Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks on Lebanon and Iraq
HH: Pleased to welcome now to the Hugh Hewitt Show, Thomas E. Ricks. He’s the Washington Post’s senior Pentagon correspondent, has been, in fact, since 2000, is the author of the widely admired, including on this program, Making the Corps, as well as A Soldier’s Duty, and the author of a brand new bestseller, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure In Iraq. He joins me today from Washington, D.C. Mr. Ricks, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
TR: Thanks for having me.
HH: Great to have you here. I want to spend the vast bulk of our time on Fiasco and Iraq, but first, yesterday, you were on with Howard Kurtz’ Reliable Sources, CNN, and in response to a question, you said that some military analyst had told you that Israel had, “purposefully left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they’re being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon.” That was reported on Powerline, Rush Limbaugh read it on the air today, quite a controversy. Anything to add to it, Thomas Ricks?
TR- Yeah, I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. What I said was accurate, that in an off-the-record conversation with some military analysts, a couple had said to me that they thought it was a smart strategy to leave some rocket pockets in place to help the Israelis shape public perceptions, and give their forces more freedom of maneuver in Lebanon. They weren’t saying it was a bad strategy. They thought it was pretty intelligent, if it were the case. But I’ve since heard today from some very smart, well-informed people, that while such a strategy might be logical, and even morally defensible, that they thought the Israeli public just wouldn’t stand for it, and they also expressed personal dismay to me that I had passed on the thought, which they thought was irresponsible.
HH: Do you want to name any of the analysts?
TR: No, it was an off-the-record conversation, and I want to honor that confidence.
HH: Okay, last question. Do you think they were leading you on at that point, or just telling you what they honestly meant?
TR: No, I think…I know from the context of the conversation, it was about many different things. That came up as a part of the conversation. These are very good, smart, retired U.S. military officers.
HH: Okay, Thomas Ricks, let’s get to Fiasco, because that’s really what I want to talk about, the Iraq war. I’ll get to Lebanon…
TR: From now on, I’m going to stick to Iraq.
HH: (laughing) Okay. First of all, overarching question. Is Iraq better off today than it was four years ago?
TR: It depends on who you’re asking, and at what time.
HH: In your opinion, Thomas Ricks?
TR: They’re clearly better off with Saddam Hussein gone. But I’ll tell you, the average Iraqi is losing patience with us. And my long-term worry is that one day, they get sick enough of our screwing things up that they say fine, let’s just get ourselves another Saddam, and the new one is a younger, more vigorous version of Saddam, he unites that country, he takes that oil money, harnesses it, and unites the Arab world with an anti-Western platform.
HH: Oh, I thought your conclusion about a new Saladin, who emerged and survived the 3rd Crusade, and brought together all of the Muslim world to drive out all the Christian defenders of Jerusalem, was a fantastic way to end this as a warning. But I want to go back…
TR: And don’t forget where Saladin was from.
HH: He’s a Kurd.
TR: From Tikrit.
HH: Yup. Now the fact is, though, you answered clearly, they’re better off today than they were under Saddam. Why do you think that?
TR: Saddam was a bad guy. On the other hand, we don’t go to wars just to help people out around the world. We go to war, one would hope, in the national interest. And that raises the question, is the United States better off than when Saddam Hussein was in power. And that’s a much tougher question to answer.
HH: I’ll let you answer the one you raised. What do you think?
TR: Look, I think containment as a policy was more or less working. Saddam was contained. He was no threat to the United States. He wasn’t even the largest threat to the United States in his neighborhood. Iran probably was then, and probably remains now.
HH: You quote on Page 431, Juan Cole, the University of Michigan leftist, who’s a…
TR: Oh, good. The one lefty quote in the whole damn book, and you dig it out.
HH: (laughing) I read closely, Tom Ricks. I read very closely.
TR: But I want to remind you, though, the ratio of conservatives to liberals quoted in this book is probably about a hundred to one.
HH: All right. I want to go to Juan Cole, though. It’s in the conclusion, in the Afterwards, and he says, “Iraq was not a failed state.” Robert Kaplan, another preeminent military analyst, author of Imperial Grunts, on this program, called it a Stalinist nightmare, with mad as hatter sons, who were in line to succeed Saddam, and who, either under Saddam or the sons, would have gone back to WMD just as soon as they could, and sanctions were failing. What’s wrong with Kaplan’s analysis? Is it better or worse than Juan Cole’s?
TR: I think it’s the best possible argument for making an invasion, which was look, Saddam may have been old and toothless, but his sons were vicious nuts, and they might have taken over. One would only hope that somebody eventually succeeded in assassinating those two, which people had been trying to do for some time. I think it’s equally likely that he would have been succeeded by a general, because I think people were very uneasy with those two around the country.
HH: If they had come into power, even more than they had under their father, that would have been disastrous for the world, correct?
TR: You know, it’s sort of…you’re out there in hyperspeculative territory. I’d like to stick a little closer to reality, which was hey, containment was pretty much working. What we found out after the invasion, when David Kay and the official Iraq Survey Group, a wing of the U.S. government, went out and interrogated the weapons scientists, was yeah, guess what? In 1998, Desert Fox worked. Iraqi weapons scientists basically gave up in ’98, and our premise for invading that country have been gone for five years, when we did invade on the WMD premise.
HH: Now Thomas Ricks, it’s interesting. I…hyperspeculative reality is in fact dangerous to get into. But the suggestion that Saddam followed by his sons would have been bad for the world seems to me a lot less hyperspeculative reality engaging in, than worrying about Saladin, or suggesting that a different approach would have yielded a better result, or that Iran would have been less dangerous today, or that al Qaeda would have been. So I guess if we’re going to speculate, we should be allowed to speculate both ways, not just the way that adversely treats the Iraq…
TR: Sure. What I’m saying, though, is you’re piling speculation on top of speculation. Go back to the reality. Look where we are now in Iraq. What did we do? We transferred powers from the Sunnis to the Shiites. One of the major recipients of that transfer was Muqtada Sadr. Guess who his people were out demonstrating in favor of? This is basically an Iraqi Al Sharpton, except he’s got 10,000 armed men under him. And he’s an ally of Hezbollah. So what did we just do in Iraq? We transferred power to a guy who’s an ally of terrorists?
HH: Well, have we transferred power to him, or made throughout the course of the three years, conditions such that he gets a temporary run, and that he’s got to be dealt with, or in fact, it will become one of the three or four scenarios you chart at the end of this? But that the game’s not over yet, is it, Thomas Ricks?
TR: I hope it’s not. I don’t think the current course is sustainable, politically, either here or in Iraq. I don’t think the American people are going to put up indefinitely with two to three dead American troops every couple of days, and spending $1.5 billion dollars a week, as we are now.
HH: Why not?
TR: Well, the polls indicate that they’re losing patience with that. I do think it’s important to prevail there, but I don’t think the present course is sustainable, and I think either the Iraqis or the American public, or both, are going to get sick of this course. I think it’s possible to fight smarter and more organized, but I think that problem is essentially becoming a problem for the next president, not for this one.
HH: You raise, Thomas Ricks, again, towards the end of the book, on Page 426, one of the most provocative paragraphs. I want to read it, and then talk about it with you. “Many military officers,” you wrote, “meanwhile grew deeply distrustful and resentful of the media, feeling that is focused on the negative bombing and casualties, while neglecting the positives, such as political progress and reconstruction efforts. I would speculate that the vast majority of American soldiers, by the time they left Iraq, we pretty much hated them, said Major Jay Bocker, an Army reserve civil affairs officer. They, the media, are bald-faced liars. I could just go on and on and on, but the media clearly, clearly as any soldier will tell you, have an anti-U.S. agenda, and are willing to propagandize falsehoods in furtherence of their own agenda” If that’s widely shared among the veterans of the Iraq theater, Thomas Ricks, don’t you think that message will be carried home to the American people, either quickly or over time, solidifying, actually, support for the soldier’s view of what happened there?
TR: I think you’re whistling past the graveyard. Look,…
HH: Your quote, not mine.
TR: Yeah, I know. I put it in the book. I’m trying to be fair and accurate, fair and balanced. Look, we’ve been fighting in Iraq almost…the U.S. military has been fighting in Iraq almost as long as the U.S. military fought in World War II. The American people are watching this, and they aren’t buying it. But remember, that’s one point of view from that guy I quoted. What has struck me since my book has come out a couple of weeks ago is overwhelmingly, the response from U.S. soldiers, who were in Iraq or have served in Iraq, has been positive to this book. One battalion commander wrote to me, thank you for finally saying publicly what we’ve been saying privately for the last two years. Fundamentally, this book is saying hey, we could still win this thing, but you’ve got to make some changes here.
HH: Well, that part I fundamentally agree with. But they aren’t buying it, meaning the American public, most of the arguments that are made by General Zinni, and other fine Americans in this book by name, and some who aren’t quoted, against the war and against their preperation, were made in the run up to 2004, Thomas Ricks, and were rejected by the election results then. What has changed from November, 2004, to today that makes you think…I mean, I know the polling data as well as you do, and we both know that polls are snapshots, and are not actually choices. A referendum’s coming up in November. What makes you think at this November’s referendum, the American people are going to vote differently than they did just two years ago?
TR: Well, first of all, I think Republicans are very uneasy about the war in Iraq. It’s very difficult to go out and campaign on the war in Iraq having been a success at this point. What worries me is both parties. I want to emphasize, this is not a partisan book. This is a book that I believe is pro-military and pro-troop, and pro-victory, and is giving conniptions to some people on the left because of that. I think that Republicans have failed to ask the tough questions, but I think the Democrats have, too, though for different reasons. The Republicans don’t want to embarrass the President, the Democrats don’t know how to ask the tough questions, frequently. They don’t know much about the military. They’re afraid of getting on the wrong side of the defense issue, and looking weak on defense. Neither of those stances serve the troops well. One of the roles of the legislative branch is to ask the tough questions, and to push the military. And it’s especially good when the military isn’t asking itself the tough questions.
HH: There are a number of very fascinating passages in Fiasco, which is why everyone should read this, and I want to get to them serially, Thomas Ricks. First, I want to get to the WMD question. Any doubt in your mind that George W. Bush and his team and the Pentagon career believed there were WMD there when the war began?
TR: No doubt whatsoever. I think they drank their Kool-Aid, and talked themselves into it, on the basis of no evidence. But yeah, they believed it.
HH: When you write that Operation Desert Fox was tremendously successful, you’re concluding that those WMD were there in 1998? Or did Clinton drink the Kool-Aid as well?
TR: Yeah, there were WMD facilities in ’98, and they were taken out pretty effectively by those raids. The most effective aspect of the Desert Fox raids, though, which we didn’t recognize at the time, it’s very difficult to pull out, was the psychological effect. The message sent to Iraqi weapons scientists was Uncle Sam is not going to let Saddam Hussein have this stuff. And their hard work of seven years, after the ’91 war, was taken out. It was destroyed.
HH: Can it really be said to be, “drinking the Kool-Aid”, as you just said, to conclude that that which had been destroyed in 1998 would immediately be begun to be rebuilt, even as Saddam had begun to rebuild after 1991. Or would it have been prudent, post-9/11, to conclude that Saddam then, as Saddam now, is Saddam always?
TR: Well, that would, but it would be untethered from the realities of Iraq, which was that the country was becoming increasingly poor, weaker, had a less strong military, and that in fact, the ’98 Desert Fox raids had almost toppled Saddam Hussein.
HH: But if we didn’t know that, and I go back to your characterization of it as drinking the Kool-Aid. Clearly, at least as to the scope of what we thought would be met there, including throughout the military professional ranks, it wasn’t there. Were they drinking the Kool-Aid? Or were they acting as prudent preservers of American security, post 9/11?
TR: I think there could have been more prudential ways of operating. If you really thought Saddam Hussein needed taking out, you didn’t need to rush to war. A good way to do it would have been to bring the country along, rather than just bring your party along. One of the saddest stories in my book, I think, is the story of Representative Ike Skelton, who’s a conservative, pro-defense Democrat out of rural Missouri. And Skelton is exactly the type of Democrat who could have been brought into the tent. Instead, when he sent a letter to President Bush, laying out his concerns before the war, about the occupation, and how difficult he thought it might be, the response he got from a White House aide was, Mr. Congressman, we don’t need your vote. That’s not a good way to go to war, and that was symptomatic of the way we went to war. So it was not a prudent act to exclude people. So when a military intelligence officer expressed concerns about some aspects of the war plan, he was not invited back at the next meeting. When General Shinseki expressed concerns, he was slapped down. The best professional military advice was disregarded, and area experts’ advice, people who spoke Arabic, who understood Iraq, was disregarded.
HH: And again, I’ll come back to this, especially Shinseki. I think it’s fascinating the account you provide here. But I want to focus for a moment, it was your characterization that drinking the Kool-Aid is fair to assess to Bush, his administration, and the Pentagon with regards to their belief that there were WMD waiting, and would be used as Saddam got desperate.
HH: And I’m saying, and you’re standing by it. Drinking the Kool-Aid, meaning it’s irrational, correct?
TR: Yeah, I would say ultimately, because, yeah, they really weren’t getting the straight story, and made it pretty clear they didn’t want the straight story.
HH: And again, after 1998, though, and it just doesn’t hang together in your book, because you quote David…what’s the chief…
TR: David Kay.
HH: Yeah, you quote David Kay extensively. David Kay believed that they were there. Everyone who studied Saddam, ’91-’98, post and pre-Desert Fox, believed that they were there. I just don’t see, Thomas Ricks, how people will believe you can be fair if you’re going to characterize that as drinking the Kool-Aid, as opposed to simply wrong.
TR: Well, there was a lot of contrary evidence. It wasn’t everybody who believed it. It was senior officials who believed it. But if you go back and actually read what analysts were producing at the time, it was far more skeptical, much more laden with doubts, with large gaps in information. And the people above them simply did not want to hear that.
HH: And Colin Powell also drank the Kool-Aid?
TR: Absolutely, and he got played like a chump.
HH: Tommy Franks drank the Kool-Aid?
HH: And so my question is, did anyone that you can identify publicly step forward and say it isn’t here?
TR: Yeah, the U.N. reports…
HH: Anyone in the United States military or civil service who would step forward and say it’s not here?
TR: No, and I think this was the real effect of Vice President Cheney getting up in August, 2002, and flatly proclaiming, “There is no doubt about WMD.” There were many doubts among the analysts, but once the Vice President of the United States says that, the U.S. military basically saluted smartly, and said he must know something we don’t know, because they assumed the Vice President of the United States would not be a liar, or would be delusional about this.
HH: Well, they might have assumed that, but you’re saying there were gaps, et cetera, that would have led someone…and again, I do not have so low an opinion of the professional CIA, or State Department, or military, that someone wouldn’t have stood up to say no. Rather, they all would have said you know, there’s a good argument, and post-9/11, we have to go with that good argument, and that they would sincerely have believed that, given Saddam’s danger that he posed to the West.
TR: Nor do I have a low opinion. And in fact, they did stand up. One of the great examples is the guy at the DIA, who shortly before Colin Powell’s speech, sends an e-mail over the CIA, and says you know, this Curveball guy, that a big part of the Secretary of State’s speech is going to be based on, is a fabricator. And the head of the Iraq task force at the CIA wrote back, look, we’re going to war, and I don’t think the powers that be really care about our doubts about the source?
HH: Who was the head of the Iraq task force?
TR: He’s not named in the Senate Intelligence Committee report. And if I knew his name, I wouldn’t say it, because he’s a professional CIA officer.
HH: So he hasn’t left, to your knowledge?
TR: No, not to my knowledge.
HH: Do you believe…I want to shift while we’re on this, do you believe that the Niger report about Iraq attempting to obtain uranium was true? From British intelligence?
TR: Probably not, but I think it’s taken on a medieval, theological ring to it, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It strikes me as sort of a subsidiary to the 32nd degree in neither here nor there.
HH: But it is possible that in fact, Iraq was searching for uranium from Niger?
TR: Sure. I mean, they clearly had ambitions here. I’m not saying these guys were boy scouts. They were world class jerks. They were just aging, poor, world class jerks who were pretty much caught in the box.
HH: But again, I’m caught in this argument, Thomas Ricks, and you’re very well respected, and I, as you know from your previous appearance here, really respect your work. But I’m caught in this cul-de-sac. If it’s possible to believe that Iraq was attempting to get uranium from Niger, and that intelligence, which is not Curveball intelligence, but comes through British intelligence, is landing on the desk, it’s not drinking the Kool-Aid for the national security team to conclude that Saddam is headed back to where he was in ’91, which was very close to weapons of mass destruction, capable of dealing terrible blows to the West. Just abuse me.
TR: A lot of the evidence they were relying, even in that uranium thing, though, turns out to have been fabricated. They didn’t want to know the doubts. Those were swept aside. Anything that supported their argument was included. One point I want to make here is that my book is not about this WMD stuff.
HH: No, it’s not. There’s very little, but I just wanted to get some premise. I want to get to Shinseki, if you want to now.
HH: General Shinseki, interesting portrait emerges here of a man who was put down by the office of the Secretary of Defense. He, himself would then skip the CINC meeting on transformation. Rumsfeld would skip his retirement. Clearly bad blood at the top of the Army and the office of the Secretary of Defense, correct?
TR: It is, and it’s not a good way to go to war, to have that kind of division.
HH: And you point out Rumsfeld cancelled their Crusader…there was just tension from big Army and OSD from the beginning.
TR: Yes, and also, you just had at the same time, Hugh Shelton, who had been the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a four-star Army officer, also leave rather bitterly. So there was a pattern here of real tension and friction between the top of the Army and OSD.
HH: But you’ve seen none of that tension and friction between Tommy Franks and OSD, or the senior commanders post-Franks, have you?
TR: No, because in the Army, what you saw, they thought that Franks had gone over to the dark side, that is gone to the OSD side.
HH: And so, there is, there are two camps within the Army. There are the pro-OSD, and the Shinseki-Hugh Shelton side?
TR: Well, I’m not sure of the two camps, because Franks by himself does not make a camp. Two of his senior subordinate commanders flew down to see him, and they talked about it in official Army interviews, recorded for history’s sake, they went and saw him, and said you know, your war plan stinks. And he kind of blew them off and said that’s the best I can get out of OSD, which for them, was not good enough.
HH: But did you name those two?
TR: Yeah, it was General Thurmond, and General McKiernan.
HH: Okay. Now given that, though, that Shinseki is part of the anti-Rumsfeld from the beginning, this is a key question, which I went through the book over and over looking for. Was Shinseki fired because he predicted it would take 240,000 troops to secure Iraq? Or had he already been fired?
TR: Absolutely not, because he wasn’t fire.
HH: It had already been announced that he would not be reappointed?
TR: What happened was it was leaked to me that they were looking for his replacement, and had picked one 14 months before he was due to retire, so basically, they made him into a lame duck. They left him in place.
HH: So by the time…he was a lame duck when he testified as to the number of troops that would be necessary.
HH: And so the last war cry that that testimony led to his dismissal is not true?
TR: It’s absolutely wrong.
HH: Okay. I want to go then to a couple of these things about the post war. The decision to put the Department of Defense in charge, rather than State Department, you write on Page 78, was a disaster. Why was that decision made?
TR: I don’t know. It’s very hard to get information here, and it’s not something I entirely blame on the Bush administration. Congress doesn’t ask these questions, and so we’re kind of…I always thought I was doing in this book what Congress should have been doing, which is just trying to figure out what happened, why did it happened, and how did it happen.
HH: On Page 100…I think this is probably the key quote in the entire book, Thomas Ricks. It’s very, actually, upsetting for someone who has read a lot about the United States military over the years, and their code. “There is no much disdain in the service right now for OSD, Office of the Secretary of Defense, that has been reduced to blank you. Whatever you want, we don’t. If OSD ordered the Navy to build another carrier, the Navy would say it wanted sail power. It was not a healthy state for a military establishment to be in on the eve of war.” Key question, Thomas Ricks, why did that state develop? And in the history of the United States military, that’s very unusual. Where was the professionalism to overcome it within the senior ranks of the Army?
TR: Well, you’re asking it in a loaded way. I would blame both sides for getting themselves in a really difficult situation where they didn’t like each other.
HH: Can we stop for just a second?
HH: Civilian control. There aren’t both sides here. The Army, and every uniform in the United States, is supposed to salute or quit, aren’t they?
HH: And so, there aren’t two sides. If you don’t like the OSD, it’s not for you to undermine them. And what you describe here, and I think this has been overlooked, but I think this is the key to this book, is an Army in rebellion against its civilian leadership.
TR: I am a big fan of civilian leadership, as you know from my first book.
HH: Yup, yup.
TR: And it is key. I mean, when people say to me why didn’t these guys just tell the Bush administration no, I’d say because it would have been immoral, illegal and wrong. When civilians give you the order, you salute smartly. The problem was, you used the word professional, and that’s a key word here. The military felt that their best professional advice was being ignored. And here were guys who had spent their careers rebuilding the Army after Vietnam. And suddenly, they saw the mistakes of Vietnam being repeated, and it terrified and worried them.
HH: Thomas Ricks, where are those people, other than the couple…Tony Zinni, obviously, but he wasn’t in at this time. He was out. Where is…you quote Maddis, Myers, Pace, Franks, Sanchez. Where is a senior leader of the Iraq war period, in saying what you say?
TR: They’re saying it to me constantly.
HH: Off the record?
TR: They can’t have their names attached, because that would be seen as an act of professional insubordination.
HH: But telling you that for not for attribution is an act of professional insubordination as well. It’s undermining the civilian leadership that is supposed to be the touchstone of the American military.
TR: And here, actually, I agree with you. You’re touching on a key theme in my second book, A Soldier’s Duty, which is what do you do when your duty to your subordinates you feel is at odds with your duty to your superiors, when you think the interests of your soldiers are not being served by your superiors. Do you take care of your soldiers? Is that your primary duty? Or do you salute smartly and execute your orders? And I’ll tell you, it eats out the guts of a lot of these officers.
HH: Okay, a second take on this, Thomas Ricks. A cadre of Clinton-era senior brass, who did not see it coming, it being the Islamist world war, got bitter and angry at having been passed over and pushed aside by the 9/11, post-9/11 Pentagon, and they have spent the next five years doing their best to undermine this administration, using reporters like you who are good, to carry out that story, and amplify every mistake, and there are many, and to downgrade every success, and there are many, in a continued war against the people who tossed them out, and perhaps against their own conscience for not having seen it coming. Your response?
TR: Convenient, cute, but much too pat and not attached to the reality, as that most of these guys are deeply non-partisan. Those that are partisan tend to be Republicans. And speaking to a reporter like me about this, you can just see their guts twisting as they do it.
HH: Is Shinseki going to run for Senate in Hawaii?
TR: I don’t know.
HH: Have you heard that?
TR: I asked one officer why are you talking to me about these things, and he looked down at his hands, and he said because I have the blood of American troops on my hands. And I said what do you mean? And he said because when I said to Rumsfeld we need that division, and Rumsfeld said no, I gave up. I compromised. And he said U.S. troops died because of that. And he said that’s why I’m talking to you.
HH: And you can’t name him, though?
HH: Well, you’ll pardon me, Tom, Mr. Ricks.
TR: And he was practically crying as he spoke to me about this.
HH: Yeah, I’m just not going to buy that. If you’ve got blood on your hands of American soldiers, every officer I have ever known would not be so cowardly as not to use their name. And I’ve known a lot of officers, as you have. And so, I’m just not buying that. In fact, and now, this raises…I’m going to try to put this gently, because I do respect your work tremendously. Why should anyone believe you, given the number of anonymous sources here, and given the politicized nature of this debate? I’m not doubting that people told you this. I’m just doubting that we have a picture upon which we can rely, because it’s all anonymous sources.
TR: Well, it’s a perfectly good question. I’m happy to respond to it. First of all, the majority of sources in the book are named, and with some very courageous officers, going on the record about their views. I mean, look through the book. When I did the article on the 4th Infantry Division that we drew out of the book for the Washington Post, I think out of probably dozens of sources, there was only one anonymous one. The second thing is, to go back to your Clinton-era cadre question, most of the evidence in the book, the documentary evidence, comes from inside today’s military, and it’s not from politicized, Clinton-era generals. It’s from colonels and majors and lieutenant colonels doing their jobs, sometimes as investigators, sometimes as commanders doing reports, in which they describe what happened in Iraq. Most of the evidence in this book is from today’s military in the course of executing their professional duties. It’s internal reports. It’s looking at the mistakes that were made. It’s Army war college studies. It’s professional work. It is not partisan, it is not a bunch of burn-out generals. It is the military trying to do the best it can in an extremely difficult situation. And to disregard it and slap it aside, if you’ll excuse me, I think is aiding and abetting the enemy.
HH: I’m not slapping it aside. I’m asking to point, to give me names for those parts that are anonymous, so that they can be evaluated that way.
TR: Go look at the book, and look at…most of them is on the record. They were actually very few anonymous sources.
HH: All right. I want to look forward at this point. And the fact that we now have an army on the border of Iran to its Afghanistan border, and its Iraq border. Is it better as we heads towards confrontation, Thomas Ricks, that we were forward based, or that we would not be there?
TR: For confronting Iran, simply in military terms, probably it just would be better not to have troops, because they’re not actually in Iraq to confront Iran, and our life could be enormously complicated. Our old pal, Muqtada Sadr, if he activates again, as he did in the Spring of 2004, when his forces killed many American troops, and then he was let go free by this administration, not by Bill Clinton…
HH: You’re referring to the seige of Najaf.
HH: And what happened? How many people did he lose at Najaf?
TR: Probably thousands.
HH: And how many did we lose? Dozens?
TR: Well, in Najaf and East Baghdad, we lost many, many troops.
HH: Yeah, but wasn’t it dozens?
TR: And this guy went scot free.
HH: I thought it was dozens.
TR: No, more than that, because he also had a lot of fighting…the fighting in Sadr City in the Summer of 2004 was pretty rough.
HH: But you’re raising the argument that I’ve heard other places, that if Iran and the United States come to blows, our troops will be in danger from the 5th column of Sadrites within…and the only time they tried to stand and fight, they got slaughtered. They got stacked up like cordwood. Yes, at the loss of American life, but it just seems to me far fetched to believe that somehow, Sadr represents a conventional threat to the American military in Iraq.
TR: Well, no, I think it represents an unconventional threat. And my real worry is not him as a 5th column, it’s Iranian intelligence that’s a 5th column. I was in a convoy down in Najaf in the Spring of ’04, and the bridges in front of us kept on getting dropped. And I though wow, Shiite militiamen dropping those bridges? And what I found out later was no, it probably was Iranian intelligence operatives, very professional special forces guys doing that. Those are the guys that worry me. If they wanted to cut off our supply routes, as they threatened to do back then, they could be very effective.
HH: But if we have a confrontation with Iran, one that requires military force, not necessarily war, but over their nukes, isn’t it better to be forward based in Afghanistan and Iraq at least for our planes, than trying to operate out of carriers or from Kuwait or from Qatar?
TR: They’re already confronting us, and you know, they’re supplying some of the most sophisticated i.e.d.’s in Iraq. I’m not supposed to talk about quite what they are, but there is a signature on them, a technological signature that makes them clearly of Iranian origin. So they already are taking pops at us. And one intelligence officer, unnamed, because the intelligence guys can’t be named, said to me the difference between Tommy Franks and Tehran was that Tehran had a phased war plan for Iraq. And I said what do you mean by that? And he said they were right on our heels across the south as we came in.
HH: Last question, and I hope you’ll come back. I’m going to be gone for two weeks, and then I want to come back and do some more on this, Thomas Ricks.
TR: Well, I think in two weeks, I’ll have recovered from this conversation. (laughing)
HH: No, this is fascinating. And I want to stress to the audience, they’ve got to read this. This is the best critique of the war out there. It is fair in many respects. There are just questions that I’m raising, and I’m glad you’re willing to deal with me on them.
TR: Oh, I think they are great questions. This is a terrific interview.
HH: Now my last question, though, is Libya is not mentioned in this book. Libya had a WMD program. It had a uranium nuclear weapons program, far along in development, part of the A.Q. Khan network. At the time of the Iraq invasion, the Libyan president, Muammar Qaddafi, told the Italian prime minister that he was giving it all up, because he was afraid of the Americans. That is a definite benefit of the invasion of Iraq. Why isn’t it mentioned in Fiasco?
TR: What do you think the families of Pam Am 103 think about that?
HH: I don’t know, but I still think…
TR: They hate it. They think that a terrorist got off scot free on a deal he cut.
HH: But we got the nuclear weapons programs dismantled, Thomas Ricks. I understand that those families might be upset, but do you believe we are better off with Libya disarmed?
TR: Yeah, I think Libya was pretty toothless anyway, but yeah, it’s better off. It was a side benefit. You know, in a 500 page book, you can cover everything? I don’t think so.
HH: Is it a small side benefit, or is it a significant side benefit?
TR: I think a small side one.
HH: On that note, we’ll suspend for two weeks, and I look forward to having you back, Thomas Ricks.
TR: Thanks. Have a good vacation.
HH: Thank you.
End of interview.