During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Feb. 26, 2013.
You'd think ARMY magazine would welcome a free piece about Iraq from a best-selling author. Apparently not -- they have declined to run this response I wrote to their two articles about my new book, The Generals. I even said they could run it as a letter to the editor, but no. They didn't say why. I am sorry to see them turn away from what might have developed into a good, vigorous debate about what the Army should learn from its time in Iraq.
Make up your own mind -- below is the letter apparently too hot for them to handle.
Thank you for carrying articles about my new book, The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today, in both your January and February issues. I appreciate the attention. However, I think that Brig. Gen. John S. Brown's commentary, "Do We Need an Iraqi Freedom Elevator Speech?", requires a response.
General Brown makes several questionable assumptions in the article.
The first is that in 2003 the Army did in fact understand unconventional warfare in Iraq. Sure, there were isolated instances of individuals, such as the one he cites. I interviewed many of these people and wrote about many of them in my 2006 book Fiasco. But one swallow doesn't make a summer. General Sanchez and other senior leaders did not act upon such instances, and instead focused on large-scale indiscriminate roundups of "military age males." The fact that they did not take advantage of those moves underscores the point of my new book that the troops did not fail in Iraq, but that the Army's leaders at the time did.
Also, throughout General Brown's piece, there runs an assumption that having more troops would have made a major difference during the initial year of occupying Iraq. This is an unproven point. In my opinion, given the poor leadership of Lt. Gen. Sanchez, having twice as many troops on the ground in 2003-04 might well have resulted in having twice as many angry Iraqis driven to support the insurgency. Given the indiscriminate roundups and associated abuses that occurred that year by the units at Abu Ghraib, by the 82nd Airborne and by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Anbar Province, and by the 4th Infantry Division in north-central Iraq, such a result seems more likely than not. In addition, those roundups stuffed thousands of people into the detention system, overwhelming the system and clogging the interrogation of suspected terrorists, as well as helping provoke riots inside the jails.
Did the Army really give a good account of itself in Iraq, as General Brown asserts? If so, I would counter, why did it take the Army until early 2007 to begin operating effectively in that war? The preceding period of maladaptive operations, from 2003 to 2007, lasted longer than the U.S. Army fought in World War II.
General Brown depicts the Army as a surprisingly passive institution. Things just kind of happened to it. For example, in passing he mentions Lt. Gen. Sanchez. But who selected Sanchez to command in Iraq? Who thought that he was the best person for the job? Did that just happen to the Army, or was its leadership simply a group of bystanders? The Army had a responsibility to provide the very best of leadership, talent, resources, and priorities to the fight in Iraq. Did it?
Yes, I understand that the relationship between the defense secretary and the Army's leadership was toxic in the spring of 2003, a crucial period that shaped much of what followed. But this does not excuse the failure to have an adequate Phase IV plan for Iraq, or for Army generals to say that they had all the troops they needed if they indeed believed they did not, or to insist that things were going well when it was clear to anyone on the streets of Baghdad that they were not. All this cannot be blamed on Ambassador Bremer and other civilians. At any rate, I would say that part of the duty of generals is to speak truth to power, even with it makes civilian overseers uncomfortable. It is not clear to me that the Army's generals did this in 2004-06.
The bottom line is that General Brown's commentary could only be written by someone who never actually witnessed our war in Iraq.
The issue here is more important than someone simply misunderstanding my book. I worry that a narrative is emerging in today's Army that holds that the military pretty much did everything right, but that the civilians screwed things up. Certainly, the Bush administration made huge errors in invading and occupying Iraq. I've written more than one book that looked at those.
But the military also made mistakes, and I don't see those being addressed. This should be a time of sober reflection, not of hunkering down and refusing to listen to reasonable criticisms. Why do we not see now reviews akin to the Army War College's 1970 study on the state of the officer corps? Until we see such hard, probing analysis that does not spare the feelings of our generals, the accounts of the Iraq war that capture the attention of the public and the Congress are indeed likely to be written by outsiders.
Thomas E. Ricks
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Feb. 26, 2013.
William Noel Hodgson prayed ambivalently in his poem "Before Action":
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.
At about the same time, Siegfried Sassoon's thoughts were running colder as he marched past a corps commander:
‘Eyes right!' The corpse-commander was a Mute;
And Death leered round him, taking our salute.
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Feb. 19, 2013.
That's the title for a study I'd like to write about the future force structure of the U.S. military. The military would be relatively small, and it would be told to focus on having two capabilities: To quickly provide long-term, indirect, small-footprint support in irregular conflicts, but also to have a cadre force that could, given time, expand conventional forces. It would be designed to avoid attempts to fight insurgencies with large deployments of conventional forces.
Now the thing just needs to be written.
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Feb. 18, 2013.
I was in a discussion the other day of the Obama administration's foreign policy. The more I listened, the more President Obama began to remind me of President Eisenhower.
There is indeed a long list of foreign crises pending right now:
But as I listened to the discussion, I thought of President Eisenhower, who took office and set to getting us out of the Korean War, as Obama did with Iraq. He also worked hard to keep us out of the French war in Vietnam, overriding the Joint Chiefs' desire to use nukes to help the French. He also rejected pleas of many to intervene in the Hungarian Revolution. And he had the Suez Crisis, with the French and British. Then there were issues of Stalin's successors in the Soviet Union, which was rapidly building its nuclear arsenal.
I suspect that Obama's dominant impulse is to keep us out of the problems he sees overseas, just as Ike sought to keep us out of Vietnam and Hungary. Many people disagreed with his decisions. But he was a successful president.
National Archives/SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Feb. 5, 2013.
Recently I was at a foreign policy discussion in which a participant said that everybody agrees that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a good thing, despite everything else that went wrong with the boneheaded invasion of Iraq.
I didn't question that assertion at the time, but found myself mulling it. Recently I had a chance to have a beer with Toby Dodge, one of the best strategic thinkers about Iraq. He said something like this: Well, you used to have an oppressive dictator who at least was a bulwark against Iranian power expanding westward. Now you have an increasingly authoritarian and abusive leader of Iraq who appears to be enabling Iranian arms transfers to Syria.
And remember: We still don't know how this ends yet. Hence rumors in the Middle East along the lines that all along we planned to create a "Sunnistan" out of western Iraq, Syria, and Jordan.
Meanwhile, the Iraq war, which we left just over a year ago, continues. Someone bombed police headquarters in Kirkuk over the weekend, killing 33. And about 60 Awakening fighters getting their paychecks were blown up in Taji. As my friend Anthony Shadid used to say, "The mud is getting wetter."
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Jan. 22, 2013.
The WTF moment for me in Obama's second inaugural address, delivered Monday at noon, was his use of the phrase "peace in our time." This came during his discussion of foreign policy, and in such circles, that phrase is a synonym for appeasement, especially of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain in September 1938. What signal does his using it send to Iran? I hope he was just using it to jerk Netanyahu's chain.
I also simply didn't understand what he meant by "a world without boundaries." But my immediate thought was, No, right now we need boundaries -- like those meant to keep Iran out of Syria and Pakistan out of Afghanistan.
Two things I did like:
Overall, I'd give it a C-. It wasn't a terrible speech, but I am grading on the curve because I have seen him do so much better. Overall, the rhetoric seemed tired, like second-rate Kennedyisms, which may reflect the pack of Hill rats and political hacks staffing the White House. It made me wonder if the president is depressed. I mean, I wouldn't blame him. But not a happy thought.
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Jan. 22, 2013.
The new issue of Journal of Military History carries two reviews of my new book. One is by Edward Coffman, one of the grand old men of American military history, who calls The Generals "fascinating." His bottom line: "This is a well researched and written book which informs readers about the Army's command problems since the Korean War."
The other review is by Roger Spiller, a bit more of a military insider than Coffman, having taught for decades at Fort Leavenworth. I've read several of his books, and used one of them quite a lot in writing The Generals. I had expected him to do the "con" review to balance Coffman's. Rather, he also is complimentary. He says I have the reputation of being "the best American military correspondent since Hanson Baldwin." (I think he may need to check out the works of Peter Braestrup, C.J. Chivers, Sean Naylor, Dexter Filkins, and several other people.) His bottom line: "Ricks's assessment may well provoke discussion in official circles, but one might ask whether the leaders produced by the system are capable of reforming themselves."
During the summer, the Best Defense is in re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally ran on Jan. 15, 2013.
As defense secretary, Charles Hagel is likely to be particularly attuned to the needs of enlisted soldiers and skeptical of the demands of senior officers. That's my takeaway from reading the transcript of an oral history interview he gave to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Sure, he was in Vietnam 45 years ago -- but he made these statements in 2002.
"The people in Washington make the policy, but it's the little guys who come back in the body bags," he said near the end of the interview.
He also came away from Vietnam underwhelmed by his senior leaders. Here's an extended comment about that:
I was not much impressed with our -- our battalion leaders, our XOs. I don't -- I didn't ever get a sense that they came down in, enough into the platoon company level to really do what I thought officers should do. And the lieutenants and the captains carried the bulk, as they do in any war, essentially. But it was the sergeants. It was the senior enlisted that carried the weight. I mean really carried the weight. And it was obvious to everybody. And they -- the senior sergeants were the reassuring, calming guys. And in many cases, many cases, these were the guys that didn't fall apart. And some of the officers did. And some of the officers couldn't read maps very well. And I just -- I never had much confidence in -- in a lot of the officer corps. Now, there were exceptions to that. Some exceptional officers that I saw and I served with.
It is also striking how the Army he served in differs from today's. In 1968, Hagel had been in the Army less than two years, yet for a short time after the Tet Offensive, he served as "acting company sergeant." That's a green force.
Other stuff that struck me:
Charles T. Hagel (AFC/2001/001/2230), Photographs (PH02), photographer unknown, Veterans History Project Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
Those, little grasshoppers, are the two questions that occurred to me as I read Max Hastings's comment (in Winston's War) that during World War II, "German, American and Russian professional soldiers thought in divisions; the British always thought of the regiment, the cherished ‘military family.' Until the end of the war, the dead hand of centralized, top-down command methods, together with lack of a fighting doctrine common to the entire army, hampered operations in the field."
This was, Hastings goes on to write, one reason that the Germans were better at everything from combined arms attacks to mundane but essential tasks such as recovering disabled tanks and trucks from the battlefield.
Yet that same small, cohesive structure might have been good for fighting small wars, with units able to carry on quietly for years without getting much attention, getting to know one area well.
It just might. Think about it: A historian trying to reach across the centuries might think that, sure, they had some jostling for more than four decades, but they never actually went to war with each other -- and, as it turned out, the most significant moment for the world in their relationship was when they were allies, from 1941 to 1945.
Truth be told, it likely was the Commies who were the most important partner. As Max Hastings writes in Winston's War, "Though the United States was by far the strongest global force in the Grand Alliance, the Soviet Union mobilised raw military power more effectively than either Western partner." On the other hand, the Soviet Union lasted about three-score and ten years, the lifetime of one person, according to the Bible. In the history books, that's a blip -- not so much an empire as a sustained tantrum.
By John T. Kuehn
Best Defense guest columnist
The so-called "Arab Spring" has now turned into a larger Mideast autumn that is reflecting warfare and conflict approaching the bloody religious wars that Europe went through during the 16th and 17th centuries.
We are seeing the beginning of a wider regional war along the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis and beyond -- not an "axis of evil," but rather an axis of instability and conflict. It could go further, linking to similar areas of violence to the east (in Afghanistan-Pakistan) or to the west to the mess in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. Instead of democracy breaking out everywhere, it seems that war is breaking out everywhere. Syria is the nexus for the current dangerous inflection point. It is in many ways similar to the Netherlands of the 16th century, that area of rebellion against the Hapsburgs/Catholic Church that rocked the world for over 80 years as the Reformation swirled about.
As we all know, voices are clamoring in Washington to "make it go away." Or rather to make the critics of the Obama administration quiet down. Most recently, Secretary of State John Kerry argued for airstrikes on airfields reputedly being used by the Assad regime for combat missions, including chemical weapons attacks. Kerry's proposal was vetoed during a recent principals meeting at the White House by none other than General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So much for war-mongering generals. Additionally, in recent months, Hezbollah has entered the conflict with thousands of fighters to help retake the city of Qusayr from the Syrian insurgents. Today, Qusayr is a ghost town with fewer than 500 inhabitants. Recall, too, that Hezbollah are the same bubbas that brought us the Marine Barracks attack in 1983. Reports out today indicate that the Lebanese Army has had several firefights with local Sunnis who support the Syrian rebels. Just great, a re-ignition of the Lebanese civil war might be in the offing.
Moving to the east we find the "sectarian violence" in Iraq at levels not seen since the American surge in 2007. Could yet another civil war be igniting there -- this time absent the armed umpiring of the United States and its allies? It may already have. The link here is precisely Iran's support for the Assad regime and its client quasi-state farther south, Hezbollah. From a purely military standpoint, Tehran's line of communication with its political allies and co-religionists farther west in Syria and Lebanon runs directly through Iraq. This "rat line" is used by the Quds Force and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and has been in place in various forms ever since the U.S. invasion in 2003. See David Crist's recent book The Twilight War if you doubt me on this issue. The sectarian violence in Iraq is directly related to the Syrian violence -- make no mistake. One way for the insurgents' co-religionist Sunni allies in Iraq to influence events in Syria is to destabilize the pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. In this way they can interrupt the flow of Iranian support to both Hezbollah and Assad through Iraq.
Afghanistan? There is no need for further discussion; war continues there and is likely to continue -- although the political ties of Tehran to Kabul may strengthen given President Karzai's recent strong denunciation of U.S. efforts to include the Taliban in peace talks. Too, Iran's oil goes to India, which is also a supporter of the Kabul regime, all of which makes Pakistan the odd man out and more likely to support Sunni co-religionists and political allies represented now by insurgents in both Syria and Iraq.
What about further west? Let's see, Egypt has severed diplomatic ties with Syria, never a good sign. Further south, in the always pleasant Horn of Africa, we find U.N. personnel have been blown up in Mogadishu by al Shabab. Although clear linkages to the conflict to the northeast do not exist, the forces behind this latest attack on the international order are of a religious bent that favors the insurgent-Sunni factions. Too, this sort of violent outburst does nothing to improve the stability of this entire region. Farther west we find the arc of instability running along the Maghreb (Tunisia and Algeria) as well as splitting south through Libya to troubling events in Mali and Nigeria; the latter country is itself in a low state of civil war divided along ethno-religious lines. Finally, to the north of it all is the NATO ally and Sunni co-religionist government of Turkey, warily eying the troublemaking regime of Vlad Putin, which supports Syria. But Turkey is now distracted by widespread, Westernized demonstrations against its own attempts to impose religious conservatism. None of this can be comforting for the major powers, which all have a stake in the Middle East and Africa. Get the picture? Heated outbursts to quiet political audiences are probably -- as Dempsey pointed out to Secretary Kerry -- ill-advised.
This regional conflict is not just about religion, nor is it all about longstanding political relationships and ethnic tensions -- it is all of the above. I am compelled to ask, what should the United States do that it is not already doing? This presupposes I know the range of action the U.S. government is already engaged in, but I would suggest these steps -- whatever they are -- are probably sufficient for now. Those who predicted the Arab Spring turning into a messy regional war were right. It has arrived.
This is the time for calm heads to prevail and avoid a much larger general war, but first we must recognize the real potential for this mess to turn into something along the lines of Europe's own wars of religion, something like the grim and destructive Thirty Years' War that began with a "Prague Spring" in 1618.
John T. Kuehn has taught military history at the Command and General Staff College since 2003 and retired from the Navy as a commander in 2004. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Kansas State University in 2007. He graduated with distinction from Naval Postgraduate School in 1988. He won the Society of Military History Moncado Prize in 2010 and is the author of Agents of Innovation (2008), Eyewitness Pacific Theater (with D.M. Giangreco, 2008), and numerous articles and editorials.
Today's mailboat brings Battalion Commanders at War: U.S. Army Tactical Leadership in the Mediterranean Theater, 1942-1943, by Steven Thomas Barry.
It looks very interesting. I've long been struck by the apparent paradox that battalion command is an important level of command -- the first level at which an officer has a staff, perhaps the last at which he actually might close with the enemy, as Barry puts it -- but there are so few good books about it.
This interview with former Defense Secretary William Perry was conducted by telephone on June 20, 2013, and is running today to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War.
Best Defense: How close did we come to military action against North Korea in 1994? Did you think it was going to happen?
William Perry: "First of all, we were never planning initiating an attack against North Korea. They might have thought we were, but we were not....
"I was very much concerned that the actions we were taking -- we were about to take sanctions and make heavy reinforcements in South Korea -- that North Korea would see it" [as an attack]. "It would have been a war they started, not one that we started."
BD: So at the time did you think there would be war?
WP: "I didn't think so. But even more than now, we knew little about North Korea. So we were very concerned that we didn't know what was going on there."
In addition, "We had drawn a very public and very explicit red line, that they would not process plutonium or that we would take some action." [So there was a possibility of] "a surgical strike" [against their nuclear facilities. But before that happened, there were several steps: Perry would have to recommend the strike to the president, the president would have to approve it, and South Korea would need to be brought in.] "There were a lot of ifs."
BD: How big would that strike have been? How many aircraft, how many precision-guided munitions?
WP: "We were not planning aircraft, we were planning conventional cruise missiles, and only against the reprocessing facility."
BD: How many cruise missiles?
WP: "I don't remember. The accuracy of these missiles is such that I don't believe, then or now, it would take many."
BD: How have your views of North Korea changed since then?
WP: "Well, we've learned a lot about North Korea since then.... It is very clear to me now what I believed then but wasn't sure about, which is that they didn't want a war with the United States."
BD: How have you advised the Obama administration about how to handle North Korea?
WP: "I don't feel qualified to advise them today.... In 1994, I was in the middle of it. I am not in that position now.... [So] I am willing to suggest alternatives to consider, but I will not say, ‘This is what you should do,' because I am not well-informed enough to do that."
BD: Do you think North Korea's leadership will ever give up nuclear weapons?
WP: "I would never say never, but I certainly understand it is more difficult to give up nuclear weapons than it was in 1994.... I think the turning point was in 2002, 2003, when they actually reprocessed plutonium. To my mind, that was a very serious red line. I think it was a whole new ballgame after that."
BD: What should we be doing now?
WP: [My preference is the "3 No's" -- that is, no new nuclear weapons, no improved nuclear weapons, and no export of nuclear weapons.] "Until we get those being negotiated, then it is feckless to be talking about a policy of eliminating nuclear weapons. I don't think we should give up that objective of eliminating North Korean nuclear weapons. I just don't think it is a viable negotiating position today."
BD: What else should we be doing? Are there more aggressive steps you'd like to see?
WP: "I think we should be taking stronger measures to keep them from developing ICBMs.... We still have that opportunity. They have to test ICBMs to ensure they are effective. I believe our strategy ought to be to keep them from developing a successful ICBM."
You must see the ground; you must cover the distances in person; you must measure the rivers and see what the swamps were really like.
--Winston Churchill, "Old Battlefields of Virginia," Daily Telegraph, December 16, 1929, about walking the sites around Richmond and Fredericksburg, as quoted on page 121 of Martin Gilbert, Churchill and America.
By Joel Wing
Best Defense guest Iraq analyst
Iraq recently passed a milestone when the United Nations reported over 1,000 people killed in May 2013. That was the highest number of casualties since 2008. People are beginning to fear going out, and businesses are shifting to safer areas and closing earlier. There are also ongoing protests in Sunni provinces such as Anbar, Salahaddin, and Ninewa against the government, which are increasing sectarian tensions in the country. Together this has raised fears that the country is heading back towards civil war. While the situation is obviously getting worse, a more apt analogy would be Iraq in 2003 when the United States was facing a growing insurgency, and had no strategy to confront it.
The April 2013 raid upon the protest site in Hawija incited the current wave of violence in Iraq. The demonstrators there were openly connected to the Baathist Naqshibandi insurgent group. When the government decided to go into the camp looking for the murderers of a soldier killed at a checkpoint just outside the site, the security forces used excessive force leading to dozens of deaths. This was just the event militants were looking for. They claimed Baghdad could not be trusted, and that the authorities were going to crack down on the activists using the military. The insurgents therefore said the only legitimate response was to defend themselves through armed action. Following Hawija there were attacks throughout the north, west, and central parts of Iraq by both militants and tribal groups. This was on top of an ongoing offensive by al Qaeda in Iraq. Together that accounts for the skyrocketing casualty figures, which jumped from 319 in January according to the United Nations to 1,045 in May. Attacks have continued at that pace to the present, marking a new turn in the country's security situation.
In response, Baghdad has launched a series of raids and large-scale military operations across several provinces, which have proven ineffective. In May for instance, there was "The Ghost," which focused on the desert regions of Anbar province. Currently, Iraqi forces are deployed along the Syrian border in Anbar and Ninewa as those two provinces hold provincial elections. These operations have garnered increasing criticisms from local politicians and the citizenry who claim that there have been arbitrary arrests, roads have been shut down hindering travel, and property has been destroyed during searches of houses. This points to the counterproductive tactics the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are currently employing. Since the United States military departed the country, the ISF has stopped using counterinsurgency tactics. Instead, the military and police man checkpoints with bomb detectors that don't work, and conduct mass raids in which not only fighting-aged men are arrested, but their families as well. The majority of these detainees are then beaten and tortured before they are released. Human Rights Watch, for example, detailed the Federal Police arresting 41 people, including 29 children, in Taji, Salahaddin in November 2012. 12 women and girls were held for four days in the police headquarters where they were beaten, electrocuted, and suffocated with plastic bags over their heads before they were released. There is no way that these tactics can stop the insurgency. Rather than protecting the public and being proactive, the ISF is doing the opposite, and turning the people against the government in the process.
That places Iraq today much where it was in 2003-2005, immediately following the U.S. invasion -- rather than 2005-2008, when the civil war was going on. In the former, American forces were acting much the same way as the ISF. The Americans relied on sweeps and mass arrests with abusive stories emerging. Washington's political strategy of returning sovereignty and holding elections also backfired as it turned over the government to Shiite and Kurdish parties, while making Sunnis feel like they had no place in the new order. The result was growing resentment against the occupation by those who felt left out, and that bolstered the number of militants. The exact same thing is happening now. The Iraqi forces' tactics are turning the people away from the government, and increasing support for the insurgency. This is all made worse by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's autocratic tendencies, which have alienated many parties in the government. The country not only needs a better military strategy, but a political one as well that can end the ongoing protests and assure Sunni politicians that they have a role in running the country. Instead, things are going in the opposite direction. That doesn't mean things are heading towards another sectarian war, but violence is increasing and militants are finding a new life after they were almost extinguished. Iraq is a country that has suffered much more than most, with a series of wars, invasions, and sanctions that have ripped the society apart in the last three decades. Unfortunately, it is heading for more hardships.
Joel Wing is an Iraq analyst at the Musings On Iraq blog.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
Or a Philip Agee.
The LA Times was reporting Sunday that, after fleeing from Hong Kong to Moscow, he was likely to go to Cuba, while the Financial Times was placing its bet that he would fly from there to Venezuela. The late line was Ecuador.
By the way, anyone who believes Putin favors free speech should take a look at the documentary about Pussy Riot.
I think it's a good one, except for the Korean War, where he goes off the tracks. (For that section, I'd substitute Clay Blair's The Forgotten War and Roy Appleman's East of Chosin.) But overall, the list is a keeper. It contains many of my favorite books. (And no, I don't know what he has against Fiasco. It may be a 3rd ACR thing.)
To see the original, click on this and then scroll down about halfway in the article to where it says "Sidebar: A reading list for military professionals," and click on the + sign to expand it:
There are several essential reads for professionals involved in military affairs:
Carl von Clausewitz, On War. The author uses a dialectical approach to understanding war without being prescriptive.
Michael Howard, War in European History. This book is excellent, as is anything by this author.
Elting Morison, Men, Machines, and Modern Times. The author discusses the limitations of emerging technologies-specifically, he argues that instead of taming our environment, technology has further complicated it.
Williamson Murray, The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War. This book helps connect military action to strategy.
Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War. The Greek historian shows that the drivers of war-fear, honor, self-interest-haven't changed over time.
Innovation and the world wars
Much has been written about World War I, World War II, and the interwar period-and about how these events changed the nature of war. The following are favorites:
Marc Bloch, Strange Defeat
Robert A. Doughty, The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940, and Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War
Timothy T. Lupfer, Dynamics of Doctrine: The Changes in German Tactical Doctrine During the First World War
Williamson Murray, Military Innovation in the Interwar Period
Memoirs and biographies
It is important to understand how leaders have adapted and thought about war and warfare across their careers. The Autobiography of General Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs of the Civil War is perhaps the best war memoir ever written. The following are some other significant titles:
Carlo D'Este, Patton: A Genius for War
David Fraser, Knight's Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Matthew B. Ridgway, The Korean War
Selected histories of military campaigns
For selected histories of wars and military campaigns, the following are some of my favorites; I've also included recommendations on contemporary threats:
Donald Kagan, The Peloponnesian War
Seven Years' War
Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766
The American military profession and the American Revolution
David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing
Don Higginbotham, George Washington and the American Military Tradition and The War of American Independence
James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
Michael Howard, The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France 1870-1871
World War II
Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943; The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944; and the forthcoming The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945
Gerhard Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II
T. R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War
David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War
Eric Bergerud, Red Thunder, Tropic Lightning: The World of a Combat Division in Vietnam
Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young: Ia Drang-The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam
Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq and The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama
Peter Tomsen, The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers
Contemporary threats to international security
Peter Bergen, The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda
Victor Cha, The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future
David Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran
Bruce Riedel, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad
By Robert Goldich
Best Defense guest book reviewer
Rick Atkinson's final work in his Liberation Trilogy, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (New York: Henry Holt, 2013), has just been published, to rave reviews. They are entirely justified. It's a triumphant conclusion to his previous two volumes on the war in North Africa and the war in Sicily and Italy through mid-1944. Critics have correctly praised its depth, its evocative nature, and its grasp of the human dimensions of this titanic campaign without losing sight of a broader narrative.
All true. But there are even more good things to be said about this magisterial work. Let me summarize five of them:
First, and perhaps most importantly, The Guns at Last Light is an American book, written by an American author, in an extraordinarily felicitous literary style in American English, in which the narrative and interpretation of the American components of the Northwest Europe campaign are stressed. It's about time. For far too long, general histories of the campaign, and particularly of the Battle of Normandy, have been dominated by supercilious British historians. These men almost never fail to grasp an opportunity to criticize American military performance from privates to generals, up to the highest-ranking American leader of all, Dwight D. Eisenhower. From Chester Wilmot in the early 1950s, to Max Hastings in the early 1980s, to Antony Beevor over the past couple of decades, the British have monopolized the popular historiography of the Northwest Europe campaign (largely, I suspect, because Britain has done nothing beyond the tactical level of war since 1945, and American military historians have had four major wars involving forces of field army size to write about). This narrative of alleged American military bungling would simply make an American uncomfortable if there was any substantive truth in it. But there isn't. By being scrupulously fair in his evaluation of American, British, and Canadian commanders, Atkinson shows that the latter two were not one iota better, and arguably slightly worse, than American leadership at the division, corps, army, army group, and theater level. Certainly he reinforces the long-known truism that, to quote Field Marshal Lord Carver (as 29-year-old Brigadier Michael Carver, the youngest brigade commander in the British Army while serving in Northwest Europe during 1944 and 1945), the Americans were more willing to "go at it" than the British. Atkinson's casualty figures show this. Although at VE-Day two-thirds of 93 Allied divisions under Eisenhower's command were American, the 587,000 casualties the Americans suffered in 1944-1945 were over 75 percent of the total.
His meticulous description of British and Canadian operations, particularly in Normandy, shows a considerable sluggishness on the part of high-level British commanders. There were no British armored division commanders with the aggressiveness of -- just to take those American armored divisions employed in Normandy -- Edward Brooks of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division, Maurice Rose of the 3rd, "P" Wood of the 4th, or Robert Grow of the 6th. There were no British corps commanders who were hard-chargers like Lightning Joe Collins of VII Corps. Even the slower American corps commanders, like Leonard Gerow of V Corps, Troy Middleton of VIII Corps, and Walton Walker of XX Corps, were dynamos compared to their British counterparts. Reading Atkinson's melancholy account of Operation Market-Garden, the failed drive popularized by the movie A Bridge Too Far, one weeps when one thinks about what could have been done if the armored advance had been conducted by an American corps, commanded by a Joe Collins or Walton Walker, rather than the personally attractive but operationally incredibly diffident Brian Horrocks commanding British XXX Corps. Or if an American armored division, instead of the leisurely Guards Armoured Division, had led the attack.
Second, Atkinson sends us an important message that can never be repeated too often: When armies of roughly equal military competence and weaponry clash, tactical and operational deadlock are almost inevitable, and usually the only way to break it is through attrition. This was particularly true in Normandy. In a small beachhead crammed with troops, and no flanks to turn, Field Marshal Lord Wavell's remark that "In every war, there is a time when Private Snodgrass must advance straight to his front" couldn't be avoided. Furthermore, the Allied Snodgrasses were opposed by lots of Schmidts and Webers with a great tradition of military excellence, led by men with five years of wartime experience, and weapons about the same as those of the Allies. So there was nothing for it but to spend lots of men to expand the beachhead and wear down the Germans in Normandy. The brutal battles of attrition from D-Day through early August 1944 were absolutely essential to enable the much-touted armored breakout to take place. Someday we'll fight somebody just about as good as we are. When we do, we'll have to use our huge population, and the high casualties that such a huge population can absorb, as well as our productive capacity, to attrition them if we are going to win. Planners for future wars, especially with possible peer competitors, take note.
Third, something which Atkinson doesn't address directly, but which comes through very clearly in his discussion of Allied general officers in command at division level and above, is that nothing is more important for such men than having physical and moral stamina. Tactical and operational elegance and great imagination is nice to have, but there are two more important personal qualities needed by division, corps, army, army group, and theater commanders, especially but not only in high-intensity conventional conflict. They've got to be able to accept the responsibility for the lives of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of their soldiers -- and send many of them to their deaths and maiming. And they've got to be able to keep their head when plans fail and disaster strikes and the enemy's vote kicks in. Eisenhower, no Napoleon at Austerlitz, had this. Montgomery, tactically and operationally mediocre at his best, had it. Omar Bradley and his sadly unknown counterpart on the southern flank of the Allied front, Jake Devers, had it. So did most of the army and corps and division commanders -- as did the opposing German generals.
Fourth, Atkinson shows very clearly how logistical considerations dominate planning and conducting an operational offensive. He shows that Montgomery's plan for a pencil-thin thrust to the Ruhr after the pursuit across Northern France in August 1944 was logistically unsupportable. It would have been an operational disaster because the speed of the Allied advance was such that there just wasn't enough transport to sustain a force of any size that far -- planners estimated that the number of divisions that could have made it would have been in the single digits. The Germans would have annihilated it. Similarly, Atkinson shows just how worn out all the Allied units were after two and a half months of attrition fighting in Normandy and a vehicle-consuming pursuit across Northern France. They had to wait until their logistical tail caught up with them, literally and metaphorically, until they could conduct the great November-December 1944 offensives of all four U.S. field armies. When politicians or outside analysts start talking about intervening in Ambarzagoomiland, they frequently don't bother to think at all about logistical constraints. Soldiers (and sailors and Marines and airmen) can't avoid it.
Finally, Atkinson does a superb job of showing just how perfect Eisenhower was as Allied theater commander. Ike perceived from the beginning, as did Norman Schwarzkopf in a later and smaller war with a much more heterogeneous coalition, that the crucial center of gravity of the Anglo-American alliance was the alliance itself. This has generally been recognized. But Atkinson shows us that a logical corollary of this was that maintaining Allied comity and cooperation had to be Eisenhower's first priority, even at the expense of additional Allied casualties. Thus, even if Montgomery's incessant bombardment for a single narrow thrust into northern Germany had been doable, which it manifestly was not (look what happened when it was tried in Market-Garden), it was politically more important that no one country, in this case Britain, carry the lion's share of offensive operations against the enemy, so as not to antagonize public opinion in either democracy. It is a measure of Montgomery's lack of qualification for the position of theater ground forces commander, for which he constantly agitated, that he failed to grasp this.
There's much, much more in this absolutely splendid capstone of Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy. He's produced a profound work, worthy of being rapidly placed on the service chiefs' and other senior American commanders' reading lists. And he's given those of us livin' in the USA a long overdue accolade for the biggest single military campaign in American history.
In Tom's opinion, Bob Goldich is, like Rick Atkinson, a force of nature.
On my recent foray to New York City, I finished reading John Edward Huth's The Lost Art of Finding Our Way. It is best described as an anthropological history of navigation, written by a Harvard physicist.
In his chapter on waves, he writes that, "there is almost a boundless amount of information hidden in plain view, if only the meaning can be deciphered." In essence, he argues that our ancestors often understood their world better than we do ours. Today, he notes, many of us have our heads locked inside two-foot bubbles that only communicate with other humans, most of them very similar to us. For example, Eskimos, even when fogbound, know to look for the patterns winter winds carve in the snow. If the prevailing winds are from the west, the lines are likely to point on a north-south axis. Similarly, Pacific Islanders sailing in the dark used to know to look into the ocean waters for the phosphorescent trails left by large predatory fish, who swim toward islands at night.
There also are lots of tidbits that I enjoyed. For example, I didn't know that Polaris, the North Star, is far more important than it was several thousand years ago. In the time of Homer, Huth writes, "Polaris was just a minor star that was 11 degrees away from the Pole and inconsequential. There are few if any references to Polaris in antiquity."
More broadly, the use of stars in navigation did not come into its own, at least in the West, until fairly recently. "A full realization of the power of celestial navigation didn't emerge until the latter half of the 18th century," he writes. Nautical twilight was the most important half-hour of the day for a ship at sea because that was when the brighter stars began to emerge while the horizon was still apparent, making it possible for a navigator to compare his dead reckoning calculations against his celestial fixes, which in turn would tell him how much current and leeway were affecting his vessel's movement.
He also offhandedly notes that Oklahoma is North America's "tornado alley" because that is where the dry, cool continental air mass tangles with the warm, wet maritime air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico.
Huth is a refreshingly clear writer. I love maps and charts. Just yesterday I sat down with a nautical chart and for half an hour read it like it was a newspaper. I mention this because I see "MLLW" on nautical charts all the time, and I knew that those letters stand for "mean lower low water," but until I read his explanation I didn't understand what it meant and how it differed from the "lowest astronomical tide" used on British charts.
What does all this have to do with defense or foreign policy? I am not sure, but I feel it belongs here in this blog because it is about how we orient ourselves to the world around us. And writing about it is more fun that mourning the erosion of the First and Fourth Amendments.
"For most of human history,... we've had a giant mess." We might have escaped that for the last couple of centuries, with clear delineations between states, corporations, and such. But that may be passing away.
The case of Edward Snowden, who came out yesterday (Sunday) as the leaker supplying the info to the Washington Post and the Guardian about the NSA's data-harvesting program, on first impression reminds me more of Daniel Ellsberg than of Bradley Manning.
I opposed what Manning did. I thought his actions were reckless. He did a data dump, making secret information public without knowing what it was or what he was really doing. I remember mentioning, for example, an Ethiopian journalist who wound up in the hot seat because of the WikiLeaks release.
Manning's act was that of a goofball anarchist. Snowden's, by contrast, seems to have been one of civil disobedience. That is, he seems to have known exactly what he was doing. Snowden does seem to have some elements of Manning, a mixed-up kid, but on balance seems to me to be more of an Ellsberg -- that is, a disillusioned insider who was appalled by what he saw and made a choice to disclose the existence of certain government programs.
As for the assurances of intelligence officials that we should not worry because they will be careful: I don't buy them. The intelligence community has not come clean about the torture of captives, so why should it have credibility on this? At any rate, the health of our Bill of Rights should not be dependent upon the constitutional interpretations and tender mercies of secret policemen and their staff lawyers.
So, do I think Snowden should go to jail? Yes, I think he should expect to. Martin Luther King, Jr. did too, when he consciously broke the law in protest. Breaking the law to make a point and then doing some time in consequence fit well within the American tradition. That said, knowing what I know now, I would hope it would be just a few months on a prison farm.
I have several friends who have a very different view, and think this guy is more of a Philip Agee, someone who has changed sides, and should be considered at worst a traitor and at best a self-righteous little jerk. Listening to them, I have to admit to some qualms. Foremost is Snowden's flight to Hong Kong. I want to know more about that before concluding that this guy was right. Leaving the country is not what a pure act of civil disobedience would entail. In addition, I find his choice of refuge, Hong Kong, a bit odd. It looks more like a defection than civil disobedience. It is possible that this guy will turn out to be more Guy Burgess than Daniel Ellsberg.
Speaking of Burgess, I would like to know if Snowden is providing cover for other, still undisclosed leakers. If so, that might change the equation, too. Wouldn't real civil disobedience call for a clean slate? That is, "This is who we are, and this is what we did, and why we did it."
The Guardian via Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
"War Dogs" as a canine distinction is a wide-encompassing label, extending beyond just combat-trained dogs. This is in part because the ripple effects of war are so far reaching. In my mind -- as well as here in this feature -- "war dogs" includes combat theater strays as well as the therapy and service dogs who assist veterans acclimating to life after war. Which is why the news that former Navy lieutenant and Paralympian medalist Brad Snyder would be getting a guide dog is not only exciting, but very relevant to the war-dog world of today.
Snyder, now 29, lost both his eyes in an IED explosion during his deployment to Afghanistan in 2011. NBC reports that Snyder was attempting to help "two Afghan soldiers wounded in an initial IED blast" when he "tripped a second hidden bomb in a farm-field irrigation ditch. His eyes were irreparably damaged by the detonation and later were removed by a surgeon."
Despite such an altering injury, within a year's time Snyder would win two gold and one silver medals at the London Paralympic Games in 2012, where he also broke the world record for the 100-meter free. The story of his courageous and lightning-quick recovery became an inspirational narrative during the games. (Just watch this interview -- Snyder's resilience and eloquence is remarkable.)
Snyder will be competing again in 2016 and his plan is to take his new canine partner with him to Rio for the games. "Having a dog will allow me to walk to and from swim practice, get to and from the gym, and also be able to travel to swim meets across the country," Snyder told reporters.
Snyder was in Bloomfield, CT yesterday, meeting with staffers of Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation and their dogs. Part of the reason for the gathering was so Snyder could meet a handful of trained dogs for service-dog matchmaking. (In Fox's news coverage seen here, Snyder was cozying up to two dogs: Gizzy and Houston. Houston has a stronger, more determined demeanor, while Snyder said he noticed Gizzy was more "delicate.") As the Fidelco CEO Eliot Russman explains, the process is extensive. "We look at pace of the client, living situation, temperament of the dog, and a number of factors to create the best possible partnership..." There's even a "three-week training process in the client's home."
Dogs actually have a long history of assisting wounded veterans, especially men blinded during battle. During WWI and in its aftermath, France would often assign its own military dogs (who, for whatever reason, were no longer able to serve on the front lines) to soldiers blinded by gas. These dogs were trained to bring these men to their favored destinations after they'd returned home from the front. When hospitals were being inundated with wounded soldiers, Dr. Gerhard Stalling of Germany, after watching his own dog show "signs, from the way the dog was behaving, that it was looking after the blind patient," opened the first-ever guide dog school in 1916.
The first-ever officially trained "seeing-eye dog" didn't come to the United States until 1928. Buddy was a German Shepherd trained in Vevey, Switzerland and brought over by a young man named Morris Frank. The pair was met with great skepticism; upon their arrival in New York, crowds gathered to watch the spectacle of a blind man being led by a dog -- one reporter actually taunted Morris as he and Buddy took their first steps into Manhattan's busy streets. It was because of Buddy that Morris, though not a veteran himself, would later become instrumental in ensuring that soldiers returning from WWII in need of guide dogs would have them.
Whichever candidate he chooses -- whether it's Gizzy or Houston -- Brad Snyder is looking forward to the changes a guide dog will bring to his life and to share his experience with other veterans who may be in a similar position. "As the country downsizes our military efforts overseas, we're dynamically changing, and I want to help smooth the transition of those who are hanging up their uniforms," he said. Anytime we can show a successful transition, like the one I'm making, that's encouraging."
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
My wife and I both recently read the two volumes of Ernie O'Malley's memoirs of the Irish war of independence and the subsequent civil war (thanks to a BD contributor recommendation), so we decided to watch the film Michael Collins. I was surprised at how cheesy and Hollywoodish the whole thing seemed, with a dull love story embedded in the middle, with the female love interest played woodenly by Julia Roberts.
But I shoulda know the jig was up during the introduction that gave the historical context, and it informed us of the "guerilla" war in Ireland against the British -- that is, with one "r."
I know, I know, we should have been watching The Wind That Shakes the Barley. But my wife already has seen it twice. The first time, we were in a theater, and she gasped when the priest refused communion to the anti-Free Staters. She said, "My mother told me that happened to her father" (in County Clare).
One of the great things about writing this blog is the reading suggestions made to me by readers. About a year ago, one of youse suggested David Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?. I finally got around to it and am really enjoying it.
For some time, the unspoken text of some in the West on China has been to avoid making some of the mistakes the British and French made in the late 19th century as Germany became Europe's leading economic power. In this view, the argument is that the British (primarily) stymied Germany instead of bringing it to the table where great power decisions were made.
But in reading this book, I began to wonder if we have been looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Fromkin, who also wrote the terrific A Peace to End All Peace, argues that Germany brought about its own fate: "the hostile encirclement that Germany so much feared was achieved by Germany itself." German leaders moved toward war in the belief that it was inevitable, and that not only brought it on, they did so in the belief that "Germany ought to launch a war as soon as possible precisely because the chances of winning it would be less every year."
To apply his observation to China: What, if by its own over-reaching, and through its cultural contempt for all things not Chinese, it is likely to provoke a reaction to its growing economic and military power? If that is a plausible possibility, it has huge implications for Western policy. Among other things, we'd need to consider whether the best policy is to give them enough rope.
A second thought: At the time it started World War I, Germany was the leading country in the world in technology, basic science, and perhaps in music. German often was the language of scholarly discourse. None of that applies to today's China. Yet another observation by Fromkin does evoke China a bit: "An advanced country inside a backward governmental structure, broadly humanist yet narrowly militarist, Germany was a land of paradoxes."
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Over the holiday weekend I saw this image posted on a Facebook page that features a wonderful selection of eclectic and charming images from a worldwide archive of photos past. And though it's a little late, this photo taken in 1920 seemed a fitting Memorial Day tribute. The provided caption (somewhat bluntly mistranslated from the French) gets the basic information across. The man identified as Andrivet had lost the use of his legs and the dog, who appears to be pulling him along a Paris street, is called Paulo. But what caused Andrivet's injuries or what bonded this pair is not explained, though given the date, one could make a decent guess.
After a little digging, I found another photo of Andrivet and Paulo (likely taken the same day even) in a collection of old Popular Science magazines. While the details are still scant, the small clip dated May 1920 reports that during battle in Argonne both Andrivet and Paulo were wounded. The dog would make a full recovery but his master would not. And because he could no longer get around on his own, Paulo would pull Andrivet in this three-wheeled cart while the WWI veteran steered.
"Paulo," the article notes, "is an excellent motor, and he never stalls."
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
Facebook/Photo Agency Meurisse circa 1920
In the ever-growing category of things I didn't know:
The first time British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ever flew in an airplane was on 15 September 1938, to see Hitler at Berchtesgarden. Seeking to bolster his policy of appeasement, Chamberlain flew to Germany twice more that month, first to Bad Godesberg and then to Munich.
Also, Churchill, stunned and alone after the Munich agreement, retreated to his country house, where his first visitor was Guy Burgess, then a producer for the BBC, but of course also a Soviet spy. No indication that Churchill knew anything about that.
Both facts from Martin Gilbert's fine Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years.
I always thought that President Obama wanted to model his domestic policy on Lincoln and his foreign policy on Eisenhower.
But the news this week of the IRS harrassing right-wing groups and the Justice Department harrassing the Associated Press evokes the Nixon era for me.
On the other hand, Nixon had better relations with the military (despite contemplating firing Creighton Abrams in Vietnam).
This is me really going off the Obama reservation.
Military Review had a pretty good understanding of mission command back in 1986, when it ran an article by Daniel J. Hughes titled "Abuses of German Military History." (The article itself starts on p. 66 of the linked issue.)
To understand how the German military worked, Hughes writes, it is crucial to understand that "by current standards, no ‘system' actually existed. Improvisation was the key to the Prussian-German approach which regarded the conduct of war as an art -- a free, creative activity with scientific foundations."
Something else I didn't know: Use of the word auftragstaktik was "exceedingly rare" in the Germany army of World War II and before.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.