Review: Winning Modern Wars–Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire

5 Star, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Military & Pentagon Power, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Strategy, War & Face of Battle

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5.0 out of 5 stars Ideal Primer for General Public, Satisfying on Key Points,

January 17, 2004
Wesley K. Clark
Much of this book is a blow-by-blow account of the recent US invasion of Iraq, with generally complementary comments about the performance of the US military.National security professionals will have every reason to skim most of the book, but they would be very unwise if they failed to read it. On balance, the author comes out as the only Presidential candidate who actually has deep experience in modern war, in managing very large complex coalition operations, and in handling the nuances (Bush has said he does not do nuances) of complex European relationships such as characterized his tenure as commander-in-chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, during which time NATO dramatically expanded to embrace the Eastern European (Partnership for Peace) nations and the Mediterranean Dialog nations.

A few key points on the author's perspectives that satisfied me:

1) He understands that reconstruction cannot be successful unless internal security, stability, and legitimacy are established first.

2) He emphasizes the urgency of operating with other nations in strong alliances, not only to be successful in unilateral operations, but in avoiding competing crises elsewhere.

3) He is very critical of the manner in which the Bush Administration represses participatory democratic discussion of the threat and the new strategy. America was “shut out” from both the facts and the discussion in the path to war on Iraq.

4) He is sensitive to the enormous damage that America's arrogance (as reflected in the actions being done “in our name”) is doing to our interests abroad. He notes, interestingly, that there is a huge difference between the messages carried by the US versus the international media (and implicitly, in our public's unawareness of that difference).

5) He is accurate and insightful in expressing concern about two simultaneous failures of the Bush Administration: first, failing to prosecute the war on terror instead of the sideshow in Iraq, and second, failing to actually make America any safer here at home.

6) He helps explain how the Bush Administration got off track by reminding us that missile defense, energy, and the Chinese incident with the US naval reconnaissance airplane all consumed the early months of the new Administration.

7) He provides useful perspective on the *considerable* challenges of terrorism that faced Germany (Baader-Meinhof), Italy (Red Brigades), Spain (ETA), England (IRA), Greece (November 17th group), Turkey (PKK), and other nations including Israel. He notes that these were defeated by constructive law enforcement campaigns, not unilateral military invasions. I found this section of the book to be extraordinarily mature, worldly, and sensible.

8) His account of the early planning process for the war against Iraq (never mind the policy process that misled America) slams Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld for being disruptive and unprofessional, resulting in “an irregularly timed patchwork process that interspersed early-deploying units with those needed later, delayed mobilization, hampered training, and slowed overall deployments considerably.” One example: 4th Infantry Division spent 45 days at sea *after* they arrived.

9) He provides incisive commentary on the failure of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia to provide much needed ports and airheads for the war. [Although General Clark refrains from making this point, the best minds at the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute have publicly noted that we won more as a result of Iraqi incompetence than US effectiveness.]

10) There are many small signs throughout the book that General Clark is a strategist. As one who feels that John Boyd is a hero whose work must be honored in our future deliberations, I was glad to see the author emphasize the value of leadership and training over technology.

11) The author corrects existing doctrine and advances the thinking by pointing out that the air supremacists were correct but not in the way they expected. Air versus C4I was not the decisive factor in the Iraq war, but rather air in support of ground forces, something the Air Force hates to do but the Marine Corps has always understood.

12) On page 79 he discusses how a B-1 bomber was dispatched to attack a reported place where Saddam Hussein might be, unleashing two 2,000 lb. bombs. This is so sadly a repeat of the Afghan story, where a B-2 bomber was called in against 18 men in a cave, that we want to highlight it. We have a heavy metal military unsuited for manhunts or gang warfare.

13) If there is one weakness in this book, it is that it glosses over the many information and intelligence deficiencies that characterized the planning process, the operational campaign, and the post-war peace and reconstruction endeavor.

The author does not fail to give the current Administration and its operational arms (including intelligence) credit for successes against terrorism in 2002 (incidents fell by half, key people killed and captured). This is appropriate, and provides a good lead-in to his very detailed critique of how we are failing in the war on terrorism, the second half of his book. This can be generally summed up, in his words, with “We needed new thinking, and we needed to retarget our intelligence and adjust our means…” What I find most fascinating about the second half of the book is that the author is clearly charting a sensible course that is equi-distant from the incompetent neglect of the Clinton Administration, and the lunatic militarism of the Bush Administration. He makes specific reference to the now-public plans of Rumsfeld and his aids to follow up the attack on Iraq with attacks on Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan. This is what we have to look forward to if there is a second Bush Administration.

The author provides enough in the way of specifics (buying in, for example, with an explicit reference) to Joe Nye's views on the importance of using soft power in the context of multinational strategies for peace) to be very reassuring that his national security strategy, once fully developed, would be summed up with one word: balanced.

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