Friday, December 29, 2023

Review Blind Into Baghdad, America’s War In Iraq

Fallows, James, Blind Into Baghdad, America’s War In Iraq, New York: Vintage Books, 2006


Blind Into Baghdad, America’s War In Iraq by James Fallows is a collection of articles he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Most of them are focused upon how the Bush administration neglected planning for the aftermath of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, hence the title. Those chapters are the main reason to read Fallows’ work.


Fallows best points are made in the first few chapters where he went over what the U.S. should have planned for in post invasion Iraq and yet failed to do. He talked to dozens of people working for the government, non-governmental organizations, think tanks, present and former military officers and more. Retired Air Force General McPeak warned about the unexpected consequences wars can create. William Galston of the University of Maryland said that if the U.S. went into Iraq and immediately withdrew it would be blamed for anything bad that happened afterwards. The author believed the White House should have known that as well and come up with ideas to deal with them.


The book then goes into specific projects that were carried out before the invasion by various groups and the scenarios they came up with. The Army War College did a postwar exercise and warned that the U.S. might be seen as liberators at first but the longer they stayed they would be seen as occupiers. The CIA did a wargame that found civil disorder and forming a new Iraqi government out of a divided Iraqi public and opposition would be two major issues the Americans would have to deal with. Again, Fallows argues that the Bush administration should have contemplated similar ideas and included them in its postwar planning but it didn’t. There was no evidence that the White House ever considered the costs of the war and it actively avoided public discussion of the day after the invasion fearing that it would distract from attacking Iraq.


This mindset was perfectly summed up in an interview with Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Plans Douglas Feith. He bragged that his boss Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld prided himself on dealing with the unexpected in the world. He went on to say that if anyone had given Rumsfeld a memo predicting what could happen in Iraq after the invasion he would’ve been thrown out of the office. Feith was actually proud that the Pentagon had not planned for post-invasion Iraq. This was after the looting happened, law and order broke down and the insurgency had begun. He expresses the pure hubris the Bush administration had towards Iraq. It thought the war would be easy and therefore there was no need to come up with a strategy for what could occur.


After that Blind Into Baghdad is not as consistent. There’s a chapter on how the White House failed to prioritize creating a new Iraqi army and police while security was deteriorating. Another is about the costs Iraq had upon the U.S. government. For instance, it couldn’t fund other programs because of the Iraq War and Afghanistan became almost an afterthought. The last chapter is on whether President Bush would take on Iran next which obviously didn’t happen because of Iraq. There are some interesting points here and there but it is not as hard hitting as the other sections.


There have been other books that have covered how America failed in Iraq. Fallows is noteworthy because he warned about many issues the U.S. would face before they happened due to his thorough research and interviews. There are other releases which are far more detailed because they had the benefit of being written later when there were far more resources available but Blind After Baghdad is still a worthwhile read because it shows what was available to the White House before the war and what it should’ve considered but didn’t. Iraqis and Americans paid the price for the administration’s arrogance.


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