Review: Battle Ready (Study in Command)

5 Star, Biography & Memoirs, Insurgency & Revolution, Leadership, War & Face of Battle

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5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book Clancy Has Offered Recently, Zinni is Superb!,

June 10, 2004
Tom Clancy
For the serious, this book absolutely merits a careful reading, together with Dana Priest’s “The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military,” and–for a fuller and free overview–my varioius reviews on emerging threats, strategy and force structure, and why our current “military only” approach to foreign policy is ineffective.There are some tremendous gems in this book, some of which I summarize here.

1) Zinni is mpressive in his grasp of grand strategy, of the urgency of understanding the threat, devising a full approach that mixes and matches *all* instruments of national strategy, and that focuses–as Zinni learned to focus in Viet-Nam, on the hearts and minds of the people rather than the force on force battles (a means to an end, not an end in themselves).

2) Zinni’s understanding of war comes across very early in the book when he describes the six completely different wars that took place in South Viet-Nam, each with its own lessons, tactics, and sometimes equipment differences–nuances that conventional military policy, doctine, and acquisition managers back in the US still do not understand: a) Swamp War, b) Paddy War, c) Jungle War, d) Plains War, e) Saigon War, and f) DMZ War.

3) Zinni has read SLA Marshall on “The Soldier’s Load”, and he notes that the equipment that the South Vietnamese carried was lighter and better for their needs–the US military-industrial complex burdens our Armed Forces with overly heavy things, too many of them, that actually impair our ability to fight. Perhaps even more fascinating, Zinni sees that buying equipment for our troops locally cuts the cost by 4/5th. Not what your average US contractor wants to hear, but precisely what I as a taxpayer am looking for–with the added advantage that this puts money into the local economy and helps stabilize it.

4) Within the center of the book, there are rich lessons about war-fighting and peace-making that will stand the test of time. Most impressive is Zinni’s focus on pre-emptive relationship building across the region.

a) Relationships matter, and relationships forged in advance go a very long way in avoiding misunderstanding and defusing crises. If you have to fight, relationships are the single best means of reducing the fog of war and assuring good integration of effort across cultures, nations, and armies.

b) Speed and mixed forces matter. Zinni was the master, in four different timeframes, of using speed and properly mixed forces to achieve effects not possible with larger forces arriving late. In Viet-Nam he worked with “the Pacifiers”, especially reinforced company-size units that had been specially augmented with flamethrowers, extra machine guns and mortars, and their own engineers and scouts, all trained for instant deployment. At Camp Hansen, during the times of race riots, he learned the value of a fast, big guard force *combined with* constant and open dialog with the troops in distress. In humanitarian operations, he learned that rapid delivery of food tended to rapidly reduce the violence–get the food flowing fast, and reap the peace benefits. And finally, in developing the Marine Corps variant of special operations capable forces (not to be confused with the uniquely qualified Special Operations Forces), he developed the original capabilities of doing special things “from the sea.”

c) Non-state entities, both tribal threats and non-governmental organizations, are the heart of the new battle. Repeatedly Zinni comments on how poorly we do in terms of thinking about strategy, operations, and tactics for the sub-state war, and how badly we do at intelligence about tribes, and at coordinating with non-governmental organizations. Zinni finally discovered the true value of Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations as a flag officer, and ended up nurturing the creation of Civil Military Operations Centers, and a new language, such as “Humanitarian Relief Sectors” instead of “kill zone.”

5) Zinni makes some other observations throughout the book that are relevant now.

a) His respects Clinton as a quick study. Without disparagement, he makes it clear that Sandy Berger and Bill Cohen were mediocrities. He admired James Baker, who tried to do Marshall Plan kinds of things and could not get the beltway crowd to see the light. He is cautionary on General Wayne Downing (who went on with the Rendon Group to sponsor Chalabi–Zinni, on page 343, makes it clear he knew Chalabi was a thief and liar as early as 1998). He is admiring of Ambassador Bob Oakley.

b) With respect for foreign capabilities, among the insights are the integrity and capability of Pakistani and Bangladeshi troops, who maintained and then returned US complex equipment in better condition than it was received, with every single tool in every single kit present and accounted for; Italian military field hospitals; African troop tactical fighting discipline and capability.

6) The book wraps up with Zinni’s recommendations for change, all of which are on target: use retired Service and theater chiefs to constitute the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rather than the Service Chiefs with their parochial interests; earmark budgets for the theater commanders–inter-agency budgets; create an inter-agency strategy and operations center to make the government, not just the military, “joint.”

Zinni’s final observations deal with ethics and the obligation to avoid spin and always speak the truth. Zinni is smarter than the current crop of military leaders, who mistake loyalty to specific individuals with loyalty to the Constitution. He also differs from them in understanding that Operations Other than War (OOTW) is where it is at and will be for the foreseeable future.

Missing from the book is any reference to national and military intelligence, other than one small section where he notes it simply was not reliable and not available at the tribal level. Also missing from this book are any references to John Boyd, Mike Wylie, Bill Lind, or G.I. Wilson, all four of whom were, in my opinion, the legs of the intellectual stool that Zinni constructed for himself over time.

This is a serious book.

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