The Pulitzer-winning journalist whose 2006 book so thoroughly debunked the "Mission Accomplished" myth of the Iraq war came to my town a few hours ago and asked his audience to face some nasty new diagnoses about Iraq.
* "The best-case scenario for Iraq is a country that is not particularly democratic, is not ... stable, is not a great respecter of human rights, is almost certainly a closer ally with Iran than it is with Washington. That's the best-case scenario."
* Iraq "almost certainly" will end up being America's longest war ever.
* Obama is so "overly optimistic" about prospects for getting troops out of Iraq that the new president "sounds a lot like Bush before the surge."
* In overthrowing Saddam Hussein, America forcibly traded a "toothless tiger" of an enemy for the possibility of a much worse one: "There are a lot of little Saddams in Iraq wearing police and army uniforms and I worry that one of them may grow up and become a big Saddam. ... We may say, 'My God, we created a monster.'"
Of course, most of these are predictions. They look to the future. We don't have good data on the future. So, as dire and plausible as Ricks' predictions are, I'm actually more interested in his judgments of the recent past. The recent past is the subject of Ricks' new book, The Gamble. Its subtitle is "General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008"
Speaking on Thursday about those years and about the Petraeus-led "surge" that defined the period, Ricks used a blunt word that jarred me. The word was "failure." The surge, Ricks said, failed. All the big political issues Iraq faced before the surge are still there, he said.
This, in a sense, is not news to me. Back in July, I wrote a piece here on HuffPost called "McCain's Premature Surge Adulation." In it, I tried to counter the incessant scolding from Senator McCain's presidential campaign that painted Obama as mulish for refusing to rejoice in the truth that everyone supposedly knew: that "the surge worked."
As Gov. Sarah Palin put it in her GOP convention speech, "Victory in Iraq is finally in sight (and Obama) wants to forfeit."
I knew that was nonsense.
All the same, Ricks' words did jar me Thursday. Thank goodness. Because we need to be jarred.
There's the saying about how people who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. But what about people who actively lie to themselves about the past, about something like the surge? Surely, such people are in for something even worse than a mere repetition of the past.
This matters for Afghanistan. It matters for Iraq. It matters for America.
As Ricks writes in the very last sentence of The Gamble, "the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened."
UPDATE (4/11/09): Many thanks to all of you who took the time to read, think, and comment. Based on what you wrote, I just want to share a few more quotes from Ricks' Seattle appearance:
* Obama "inherited the worst foreign policy situation that any new president has ever taken on."
* "The invasion of Iraq was the single biggest blunder in the history of American foreign policy."
* "Staying in Iraq is immoral. I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral."
And since commenter "viper234" brought up the crucially important issue of torture, I should note that Ricks said "every one of us have had people tortured in our names." Ricks wants a Truth and Reconciliation Commission aimed at discovering the full facts of what has been done since 9/11. He blogged about it here.
Even without a truth commission, Ricks predicted the facts will continue to leak. "I see this as Cheney being waterboarded by history," he said.
Huffington Post blogger David Quigg's previous posts about Iraq are archived here on his new blog, AfPak Ignoramus. To follow David on Twitter, click here. Or, if you want to understand how Dick Cheney ultimately failed the torture enthusiasts every bit as much as he failed you, please take a few moments to read "Keep Yapping, Dick. (Why Even Another 9/11 Can't Redeem Cheney and Bush)".