SALT LAKE CITY — Americans don't understand the war in Iraq, at least according to former journalist and acclaimed author Thomas E. Ricks and ex-State Department Adviser Aaron David Miller, both of whom were in town Tuesday touting their opinions on military moves and their most recent books.
The two were billed for separate events, Ricks lecturing at Westminster College and Miller as a keynote speaker in the University of Utah's Middle East Conference, but both carried a similar message that invading Iraq was not done with America's best interests in mind, and no matter what, we're "stuck" there.
"All wars are misunderstood, but I think this is a disaster," said Ricks, who for nearly 30 years reported on U.S. military activities for noted publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. He since has written many books and was a member of two teams that won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 2000 and 2002.
Ricks said the war in Iraq, which is "costing America $2 billion every week," began with Americans asking the wrong questions. The consequence, he said, "is a war that is far from over" and will ultimately enable a new and stronger generation of Iraqi leaders to emerge.
Ricks anticipates another 15 to 20 years of American occupation in Iraq and no real solution even then.
Miller likened America's position in the Middle East to that of a modern-day Gulliver, "restrained by small tribes and its own illusions."
"The region is less a land of diplomatic opportunity for the United States and more a trap from which it can't easily escape," he said, adding that America's physical location in the world — detached from any predatory neighbors — gives its people a tainted, idealistic view of the world.
"Politicians make decisions based on how they want the world to be rather than how it is," Miller said, calling the war in Iraq a major problem with no solution that all began in order to get back at the "angry, dysfunctional, broken region" of the world because of what happened on our own turf on Sept. 11, 2001.
Both Miller and Ricks said the game changed with the "distraction" of Iraq, and America went wrong thinking it was going to fix everything there.
"I would sleep better tonight," Miller said, knowing that the billions spent in Iraq was used to enhance and increase security efforts in America, which he believes is a much more pertinent issue. However, he said he hasn't lost hope in his native land.
"We can't solve every problem, but we can be more disciplined about the way we use America's power," Miller said. "In the end, we aren't going to be able to manage the whole world."