My brother, an Army Reservist, was mobilized for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and again for the Surge. As a result, I watched and listened to the media reports throughout, very carefully. I was well aware of the discrepancies between what was reported and what I learned about what was going on, in large part because of the many reporters and authors who were bringing us alternative points of view, generally not covered in the evening news. As a result, I thought I was pretty well informed about the facts of this time period. My mistake!!
Ricks two books, Fiasco, and this one, lay out details that fill in the blanks. I am left with several conclusions: a group of arrogant and ignorant ideologues led us into this war, and misled us about the lack of progress on the ground for three years, costing many American lives, Iraqi lives, billions of dollars. I hold George W. Bush responsible, but after reading these two books, I conclude that he was in large part misled about the lack of progress and the wholly inadequate planning by his top direct reports. When he finally 'got it' he and the White House staff worked around the folks who were holding the line on 'happy talk' and enabled the change in strategy that accompanied the surge. Astonishingly, many highly placed professional military and diplomatic personnel saw what was coming, and then saw what was happening on the ground, and worked diligently to make the facts known. They were extremely important in turning things around from 2006 on, making the best of the bad choices available. Some of these people left their very successful careers behind, leaving and speaking out, finally even leading the change from outside the official organization. Odierno, Petraeus, and the troops on the ground deserve incredible credit for what they accomplished, as do the others who worked from outside.
Many of the careerist top brass of the military failed their troops and the country by going along with their civilian leaders without sufficient pushback. I have seen situations like this, in other context, and heard the leadership say after the facts became clear, "you did not push hard enough, the blame resides with you". !!
The Army's institutionalized introspection shows up very strongly in these accounts and is surprising, in light of how this 10 year effort played out, but the lessons learned were learned by the professionals, not by the civilians who came in and then left, ignorant and arrogant.
Overall, an incredibly important account, should be required reading for all who might presume to participate in national governance. But infuriatingly sad reading at many points.