The war in Iraq is in its sixth year -- and we, the public, are in our sixth year of reading warring accounts about it.
The most recent is Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s “Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story.” Sanchez, a senior ground commander in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, faults L. Paul Bremmer, the top civilian in Iraq from mid-2003-4, and Secretary of Defense 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 undersecretary of defense, who oversaw many of the original plans for the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, makes the case that the State Department and Bremmer thwarted Defense Department efforts to hasten Iraqi autonomy and form a new Iraqi army.
But Bremer himself, in “My Year in Iraq,” complained about a lack of support from both military and civilian officials like Sanchez and 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.
Memoirs by those involved in some way in the Iraq war (or the broader war on terror) have grown into an entire industry. Former counter-terrorism 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 in.
What are we to make of all these contradictory accounts?
First, they come in cycles and follow the pulse of the war. In 2003-4, 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 are writing their own responses, a new defense of the war is being made. Feith’s “War and Decision” will no doubt be followed by accounts from Rumsfeld, the president himself and perhaps other principals like Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney. These men will give yet another account of what happened -- and spawn yet another counter-reaction.
Second, there is a lot of money to be made in writing first-hand accounts about the war - the more sensational, accusatory and quicker the story gets out, the better. (A few, like Feith, have magnanimously contributed their earnings to charity.)