Best Defense

The phantom-like voice of the past: Tom’s 2009 thoughts on the future of Iraq

I was in the basement the other day, shelving a few hundred books while I looked for my old copy of William McNeill’s wonderful 'The Pursuit of Power.'

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I was in the basement the other day, shelving a few hundred books while I looked for my old copy of William McNeill’s wonderful The Pursuit of Power.

Amongst the debris I found an interview that Proceedings magazine did with me for its May 2009 issue. As I picked it up I cringed a bit, knowing that I made several predictions in the interview.

But I think it stands up pretty well. Here is what I said:

Question: Do you think the Obama Aministration is shifting focus from Iraq to Afghanistan?

“Ricks: I think the administration would like to shift the focus. But I don’t think it’s going to be able to. I worry that President Obama is wildly over-optimistic about Iraq, and I think in that respect he is really not distancing himself from President [George W.] Bush, but rather walking in his failed footsteps. Bush didn’t invade Iraq saying, ‘I’ve got a great idea. Let’s go to Iraq and get stuck for ten years.’ Instead, he said, ‘Let’s invade Iraq and get out quickly.’ He had a war plan that called for us to be down to 35,000 troops by the fall of 2003.

“So Obama’s plan for having 35,000 to 50,000 troops in Iraq by the fall of 2010 is actually very similar to Bush’s original notion. As we’ve seen, just because you hang up a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner on an aircraft carrier doesn’t mean the mission’s accomplished. And just because Obama says it’s going to be a non-combat mission after August 2010 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be so. I think Iraq is far more fragile than most Americans recognize. And I think we’re stuck there for much longer. We may be only halfway through this war.

Next we talked about where Iraq is going:

“Ricks: … The future government of Iraq is probably not going to be a democracy, is not going to be stable, is going to have violence, and is almost certainly going to be a closer ally of Iran than it is to Washington. The Americans haven’t taken that on board yet.”

Later: “Obama is going to find it much harder to get out of Iraq than he recognizes.”

Anyway, I never found the McNeill book. So I bought another copy on Amazon.

Photo credit: Thomas E. Ricks

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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