Top positive review
The Most Comprehensive Picture of the War in Iraq
on June 13, 2006
Psychologists would have a field day analyzing the motives and actions of the people who planned and executed the 2003 Iraqi invasion. Standing above them all was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a classic case of Narcissism, hubris or perhaps an over inflated ego. To Rumsfeld, even more important than the Iraqi invasion was the demonstration of strength and the transformation of the military into a leaner, faster, more mobile force ready to deploy at unprecedented speed and God help anyone who disagreed with him. It would be his legacy to have been the architect of an historical event, the evolution of war. Rumsfeld had no interest in historical precedent or war games in fact ignorance was seen as a virtue. His Defense Department would oversee the invasion AND reconstruction of Iraq cutting out the State Department. Between the Defense Department and the Pentagon there existed an echo chamber of ideas reverberating between Rumsfeld and the `civilians in the Pentagon' including Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, each one vying to give the rosiest projection of the war's aftermath. Meanwhile the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers was, according to John McCain, "incapable of expressing an independent view". The author quotes Iraqi Deputy PM Tariq Aziz on challenging Saddam's wisdom in Iraq saying, "It was not allowed to raise your hand above anyone around you; it was dangerous" Ironically this same thinking was going on in the U.S. where Rumsfeld and the White House were busy purging dissenters and loading up on like minded individuals.
Ultimately the problem was that Rumsfeld's plan was contingent on everything turning out precisely as the Pentagon planners anticipated and the flexibility of the military was hamstrung by the low troop level. The plan included the absurd assumption that the low number of American forces would be augmented by Iraqi defectors. Rumsfeld's transformation plan was also at odds with the White House's rational for war which was disarming Iraq and locating WMD. These tasks, along with maintaining security demanded a much larger force. Perhaps the most telling chapter in the book was `Everyone Loves a Parade' where commanding officers where telling troops that they may well expect to find Iraqi citizens waving American flags as they marched north. Instead they found fierce fighters who were willing to lay down their lives to repel the invading troops.
Cobra II is an extremely complete and well written account of the lead-up and aftermath of the U.S. Iraqi invasion. It's a pretty huge book at over 500 pages and the subject matter could easily be insufferably boring but I found the book engaging throughout. In the end Rumsfeld's `transformed' military defeated Saddam's hapless, ill equipped army brilliantly but the failure in the aftermath was inevitable. In the words of President Bush it was a `Catastrophic Success' yet the chief architect of this disaster still has his position along with a Medal of Freedom that he received for his efforts. After the fall of Baghdad, Paul Bremer was brought in to lead reconstruction project despite a complete lack of experience in the Middle East. His ignorance was seen as an asset with predictable results. At one point Bremer ordered looters to be shot on sight, an order which the military commanders refused to enforce. The book hammers Rumsfeld pretty good but there's a lot of blame to go around and Cobra II gives an excellent picture of who did what and why. In the end the civilian leadership at the Pentagon seemed less like rationalists and more like children playing with toys. The author tells how these Pentagon planners told Gen Tommy Franks that they wanted him to drop a few new 21,700 pound "Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb". Problem was the military didn't have any appropriate targets. The bombs were never used but there is a serious creepiness in the desire to test out the world's largest conventional bomb on people.