WP: Thomas Ricks Live Chat (Excerpts)

Ricks has covered the U.S. military for The Washington Post since 2000. Until the end of 1999 he had the same beat at the Wall Street Journal, where he was a reporter for 17 years. His book, “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq” was published in July 2006.

I really doubt the war will be over by the end of the Bush Administration. I had breakfast yesterday with an Army officer who just got home from 15 months in Baghdad. I’ve known him a long time and have found him to be a calm, clear thinker. He said the situation there is a lot more tenuous than people back here seem to think.

One of the comments I heard from Vietnam vets during the first few years of the war was that they did counterinsurgency better than it was done in Iraq. I think only in the last year have we seen a genuine counterinsurgency strategy developed AND implemented in Iraq.

And yes, one of the things I keep hearing from officers in Iraq is that things could still fall apart badly.

My impression is that U.S. officials in Iraq have a far better understanding of events than they did a few years ago. I used to hate going into the Green Zone because of all the nonsense I’d hear. (I mean, reporters were risking their lives to cross the city, go through an entrance where bombs were being detonated, and then listen to a briefer who never went outside tell us how safe the city was!)

By contrast, last May I was in the Green Zone listening to one of Gen. Petraeus’ advisors describe the taxonomy of Sunni and Shiite violence, and I thought, “This guy not only understand the situation in Baghdad better than I do, he is articulating it better than I can.” That was a novel feeling.

That said, yes, we are still often playing catch-up ball. But I think, that Americans understand that everyone in Iraq has their own agendas. Why should we expect them not to?

Anbar has gone from being a hellhole of violence to quieter than Baghdad. The biggest worry for Marines there seems to be boredom.

But how long will be the Sunnis of Anbar wait for a political breakthrough? I remember an officer in the 1st Cavalry Division telling me that one ex-insurgent leader told him that as soon as his group was finished fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, it would turn its weapons on the Baghdad government.


Ralph Peters posted a very different view of Iraq, today.

Meanwhile, “Happy Birthday, Surge!”

One year ago, “the surge” kicked off as a forlorn hope, our last chance to get it right.

The odds were against us. Terrorist violence was out of control. Baghdad was a toxic wreck. Militias ruled, with ethnic cleansing rampant. And Iraq’s leaders couldn’t even agree about which day of the week it was.


And then it all went right. Confounding Dems who expected him to preside over a retreat, Petraeus took the fight to the enemy like a rat terrier on meth. Jettisoning all the p.c. dogma, he turned out to be the first true warrior we put in command in Iraq.

Luck turned our way, too - and luck matters in war. Al Qaeda had managed to alienate its erstwhile Sunni Arab allies in record time. Former insurgents decided that the Great Satan America made a better dancing partner than Osama & Co.

Although analysts have missed it completely, the execution of Saddam Hussein helped, too: It took away the rallying figure for Sunni hardliners and made it easier for former insurgents to switch allegiance. The shock of Saddam’s hanging jarred Iraq’s Sunni Arabs back to reality: Big Daddy with the mustache wasn’t coming back.

Meanwhile, the rest of the population was just sick of the violence. The merchant class wanted to get back to business. Tribal sheiks felt betrayed by foreign terrorists. And mashallah! We had veteran commanders on the ground who recognized the shifts underway in Iraqi society and capitalized on them.

Petraeus manifested two stages of military genius: 1) He recognized exactly what had to be done. 2) He didn’t imagine he could do it all himself.

Our new man in Baghdad had the wisdom to give subordinate commanders a long leash when they caught a good scent.

Without in any way detracting from Petraeus, the indispensable man, our success this past year rested heavily upon field commanders far from the flagpole having the savvy to realize that the local sheik just needed one last bit of encouragement to jump sides.

Oh, and the left turned out to be dead wrong, as usual. We hadn’t created an unlimited supply of terrorists. In fact, the supply turned out to be very finite, to al Qaeda’s chagrin. And killing them worked. (One of the great untold stories of 2007 was the number of al Qaeda corpses.)

And our former enemies have been killing them for us.

It’s striking to read the differences between those two excerpts. Ricks tends to back his statements up - they’re anecdotal of course, but he’s at least got that. And Ricks is a pretty well respected journalist.

On the other hand, I didn’t see a single piece of actual evidence - anecdotal or otherwise - in the excerpt you posted from Peters.

Also it goes without saying that one is a Q&A with a reporter, the other is just an op-ed.

Ralph Peters - May 26, 2006

And we are making progress. It’s harder than people thought. It’s tough. You know, not enough troops gave the terrorists time to build. But the Iraqi army is coming online. Police still have a long way to go. They do have a government now.


Ralph Peters - November 26, 2006

Meanwhile, those of us who care about our country’s security and who worry about the futility haunting the Middle East need to face a tougher issue than yo-mama name-calling: Iraq has deteriorated so badly it’s hard to imagine a positive outcome unless we’re willing to take radical, politically difficult measures.

The administration and Congress have to face a fundamental question: Which result is more important - preserving Iraq as a unified state with a facade of democratic government, or protecting our own national-security interests?

The two priorities now conflict. Really taking on our enemies - not least Moqtada al-Sadr and his legion of thugs - would require us to defy the elected Baghdad government we sponsored. To kill those who need killing to pacify Iraq and re-establish our ascendancy would mean that we would again become an outright occupying power.

This guy is only really consistant about one thing - we were right to go into Iraq, the “mainstream media” are leftists and liars and any attack on Bush is unfair and politically motivated.

I wouldn’t be relying on him. Just a saftey tip. Do yourself a favor and see what he was saying about Iraq in 2002 if you can. I tried and couldn’t find anything quickly but I suspect he was bouncing around saying how great this thing was going to go.

Frankly, the fact that he’s writing in the Post ought to clue you in that he’s probably not the best of sources. :)

I’m sure he has, as it’s the NYPost. And NYT, LA Times and so on generally post Op Eds that are always opposed. so? I think it’s interesting because they were posted on the same day but they’re so radically different.

In some ways they’re not that far apart. Ricks does say the new team is smarter and they are doing a much, much, better job. Unlike Peters, however, he’s much more realistic about what that might mean and he’s got nowhere near that kind of spittle-flecked political rhetoric going on.

Actually, I did some digging on Ralph Peter’s past Op Eds, for the hell of it…

Nov 2006:

President Bush insists that we have no conflicts with the al-Maliki government. The president isn’t telling the truth — or he himself doesn’t support our military’s efforts. He can’t have it both ways. Bush appears increasingly desperate just to get through the upcoming elections.
Hope is dwindling

Iraq is failing. No honest observer can conclude otherwise. Even six months ago, there was hope. Now the chances for a democratic, unified Iraq are dwindling fast
Iraq could have turned out differently. It didn’t. And we must be honest about it. We owe that much to our troops. They don’t face the mere forfeiture of a few congressional seats but the loss of their lives. Our military is now being employed for political purposes. It’s unworthy of our nation.

He also created this crazy near-future dystopian map of the middle east:

He should have crossed out Istanbul and wrote in Constantinople while he was at it.

[edit] Look at Pakistan, lol. I bet he wishes for another Alexander the Great. Oh, if only i had a few thousand more elephants! How many more nations could i conquer?

That map is the nuttiest thing I have ever seen. Shi’a separatists steal territory from Iran to create their own state? Iranian Shi’ites already have their own state. It’s called Iran.