Warning Will Robinson! Agenda Ahead! Warning! Warning!
As a big fan of the authors’ earlier work, The General’s War, I was ready to plunk my money down on this book without knowing anything else about it. While waiting for it to come out, I tried to find out all I could about this new book: eager to learn much once again from Mr. Gordon and Gen. Trainor. This desire is what lead me to listen in on the book release party (audio here) on CSPAN, and as I posted earlier:
Between what one of the authors (Gordon) said and the utterances of the panel of ‘guest’ commentators, I decided to read the book with a much more critical eye.Gordon indicated in his remarks at the book release that he went in to this effort with no idea what the war in Iraq would bring, just that he knew that he and Gen Trainor could leverage a lot out of the network of contacts developed during the writing of The General’s War. From his remarks, he also indicated that it was much later after the war that the story they tell in Cobra II came together. Contrast this ‘truth’ with opening statement in the foreword to Cobra II:
We wrote this book to provide an inside look at how a military campaign was so successful in toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime set the conditions for the insurgency that followed.Aside from Gordon’s opening remarks, the authors' commentary at the event aligns more closely with the foreword of the book. Combining this discrepancy with the previously noted money trail behind the book that was acknowledged at the release event I believe, reveals this book as primarily a whetstone for one or both of the authors’ axes -- although it is somewhat easier to believe this motive of Gordon than Trainor.
The book begrudgingly acknowledges that General Franks won the war he fought, but asserts that he fought the wrong war (more later on this point) and because of this, the war in Iraq was a failure. Further, the authors assert the ‘failure’ to prevent/control the post-Battle for Baghdad environment was due to five key coalition failures. To the authors’ way of thinking, we:
1. ‘misread’ the foe,
2. failed to ‘adapt to developments’ on the battlefield,
3. relied too much on ‘technological advancement’,
4. have ‘dysfunctional’ military structures, and
5. have an Administration that ‘disdained’ nation building.
Let us tackle each one of these so-called ‘failures’ individually. To kick off the effort, let's look at the first assertion in this post.
The U.S. ‘Misread’ its Foe?
While acknowledging ‘part’ of the ‘misreading’ was due to poor intelligence on the part of the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, the authors are in effect minimizing the impact of ‘poor’ U.S. intelligence. The fact that all of the Western powers had poor intelligence on Iraq was played down throughout the book: acknowledged but never really focused upon or explored. Had this facet been examined more thoroughly, it would have become immediately apparent that perhaps much of what was supposedly ‘mistaken’ concerning Iraq, including the power structure, military capability, and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), was in reality unknowable beforehand. It was ‘unknowable’ because much of the critical ‘truths’ about our foe was and possibly still is locked up inside Saddam Hussein’s punkin’ little, and megalomaniacal, head.
A perfect place to have emphasized this point would have been where the authors recounted regime members revealing (well AFTER the war) that Saddam called his key people in and told them there really were no WMDs just prior to the war. Of course, this would beg the question that if he said he was deceiving them earlier, how would they/we know if he wasn’t deceiving them (and now us through them) from that point in time forward?
Given that Saddam’s revelations to his generals dovetail neatly with records of an unusual and significant amount of military convoy activity to Syria, given allegations that WMDs were winged away in military transport aircraft, given the apparent complicity of certain members of the U.N Security Council in propping up Saddam’s regime under the Oil for Food Program with a motive to cover their tracks, and given the recent declassification of the existence of over 500 WMD warheads and artillery shells that very well could be the drippings left behind in a quick housecleaning, and given that armament stockpiles are still being inventoried, how can we say this matter is settled?
I’ve never been a big fan of conspiracy theories and am reserving judgment as to what this all means – and that is my point: I can recognize when there are sufficient unknowns to reserve, and not rush towards, judgment. The authors of Cobra II should have reserved judgment as well.
One point the authors hammer home every chance they had was that we failed to respond, adapt, adjust (or whatever!) to what Messrs. Gordon and Trainor characterize as the real foe: the Fedayeen. Of course, they do this in a manner that marginalizes the Republican Guard, conveniently avoiding an in-depth analysis as to what the war might have looked like if we hadn’t moved so far and so fast. For example, early in the book one of the most prominent points made concerning the preservation of critical bridges the Coalition forces would need, is that Saddam didn’t want the bridges blown because it would hinder his own actions in maintaining control over his own population after the conflict. This has the effect of minimizing the importance of one of the key coalition objectives, preservation of the bridges, and making that goal look like yet another ‘misread’ on our part. Yet as we move through the book, we learn that in some cases we were lucky and in others we were able to secure bridges before they could be blown because we moved so quickly.
Among the most annoying things about the authors’ efforts is how they consistently marginalize the fact that we (the Coalition) really viewed the threat of WMDs as a 'most serious' threat and primary campaign planning factor. WMDs were, given the circumstances the most important factor weighing in on all aspects of the war planning and the biggest potential threat to our forces and our success.
What would have been the consequences of an alternate reality to what actually occurred? Would we have gotten bogged down and slipped into a war of attrition before we could get to Baghdad? How many more Coalition lives would have been lost than we have lost to date? That answer too is unknowable. But it is undeniable that in dealing with an enemy believed to have WMDs, moving as quickly as possible exposing as few people as possible to danger in order to get the mission done MUST be considered a prudent strategy. The ‘misreading the foe’ canard only looks good post-facto because the use of WMDs didn’t materialize. Thank God.