A candid and gripping look at military leaders interacting with one another and with sensitive allies under enormous pressure during the Gulf War. Using recently declassified documents, New York Times chief Pentagon correspondent Gordon and retired three-star Marine general and military consultant Trainor give readers an inside perspective on tense top-level meetings that shaped the outcome of the Gulf War. Iraq, they argue, was armed by the West as a buffer against Iran. But when Saddam Hussein menaced the world's richest oil reserves in Kuwait, the West, led by President Bush, formed an unlikely United Nations coalition against Iraq that included other Arab nations. Though facing political, economic, military, and logistical problems, the coalition, in the authors' view, was able to take action in time to save the vital oil reserves. Gordon and Trainor draw insightful sketches of many leading players in the drama, especially generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwartzkopf. Powell, skeptical of air power, emerges as the astute politician, while Schwartzkopf appears imperious, unimaginative, and apolitical, often venting his volcanic temper on subordinates but painfully reluctant to shed his men's blood. In fact, the authors depict Schwartzkopf, contrary to Powell, as favoring a long and less deadly (to Americans) air war followed by a quick but militarily overwhelming ground war. But like Meade at Gettysburg, they claim, ``Schwartzkopf defeated his enemy, but allowed him to escape to make further mischief.'' In addition, Gordon and Trainor contend that while the Gulf War comforted the Arab world, Bush failed to envision a clear strategy for dealing with postwar Iraq, allowing Saddam Hussein to endure and to destroy Shiite and Kurdish rebels. A fine narrative history, written in a style suggesting a Tom Clancy thriller, that fills the void left by superficial media reporting.