on August 11, 2010
I particularly liked how the book gave you a good background introduction on each general and how their rise to four stars shaped them and their management styles. I was pretty amazed at just how educated each general was. A major problem outlined in the book was the conflicted civilian command. Bush felt he was in the fight of a life trying to build a grand democracy in the Middle East, a beacon to other countries in the area. Whereas, Rumsfeld was hell bent on getting out and reducing troops with very little thought to rebuilding the country. Therefore, Casey was caught in a rock and a hard place with conflicting orders (or lack thereof). Casey chose to focus on troop reductions and getting out of Iraq as soon as possible. He thought once Iraq had its own elected government, magically the mission would be a success and the country united. Abizaid, because he lived in Jordan during his schooling, predicted outright disaster occupying an Arab country and the longer the US stayed, the worse it would be. Chairelli felt that success would be providing strong local government, jobs and an economy to the Iraqis. Petraeus felt his troops should live among the Iraqis and the military should provide a strong hand in security and propping up the institutions in place. It was pretty amazing how the Shiite led government was so reluctant to do anything to quell the sectarian violence. They almost stood by and allow the extermination of the Sunni's. The Shiite led govt. was the actual cause of most of the sectarian violence and actually rendered itself as a failure. When it came to the Iraq war, the authors focused mainly on Casey's tenure and handling. Petraeus only came into play the last 45 pages or so when he took command of Iraq. Nonetheless, the authors were generous with praise for Petraeus but didn't scrutinize Casey throughout most of the book but merely discussed his management style and responses to various issues. It was only at the end when I thought they were a bit harder on him as the one who presided over Iraq when all chaos and sectarian violence broke loose and his failure to really be able to curtail it. I think they painted Abizaid as the general who didn't really get his hands dirty and mostly watched on as the war progressed. Chairelli was presented as the man who tried and tried to resolve Iraq's turn for the worse but was never able to pull it off and longed to be able to go back as the number one and give his ideas a try. Overall, an interesting and quick read. Not so much a book about war as it was about politics and biographical information.
on September 24, 2011
I hesitated to pick up this book in the fall of 2011. By this point, three of the four generals in this book had retired from the Army, major combat operations in Iraq were over, and I was afraid the book would be dated and perhaps not all that relevant anymore. But that is far from the case. This book is important for highlighting how these four men brought major change to the US Army and the way that it fights its wars, both today and in the future.
The book begins following the careers of Abizaid, Casey, Chiarelli, and Petraeus from West Point and ROTC to their roles in the Iraq War. We see the different routes their careers took, some academic, some combat-focused, and how their ideas and principles were shaped along the way. The book gives a fair accounting of the miserable condition of the post-Vietnam and post-Cold War Army that these came up in, suffering low morale and limited innovation. This first part of the book, while a fascinating biographical sketch, is really a setup for the latter half that chronicles how these men shaped and influenced the way the Army fought in Iraq.
One of the major themes of this book is the failure of Washington to fully act on the advice of the generals. (Much the lesson of H.R. McMaster's book on Vietnam, Dereliction of Duty.) The Pentagon and defense leadership were highly entrenched in the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force and so averse to "nation-building," that the generals were often stymied in their efforts to produce effective change in Iraq and defeat the insurgency. While Rumsfeld constantly sought an exit strategy, his generals were struggling to produce a winning strategy.
Some of these generals, Casey especially, have been given significant negative press, but this book is fair to all four and casts all of them in fairly objective, albeit positive, light. Perhaps just as significant as the profiling of these generals, however, is the authors' attempts to highlight some of the similarly-minded junior officers in the Army who will likely play similar roles as these four in the future (e.g. Bill Hix and H.R. McMaster). The greatest lesson to take from this book is that the US Army need to be flexible and needs to promote creative thinking from people like Petraeus and Chiarelli, instead of becoming entrenched in outdated ideas. Fostering junior officers who are equally creative and critical is the only way to keep the Army effective for future conflicts.
on June 26, 2010
I found it interesting to see the behind the scenes activity of our highest generals during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Few people know the background to their decisions and how they're influenced by Washington. General Casey and then Major General (now General) Chiarelli were in my chain of command while I was deployed to Iraq. The authors included several examples of behind the scenes information, including the relationships between these four men.
There is no clear-cut way to become a general officer in the U.S. Army, and all four men took different paths. Casey was a ROTC grad son of a general who turned down a chance to enter Delta Force. Petraeus merely outworked everyone from West Point to present day and persevered through several challenges, including a training accident. Abizaid came from a small town to West Point, subsequently spending time in the Rangers and studying in Jordan. Chiarelli, the only one not to earn the Ranger Tab, toiled in obscurity as an Armor officer while the other three are Infantrymen. Only Abizaid did not teach at West Point.
on April 12, 2013
I could not put this book down. It was a consistent steady read throughout. I like the intertwining nature of the 4 biographies and felt that truly the only way to analyze these 4 exceptional individual's lives was to see the interplay, crossing paths, and at times tug-of-war like struggles between these fine men.
However, more than a simple biographic of the individuals this book dives deeper to better understand how these 4 individuals impacted and completely changed the dynamic of counter insurgency. David Petraeus's innovative and completely competitive character drove his ground breaking ideas in the ways of conducting counter insurgency. John Abizaid's expertise in the middle east not only as a geographic boundary region but also as a culturally diverse people and an excellent manager of people shines completely through out his chapters in this book. George Casey Jr. is painted in my opinion in a polarizing light. His early career looks promising and stands him up as a tough but firm leader who wishes to succeed without being a "poster boy". However, in the later chapters he is portrayed as merely a man trying his best to hold a tough situation together and he is in my opinion the embodiment o the Iraq conflict at times successful but more often fractured and directionless. Finally Peter Chiarelli, in my opinion is mostly playing a side role to the other three. He seems to get minimal focus from the author and is seemingly limited to a supporting cast role rather than the star the cover designation attempts to make him out to be.
What I found most enjoyable about the book is not only does the author introduce and follow these fine men through their career but you get to see some other influential people through their eyes. Colin Powel, Donald Rumsfeld, Former President George W. Bush, and even glimpses of notable senators from that time period. Over all I felt the book was thoroughly fleshed out and provided complete knowledge of the scene in a simple easy to read manner while driving home the most important lessons learned by the U.S. Army through the career's of these fine men.
A must read!
on April 30, 2014
Greg Jaffe presents a comprehensive look at the American Army officer career system, through the lives of four distinguished generals who led the Army's efforts in Iraq. By presenting an overview of each of the four general's entire careers, he assists the reader in understanding the complexity of the decision making in a prolonged engagement and appreciate the difficulty of the Army transforming itself from a large land warfare force to a nation building force. The disagreements in tactics are presented as well.
on May 27, 2014
Jaffe adroitly highlights key accomplishments by these four notable Army generals, emphasizing that each possessed unique talents and capabilities making them well-suited for the challenges they each faced.
I recommend this book to those desiring to better understand the decisions that shaped the Army of today. I also recommend it as a reminder that there is not a single path to success, but rather that leaders (as opposed to managers) recognize challenges and arm themselves with the tools (literal and figurative) needed to tackle the toughest problems.
on May 26, 2014
While not getting nearly enough attention as the other popular works on the Post 9/11 military , this book needs to be on the shelf next to the more commercially popular "All In", "The Insurgents" and "End Game." The authors take four generals, Chiarelli, Petraus, Abazaid and George Casey Jr. and provides background about how each of these future leaders made their way in an army that was left devestated after the Vietnam War. The book does a great job of detailing their personal and academic journies that influenced their strategic way of thinking. After 9/11 when the United States finds itself in very different wars than what had been planned, these four men work to change the way military responds to the insurgency in Iraq that threatened to once again plunge the United States in an unwinnable guerillla war. A very good for anyone interested in the Iraq War and how the military is poised to defend itself against future conflicts.
on November 1, 2010
This review was written as a response to an inquiry by a friend and as such is brief and without any particular editing...
This is book is actually Quite good - "chatty" in some places, as it is clearly not a purely academic piece (and certainly not intended to be one), but it is certainly intellectual in both outlook and its goals. The perspective was interesting, as were the ways in which the various personae involved were cast: Casey comes across as the last of the Old Army; Abizaid as an unwitting (and unwilling?) trailblazer, but not founder of the New Army akin to John the Baptist (in comparison with Jesus); Chiarelli as the enlightened rebel who was nearly destroyed, but managed to fight his way through, though in the end at the cost of his loftier goals; and Petraeus as the truly first officer of the New Army generation, successfully pulling the Army out of its post-Vietnam delusions into the realities of the present. You also get very interesting, though not particularly surprising takes on Rumsfeld, McCain, Wolfowitz, and Powell. Generally the piece confirms many of my suspicions, but in some places the authors depict certain personae in ways I had never considered; for example surprising is the way Bush is cast as the silent leader who comes across as level-headed and steady-handed. Rice comes across as hyper-intelligent, but sorely out of the loop and hopelessly lost in the quagmire of politics and post-Vietnam policy.
Again, though, in general the depiction of the four generals it follows roughly confirms what I had always suspected. The way the majority of the Army's Officer Corps - especially the General Officers - was depicted (rather reactionary or unwilling to hear criticism from within or below) in the years following Vietnam and leading up to 2003-2007 was unsurprising, as was the way officers following 2007 were depicted. None of what the authors say was in any way a secret, but rather they do a very good job of elucidating it in quite well written text. Chiarelli, surprisingly, comes as the most interesting character, but the narrative of his story (and for that matter the other generals) suffers at the center of the text, and rightly so as the focus shifts to those generals in the positions of most action. I was saddened to see Abizaid disappear off towards the end, but you get the impression Abizaid was an officer ahead of his time whose "time" was really in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, if not well before that. Iraq is thus (and I believe this is one of the general theses) cast as the cauldron and forge in which the modern U.S. Army has been shaped, with only the strongest in intellect and determination capable of surviving the great changes the institution undergoes - a stark change from the purely war-fighter outlook of the pre-2003/07 Army.
on August 27, 2010
The first class writing allows this book to be absorbed in a long afternoon and evening. While grouping the careers of four outstanding officers obviously called for severe editing, enough of their backgrounds are disclosed to give some understanding of them. One doesn't normally think of four star generals as middle managers, but in fact that's what these men were. The book largely deals with what they faced in Iraq at their level. Their rank in relation to responsibility may result from the overall rank inflation of the all services, but that's another issue. To put their status in imperfect civilian terms, If Bush was the CEO, Rumsfeld was an executive VP. Theater commanders such as Franks were senior VP's and these generals on the ground were like VP's running very large divisions of a multinational. What the authors have achieved is provision of insight into how these individuals dealt with the difficulty of moving a large organization toward a better solution to the problems they faced. The issues of communication, preexisting bias on the part of upper management, its inability to see the actual challenges existing, the inability to get proper, competent staffing in some instances, inflexible home office staff decisions made by those who wished no risks nor attention, organizational rigid adherence to set procedures and practices along with opposition to change if considered radical or original, and so on are all challenges familiar to anyone who has held a major direct responsibility in a very large organization. Despite all of these types of issues, these men struggled on to get order in a chaotic situation. It speaks well of them as well as the army. The story is thorough, fascinating and worth the time of the general reader as well as those interested in military history and military professionals. One side issue is General Petraeus. On the positive side, he appears not to be afraid to seek out those who can give him sound advice. I first read about him in an Atlantic profile when he was a two star commander of the 101st. While I don't think it was the author's intent, the general came across to many readers of the article as something of a buffoon and a joke with his challenges to young paratroopers for push-up competition and so forth. In this book, again it may not have been the authors' design, he appears to be a very cold, calculating army politician with a bullet proof resume who never gets his hands dirty and plays the media and the Washington power structure like a banjo. Let's hope he's more than that and we all wish him success in his Afghanistan assignment. I highly recommend this book.
on August 18, 2010
Five Stars for The Fourth Star
A favorite quote from Jim Rohn is "I found that when I changed my philosophy, everything changed for me." The Fourth Star by David Cloud and Greg Jaffe is a story of the US Army in pursuit of an enduring philosophy for the conflicts of today and the potential conflicts of tomorrow.
The book is both an organizational and a personal history told from the perspective of four Army Officers who become Four Star Generals. The four officers are Gen John Abizad, Gen George Casey, Jr., Gen Peter Chiarelli and Gen David Petraeus. Each of these officers plays a key role in the wars with Iraq.
The story of these officers provides significant insights into our national security needs. In some respects, the book reminds this reader of William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream. Manchester's outstanding book is a history of the United States from 1932 to 1972. One of the best qualities of Manchester's book is the perspective offered. In other words, the book takes the following approach to the story it tells: This is what America saw at a particular point in time. America, therefore, did the following. Looking back at the results of that decision, America decided she had made a mistake. America then decided to do this to avoid repeating that mistake.
Cloud and Jaffe offer much the same approach as Manchester.
The four officers written about each entered an Army traumatized by Vietnam and trying to rebuild itself. Each entered the Army after the traumatization, so none had any responsibility for the circumstances they found on their arrival. One, however was profoundly affected by Vietnam in that his father, George Casey, Sr., was a General Officer killed in Vietnam.
The four entered an Army determined to put Vietnam behind them. Using 1973's Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur conflict as a model, the Army strove to get back to the kind of conflict it had excelled in. That kind of conflict was the potential for conflict with the Soviet Union over control of Western Europe (the kind of conflict envisioned by Tom Clancy in Red Storm Rising.)
This modernization effort results in much of the equipment used today being introduced into the Army's inventory, such as the Abrams Tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle System. The winning of the Canadian Army Trophy competition in Tank Gunnery (with the heavy involvement of Chiarelli) signifies that technological superiority has been achieved. Rising along with the equipment is the Powell Doctrine, which states the criteria for how America is to be committed to war.
As the book describes, the First Gulf War with its victory over Iraq validates the Powell Doctrine in the same way the Canadian Army Trophy competition had validated the equipment. As the story shows, however, part of the reason the Powell Doctrine looked so good was the avoidance of trying to go to Baghdad and overthrow Saddam Hussein.
The second Gulf War put the Powell Doctrine to the test and found it wanting in the time after the Iraqi Army was defeated. The book details how little was remembered of counterinsurgency fighting in the US Army. This was largely a deliberate forgetting. As a result (according to the book), troops were not effective in this kind of battle.
The book tells the story of the efforts of these four officers to fight and win in highly unfavorable circumstances. Part of winning involved changing the Army's philosophy toward fighting while in the process of fighting. The book is highly illuminating in that respect.
Another fascinating aspect of the book is the four officers' relationship with the national civilian command authority (The President and the Secretary of Defense). This is one of the best accounts to be found describing the relationship in a long term conflict with Unified Command Structure mandated by the Goldwater-Nichols Act.
Other insights you will gain from reading this book include:
* George Bush, in his desire not to micromanage his generals, failed to properly supervise his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
* The failure to provide adequate numbers of troops at the outset, as well as the desire to minimize casualties, enabled the insurgency in Iraq to take root.
* The troops who were present were not used properly to quash sectarian violence.
* The Army, despite its best efforts, still has great difficulty in accepting and rewarding innovative thinking from its lowest ranking officers.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all, reading this book will show the average American how grateful this nation should be for the professionalism, courage and dedication of the Officers described in this book and those who serve under them.
On a personal note, I should add that I was a career Army officer. I began my service before these four officers began theirs and finished while they continued to serve. I found the story told of these men and the US Army to be very much the story I lived for much of my life, which made the story that much more compelling for me.