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An Impressive, Well-Told Story!
on February 10, 2009
My 1960s experience within the Army and its conduct in Vietnam convinced me the entire organization was incompetent. Iraq II (until recently), "drive around until you were either shot or blown up," did not change that opinion. Fortunately, we now have Thomas Ricks' story ("The Gamble") of Generals Petraeus, Keane, Odiorne and others - their intelligence, initiative, and courage to speak out when things didn't go well.
Ricks documents the inside story of the Iraq war since late 2005. Despite all the happy talk, the ground situation was bad and getting worse. It was unclear what we were trying to do. The Bush administration continued to substitute loyalty for analysis, and so the war continued on a strategic foundation of sand.
General Casey tried to change the troops' poisonous attitude toward civilians when he arrived earlier in the year, establishing a special training center for his immediate officers. Yet, too often the military was needlessly humiliating Iraqi families, and destroying their property - hardly the way to win friends and undermine al Qaeda. Worse yet, Casey also withdrew the troops into big, isolated bases that reduced casualties but left the population defenseless. (Vietnam, all over again!)
Sensing General Petraeus might bring new solutions, Army leaders sent him to lead Ft. Leavenworth and its Command and General Staff College. There he initiated efforts to rewrite the Army manual on counterinsurgency, drawing not only upon respected thinkers within the ranks, but also civilian academics, a few reporters, and some with foreign insurgency experience.
The manual was finished in 11 months, largely written and heavily edited by Petraeus himself. Its focus moved from Powell's doctrine of "overwhelming force" to recognizing that the best insurgent is not a dead one, likely to leave behind a relative seeking revenge, but one who is ignored by the population and perhaps contemplating changing sides and bringing in valuable information.
Meanwhile, as 2007 neared, five forces for change converged upon the White House. 1)Retired General Keane first pressed Secretary Rumsfeld and Chairman Pace for change - lacking success, he was referred to V.P. Cheney by former Speaker Gingrich. This led to a meeting with Bush. 2)American Enterprise Institute's Fred Kagan, similarly concerned, set up a 12/08/06 meeting with analysts, military planners, General Keane, and Col. H.R. McMaster (author of "Dereliction of Duty" and leader of a successful effort in Iraq's Tal Afar province. 3)The "thumping" the Bush administration took in the Nov. 2006 elections. 4)General Pace convened a group of respected colonels to obtain new thinking - Col. McMaster was one. 5)Gen. Odiorne, Iraq's second in command, went around his superior to the White House to push for more troops.
The first major change was removing the major impediment to change - Secretary Rumsfeld. Then General Petraeus' assignment to Iraq, "the surge," and implementation of the new manual. (The surge was opposed by almost all Army leaders, and Petraeus' new boss - Admiral Fallon.)
Now it's Obama's War, and Ricks sees the U.S. possibly continuing in a combat role until 2011 - others are more pessimistic. Why? Baghdad has been turned around, but problems remain in other large cities (eg. Kirkuk), Sadr is still jockeying for leadership, Iran would like to see the U.S. leave - slowly (sees U.S. troops as "hostages" to any attack U.S. attack on Iran), and Iraq's police and army are still largely suspect as Shiia sectarian "death squads."
New perspectives include no longer seeing civilians as the playing field, living with the populace - not just taking occasional trips to tour through, not taking relatives of suspected insurgents hostage, not abusing prisoners, being alert for signs of divisions within the insurgency and then encouraging them to change sides, no more "kiss of death" operations where Americans move into an area, find cooperative locals, then pull out and they're killed.
Final Note: General Petraeus and many of his advisers are PhDs from respected institutions. This has become a "thinking man's Army," no longer a refuge for those who couldn't succeed as civilians. Unfortunately, we are still left wondering why the White House had to be forced to "lead" these changes, and why "Blackwater," with its well-established record for blatant disregard and unwarranted violence against Iraqi civilians was allowed to continue operations by the State Dept.