The war in Iraq is in its sixth year — and we, the public, are in our sixth year of reading warring accounts about it.
most recent is Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez's "Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's
Story." Gen. Sanchez, a senior ground commander in Iraq from June 2003
to June 2004, faults L. Paul Bremer, the top civilian in Iraq from
mid-2003-04, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the errors and
mishaps of the occupation.
The new Sanchez book follows
Douglas Feith's new book "War and Decision." The former defense
undersecretary, who oversaw many original plans for postwar
reconstruction of Iraq, makes the case that the State Department and
Mr. Bremer thwarted Defense Department efforts to hasten Iraqi autonomy
and form a new Iraqi army. But Mr. Bremer himself, in "My Year in
Iraq," complained about lack of support from both military and civilian
officials like Gen. Sanchez and Mr. Feith.
And don't forget
"At the Center of the Storm" by former CIA Director George Tenet or
"American Soldier" by Tommy Franks, the commander who oversaw the 2003
invasion. Both offered their own versions of where others went wrong.
by those involved in some way in the Iraq war (or the broader war on
terror) have grown into an entire industry. Former counterterrorism
director Richard Clark's "Against All Enemies," former CIA analyst
Michael Scheuer's "Imperial Hubris" and former Ambassador Joe Wilson's
"The Politics of Truth" all tell stories of how someone else did them
What are we to make of all these contradictory accounts?
they come in cycles and follow the pulse of the war. In 2003-04, most
of our information came from administration and Pentagon press
conferences. The brilliant three-week overthrow of Saddam and the
relative quiet for a few months afterward resulted in favorable public
opinion and few questions about the conduct of the war or the official
version of it. But once arsenals of weapons of mass destruction did not
show up and an insurgency broke out, published tales of American
incompetence proliferated.Now, as the violence has decreased
and former officials write their own responses, a new defense of the
war is being made. Mr. Feith's "War and Decision" will no doubt be
followed by accounts from Mr. Rumsfeld, the president himself and
perhaps other principals like Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney. These men will give another account of what happened — and spawn yet another counterreaction.
Second, there is a lot of money to be made in writing firsthand
accounts about the war — the more sensational, accusatory and quicker
the story gets out, the better. (A few, like Mr. Feith, have
magnanimously contributed their earnings to charity.)
there is a "not me" theme in many of the tell-alls. Officials who once
praised each other in televised press conferences and assured Americans
things were going well apparently now turn out to have not liked each
Gen. Sanchez argues he was not to blame for Abu
Ghraib, but rather Pentagon higher-ups. Mr. Tenet swears he was not the
only one who fouled up the prewar intelligence. Tommy Franks
concentrates on his successful war, not someone else's plagued
occupation — since he retired right after the three-week victory.
Richard Clark argues he couldn't stop Sept. 11, 2001, because of
others' mistakes. Likewise Michael Scheuer's special group failed in
its mission to catch bin Laden due to the blunders of rival agencies.
Is any of this finger-pointing new? Hardly.
battle of Shiloh (April 1862) was refought for nearly a half-century,
and we still don't know whether Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was drinking
before the battle, or why Gen. Lew Wallace took the wrong road and came
late to the battle with reinforcements. You can read various versions
of who was to blame in the memoirs of Gens. Grant and Wallace and
William Tecumseh Sherman.
After World War II, British Field
Marshall Bernard Montgomery and U.S. Gens. Dwight D Eisenhower, Omar
Bradley and George Patton (posthumously) all bickered in print over the
strategy after D-Day, the disastrous Arnhem campaign and the complete
surprise at the Battle of the Bulge — issues still not resolved more
than 60 years later.
Was Vietnam a necessary war, always a
hopeless fiasco or a squandered victory? You can read all those
versions and more in the books of Sec. Henry Kissinger, Sec. Robert
McNamara, Lt. (now Sen.) Jim Webb and Gen. William Westmoreland.
only difference with the Iraq war is that in the modern age of
instantaneous global communications, those involved right in the middle
of it, at least on the American side, scramble to get their "true"
story out first — and get even — well before the war is won or lost. In
such an ongoing conflict, these memoirs are often out-of-date even
before they hit the bookstores.