This book broke my heart. It is the first time ever that I read a history book and weep.
If you are like me, a concerned yet lazy global citizen, you'd have caught news about bombings in random Iraqi cities every once in a while, thought about how screwed up things are, wondered what could be done now that the US is already stuck in the quagmire, and returned to your daily routines as there is nothing that you can do.
What Ricks do oh so superbly in this book is to fill in that skeleton and present the reader with a coherent, lucid, and detailed account of what has happened so far. It pierces through the fog of words put up by the Bush government, who have the absolutely best spin doctors in the world, the confusion caused by the media's sporadic interest, and our numbness in the face of a humanity crisis. The result is, we no longer have an excuse to ignore the war in Iraq.
Before I started reading this book, I was worried that I'd be reading some wacko's exaggerated, emotional, conspiratorial account of the Iraq war, as implied by the title. I was hooked by the second page. Ricks's prose is clinical and precise. Dates and people are clearly identified, assertions duly footnoted, and quotes corroborated. As I flipped through the pages, a line in my head slowly connects dots of information hidden in the back of my mind - names of cities and provinces, utterings by officials and generals, bits and pieces of bombing footages. The reason I am comfortable to accept Ricks's version of the events is that it is supported by published sources, created at the time or very shortly after events take place. This is not someone making up facts to support his vendetta, with the help of 20/20 hindsight; this is a professional journalist writing a report in accordance with the strictest journalism principles.
Firmly convinced by the romantic notions of neoconservatism, the hawks of Washington DC went into Iraq without any reconstruction planning. An army of young and hotheaded soldiers was sent to Iraq expecting jubilant crowds in the street, welcoming their liberators. Instead, the undersized troops found themselves stuck in fighting an insurgency, the techniques for which was nearly wiped out from the Army's institutional memory following Vietnam. As we ponder and debate what is happening in Iraq, over a thousand Iraqi civilians die every month from violence, millions have their home destroyed in the crossfire, and countless are insulted daily by the presence of an unwelcome guest in their country and (literally) home. How can the "leaders" of the West continue to sit on their hands and wonder why are there more and more insurgents every day?
Apart from being outraged by the mess created, I am also shocked to the core by the lessons pointed out by Ricks. It is because I have actually witnessed many of them in my world. Incompetence of senior officials, distrust of local knowledge, hostility to dissenting views, and, most important of all, refusal to acknowledge mistakes - these are all very common in our workplace and I have personally fought many such incidences. These are real. The only difference here is the cost of these "blunders" are not just a few zeroes in a dollar figure, but the loss of life on a massive scale. We can no longer afford to shrug off the stupid things that some politicians say and do. There are terrifyingly real consequences to human incompetence, as continuously illustrated by the sad, sad situation in Iraq....Continua