- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 12 hours and 27 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Random House Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: October 27, 2009
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B002ULA1R4
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army Audiobook – Unabridged
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I found a number of interesting things in the book. Commanders in the modern military fought wars with PowerPoint sides (like the rest of us on the main street do, much to the detriment of good communication). You need a good "PR strategy" to remain visible, and move up the ranks in the military. For 2 of the 4 generals in the book, Iraq was their first time in the front lines. Going into Iraq, US military did not understand counter-insurgency even after all the debacles of Vietnam.
There is a quote in the book from "Bureaucracy Does Its Thing", by Robert Komer which best describes both Iraq and Vietnam ... "The sheer incapacity of the regimes we backed, which largely frittered away the enormous resources we gave them, may well have been the single greatest constraint on our ability to achieve the aims we set ourselves at acceptable cost". The army was caught in the middle ... between the goals to fight a war and build a nation.
Where this book breaks new ground, at least to me, is its focus on the other three. After reading about Casey and Abizaid, I had a much better understanding of what they were trying to achieve in Iraq and the problems they faced. I felt pity for them because based on this book, it appears they were a victim of events as much as their own failings. Casey is depicted as a well meaning man with a great tolerance for criticism, surprisingly surrounding himself with people who did not agree with his point of view. Abizaid is the type of commander I would have thought was well suited for the Middle East. He had expressed a strong interest in the region early in his career before the Persian Gulf War, studied there, and learned Arabic. What we see of these men goes largely unmentioned when discussing the surge, that many of the elements that allowed the surge to work began before the strategy was changed.
Chiarelli is a different case. He seems to have done well in Iraq but was unable to get his desired command, Petraeus'. As a result, while Casey is likely finishing his last job in the Army as Chief of Staff and Abizaid is retired, Chiarelli probably has a future on the Joint Chiefs.
The book offers excellent background on these four men. It also shows the Army at the crucial period following Vietnam and before the Persian Gulf War as these men were mid-career. Finally, it shows what happened in Iraq as it deteriorated and gives the perspective of the commanders who were there. Many other books on Iraq are dismissive of the commanders from 2003 to 2007 while lionizing Petraeus. While General Petraeus deserves praise, these other men deserve attention too.
There are some great tidbits in the book about how these generals felt about their civilian commanders, how they interacted with each other, and how staffing works in the Army. It offers all this in a very accessible, readable way.
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!