) A short ground battle in 1991, 2) Twelve years of containment done largely from the air, 3) A second short ground battle in 2003, and 4) Another decade of containment ¿ this time on the ground, and inside Iraq (pp. 395-96, 433-39). To his credit, Ricks does not shy away from calling to task those who he deems responsible for a wide range of blunders made in the design and execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unjustified optimism remains an enduring trait of the U.S. management of the Iraq war (pp. 246, 323, 360). Two of the first casualties of the Iraq war have been the irreparable damage to the credibility of some key players and a durable loss of both prestige and power of deterrence for the U.S. (pp. 90-96, 109, 128, 147, 167-72, 184-85, 212, 263, 268, 293-94, 304, 308-10, 325, 329, 341-48, 362, 385-86, 406-12, 430-33). Ricks uses mostly well-identified sources to back up his argumentation. Ricks reminds his audience that in the run-up to war, administration officials tended to assume the worst-case scenario for WMDs, disregarding contrary evidence that Saddam Hussein was largely contained in his cage. Contemporarily, the same administration officials made rosy assumptions about the welcome the U.S. military would get from grateful Iraqis, about the quick establishment of a new Iraqi government, and about the swift return of most U.S. troops to their home bases (pp. 58-59). Many ordinary Iraqis, especially in the South, did not forget how the U.S-led coalition ended the fighting prematurely and clumsily at their expense after expelling the Iraqi army from Kuwait in 1991 (pp. 5-6). Furthermore, Ricks does not spare either Congress or the Media for going AWOL during both the run-up to war and the ensuing occupation of Iraq (pp. 28, 35, 61¿ 65, 85-90, 380-88). The U.S. quickly squandered the blitzkrieg victory that it achieved in the spring of 2003. Ricks clearly enumerates the different factors that have contributed to that sad outcome: 1) Casual dismissing of the looting after the fall of Baghdad, which was made possible by insufficient manpower (pp. 135-36, 148, 150, 178, 182-83) 2) The quick turnover of staff with critical expertise to deal with the tribal structure of Iraqi society (pp. 157, 323) 3) The initial focus on mostly ghost WMDs, which allowed the first insurgents to plunder existing weapon dumps at will (pp. 146, 168, 191) 4) The lack of adequate troops and illegal guidelines to manage the overflow of detainees that led to the Abu Ghraib scandal, the most well-known among existing Iraqi scandals (pp. 147, 175, 197-200, 238-40, 258-61, 270-97, 378-80) 5) The excessive de-Baathification within Iraqi ministries, which fuelled the Sunni insurgency (pp. 158-61, 180) 6) The dissolution of the Iraqi army and national police force, for which the Sunni insurgency was also grateful (pp. 161-66, 180, 191) 7) An over-focus on foreign fighters, which have represented a small percentage of the insurgency (p. 194) 8) The postponement in the organization of elections and the formation of a sovereign Iraqi government with an eye on writing a constitution (pp. 165, 254-55, 413) 9) Hasty transition of Iraq to a free market economy, which alienated further the middle class, which was already on the receiving end of de-Baathification (pp. 165, 181) 10) The existence of largely unrestrained powerful militias such as the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army (pp. 244, 336-38, 353, 358, 395, 428) 11) The strategic confusion about the asymmetric warfare that the U.S. was compelled to wage (pp. 138-44, 152-54, 164, 179-85, 192-95, 203-13, 222-69, 301-02, 313-24, 371, 392-94, 405, 414-24) The initial heavy-handed approach of most of the U.S. military, the lack of unity of command, open borders, and the enduring isolation of most U.S. troops in their

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2006

    outstanding.. must reading for anyone who wants to be able to discuss the iraq war intelligently

    Coming from an anti-war perspective, i thought the book would be 'preaching to the choir'.. However, it is so much more than that. Ricks' access to so many senior military people and his ability to organize and explain so much of the military/civilian dynamic make the book an absolute must read for anyone who wants to be able to analyze and discuss the war in Iraq. It is not at all an anti-war screed, but an intelligent, well sourced, logical analysis of the lead up to the war and the awful aftermath. In a few years, it will be regarded as the first book which blew the lid off the incompetence and insanity of our nation's leaders in 2002 and 2003. It is outrageous and inexcusable that the American people were taken down the primrose path and the march to war. It is criminal that the intelligence was skewed and warped and twisted to support a policy. It is outrageous that the Administration was hellbent on launching a war with virtually no evidence and refused to heed warnings regarding the aftermath of an obvious victory over Hussein. The information leads one to conclude that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell,Franks, Feith, Perle, Armitage, Wolfowitz and the entire gang should be indicted, some of them for advancing and promoting the war and others for allowing themselves to be used and abused. Again, i urge every single american who loves this country to read Fiasco. It will be a seminal study on the issue of the war..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2006

    Good, But Not Complete

    Ricks does a credible job explaining the Iraqi war and the stupidity that has led to its failures. No one with any sense of perspective can admire a war that violates international law in a hundred different ways: from its beginning premises, its lack of legitimacy, its treatment of prisoners and its general dysfunctional prosecution. Still, one has to admire the dedication of the American soldier in facing a Sisyphusan task. I felt that while Ricks pounded away at the the theme that the purpose of the war is confused, he failed to address the international politics attached to the war. He did not address the balances of power that existed prior to the war --- between Saddam and the Russians, for example, which related to old debts left from the Iraq-Iran war. He did not address the reasons that some 'phony' coalition candidates either participated or refused to participate. Germany and Japan, for example, have legal limits on their use of force. Ricks did not deal in enough detail with the containment policies: He neglected to address the 11th hour efforts (apparentely successful) of a number of countries to strip Saddam of his control over his borders in order to insure anti-WMD compliance. With regard to the military itself, Ricks confuses the reader with the history of top-down and bottom-up approaches. For example, he correctly decries the lack of unified purpose and strategy, but he also points out successful atomized field experiments that run counter to any established purpose or strategy. One must conclude that if the leadership would only listen to the field commanders, it would have a successful policy. However, as Ricks points out, success often has given way to failure as the 'soft' experiments in a sector ended with a particular deployment. Ricks emphasizes that overarching leadership has failed. Yet at the end of the book, still without a centralized purpose, Ricks praises the changes certain Generals have been advancing. These are 'lessons learned' --- but where are they really learned and applied? Ricks does not give Rumsfeld adequate credit for the 'technical efficiency' point of view. While I think personally that Rumsfeld deserves a huge portion of the blame for the war and the international image of arrogance of the US, I also believe that his argument for a stripped down military that relies on precision rather than blunt force, has some merit. At least Ricks should have aired some of the debate. None of us who lived through Vietnam can approve of military budgets that expand exponentially simply because the military will not examine its own efficiencies. As taxpayers, who wants to spend another $200 billion uselessly. Nevertheless, Ricks makes a good argument that a lack of troops and forthought about resources encouraged the insurgency in Iraq. Why didn't the US expect that Saddam would invoke a follow-on guerilla war? I did not like Rick's repeated use of jargon: 'hearts and minds,' 'center of gravity,' 'metrics' 'lesssons learned' etc. While this may explain in a general sense the meaning of certain strategies, it also serves to confuse. What business does a 19 year old soldier without a college education and without exposure to the world have in converting the 'hearts and minds' of an Islamic culture to American hamburgers and spin deomocracy? Unless the military intends to function in the dual role of warmaker and peacemaker (even with appropriate training), we can't expect the Iraqis to take our avuncular efforts seriously. And with regard to the 'center of gravity' of a situation --- what does this phrase mean? Does it mean that a field commander must determine the general thrust of a issue --- whether military or civilian? Does it imply an understanding of more than just what is visible at the moment? Ricks does a good job in starting the dialogue of this disastrous war. His work isn't perfect or great --- but it is brave. Others must help Ricks finish h

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2006


    I encourage everyone to read this book abut the debacle in Iraq. It is not just another 'dry' historical account from a 'talking head', but an emotionally compelling account that will leave many readers both shocked and surprised. It is to non-fiction what 'The Black H' is to fiction.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2006

    Fiasco will be a #1 Bestseller

    This book is truly a testament to the author's incredible knowledge and ability to express it with candor and without pulling any punches. I couldn't put it down. It only makes one's blood boil to know that we let ourselves get into this by not being more diligent after 9/11. The media and the loyal opposition fell down and let a group of incompetents get us into a poorly managed war of choice that prophetically is creating the horror of Middle Eastern crises. We were supposed to be safe from terrorism and this book shows how we actually created it on another front and will find it difficult to put the genie back in the bottle now that it is out. The incredible detail and factual account of how so many experts warned the Administration in advance and how it ignored anyone who disagreed shows that the President was not resolute and decisive. He was stubborn and misguided by a group of neocons who wanted this war for so long that they would use any excuse to execute it. 9/11 was convenient! The war on terror was neglected during this period and Iraq has become the central breeding ground for terrorists.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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