A former commander of advisory teams in Iraq and Afghanistan offers historical perspective and a forthright breakdown of the failure of those conflicts.
A retired lieutenant general with 35 years in the U.S. Army and various commands in the Middle East over the last decade, Bolger admits he was “low[er] down on the food chain” but present enough to observe how “key decisions were made, delayed or avoided.” In sharp, plainspoken prose, he sets out the scenarios, from the first victorious Gulf War against Saddam Hussein to the beleaguered U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan in June 2013. Bolger characterizes the generals involved—e.g., comparing each to a historical counterpart, such as David Petraeus to the “innovative yet overly ambitious” Douglas MacArthur and himself to “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, who “told it like it was” (and got sent home for it)—and gives a clear sense of what the American forces possessed to their advantage: namely, an excellent volunteer military, top-notch military intelligence and workable joint operations. Bolger also explores what hindered them, including an amorphous enemy and a sense of damning hubris. The generals might have congratulated themselves on beating the “Vietnam syndrome,” but some of the same issues haunted the current Middle East crises—e.g., who was the enemy? “Defining the enemy defined the war,” writes Bolger, and from the Sunni insurgents to the Taliban to al-Qaida to the “green-on-blue turncoats,” the guerilla enemy retreated, changed and regrouped. Bolger does a fine job of delineating the technical aspects of military workings (while making good fun of the euphemistic names of the various operations labeled by the “guys in the Pentagon basement”) and candidly describes America’s efforts after a decade of attrition as “global containment of Islamic threats.”
With vigorous, no-nonsense prose and an impressive clarity of vision, this general does not mince blame in this chronicle of failure.