I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Iraq outcome is yet to be determined
Reading Thomas Ricks’ new book about the surge made me feel ignorant at the start, but I was elated by the time I’d finished it — The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq – 2006-2008.
Permit me to explain.
In semi-retirement, I have the leisure to read a lot — newspapers, news magazines and Web material. So I think I know what’s going on in the public sphere.
Sometimes I do. Sometimes I delude myself.
Take simple, factual questions. The surge was General Petraeus’ idea, right? Not quite.
It emerged from the Pentagon, correct? No. The White House? No. In fact, Jack Keane was its leading proponent. Show of hands, please — who’s familiar with Jack Keane?
True or false — while U.S. strategy and tactics evolved, our aims in Iraq are those originally proclaimed by the Bush Administration.
Ok, let’s start at the beginning. The surge was about adding thousands more American troops, right? Yes and no, says Ricks; the key was how Generals Petraeus and Ray Odierno, his number two, used them.
But it worked, right? Ricks suggests that’s the wrong question.
Still the outlook in Iraq today is good, right? And we’ll be able to get out in a couple of years?
If you credit Ricks, the answer to that is almost certainly not.
I do credit him. The Washington Post military correspondent reveals himself as knowledgeable, thoughtful and cautious. Secondly, Pretraeus and Odierno educated Ricks over a period of years and did so despite his evisceration of the Pentagon in “Fiasco,” an earlier book on our optional war.
(Tangential thought: Journalism sure evolves with time. If daily reporting is the “first draft of history,” a week lets you fix facts and add color, a month permits serious exploration of “why” and — given years — the reporter can fix a chronology from which to elicit cause-and-effect.)
You may want to read “The Gamble” for new information, the author’s informed speculation and, not least, for this eye-opening prediction:
“The outcome of our Iraq adventure will be determined by events that have not yet happened,” Ricks writes.
Now, having been chastened, why am I elated, sort of? First because Ricks’ book is an achievement — I get a charge when a fellow human hits it out of the ballpark.
Secondly, because whereas his “Fiasco” mostly described White House and Pentagon losers (as ignorant as they were certain), this volume’s cast features lots of self-aware, brilliant public servants — grunts, top brass and civilians, American and foreign.
(I forget how much the Bushes, Rumsfelds and Wolfowitzs of this world, depress me like overcast skies in Albuquerque until their opposites make the sun rise anew.)
New subject: Ricks notes in passing how the American torture of suspects aided the terrorist cause. In that connection, you may want to pick up “How to Break a Terrorist,” by Matthew Alexander (pseudonym) with John R. Bruning.
It’s a first-person account by a former U.S. Army interrogator of how he and colleagues learned the whereabouts of Abu Musab al Zarqawi (the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq) and killed him.
It’s not analytical, a long magazine story really, but easy reading, suspenseful and dotted with insights into Iraqi society.
I borrowed both books from the Albuquerque Public Library.