Guest Authors

Understanding the Surge in Iraq and What’s Ahead


27 May 2009

By Thomas Ricks
May 2009

Thomas E. Ricks is a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is also a contributing editor for Foreign Policy and serves as a special military correspondent for the Washington Post. He was part of a Wall Street Journal team that won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 2000 for a series on the U.S. military in the 21st century and a Washington Post team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for reporting about the U.S. counterterrorism offensive. His books include Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Penguin, 2006) and The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006–2008 (Penguin, Feb. 2009). This essay is based on his talk at FPRI’s 5th Annual Champagne Brunch for Bronze Partners held April 19, 2009 at the Four Seasons Hotel, Philadelphia.

There are three things the American people don’t understand about the war in Iraq right now: (1) how difficult the surge was and how different it was from the previous four years of the war; (2) that the surge failed, judged on its own terms; and (3) that the war is not over. In fact, I suspect we might be only halfway through it, which is to say that President Obama’s war in Iraq may well be longer than George Bush’s war in Iraq, which was five years and ten months old when Bush left office.

The difficulty of the surge is a major point of my new book, The Gamble. Americans at home either never understood or have forgotten just how hard the first six months of the surge were, from January 2007 into the summer of 2007. This period saw the six toughest months of fighting in the war to date. Gen. David Petraeus, looking back on it in my last interview with him, called the spring of 2007 a “horrific nightmare,” and this is not a man given to overstatement.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jerry Hall · 10 years ago
    Please excuse me, but I happen to disagree with some of Mr. Rick's premises. The circumstances that existed just prior to the war gave us few viable alternatives. The sanctions were failing....thanks to our "friends" the French, Russians and Chinese primarily. All of the intelligence reports for the previous decade had strongly indicated that Saddam still maintained substantial stocks of WMD weapons. Things were not likely to get any better either. I know....the "official" report says that the ISG couldn't find any WMD's in Iraq after the invasion, but politics has a funny way of changing "official" reports into something other than the truth. There are strong indicators that Saddam really was hiding something......something so important to him that he preferred the continued imposition of the UN sanctions rather than allow open access. and there were those mysterious convoys to Syria and flights to Russia.... Why don't you ask Dave Gaubatz, an investigator who worked in southern Iraq immediately after the invasion and let him tell you what he found?

    Remember always, Politics and truth, do not always mix well.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul S. · 10 years ago
    Anyone have anything recent on that yellow cake that was dug up and shipped to Canada?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rutger van Marissing · 10 years ago
    Dear mr. Yon, how do you reconcile mr. Ricks's statements about the state of the war with your own? You claimed in your articles that the war was over. I really hope you were not being too optimistic, but am afraid that the end is not in sight yet.

    @ Jerry Hall: the only thing Saddam was hiding was his weakness. Desert Fox knocked out the WMD arsenal. A few convoys to Syria and flights to Russia would certainly not be enough to make any WMD programs just dissappear without any trace whatsoever. Especially programs of the size and magnitude claimed by the White House in 2003.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    m.e. · 10 years ago
    Mr Ricks analysis seems very weak. After all, most of the political objectives set by congress have been achieved, thus making 1/3 of his theory falsified.

    Emma Sky seems to be a particularly nasty woman. Who cares about the 30 million Iraqis liberated from Saddam eh Miss Sky? Much better to leave a brutal dictator in place, peace and quiet through oppression, its the colonialist way.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cathi Luytjes · 10 years ago
    Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Penguin, 2006) and The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006ƒ??2008 (Penguin, Feb. 2009).

    Any idea why Mr. Ricks chose to just "Adventure" in each of the titles? I think the word tends to come to mind Indiana Jones-like escapades with the good guys winning in the end, and the bad guys getting their due. This implies a certain irony in the very brutal reality of what goes on over in Iraq.

    I've tried to locate an explanation to no avail. Just looking for a little insight!

  • This commment is unpublished.
    NormD · 10 years ago
    Mr Ricks, like a lot of the left, was wrong in Fiasco and he is still wrong. Rather than admit it he tries to say that he is right but it will take a just little longer for his predictions to come to pass. He is as pathetic as Paul the-world-is-going-to-starve Ehrlick or Marxists that believe in the unstoppable forces of history while the walls crumble around them.

    What a loser. Millions should die before he admit he is wrong. Rather than help find solutions, he will gloat in his rightness.

    15 years from now a generation of Iraqi kids will have grown up not living under a dictatorship. The world will be a radically different place.

    Michael, is this clown representative of your opinion?

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