- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Foreign observers were mesmerized by the resounding 1939 German victory against Poland in which mechanized formations and air power played a key part. One British observer dubbed the new Germanapproach “Blitzkrieg” or lightning war. The German army was less impressed with itself. Immediately after the campaign, it undertook a rigorous self-study of the lessons learned that was brutally honest and self- critical.

A reader of that analysis who is unaware of the outcome would think that the Germans had lost, rather than won, the campaign. However, the improvements made as a result of that study contributed to an even more impressive victory against France in 1940.

Michael Gordon and Gen. Bernard Trainor have attempted to do the same thing with “Cobra II,” their history of the drive to capture Baghdad March-April of 2003. They have succeeded in producing an unsparing account of the campaign that includes its strengths and weaknesses, while acknowledging the courage and determination of our service personnel in battle.

One thing the German army lessons-learned team could not do was criticize the grand strategy that led them into Poland in the first place; Hitler would not have looked kindly on such criticism. The Cobra II authors did not labor under that limitation.

Consequently, the book deftly weaves the strategic, operationalandtactical events involved in the initial stage of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Along the way Mr. Gordon and Gen. Trainor present a number of revelations. The intelligence community thought it had spotted Saddam Hussein going into a bunker outside of Baghdad before the campaign was supposed to kick off. Due to the need to act quickly, President Bush chose to make the decision to strike prematurely. Due to the fleeting nature of the perceived target, Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall military commander, was not involved in the decision to actually start the war. Unfortunately, the intelligence proved to be false. Saddam was never in the reported location on the outskirts of Baghdad, nor was there a bunker at the location. This was the first of an ongoing series of intelligence bungles.

The Pentagon has taken a lot of heat for the fact that it did not buy into the State Department’s plan for post-war Iraq. It is an urban legend in Washington that if that plan had been implemented, things would have been “just peachy” following the Ba’athist collapse. Mr. Gordon and Gen. Trainor clearly agree with the assessment of arms inspector David Kay that the State Department plan was a compilation of essays on things that would be “unimplementable.”

The authors are well qualified for the task. Gen. Trainor is a retired Marine Corps general officer who was in charge of that service’s strategic planning in his last assignment.

Mr. Gordon is a highly experienced war correspondent. Donald Rumsfeld came to the Pentagon convinced that civilian control of the military had badly eroded and that it had to be firmly re-established. The authors clearly feel that he succeeded too well in cowing the generals, and that the balance has gone out of kilter in the other direction. They portray a Pentagon where senior military officials were afraid to state their views candidly. As an example, they point to the fact that Gen. William Wallace, the commander of the Army Corps on the ground, was nearly fired after he told reporters that the enemy was not reacting the way that war games had predicted.

Mr. Gordon and Gen. Trainor feel that this role reversal among civilian and military leaders, along with abysmal intelligence at every level of war, contributed to our inability to foresee that we would still be fighting a guerrilla war there three years later. They point to five key shortcomings that contributed to this. These were: misreading the foe, over-reliance on technological advancement, the failure to adapt to the battlefield, the dysfunction of American military structures, and a disdain for nation building.

A good military history should meet three criteria. It should have good maps, good footnotes and be readable by a lay person; this book meets all three. The reader does not have to agree with all of the conclusions that the authors reach to put the book down feeling that the time in reading it was well spent.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer. He teaches a graduate class in the Revolution in Military Affairs at George Washington University.

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