Thomas Ricks on Iraq

I read Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco earlier this year. That was all about the invasion and bungling of the war in Iraq. He has a new book out, The Gamble, about the surge. Despite being frustrated by the book, I thought it was illuminating. I may pick up The Gamble because I don’t think I’ve got nearly the same coverage of information on the surge as I did on earlier efforts in Iraq. I haven’t decided yet.

I did take the opportunity to attend a speaking event he did at the Seattle Public Library on Thursday. It’s kind of the 20 minute version of his book. Here’s the points I took away from it (some of these came from the Q&A):

  • Ricks sees Obama’s approach as somewhat similar to Bush’s, pre-surge days. At the time, Bush’s policy was to turn as much stuff over to the Iraqis and get the hell out. They weren’t ready, and the things we did were counter-productive. Obama’s policy is to get out by middle of next year. Which means we’d have to turn as much stuff over to the Iraqis as possible and get the hell out. It could be doomed to as much failure as Bush’s attempt.
  • There’s no good options anymore. It’s trying to figure out the least bad option.
  • The surge failed. Security is better, but there’s been no political compromise. The point was to improve security so political compromise could be made.
  • Shiites believe they won, so they don’t want to compromise. Sunnis believe they are linked to Sunnis in the region and so should have more clout. Kurds will attempt to be as separate as possible de facto, no matter the result. None have any proclivity to compromise.
  • He sees Pakistan as the real danger. Iraq won’t be solved, but they don’t have the infrastructure to be dangerous. Afghanistan might be solved, and they don’t have the infrastructure either. Pakistan might fall apart, and they have nuclear weapons.

Clinton vs. Obama: Iraq

When the war in Iraq started, I wasn’t particularly for it or against it. I questioned the need to rush into it, but I do believe that some credible threat would have been needed to force Saddam Husein from power. Eventually. But I do think that the Bush administration rushed into it, and botched the war badly. I’ve read of proposals by Hussein to step down which were discarded. Paul Bremer’s initial management of Iraq pretty much blew it and put us behind the 8-ball for the rest of our engagement.

Obama opposed the war from the start. Clinton voted to authorize it, but wasn’t exactly for it. My views at the time match more closely with Clinton’s, though it’s a stretch to say we agreed. I would not have voted to authorize were I a senator. But I wasn’t exactly against the war either. In retrospect though, despite not agreeing with Obama’s position that we should never go there, his position would have kept us out of this mess.

Both Clinton and Obama want to remove our troops quickly, and in a staged fashion. Obama would keep forces nearby for counter-terrorism. Clinton has said forces might be left in the country for counter-terrorism.

On how to resolve the crisis there, Clinton would convene a group of our allies to propose a solution. Obama would call a convention involving the United Nations to work out a political solution to things like an oil law. Clinton’s plan seems a bit fuzzier on it’s goals, and a little too expansive on its participation.

Overall, the nod on Iraq goes to Obama for me.