Saddam had it coming, writes distinguished historian Keegan (Winston Churchill, 2002, etc.) in this account of what he calls the “Iraq War of 2003.”
That war is still unfolding and ongoing in 2004, even though George W. Bush declared the major fighting to be over in May 2003. If Keegan’s account of the campaign is to be faulted, it is because it effectively ends at Bush’s pronouncement—and because Keegan seemingly shares Bush’s belief that Saddam had to go, even though acting on it yielded a war that Keegan characterizes as “mysterious.” For Keegan, the reasons to overthrow Saddam have global implications: “The reality of the Iraq campaign,” he writes, “is . . . a better guide to what needs to be done to secure the safety of our world than any amount of law-making or treaty-writing can offer.” (Kim Il Jong, watch out.) Keegan lingers on the generations between the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and Saddam’s rise to power, and on the larger picture of regional geopolitics. As he comes nearer to the actual fighting, Keegan—who is defense editor for the London Daily Telegraph—relies on insights from theater commander Gen. Tommy Franks, who reveals that he “had never cared for the use of the term ‘shock and awe’ ” and didn’t find much to worry about in Iraq’s command-and-control structure, which crumbled the minute Allied bombs began to fall. Keegan provides insights of his own on the important role of international forces, such as the British troops in Basra, Australian special forces in the western desert, and Eastern European contingents whose leaders recognized Saddam for the Stalin wannabe that he was. He is also open in faulting what he perceives to be American missteps; the US command, for instance, ignored the pragmatic approach of the British army in the south and instead disarmed and dismantled the Iraqi army and police, idling masses of well-trained fighters who are now causing the occupiers so much grief.
Worthwhile, though Keegan’s dry account pales next to more immediate works, such as Rick Atkinson’s superb In the Company of Soldiers (p. 115).