BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. The Center for Army Lessons Learned recently declassified its assessment of the war in Iraq -- all 542 pages of it. But you may ask: what's the point? We had some 700 reporters embedded in Iraq, giving us the action in close to real time. With all that coverage, what don't we know about the waging of that war? Plenty, apparently. David Zucchino was an embed for the Los Angeles Times. He's read the "Lessons Learned" report. David, welcome to the show.
DAVID ZUCCHINO: Great to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what in those 542 pages, most of which dealt with the military campaign, would most surprise us?
DAVID ZUCCHINO: I think the thing that would surprise people most is, first of all, the failure of intelligence. I'm talking about on the ground intelligence about what the Iraqis were doing, what kind of weapons they had, where they were amassed, and what kind of tactics they would use. I went into Baghdad with the Second Brigade of the Third Infantry Division, and at that time, they were complaining to me that their satellite maps were weeks old. They went in blind and basically had to react on the ground and instantaneously to what the enemy was doing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But David did you report that?
DAVID ZUCCHINO: Yes, I did -- at the time it was, [LAUGHS] it was embedded, so to speak, in some of the stories I wrote. [LAUGHTER] I referred to that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why did you embed it? Why didn't it go into the lead, and if it had, and if all reporters who'd gotten their little pieces had put it in the lead, would the Army Lessons Learned report be such a surprise now?
DAVID ZUCCHINO: The problem at that time -- there was so much going on -- you know, you're writing daily news; you put the events of the day in the lead and you work in some of the other material, and that was the kind of thing I worked in to stories. You know, in retrospect, I wish I had just done a whole separate story on intelligence, but it would have taken more reporting, because I only had a, you know, a tiny slice of it from one unit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What else about the war besides intelligence didn't go as well as we in the public were led to believe?
DAVID ZUCCHINO: Well, I think the American public have the impression that Baghdad fell without a fight; that it was very easy; that the American forces just waltzed in, and in fact, it was a very savage, fierce, three-day battle where American forces on several occasions were, were surrounded and nearly cut off and had to have reinforcements come in. Several units nearly ran out of fuel and ammunition, and were almost trapped inside the city.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's significantly different from the story that we got sitting in America.
DAVID ZUCCHINO: I don't begin to think that it was any sort of conspiracy by the military to get that story out there, but they certainly didn't do anything to undermine that story, and members of the media, myself included, again -- only had a limited view of what was going on, and it wasn't till later, when you sit back and you start talking to people who were involved that you realize the larger story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Part of the Lessons Learned report involves the Pentagon's program in psychological operations or "Psy-Ops." Obviously one of the abiding images of the battle for Baghdad is the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein. Recently we've seen it in a Bush ad featuring John McCain, but the report significantly rewrites the history of that moment.
DAVID ZUCCHINO: Yeah, the-- the impression I think most people in the U.S. have is that it was a spontaneous Iraqi decision to topple the statue, and, and I'll read from a long interview by the team leader of a psy-ops team assigned to the Marines who reached Firdos Square where the statue was. He writes: "The Marine Corps colonel in the area saw the Saddam statue as a target of opportunity and decided that the statue must come down. Since we were right there, we chimed in with some loudspeaker support to let the Iraqis know what it was we were attempting to do." And later on, he adds: "We looked over, and now there was an American flag draped over the face of the statue. God bless them, but we were thinking from psy-ops school that this was just bad news. We didn't want to look like an occupation force, and some of the Iraqis were saying 'No. We want an Iraqi flag.'" And basically he describes how they come up somehow with an Iraqi flag; they get it on top of the statue. They get a U.S. Marine recovery vehicle to come in and they pack the back of it with some very exciting and shouting Iraqi kids, and then the Marine vehicle pulls the statue down, but from the way the TV cameras were situated, the way it showed, it looked like there were crowds and crowds of cheering Iraqis pulling the statue down.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I just wonder whether we really can change history after the first draft. I mean many Americans believe that the smart bombs that went off during the first gulf war invariably hit their targets, despite lots of information after the fact that suggests they really didn't. Do you think that this will always be regarded as a brilliantly conducted campaign without a flaw?
DAVID ZUCCHINO: Well, I think it will, and, and in some ways it was brilliantly conducted and carried out. I think the problem is that people don't realize all the problems, all the shortcomings, all this very, very dangerous situations that American forces got into that really for one reason or the other -- whether it was the, the military or the media or a combination of both -- didn't come through. It's really up to the news media to come up with a more nuanced and a more complete and a -- more of a report from a long-term perspective, and I'm very interested to see what the military comes up with when they write their assessment of what's happened since the statue fell and how the Army planned for or didn't plan for the current insurgency, and I have a feeling that, as bad as things have been and are, that we may see a report that makes us realize that it's worse than we ever thought.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David, thank you very much.
DAVID ZUCCHINO: Thank you. Great to be with you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Zucchino is a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times and author of a book about the battle for Baghdad called Thunder Run. You can find the Army's report in a user-friendly form on globalsecurity.org.