Admiring, insightful biographies of four generals who commanded in Iraq.
John Abizaid led the Central Command (which oversees both Iraq and Afghanistan) from 2003 until 2007. David Petraeus led the Multinational Force Iraq—the actual fighting forces, almost all American—until he took over Central Command in 2008. Both former Multinational Force leaders, George Casey now serves as Army Chief of Staff and Peter Chiarelli as Vice Army Chief of Staff. As the first post–Vietnam War generation, they are working to ensure a better outcome from today’s wars. In their first book, journalists Cloud and Jaffe emphasize that the jury is still out. They stress that the military hated its experience in Vietnam so intensely that it refused to learn from it, happily resuming training for a traditional war against massive Soviet forces. The wildly expensive build-up under President Reagan—and again after 9/11—mostly produced high-tech tanks, ships, planes and missiles. As the authors recount the careers of these men, readers will be impressed with their scholarship (all earned advanced degrees), fierce ambition and yearning to command in combat. All studied history and all experienced firsthand irregular wars in places like Kosovo, Somalia and El Salvador. Taking command in Iraq, they understood that they were not fighting by conventional standards. Readers may find it ironic to learn that their frustrations suppressing the insurgency owed less to military conservatism than to their civilian commanders, with President Bush certain that free elections would solve Iraq’s problems and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld (who disagreed) warning them that “nation building” was not America’s goal.
No more optimistic than other accounts of recent bungling by the American military, but a perceptive look at intelligent, capable generals trying their best.