Monday, March 30, 2009

Thomas Ricks discusses "The Gamble"

A couple of nights ago I watched Thomas Ricks give a talk at about his most recent book on the last few years of the Iraq war, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (a sequel to his previous work, the authoritative Fiasco.) I'd embed it here but I haven't been able to get that feature to work ever since Fora redesigned its website.

Anyways, the talk is a little over an hour and, as can be expected, is highly informative. Here are some key points from the discussion:

- Where as the message of Fiasco was "the war in Iraq is going worse than you think it is," the message of The Gamble is "the war in Iraq is not going as well as you think it is." The reductions in violence that have been achieved are tenuous.

- The "surge" did not work (at least not in the way that it was intended to.)

- We have not "won" in Iraq or achieved "victory." The war is, by Ricks' estimation, maybe half way done and will end up being the longest military conflict in US history.

- Leaving Iraq may be immoral. Staying in Iraq may be immoral. Iraq is poisoned fruit and we are left with having to figure out the least bad options.

- George W. Bush will be remembered as the worst president in U.S. history.

- There is no such thing as "non-combat troops."

- One way or another, the Iraqi government is going to end up being a closer ally of Iran than the United States.

I've highlighted what I found to the most significant points of the talk, but if you watch the entire thing you will see that Ricks does have some praise for President Bush and for what Petraeus has done since taking command, as well as plenty of other general information about the situation in Iraq.

One point of dissent: Ricks favors a truth commission to investigate war crimes committed during the last eight years, with amnesty granted for those who participate. I see no reason to grant war criminals amnesty. A truth commission is a good idea for a society that is moving from civil war or tyranny to a democratic state, where an open inquiry can help push the society to the right of the J curve and avoid the destabilizing effect of criminal prosecutions for the previous regime; but in America, which is already a democratic state and an open society, a truth commission will lower America's J curve by sacrificing one of our most democratic institutions: the rule of law. Besides, member of the Bush administration have long demonstrated that they are not going to be willing participants in any kind of discussion, nor will they speak honestly without some sort of penalty imposed on them (although Ricks does suggest amnesty be revoked for anyone who does not come forward freely before a certain date.)

I realize that I probably need to explain the concept of the J curve, but I'm in a bit of a rush and that link will have to do for now. Nevermind, this link explains it.

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