- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2005


By James Kitfield

Potomac, $27.50, 336 pages

There are two kinds of ways to view a war; one is by memoir, the other is by analysis. James Kitfield attempts to combine both in his new book, “War & Destiny.” In my view, he bats .500 in the effort. If our Washington Nationals had a .500 hitter, I’d be ecstatic; however, in an author, we expect more. Mr. Kitfield’s view of the global war on terror is firsthand. The problem with eyewitness accounts is that they are selective. Selective views are necessarily narrow, and that is what troubles me about the book.

As a memoir, the book is superb. The author is a respected reporter for the National Journal. He covered the global war on terror before it became one. He served as an embedded journalist in the “march up” to Baghdad during the first phase of the present war, and he later covered several key events of the second phase, including the spectacular attempt on the life of Paul Wolfowitz in October 2003 and the run up to the disastrous events of April 2004 when U.S. forces came perilously close to facing a “perfect storm” of Sunni and Shia opposition to the U.S.-led occupation.

Mr. Kitfield is at his best when describing his embedded experiences. His feelings about the deaths of military comrades and that of his good friendandcolleague, Michael Kelly, the respected editoroftheAtlantic Monthly, are truly heartrending. At the end of the day, this book is about Iraq; here, it leaves something to be desired. This war is mutating too rapidly for anyone to guess its outcome. However, the author has drawn some harsh conclusions. In his view, the senior Pentagon leadership has it wrong, and the uniformed military has had it right all along.

This evaluation is too black and white from my perspective. The author has bonded with the troops in the way that the embedding process was designed to do. He appreciates the superb professionalism of the all-volunteer force and celebrates its virtues. Nowhere is this more evident than in the coverage of the proconsulship of Paul Bremer. This is called the “lost year” by many who served there during that period. However, Mr. Bremer receives all of the criticism for the failures of this period, while his military partner, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, is not mentioned at all.

The problematical relationship between these two is viewed by most informed observers as one of the major stumbling blocks of the conflict to date. The failure to analyze this period in the war objectively is the book’s major flaw. Some of the mistakes attributed to Mr. Bremer can be clearly laid at the feet of his military associate, Gen. Sanchez. No one who visited the Republican Palace during that period that they co-occupied the facility can come away with the feeling that these two were operating in coordination.

Nor was Gen. Sanchez a subordinate; he was an independent player. Blame for the mistakes of that era can be shared equally, as can credit for their many successes. Mr. Bremer gets eight footnotes; Gen. Sanchez gets none. Despite its failure as hard-eyed analysis, Mr. Kitfield’s book is worth the read. He has talked to many experts in the field, “walked the walk,” and genuinely admires the American fighting man. However, this war is moving too quickly and evolving too rapidly to draw conclusions at this point.

The author is bitterly critical of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and his vision of a smaller, more agile military force. What gets lost in this analysis is that Mr. Rumsfeld’s view is evolving with the war. He has sponsored a number of innovations that do not fit the mold of his original vision, such as improved cultural intelligence and the need for training indigenous forces. Mr. Rumsfeld began his tenure by preparing the military to fight the “enemy after next.” However, the next enemy proved to be more deadly than expected. That doesn’t mean that the enemy after next still does not loom on the horizon.

In the early years of the last century, between the two world wars, the British and French developed superb colonial forces for fighting what was then “the war of the present.” They neglected the revolution in military affairs that the Germans were creating. The result was infamous defeat. Mr. Kitfield’s view of the global war on terrorism is “civilians wrong, military right.” That is oversimplification.Thereis plenty of blame and plenty of credit to go around at this point. Despite the criticisms, I truly liked the book.

Gary Anderson has served as an advisor to the Defense Department on Iraqi security matters and teaches at George Washington University.

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