Book Review: Cobra II
Originally Posted: April 2, 2006 -- 7:34 PM
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Cobra II - Michael R Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor - 507 pages, 603 pages with notes and index.
Cobra II is a well-written, comprehensive analysis of the pre-war planning, actual invasion fighting and subsequent occupation up until December 2004. The authors wrote one of the most highly respected books on the first Gulf War which won praise across the board, including from Dick Cheney. The core content presents a well balanced, heavily annotated account of the evolution of planning behind the effort and the problems encountered by troops once the plans were put into practice. Only in the epilogue do the authors present their conclusions about the fatal flaws in America's plan. Those flaws boil down to (quoting here…)
THE MISREADING OF THE FOE
THE OVER-RELIANCE ON TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT
THE FAILURE TO ADAPT TO DEVELOPMENTS ON THE BATTLEFIELD
THE DYSFUNCTION OF AMERICAN MILITARY STRUCTURES
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S DISDAIN FOR NATION-BUILDING
The April 3 edition of The New Yorker has a good column on the book by Steven Coll you can read at http://www.newyorker.com/talk/content/articles/060403ta_talk_coll but here's my take on the book.
IRAQ AND THE PENTAGON IN THE CROSSHAIRS FROM DAY ONE
The first few chapters of the book address preconceived notions key Administration officials had about both Iraq and battle planning that pre-dated not only September 11, 2001 but even Bush taking office. Bush met with Clinton on December 19, 2000 for a private discussion of pending security concerns.
Once the two men were behind closed doors, Clinton told Bush that he had read his campaign statements carefully and his impression was that his two priorities were national missile defense and Iraq. Bush said that was correct. Clinton proposed a different set of priorities, which included Al Quieda, Middle East diplomacy, North Korea, the nuclear competition in South Asia, and, only then, Iraq. Bush did not respond. -- page 13
Rumsfeld took over the Pentagon with a goal of "transforming" the military into a leaner, meaner, more efficient, more lethal fighting force that leveraged technology more effectively. So confident was Rumsfeld that he (alone?) knew how to accomplish this transformation, he conducted a town hall meeting at the Pentagon on September 10, 2001 in which he made the following statement:
The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America. From a single capital, it attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk... You may think I'm describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. But their day, too, is almost past, and they cannot match the strength and size of this adversary. The adversary's closer to home. It's the Pentagon bureaucracy. -- page 9
READ THAT STATEMENT AGAIN. That is coming from the man who is supposed to LEAD and MANAGE those he is disparaging. No one familiar with the purchase of $5000 hammers is going to defend every aspect of the Pentagon's processes. However, there are many processes involving development of tactics, staffing plans, logistics, etc. most of us don't understand or even see that the military has developed over YEARS of experience that dictate some of the practices used in actual wartime. In hindsight nearly five years later, it seems to more accurately describe the Administration as a source of danger to the country, not the career civilian and military people in the Pentagon.
People who have traced current neo-con strategies back to their PNAC think tank roots have cited material that practically begged for some cataclysmic "Pearl Harbor" type event that could be used as a justification to implement many of the geo-political strategies recommended by PNAC devotees. Richard Clarke's book cited conversations on September 11 about potential retaliation targets where Rumsfeld asked for something "bigger" after targets for terrorist training camps in Afghanistan were provided.
If you have any doubt the entire Bush administration was itching to take on Iraq regardless of the facts, this book adds more evidence.
The snowflake had arrived on September 13, two days before the Camp David war council. Rumsfeld's Pentagon was one step ahead of the President. By the time Bush ordered that a contingency plan for Iraq be drawn up, the effort was already quietly underway. -- page 19
The final piece of information that conveys the contempt the core Iraq planning team had for the traditional policy making apparatus within the government and the Pentagon is the derogatory term for the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Tommy Franks used in front of his own staff: "Title Ten M-----F-----s".
EVOLUTION OF A FLAWED INVASION / OCCUPATION PLAN
The book spends the first few chapters tracing the history of the final invasion strategy from its roots prior to September 11, 2001 as a standard military contingency plan to one that actually initiated movements of troops and materiel prior to the attack date. Those that still believe the career military leaders were given everything they asked for to support the invasion need to read the book for this portion alone.
The invasion plan went through the following iterations:
OPLAN 1003-98 - This was the standard Pentagon contingency plan developed by Anthony Zinni that existed prior to 9/11/2001 that described a response assuming that Iraq attacked something first. This plan called for a force of nearly 500,000 troops in reflection of the need to control a country with 24+ million
people and long, porous borders. The troop count was later revised by Tommy Franks down to about 380,000, a figure Zinni had previously identified as the bare minimum.
Vigilant Guardian - The first post 9/11 plan devised to establish control over southern Iraq with an invasion force of about 100,000 troops.
Generated Start - This plan, first presented around February 2002, represented about three iterative tweaks to the original 1003-98 plan which had whittled the troop counts from 380,000 to 270,000.
Running Start - This plan was drafted around May 2002 to provide an alternative plan in case we wanted to attack in 2002 before a larger supply chain could be established for a larger troop presence. The plan called for a 45 day bombing campaign with initial land troops starting 25 days after bombing began.
Hybrid Plan - This plan came about around August 2002 and attempted to close the gap between limitations identified with both the Generated Start and Running Start plans.
The book makes it clear that none of the changes in these iterations were driven by any information we were learning about Saddam's actual capabilities or strategies, but rather the sole fixation by Rumsfeld and his advisors to reduce troop counts, ramp-up intervals and post invasion commitments as much as possible. The deployment plans failed to even address obvious security reasons directly related to the state reasons for war, as the authors state below:
... Marks was able to identify 946 sites on the WMSL, the weapons of mass destruction master site list. Each had a target folder containing whatever information had been gathered, human intelligence reports, blueprints, and imagery, some of which were years old. But there was no prioritization as to which sites needed to be secured first to preserve evidence of Saddam's WMD program and prevent his stockpiles from falling into the hands of the terrorists -- the Bush Administration's stated purpose for going to war. The Hybrid invasion force would not be able to seize control of all 946 -- certainly not in the opening days and weeks of the attack. -- page 81
The book also provides details on military actions taken starting in July 2002 to destroy key parts of Saddam's communication network. The plan, dubbed Southern Focus, dropped 606 bombs on 391 targets to soften defenses in southern and western Iraq where invading forces were slated to enter the country. (page 69)
READ THAT AGAIN. The United States actually began direct military attacks on a foreign nation MONTHS before Congress voted to provide specific support for military action to the President. Impeachable offense?
CANNONBALL RUN REDUX?
My recollection of the press coverage of the initial land assault on Iraq was that it was closer to a bizarre remake of the old 70s movie Cannonball Run about a cross-country race for a prize than coverage of a military action where lives were in jeopardy. The coverage provided by the imbedded reporters focused on the speed of the troop movements because a) that's all they could see, and b) they weren't privy to the assumptions about capitulation of Iraqi forces that the "race" was intended to rely upon. Because the troops were definitely moving quickly, the reporters were 100% glowing about the "success" of the effort.
Lost in the media fog of war were the following problems.
The decision to try to win the war with the bombing of Dora Farms started the entire war a few days early, preventing more of the supply chain from being established to keep the trucks, armored personnel carriers and Hummers supplied with fuel. The long, thin, overstretched supply chain produced the Jessica Lynch fiasco, which was not a heroic engagement as the Pentagon first led the press to believe. In reality, it was an inevitable result of putting inadequately trained and inadequately armed supply troops in harm's way by not providing enough troops to protect the entire supply chain, a topic I'm guessing is covered in War Planning 101 at West Point or any other war college.
Pre-war intelligence about the state of mind of Iraqi citizens and rules of engagement was based on fantasy and faith, not clear intelligence. In Chapter 12, entitled Everyone Loves a Parade, forces involved in establishing control of the towns of Samawah and Nasiriyah were told that not all Iraqis carrying weapons were to be assumed to be enemy forces. In fact, as forces arrived, local Iraqis might be waving little American flags in greeting and that troops should be prepared to spend time shaking hands with local officials and maybe conduct a parade. (page 215).
LEFT HAND? MEET THE RIGHT HAND
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the authors identified five different areas in which mistakes or breakdowns within American decision making contributed to the final disastrous result. After reading the book, I'm left with the impression that DESPITE our complete mis-reading of Saddam's capabilities and defense strategies and DESPITE under-staffing the actual invasion and occupying forces, the effort to eliminate Saddam and establish some stability in Iraq COULD HAVE SUCCEEDED if the Administration had not been at war with itself and sharing strategy between the Administration, Pentagon and the initial Coalition Provisional Authority. (NOTE: By no means am I confusing "success" in the mission as it was defined with the moral or legal legitimacy of the plan given the fact that Iraq possessed no WMD, facilities to build WMDs and had no involvement with September 11 attacks.)
The final nails in the coffin of the failure were the very first edicts issued by Paul Bremer, which (#1) banned all former Baathe party members from official roles in the new civil structure and (#2) dismantled the Iraqi army. On the surface, these seem to be reasonable conclusions aimed at ensuring those we wished to defeat didn't simply change team colors and remain in their positions of power over post-war Iraq.
In reality, the actual war plan made little provisions for an extended stay by US forces and DEPENDED upon the existing civic structures to provide services and the existing military to handle security tasks for which the US didn't want to staff due to Rumsfeld's "transformation" theories and disdain for nation-building.
In reality, as is the case with any country controlled by a psychotic, despotic nut-job like Saddam, most of the people in "official" positions in "the party" or the government have virtually no influence or power or loyalty to the nut-job at the top. Membership in the official party is often just something done to keep food on the table and keep a bullet out of your head. Many low level Baathe party members in the government COULD have been retained to retain some semblence of continuity and order within the country.
IN OTHER WORDS, the very first actions taken by the American authority installed in Iraq were 180 degrees out of sync with every bit of war planning conducted up to that point. Had these actions not been taken, it is possible stability could have been provided to Iraq sooner, preventing the eventual insurgent attacks that were fed by growing Iraqi unrest due to America's failure to provide basic security and prevent further reductions in the availability of basic services such as water, sewer and electricity.
This lack of coherence between branches of the Administration reads like an inside account of typical fiascos in corporate America. In fact, the notes at the end of the book have some PowerPoint slides from various planning presentations that look like they could come right out of a marketing plan for launching a new salted snack. It's scary to see the same flawed decision making processes used in big business also being used to sell ideas about invading countries and prioritizing bombing targets.
I really hope Americans buy this book, borrow it at the library, or at least thumb through it at the bookstore. This is not a fun read by any means nor is it entertaining. However, voters need to start taking responsibility for the people they put in office. At a larger level, it wasn't Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Franks that planned and botched this needless war. They didn't insert our troops in harm's way with flawed plans, shortages of equipment and bad intelligence. American voters did that when we voted for these people.