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Tom Ricks on America's Wars
An Iraqi and a U.S. Army soldier stand guard next to a poster depicting radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr during the reopening of a street in the Kazimiyah area of northern Baghdad , Iraq, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009. (AP)

A U.S. Army soldier stands guard next to a poster depicting radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr during the reopening of a street in the Kazimiyah area of northern Baghdad, Iraq, on Feb. 3, 2009. (AP)

In the depths of America’s worst days in Iraq, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Thomas Ricks laid out the origins of early failure in his bestselling book of expose, “Fiasco.”

Now, Ricks is back with the story of the insurgency within the Pentagon that brought the surge and stabilization in Iraq.

And with a tough message. Despite Barack Obama’s campaign trail promise of withdrawal, the war in Iraq may not be half over yet, says Ricks. And Afghanistan looks even tougher.

This hour, On Point: Inside the U.S. military at war on two fronts, with Tom Ricks and his new book, “The Gamble.”

You can join the conversation. What’s your question for Tom Ricks on military’s lessons from Iraq? On what U.S. troops are facing in Afghanistan?


Thomas Ricks joins us from New York.  A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, he’s the author of the 2006 New York Times bestseller “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005″ and its follow-up, just published, “The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008.” He’s covered the U.S. military for more than 25 years, most recently for The Washington Post. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a bipartisan think tank, and a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine, where he writes the blog The Best Defense.

More links:

“The Generals’ Insurgency: The Story Behind the U.S. Troop Surge in Iraq,” a two-part series this week in The Washington Post, adapted from “The Gamble,” with web-only features including video, key documents, and a timeline.

“Stop Commuting to War” — an excerpt from “The Gamble,” at The Daily Beast.

On his blog, Ricks recently wrote a penetrating series analyzing lessons learned, or unlearned, from the costly battle between U.S. troops and Taliban fighters last July at Wanat, in eastern Afghanistan.

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  • Lilya Lopekha

    What is the Relationship between Occupying Iraq and the $700 Billion TARP?

    Huge Relationship?

    We have been so dumbed down, to the extend that we have occupied a country accross oceans; killed and got killed and we are not capable of asking: Why in the world we did that?

    Therefore, we are not capable of asking for accountability to Paulson and the other Thiefs.

    Why can’t we ask: Why did we actually invade Iraq?
    What was the Original Motive between 1992-1996 (before PNAC)?
    Why did the Cheerleading Clowns (Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Wurmser, Kagan – the IASPS team) go to Clinton to punish/hit Saddam/Iraq?
    How come we have program after program about Iraq, but nothing about the Reason?
    How come WBUR/NPR does not have to courage to talk to Peace Activist Groups – International Action?

  • Patrick

    tom, i would like your guest to address the following questions.

    where does iraq stand now and what trajectory is it on in terms of crafting a secular participatory constitutional governement that can endure? Specifically, where is iraq in resolving questions like role of religion in government, striking a balance between federal and local authority, developing norms for peaceful governmental transitions and the division of financial resources among ethnic groups?

    assess the importance of iraq in a regional context. can iraq be an effective counterweight to iran and saudi arabia on its current trajectory? what long term strategic objectives exists at the interection of iraq and US foreign policy?

    what strategies exist to deal with the reality that the conflict in afghanistan is partially being faught and needs to be faught much more within the borders of pakistan? how do you see a balance between pakistani and american military involvement developing?

  • scott

    tom i dont think that christian army in a moslim country will ever work out with a peacefull resalution.

  • Greg

    Was Tom Ricks on Fresh Air yesterday?

    I heard that story about the turning point in the war and the soldier who whisked the Iraqi children to safety yesterday on NPR – verbatim. But I don’t remember it being told by this voice.

    In a different news outlet I read about the Pentagon’s PR engine and how they slide stories into local and mainstream news outlets to spin their side of the story. (Not making any judgment about that here.)

  • R.M.

    Americans don’t understand the Arab world ….. . when you have honour killings of women and Israel is scapegoated as the worst human right violator in the history of humanity . The culture has not changed in 100′s of years . That you stay or that you leave the final result will be the same . Please listen a bit to legitimate Arab voices that will honestly tell you the truth .

  • Anne Sistler

    Why do we need to stay in Iraq? Is it really OUR problem that the country will become destabilized if the U.S. is not there?

    It’s not clear why the U.S. allows horrible violence to occur in the Congo and in Darfur, but thinks preventing violence in Iraq is somehow our responsibility.

    I am personally sorry the U.S. ever entered this mess, but we need to LEAVE. We can’t afford to spend more money on this ridiculous “adventure”.

  • Peter Bannigan

    When will we face the fact that the war in Iraq was all about oil and all of the stuff about weapons of mass distruction and Iraq Freedom is just a cover put in place by Bush and Chenney.

    Iraq has teh second largest oil reserves in the world and the real goal was to get it and control it as a hedge against OPEC and as a private reserve to fuel our oil based economy.

    Until we recognise the reason we really went into Iraq we can not come to terms on what is going on and how to get out.

  • Peter Bannigan

    Afghanistan needs to be fixed for teh long term but first there is a need to get ben Laden. It is a crime that Bush brushed off ben Laden in favor of Iraq to get the oil.

    We have to support Packistan and redo Afghanistan to protect ourselve in the long run by concentrating on all of those things that matter such as education, economics, trade, infrastructure, etc.

  • Lilya Lopekha

    Dear Peter Bannigan,

    Let’s take you as an example: You know that We Invaded Iraq for “Oil”. Marines think that we invaded Iraq in order to protect their Sisters from Terrorists.

    Did you get a personal call from Cheney or Bush?

    Didn’t Cheney say (in 1994) that a Military (ground) Action is a bad idea?

    Why were the Cheerleaders jumping up and down between 1992-1996 about doing something against Saddam/Iraq? How come they never mentioned about Oil, human rights, WMD, Mushrooms, Kurds?

    When was the last time you heard these individuals talk and get excited about “Oil”?
    Paul Wolfowitz
    Richard Pearle
    Robert Kagan / Frederick Kagan
    David Wurmser
    William Kristol
    Michael Ladine (broke into Niger embassy in Italy)
    Douglas Faith
    But every single one were acting like a Top Notch Salesman to sell the invasion to us – but Why?

    Why is it so difficult to use our brains (not what we have heard) and ask the right questions on “our” radio.

    By the way, Tom Ashbrook is one of the best in this field; but “we” need to push him to higher levels with better and truly unbiased Guests [Producers: Arey you listening?]

  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7847753.stm Frederic C.

    Dear Lilya,

    I think that ‘On Point,’ is a quality show but, I too find myself hoping that ‘On Point,’ would press home the point more frequently.

    There are times where they ‘just don’t go there,’ so to speak.

    I won’t be offended if Tom Ashbrook elaborated on the underlying assumptions or theories regarding the topic of the hour.

  • george riveros

    tom; your program is excellent, but others are saying that you should bring people that is really honest, not bias and willing to investigate the real truth and without any fear. You know, that the reason for the war is business and the proof is that the Bush administration send their friends contractors (120,000 without bidding) to rebuilt what the army and air force destroyed.(wactch the movie “WHY WE FIGHT” But they cannot bring back to life,women, 250,000 children dead under the age of 5,and mens totalling 850.000 or more. Bring back the investigation on 9/11 put to work an independent commitee and lest see the planes wreckage and debris, let’s interview the journalist that were there in the first few minutes and they will tell you that they didn,t see any planes in the pentagon and in Pennsylvania, there were no plains according to these reporters that later some of them have to lie, to fit the official history. People wants to know THE TRUTH find out the inside perpetrators, I HOPE THE OBAMA Administration initiate an investigation and get the real “TERRORISTS” that initiate the war for OIL and Profit. EVENTUALLY THE THRUTH WILL SURFACE,just help to find it SOONER. TKS.

  • Gordon

    It is up to Obama and our political leadership to direct the military, not the other way around. I find Mr. Rick’s tone like the tail wagging the dog — it is simply not up to the generals to decide how long we stay in Iraq, Mr. Rick’s admiration and agreement notwithstanding.

  • Lilya Lopekha

    The Reason for Invading is Business?????

    Yes, it is part of the spoils; except that it has never been part of the “original” motive. Original means Original. Has anybody seen CEO of Haliburton or people who got wealthy after the Invasion, ever cheerleading for the invasion? Not one of them.

    Don’t forget: Bush was in Crawfor/Austin between 1992-1996 and the Dog Barney knew more about Iraq than Bush ever did at that time.

    If you are going to claim that Oil was the reason; the we need to study internation oil futures market. The findings say: How come anybody can profit (under the table) and nothing changes at the state of occupation and Oil goes up 300% and then comes back 200%.

    What will it take for us to wake up and say: Wow, there is something wrong here. Nobody told us Why we invaded Iraq (the truth), and we are cowards to demand (under “Oath”) real answers, eMails, sticky notes….anything for the arms and legs we have lost.

    Wake up, On Point!!!

  • Mark S.

    Whether we leave at the end of 2011 or 2211, it won’t make any difference. The entire patchwork quilt of madness will unravel and descend into the orgy of violence which is the essence of that region of the world. Fact is, WE CAN’T AFFORD IT ANYMORE!! Helloooo… We’re broke. What part of “we’re broke” does the “Iraq forever” crowd not understand?

  • mitch hampton

    Tom Ricks exhibits everything that is wrong with todays consensus journalism: rather than criticize war, they give marks for how intelligently or not the war is conducted. We actually need a culture of argument, not unity, and a reconsideration of objectivity in values. Ricks is certainly right in all of his analyses and criticisms except on the larger issue and question, the latter trumping the former. There is an excess of utilitarianism and intrumentalism here.

  • Lilya Lopekha

    Great observation Mitch Hampton.

    Tom Ricks may be the greatest guy in the world, but the issue here is that he would have been an unknown author and/or a manager at McDonalds if we have not invaded Iraq. Some good guys like Tom Ricks and some not so good guys like (terrorism experts/retired generals) on TV made loads of money.

    Example: Every single commentator or writer talks about secterian violance crap, but NOT ONE mentions about “collaborators” with the occupation is getting nailed. In a typical occupation, people who accept money from the foreign forces (ie. translators, drivers) can get killed as well as people who sell Marlboro or go to Pizza Hut in Baghdad.

    Occupation/War is Opportunity for some people to make money by writing books and paychecks from CNN. Peace is an opportunity for some Peace Activists to stay at home and save money by not going to Washington DC with buses and spending money on Kinko’s.

    How can a single producer (with College Degree?) of OnPoint cannot see this Conflict of Interest clearly?

  • Erik

    Reiterating and following up on Lilya Lopekha’s questions:

    Why did we invade Iraq?
    The reasons offered by the Bush administration were never credible. Was the Bush administration really so clueless as to believe them?
    It’s possible that they were, but even so it seems hard to believe that such a decision could have been made without some plausible argument of how the invasion was expected to benefit the US.
    If there was a plan, even if it was a stupid plan, it still might be useful for us to know what it was as we try to contain and clean up the mess.
    And it sure would be interesting (and maybe instructive) to know how our government makes this kind of decision.

    Why did we prepare so poorly for the occupation?
    Is the Bush administration’s arrogance and ignorance really enough to explain our failure to take responsibility for the country we invaded?
    Why did we ignore the warnings from the State Department and others about the prefectly foreseeable looting, chaos, and sectarian violence?

    And stepping back, what were the instructions given to April Glaspie before she told Saddam that the US didn’t have a position one way or the other if Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990?
    See for instance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_Glaspie
    Did the US have a geopolitical plan at that time?
    If we did, is that plan still in operation?
    If it isn’t, when and why was it discontinued?
    Does it have a bearing on the 2003 invasion?

  • Lilya Lopekha

    I am about to hit my head against the wall.

    Why is it so difficult to understand. When a Crime is committed, Scotland Yard always goes back in time to find the “motive”. They are not interested anything that happens after the crime; simply because they are false clues and pretend motive.

    They go back and back and back to point of time when they cannot find any motive. Then the “first” motive “chronologically” is the Original Motive.

    Look at the activities of the Cheerleaders (repeating for you again) between 1992-1996. These guys were not just playing golf after Clinton took over the White House.
    Paul Wolfowitz
    Richard Pearle
    Robert Kagan / Frederick Kagan
    David Wurmser
    William Kristol
    Michael Ladine (broke into Niger embassy in Italy)
    Douglas Faith

    Please look at this (takes 15 seconds):
    The sad part is that Cindy Sheehan knows the “real” reason, but she cannot talk about it anymore.
    Remember, her only question? “Mr. President, why did my son die?”

    Chris Matthews is the only journalist who asks that question to guests again and again….but he just cannot drill it further.

  • Mark

    I think we got into this war for a lot of really stupid reasons – we thought it would be easy, we thought there were IMDs, we believed in a form of domino theory (Iraq, then UAE, then Saudi Arabia), we were worried about oil being cut off and we thought this was our problem.

    Sadly, I think Obama won’t be able to pull out for many years. And now he’s taking us deeper into Afghanistan. USSR lost 100K people before getting kicked out. Is everyone who’s criticizing Bush, now prepared to say Obama is a dope if he starts spending half a billion to a billion in Afghanistan. He’s getting the same warnings.

  • Lilya Lopekha

    Mark, Mark, Mark…..

    Paul Wolfowitz
    Richard Pearle
    Robert Kagan / Frederick Kagan
    David Wurmser
    William Kristol
    Michael Ladine (broke into Niger embassy in Italy)
    Douglas Faith

    These guys, the cheerleader of Iraq Invasion, had not interest about the domino theory between 1992-1996.

    Domino Theory is a made up excuse to hide the real motive.

    Afghanistan is very easy. Just “really” investigate what really happened on 9/11 – which is the reason why we got into this situation of chasing wild goats in the mountains of Afghanistan.

    Just a simple example: Steel-frame buildings have never collapsed due to fire, including Beijing CCTV Mandarin Hotel Tower on Feb 09, 2009. (36+1 examples in modern architecture). But when they are in New York City and belong to Larry Silverstein, mysteriously, they all collapse at “free fall speeds” #1, #2, #3 collapses of all times. Steel companies have given up testing against fire, in late 1960′s … becuase it is useless. Steel just does not lose its structural strength due to regular fire (or buring jet fuel. One of those strange subjects that we are not supposed to know.

  • R.M.

    So lilya , why did Ben laden congratulate himself for destroying the buildings ?

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