Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks Penguin, HK$218 'Boss, we're losing.' So says a young major in the latest non-fiction blockbuster by Pulitzer prizewinner Thomas Ricks, the senior Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post. The major has had a rough month, like everyone else. Fiasco drives home how, after so slickly taking over Iraq, the Americans have failed to establish anything approaching equilibrium. The soldiers are nowhere near up to the job of policing the volatile, fragmented, foreign culture and have little understanding of the environment they're in. In one house raid, Ricks recounts, soldiers shoot a man named Ayoub in the hand with non-lethal pellets and arrest him. Next, they seize two compact discs with images of Saddam Hussein on them, not knowing that the Arabic titles on the discs say The Crimes of Saddam. 'The soldiers saw only the picture of Saddam and assumed they were proof of guilt,' a journalist is quoted as saying. 'Several hours later intelligence operatives intercepted a telephone call by another man. 'Oh s***,' said Army Captain Bill Ray, an intelligence officer; the man they had detained 'was the wrong Ayoub'.' The US$200 billion war that these soldiers can't begin to grapple with, let alone finish, will eventually be seen as 'one of the most profligate actions in the history of American foreign policy', Ricks predicts. In his eyes, George W. Bush has committed the prestige of the west without enough of its resources. Critically, Bush just does not have enough troops on the ground. Just before the 2003 invasion, Bush said that, in terms of the number of participating countries, the force he had assembled was even bigger than the one his father had mustered in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm. 'But the son's wasn't a solid alliance, based on common interests, as the father's had been,' writes Ricks, 'but rather a jerry-rigged series of deals that couldn't survive much pressure.' Only Britain showed up to fight. The likes of Spain, which pulled out in 2004 after the Madrid bombings, were more inclined to negotiate. Given that 100 people a day now die in Iraq, the war the Spaniards quit looks definitively futile. According to Ricks, whose pronouncements are supported by first-hand interviews with US troops and reportage, the failure comes down to lack of strategy. The occupiers now need to find an escape route. If their predicament is as desperate as Ricks paints it, maybe they should listen to US satirist George Saunders, who advocates 'running quickly at the same time, eyes cast down, to our vehicles, to get to the airport and get out of the country'. That might allow the US time to regroup and resume some semblance of its global policeman role. Acutely overstretched, the US has now committed 80 per cent of its special operations troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Consequently, problems elsewhere look set to intensify through neglect. 'Another cost of continuing heavy engagement in Iraq,' Ricks writes, is that it could embolden adversaries to act. Ricks records that in a talk in Hong Kong last year, former defence secretary William Perry warned that senior Chinese generals were advising Beijing that it was time 'to deal militarily with Taiwan' while US troops were pinned down. In another blow to global stability, the Iraq quagmire may have handed Iran an opportunity to build nuclear weapons. However, if the US decides to extricate itself soon, civil war, partition and regional war may unfold. Worst case: a new Saladin uniting Muslims against the infidel might arise from the bedlam. Either way, as Fiasco underlines in blood-red ink, Bush's mission has not been accomplished. And it probably never will be.