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  1. #1
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Cobra II

    To all,

    I just finished reading Cobra II. The book is well written and flows from beginning to end. It starts logically with the post 9-11 planning environment and the Defense Department. The authors examine the planning evolution in detail; there is no doubt that the plan had the SecDef's thumb prints all over it. The chapters on the fight are both readable and coherent; something not easy to do when adressing a complex campaign plan.

    One area I did find especially interesting was the discussion of Frank's view of the war versus those of McKiernan and Wallace. Franks saw the grounmd forces as hesitant and stationary--a view that Blue Force Tracker added to according to McKiernan. Wallace and McKiernan (and the Marines) saw the forces as actively engaged. This has of course been discussed here and in the press. What intrigued me about it was its resemblance to the very same tensions in 1991 between Schwartzkopf and Fred Franks. The former CENTCOM commander saw the situation in Kuwait as a rout and wanted Franks to begin "pursuit" operations before VII Corps had even reached the Republican Guard. the CFLCC in this one was specifically established to keep such disconnects from emerging.

    Another point worth looking at is the book's contention that an absence of post-war planning was NOT the problem with the post-war aftermath. The authors doucument that senior Defense and admninistration officials did consider various plans and studies and rejected them all because they clashed with the plans underlying assumptions. Finally i would say the book is a tribute to those who fought the campaign in the ground or in the skies.

    Get the book and read it.

    Tom
    Last edited by Tom Odom; 03-27-2006 at 08:45 PM.

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default War Lessons Learned

    Col. Gary Anderson (USMC Ret.) - 28 March Washington Times - War Lessons Learned.

    ...Michael Gordon and Gen. Bernard Trainor have attempted to do the same thing with "Cobra II," their history of the drive to capture Baghdad March-April of 2003. They have succeeded in producing an unsparing account of the campaign that includes its strengths and weaknesses, while acknowledging the courage and determination of our service personnel in battle...

    Along the way Mr. Gordon and Gen. Trainor present a number of revelations. The intelligence community thought it had spotted Saddam Hussein going into a bunker outside of Baghdad before the campaign was supposed to kick off. Due to the need to act quickly, President Bush chose to make the decision to strike prematurely. Due to the fleeting nature of the perceived target, Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall military commander, was not involved in the decision to actually start the war. Unfortunately, the intelligence proved to be false. Saddam was never in the reported location on the outskirts of Baghdad, nor was there a bunker at the location. This was the first of an ongoing series of intelligence bungles.

    The Pentagon has taken a lot of heat for the fact that it did not buy into the State Department's plan for post-war Iraq. It is an urban legend in Washington that if that plan had been implemented, things would have been "just peachy" following the Ba'athist collapse. Mr. Gordon and Gen. Trainor clearly agree with the assessment of arms inspector David Kay that the State Department plan was a compilation of essays on things that would be "unimplementable."...
    Last edited by SWJED; 03-28-2006 at 06:37 AM.

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    Default Cobra II on Amazon...

    Get the book and help support this site - Cobra II : The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq - thanks...

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    Default Op Art

    For all students of operational art looking for an insightful campaign analysis, this is the book for you. This is a must read.

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    Registered User Sonny's Avatar
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    Default Outstanding Book

    I am currently halfway through reading Cobra II. The book is a page-turner. I concur with Tom's and Strickland's assessment. This book should be required reading reading by every American in general and by every service member in particular.

    I also recommend George Packer's The Assassins' Gate, for a different perspective on the Iraq war.

    The New Yorker published a piece from Packer earlier this month called The Lesson of Tal Afar. Col H.R. McMaster's and the 3rd Armored Cav Regiment's efforts in Tal Afar are featured prominently in the article. Great insights from Col McMaster, who probably needs to write another book.

    Take care,

    Sonny
    Last edited by Sonny; 04-13-2006 at 07:33 AM.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default An excellent companion

    For a purely Marine Corps perspective to the Invasion, I recommend "Basrah, Baghdad, and Beyond" written by Col Nicholas E. Reynolds USMCR

    From the Amazon page:

    Book Description
    This is the story of the Marine Corps in the major combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). It tells how the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) planned and prepared for war in 2002 and deployed to theater in early 2003, and then how it crossed the line of departure and fought its way to Baghdad—and beyond. Written by Marine Corps historian Col. Nicholas Reynolds, this first overview of the history of OIF is solidly grounded in oral history interviews and buttressed by official reports and firsthand journals. It describes not only the execution of the original plan but some of the unusual additions carried out by the Marines, including a small mission sent to Kurdistan to work with local fighters and a task force sent to seize Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. The book draws to a close with the commanders analyzing the lessons learned in this "transformational" war as the last Marine left the theater in the fall of 2003.
    While not intended as finished history, this authoritative analysis of what happened will prove useful to students of Marine Corps history and operations and easily accessible to the general reader who wants to understand what the Marines did in a historical context. It is certain to stimulate further research and healthy debate. Comprehensive notes are included for the reader who wants to learn more about a particular part of the war.

    About the Author
    Col. Nicholas E. Reynolds, USMCR, the officer in charge of field history at the Marine Corps from 1999 to 2004, supervised Marine history operations during the combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He holds a D.Phil. in history from the University of Oxford and is currently teaching at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and serving as editor of the Journal of America’s Military Past.

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    Registered User C.S. Scott's Avatar
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    A few weeks back I picked up the audio version (8 CDs) of Cobra II and have listened to half of them so far. I also recommend On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, that offers some good oversight and tactical information from the Army perspective.

    http://call.army.mil/products/on-point/toc.asp

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default The Rumsfeld Doctrine

    30 April New York Times book review (Cobra II) - The Rumsfeld Doctrine.

    Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor's book about the invasion of Iraq, "Cobra II," is everything that the Bush administration's plan for the war was not. It is meticulously organized, shuns bluff and bombast for lapidary statements, and is largely impervious to attack. Like their widely acclaimed book about the first gulf war, "The Generals' War," published in 1995, it is based on stupendous research. Once again, the authors seem to have been everywhere and talked to everybody. No Pentagon source appears to have been too minor to track down, no plan too recondite to assess, no military acronym too obscure to explain. Gordon, a longtime military correspondent for The New York Times who was embedded with Lt. Gen. David McKiernan's Coalition Forces Land Component Command, and Trainor, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general and former correspondent for The Times, have produced another must-read.

    But there the similarities between the two books end. "The Generals' War" appeared at the apogee of American power. Gordon and Trainor's sequel, by contrast, chronicles the crimes, follies and misfortunes of the second gulf war until the summer of 2003. By minutely recounting the tensions between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the military in the run-up to the war and during it, the authors seek to explain how Iraq, which was supposed to be the birthplace of the democratic crusade, has become its graveyard. Whether their explanation is completely satisfying is another matter...

    Gordon and Trainor offer the fullest depiction yet of Rumsfeld's obsession with using Iraq to show that a Slim-Fast military, equipped with the latest technological gizmos, could defeat a foe overnight. Again and again, Rumsfeld pooh-poohed concerns about the hazards of an eventual occupation as preposterous. Nation-building was sissy stuff, dating to what he saw as the Clinton administration's needlessly protracted and costly deployment of troops in the Balkans. In contrast, Iraq, an oil-rich country, would be a snap to get back on its feet, even easier than Afghanistan. "With Iraq," Rumsfeld announced publicly on Feb. 14, 2003, "there has been time to prepare." Yet Rumsfeld seems to have viewed preparations for the aftermath as themselves a sign of defeatism. Gordon and Trainor inform us that the commander of the Great Lakes and Ohio Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, who was deputed in December 2002 to come up with a plan for a postwar civilian administration, didn't receive his own budget and was forced to head to "a trade fair at the base to scrounge up office supplies. He went from booth to booth, appropriating pads, pens and staplers — not an auspicious start for an organization charged with smoothing the path to a new Iraq."

    Nor does Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasion, come off well. No doubt there are always tensions in wartime between a commander and his generals, but Gordon and Trainor draw on the observations of Franks's subordinates to telling effect. Enraged that the Marines weren't moving more quickly to destroy Iraqi divisions toward the end of March 2003, Franks acted as though he were in charge of a bunch of modern-day McClellans. At one meeting, Franks declared that he didn't want to hear about casualties, the authors report, "even though no one had mentioned any. At that point, he put his hand to his mouth and made a yawning motion, as if to suggest that some casualties were not of major consequence to the attack."...

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Review of Cobra II by the Economist:
    American taxpayers have paid for hundreds of journalists to be embedded among United States forces in Iraq. Not all have justified the expenditure. “Embedded” reports tend to offer big conclusions about the war based on a snapshot of evidence. That is emphatically not true of this magisterial history by Michael Gordon, the military correspondent of the New York Times, who was given unparalleled access to America's top commanders as they prosecuted the war, and Bernard Trainor, a retired marine general. With mountains of fresh detail on the war's planning and progress, and judicious analysis, “Cobra II”, named after the invasion's code-name, will be hard to improve upon.

    The authors also argue that America's bad policies have turned the occupation of Iraq into a fiasco—a fiasco that was not inevitable. They give George Bush's national security chiefs a pasting. The best, such as Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, were feeble; the worst vain and incompetent—and the worst of all were Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and General Tommy Franks, who commanded the invading troops.

    For 18 months beforehand, Mr Rumsfeld bullied his officers into writing war-plans bound by his dogmas. With utter faith in the technological superiority of America's troops, and a profound ignorance of Iraq, he saw to it that America invaded the country with around one-third of the soldiers that many of his generals wanted. Those who questioned the tactic were chased sneeringly away.

    A visceral aversion to protracted peacekeeping led Mr Rumsfeld to want to withdraw most of these troops within a few weeks of occupying Iraq. Such a move would only be possible if the country's institutions, including the army and police, survived the invasion intact, which Mr Rumsfeld, of course, predicted that they would. He also assumed that allies would send peacekeepers to help out. Some military planners urged a more cautious approach; one wise man suggested preparing a force of American policemen in case Iraq's police collapsed. They were ignored.

    General Franks proved the defence secretary's perfect ally. Oafish and proud of it, the general was only interested in grabbing Iraq, not in rebuilding it. This was unfortunate as Mr Rumsfeld had volunteered his department for that task—in part, it appears, to spite Colin Powell at the State Department. A month before the invasion, America still had no post-war plan.

    On the battlefield, of course, America scored crushing victories. Yet the nature of the opposition it encountered—completely unlike what the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had predicted—should have raised alarms. The first American serviceman killed in combat was shot by a man dressed in civilian clothes riding in a civilian car—and so it continued. Saddam Hussein's much talked-up Republican Guard units melted away; the war featured no big battle between regular forces. But in many towns where the CIA had predicted that American troops would find cheering crowds—and even suggested distributing American flags for them to wave—they encountered bitter resistance from irregular, often suicidal, fighters. Many of these were members of pro-Saddam militias raised to fight Iraq's rebellious Shia. Some were foreign Islamist fanatics. Across southern and central Iraq, Saddam had built them thousands of armouries—many of which, no doubt, they are drawing upon still.

    Without good battlefield intelligence, the Americans were unable to capitalise fully on their gross technological advantage. Their victories often owed more to traditional soldiering skills, with brave infantrymen shooting and moving under fire. Messrs Gordon and Trainor describe almost every significant firefight of the campaign. Casual readers may forgive themselves for skimming the odd clash.

    Despite its title, the book says little, and almost nothing new, about America's shambolic occupation. As American troops took Baghdad, Mr Rumsfeld initially cancelled plans to send even the paltry reinforcements envisioned in the war-plan. That left only 1,200 all-important infantrymen to patrol a city of 6m; and a single cavalry squadron in western Iraq, which includes the rough town of Fallujah. America's allies sent few reinforcements. As the Iraqi state and the security forces collapsed, the Americans could only watch the mayhem around them.

    How much America has learned from the disaster, only history will show. In the short term, the signs are hopeful. Several of those who emerge favourably from this account are now in senior positions: General John Abizaid, for example, who had predicted that American troops would be considered an “antibody” in the Arab world, has General Franks's job; and Zalmay Khalilzad, a shrewd diplomat, once side-lined by the defence secretary, is now America's ambassador in Baghdad. But America has not admitted its grave faults in Iraq, or made an example of any of those most responsible. “Cobra II” makes very clear that, at the very least, Mr Rumsfeld's head should have rolled.

  11. #11
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Binding Criticism (Cobra II)

    2 May Washington Times commentary - Binding Criticism by MG Robert Scales (USA Ret.).

    Today I finished the book "Cobra II," written by retired Marine Gen. "Mick" Trainer and New York Times correspondent Mike Gordon. The authors chronicle in great detail the strategic and military missteps that followed the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. The book is particularly important because its publication was the catalyst that launched the "revolt of the generals" a few weeks ago.

    Their book appears about three years into this war. As I read, I couldn't help but imagine (given today's political atmospherics) how a book like Messrs. Trainer and Gordon's might have read had it appeared three years after Pearl Harbor.

    Such a book would have hit the bookstores at Christmas time in 1944. Messrs. Gordon and Trainer would most certainly have written about the unconstitutional arrogance of an administration that violated international neutrality laws by taking sides with Great Britain against Germany. They would have recognized that Pearl Harbor was the greatest intelligence failure in American history. We would have read the whole horrific story of the humiliating surrender at Corregidor that signaled the shameful loss of the entire American Army in the Philippines.

    The condemnatory tenor of the book would continue with depictions of the useless slaughter at "Bloody Buna" in New Guinea, the humiliating loss to the German Army at Kasserine Pass in North Africa, the failure of Dwight Eisenhower to trap the retreating Germans in Sicily, the horrifically wasteful daylight bombing campaign against Germany in 1943. Messrs. Gordon and Trainer would have reserved their worst for the conduct of George C. Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in their abortive "Crusade in Europe."

    We would have read about an Army unprepared to meet the Germans in the hedgerows of Normandy. Operation Market Garden would be depicted as a foolish "bridge too far" that left our bravest soldiers to die for a few square miles of Dutch territory. The useless slaughter in the dank wilderness of the Huertgen Forest would have shocked us. And of course the book would have appeared just at the time the folks back home got word of Hitler's greatest defeat of the Americans at the Battle of the Bulge, evidence of another grand failure of intelligence and a testament to the genius of German arms.

    Of course there was no such book written at the time. There were no calls for impeachment, dismissal or relief. None of this happened because military men of that age understood war as the most unpredictable of all human endeavors. Our grandfathers realized that unlike lawyers or doctors, soldiers practice their craft infrequently and often get it wrong at first. Thus, even the greatest military men make mistakes that all too often cost lives...

    The imagination of historians like me can wander and take analogies too far. Al Qaeda isn't the Wehrmacht. World War II was indeed a great crusade consuming two thirds of the nation's production and twelve million of its young. Today the Army and Marine Corps, less than three quarters of a million, shoulder the burden for this war at a cost of less than 1 percent of GDP. Perhaps the American population is more willing to listen to criticism of their wartime leaders because they fail to accept that the stakes in this war are as great (or perhaps even greater) than those in World War II.

    But before we become too cavalier about events in the Middle East, remember that Hitler didn't have nuclear weapons and Germany didn't sit astride most of the world's fossil fuel supply. Hitler never came to hate the United States with the mindless imbecility of radical Islamists nor was his anti-Semitic ranting any more threatening than those spouted by the likes of Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ahmedinejad...

    In the interest of winning this war we all must defer judgments about the efficacy of our wartime leaders to the wisdom of the American voters and the 20-20 hindsight of historians like me...after our soldiers and Marines come home.

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    Council Member Stu-6's Avatar
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    I am almost finished with Cobra II and would definitely recommend it, I would also recommend as a companion to it:

    A View of Operation Iraqi Freedom from Saddams’ Senior Leadership

    http://www.smallwars.quantico.usmc.m...ticles/ipp.pdf

  13. #13
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Stu,

    Thanks for that post and you are correct. The IPP report is an excellent companion. I used it as a history lesson and got some feedback from my audience on it from some key folks who actually helped put it together.

    Best
    Tom

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default VDH on Cobra II

    Victor Davis Hanson in Commentary - Refighting the War - you decide...

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    Council Member SSG Rock's Avatar
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    Default I just finished two books....

    I just finished two books, "Plan of Attack" by Bob Woodward, dry but somewhat informative, especially on planning the OIF campaign and "In the Company of Soldiers" by Rick Atkinson, which was also a bit dry compared to Rick's past work, but I'll read anything he writes.
    Don't taze me bro!

  16. #16
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SWJED
    Victor Davis Hanson in Commentary - Refighting the War - you decide...
    I would say an quick review of Mr. Hanson's OpEds pretty well gives his start point.


    Refighting the War
    Hanson, Victor Davis (June 2006)
    A much-discussed “insider’s history” is missing not only the key insiders but a sense of history.

    The Bush Doctrine's Next Test
    Hanson, Victor Davis (May 2005)
    Can we take a principled stand for democracy when three of our powerful "friends" in the Muslim world are dictatorships?

    Has Iraq Weakened Us?
    Hanson, Victor Davis (February 2005)
    Far from tying us down, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and its aftermath have enlarged our strategic options.

    Do We Have Enough Troops in Iraq?
    Hanson, Victor Davis (June 2004)
    The real strategic issue is not how many soldiers are on the ground, but how they are used.

    Iraq's Future-and Ours
    Hanson, Victor Davis (January 2004)
    Given the progress already made, and given what is at stake, American staying power is a referendum on our own moral health.

    Rumsfeld by Midge Decter
    Hanson, Victor Davis (December 2003)
    Donald Rumsfeld, we are told, had a bad summer and a worse fall. But what Midge Decter's biography reminds us is that we need this seventy-one-year-old veteran far more than he needs us.

    More at http://www.commentarymagazine.com/ar...ictor%20Hanson

    Best
    Tom

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    Default Prairie Pundit: Cobra II Review

    SWC Member Merv Benson provides his review of Cobra II at his Prairie Pundit blog.

    I finally finished this book and I feel a little like former General Robert Scales, there is so much I find wrong with it that it might take a whole book to tell it. Victor Davis Hanson has also described some of the inadequacies of the book.

    One of the real weaknesses of the book is that it is written like an appelate brief that ignores the adversaries arguments and worse their factual assertions...
    Much more at the link...

  18. #18
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default Visitor

    A visitor came by last week and we talked for nearly 2 hours. Cobra II came up; he liked it.

    He signed my copy for me.

    His name was MG (ret) Blount, CG 3rd ID in the push on Baghdad.

    That is good enough for me.

    Best
    Tom

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    Regardless of one's political affiliation, I am surprised anyone would not enjoy, or find this book extremely informative as a campaign analysis - operational art study. The authors do an excellent job of detailing the evolution of "the plan," alternative plans and courses of action that were proposed, and planning assumptions. I think this is an excellent work for all students of OpArt.

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    Default Why read Clausewitz when Shock and Awe can make a clean sweep of things?

    8 June London Review of Books - Cobra II Book Review by Andrew Bacevich.

    ... Within the Department of Defense, the hawks were intent on calling the shots. Determined to have a decisive voice in deciding when and where the United States would fight, they also wanted to dictate how it would fight. The team Rumsfeld recruited to assist him in managing the Pentagon contained an unusual number of military zealots, men who believed in the utility of force and viewed the prospect of war with considerable enthusiasm.

    In addition to Wolfowitz and Feith, the group included Stephen Cambone, Lawrence Di Rita, William Luti and, on a part-time basis, Richard Perle, who chaired the Defense Policy Board. Several of them had had a hand in rebuilding the armed forces, kicking the Vietnam syndrome, and winning the Cold War in the 1980s in the service of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. They had, in their own minds, raised American influence and prestige to heights not seen since the end of World War Two. Yet they had left office in 1993 with the nagging sense that their mission was unfinished. Although the hegemony of the world’s sole superpower was real enough, it wasn’t absolute and unquestioned.

    Then came the era of Bill Clinton: eight years of drift and stagnation camouflaged by the vaporous talk in which the ‘Man from Hope’ specialised. With his notion of foreign policy as a variant of social work, Clinton had repeatedly misused America’s armed forces. Kowtowing to his own generals, he had failed to push through the reforms essential for perpetuating US military dominance. Beguiled by his own rhetoric about globalisation, he had ignored threats brewing in East Asia and the Middle East. In the Clinton years, American power had atrophied even as new dangers proliferated. For the zealots, these were wilderness years. Apart from publishing an occasional op-ed or signing the odd manifesto, they were stuck on the sidelines, watching with dismay. The Bush restoration of November-December 2000 offered the chance to reverse this slide towards decline and disarray. Although they had made little headway in promoting their agenda during the administration’s first months, the propitious onset of the global war on terror promised to change all that. For those intent on establishing beyond doubt and beyond challenge the supremacy of American arms, an expansive, amorphous, open-ended war seemed made to order.

    When it came to cementing US military dominion, however, Rumsfeld and his closest associates viewed the Pentagon brass less as part of the solution than as part of the problem. Concerned that the JCS and its staff had emerged ‘as a rival source of power’ during the Clinton years, Rumsfeld intended to put the generals in their place. But this was easier said than done. Before 9/11, the generals pushed back: inside ‘the Building’, Rumsfeld’s ideas and his imperious manner touched off a round of nasty civil-military conflict. Questions of personality aside, disagreement centred on what national security aficionados call ‘transformation’, Rumsfeld’s vision of a redesigned armed force: lighter, more agile and more usable than before. As he and his disciples saw it, senior military officers (army officers especially) were still enamoured of the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force – lots of tanks, lots of artillery, and lots of ‘boots on the ground’. Rumsfeld’s vision of a new American way of war instead placed the emphasis on quality – precise intelligence, precise weapons, and smaller numbers of troops, primarily elite special operations forces.

    Implicit in the Powell Doctrine was the assumption that the wars of the future would be large, uncertain, expensive and therefore infrequent. Implicit in Rumsfeld’s thinking was the expectation that future American wars would be brief and economical, all but eliminating the political risk of opting for force. Rumsfeld believed that technology was rendering obsolete old worries about fog, friction and chance. Why bother studying Clausewitz when Shock and Awe could make a clean sweep of things? For Rumsfeld and his coterie, this was the appeal of having a go at Iraq: a swift victory over Saddam would validate Rumsfeld’s ‘vision’ and discredit those who were obstructing his reforms. According to Cobra II, he was certain that a ‘rapid defeat of Iraq on his terms would break the spine of army resistance to his transformation goal once and for all.’

    Gordon and Trainor describe in detail the process that eventually produced a campaign plan which met with Rumsfeld’s approval. The Joint Chiefs of Staff essentially played no role in this. Rumsfeld had little use for their advice. The compliant JCS chairman, General Richard Myers, so much under Rumsfeld’s thumb that he was ‘incapable of expressing an independent view’, remained an onlooker. When Eric Shinseki, the army chief of staff, dared to suggest that occupying Iraq might require several hundred thousand troops, Wolfowitz retaliated with a public rebuke and Rumsfeld instantly pushed the general into oblivion.

    Rumsfeld’s chosen military interlocutor was General Tommy Franks, the commander of United States Central Command. In a bestselling memoir published after his retirement, Franks portrays himself as a ‘good old boy’ from west Texas who also happens to be a military genius. In Cobra II, he comes across as Rumsfeld’s useful idiot: a coarse, not especially bright, kiss-up, kick-down martinet who mistreats his subordinates but keeps his boss happy. Franks knew that he wasn’t in charge, but he pretended otherwise. Appreciating the ‘political value in being able to stand at the Pentagon podium and say that the Bush administration was implementing the military’s plan’, Rumsfeld was happy to play along.

    The invasion plan that Rumsfeld bludgeoned Franks into drafting foresaw a relatively small force rushing towards Baghdad at breakneck speed, swiftly toppling the Baath regime, and just as quickly extricating itself. ‘The Iraq War would be like a thunderstorm: a short, violent episode that swept away the enemy but would not entail a burdensome, long-term troop commitment.’ Underlying these expectations were three key assumptions: that the regular Iraqi army wouldn’t fight; that the Iraqi people would greet US and British troops as liberators; and that major Iraqi institutions would survive the war intact, facilitating the rapid withdrawal of all but a small contingent of occupying forces.

    In the event, these assumptions proved fallacious, even with Saddam Hussein doing his best to help out: convinced that the US would never actually try to take Baghdad, Saddam concentrated on threats from Iran and from within Iraq itself; as a consequence, the Iraqi general staff had no plan worthy of the name to defend against an Anglo-American attack. When that attack began, the anticipated mass defection of Iraqi forces did not occur. The Iraqi army did fight, though poorly – and some US troops found even this level of opposition disconcerting. ‘Why would the Iraqis shoot at us?’ one army captain wondered to himself. ‘We are the good guys.’ Iraqi irregulars – the Fedayeen – offered a spirited resistance that caught allied commanders by surprise. Meanwhile, the welcome given to allied forces as they traversed southern Iraq proved to be spotty and less than wholehearted. Worse still, when Baghdad fell, Iraq’s political infrastructure collapsed, and mass disorder followed.

    These developments (especially the appearance of irregular forces), dismissed by the Pentagon and Central Command as mere blemishes on an otherwise perfect campaign, were a portent of things to come. Neither Franks nor Rumsfeld responded to these warnings. Gordon and Trainor rightly indict Franks for failing the most fundamental responsibility of high command: the general did not ‘comprehend the nature of the war he was directing’. But the charge applies equally to Rumsfeld and his team of zealots. An obdurately conventional soldier, Franks lacked the wit to grasp that the conflict in which he was engaged was anything but conventional. Entranced with his vision of warfare rendered precise by precision weapons, Rumsfeld had little patience with facts that did not fit with his preconceptions.

    Although US forces made it to Baghdad, and Bush soon thereafter declared an end to ‘major combat operations’, it was all downhill from there. An incident in Fallujah – troops from the 82nd Airborne Division fired into a crowd of angry demonstrators – kick-started the insurgency. That was on 24 April 2003. Heavy-handed US tactics added fuel to the fire. ‘The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I’m about to introduce them to it,’ a senior officer in the 4th Infantry Division is quoted as saying. Bush’s chosen proconsul, Paul Bremer, compounded the problem by dissolving the remnants of the Iraqi army, thereby providing the insurgents with a pool of potential recruits. As Franks made his escape, command in Iraq devolved on Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, an officer of indifferent ability, poorly prepared for the challenges he faced, and unable to forge an amicable relationship with Bremer...

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