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Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire Hardcover – October 1, 2003
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Retired General Wesley Clark's follow up to his insightful, detailed memoir of NATO's victorious Kosovo campaign begins as a concise analysis of the 2003 military invasion/occupation of Iraq and wends its way to a troubling yet ultimately hopeful examination of America at an unprecedented domestic, economic, and geopolitical crossroads. Clark's keen intellect (he was a Rhodes Scholar and graduated first in his class at West Point) and refreshing gift for intelligent plain-speaking often call attention to salient observations too often overlooked in the daily jumble of selective news and political spin. Our conflicts with Iraq have not been two distinct wars, but an unceasing, 13-year-long military campaign; the ambitious Pax Americana envisioned by Bush administration neocons is not only unsustainable, but a redundant anachronism, America having long ago created a "virtual empire" by dint of its interlocking international business relationships, cultural lure, and (ideally) moral leadership. His critics may label it the political manifesto of an ambitious presidential contender (a charge he quickly addresses in his introduction with a pre-emptive strike that is, given the subject matter, a bit ironic), but Clark's vision of an engaged, enterprising America leading the world instead of dominating it is rooted in an objective understanding of history, our nation's own longstanding philosophical ideals, and no small amount of refreshing horse sense (are we fighting terrorism by creating terrorists? And how safe is a country that starves its very security apparatus with unsound economic policies?). Ever loyal to the armed forces he served with distinction for 33 years, Clark also never passes up an opportunity to praise our nation's best and bravest, the men and women who are the cutting edge of America's sword, be it yielded with restrained wisdom or reckless abandon. --Jerry McCulley
From Publishers Weekly
While this work's origins do not seem to lie in its author's presidential ambitions, its publication is clearly timed to reinforce General Clark's newly announced candidacy. The effect is a work with a split personality. Its first half is a narrative and analysis of the military campaign that overthrew Saddam Hussein's government in three weeks during the spring of 2003. Clark, a highly visible commentator during the operation, describes the U.S. ability to synchronize firepower and maneuvers as decisive in crushing an Iraqi army whose fighting power had been significantly overestimated. He is appropriately enthusiastic about the competence displayed at all levels, from the senior headquarters down to companies and platoons. He recognizes a level of flexibility and a readiness to take risks that are unusual, if not unique, in U.S. military operations, even though both seem to make him uncomfortable. The plan, Clark argues, took unnecessary risks by skimping on the forces committed. More seriously--and here the work shifts focus and becomes a campaign statement--the Bush administration, he says, was so focused on winning the military war that it made inadequate preparations for occupation and reconstruction. Clark argues that the administration has refused to seek legitimacy from the U.N. and NATO, or to build on the international sympathy manifested immediately after 9/11. The strategic result, Clark says, has been a loss of focus on what he calls the "real war" against terrorism, a neglect of domestic security and a concentration on preemptively challenging purportedly hostile states. The practical consequences, he believes, include a series of wasted opportunities in Afghanistan, a possible quagmire in Iraq and the increasing isolation of a U.S. that uses war as a first option instead of a last resort. Clark concludes by calling for a return to international cooperation combined with greater emphasis on a sound economy.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Clark finished this book sometime early in the fall of 2003 before the full extent of the Bush administration's failure in postwar Iraq became clear. Nonetheless Clark anticipated the failures, and his critique is devastating. When one adds it to some of the other criticisms that have come from distinguished military experts--the latest of which was General Anthony Zinni's appearance on Sixty Minutes (May 23, 2004) in which he said that had he made the mistakes in planning that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had made, he would be compelled to resign--one is forced to recognize not only failure but premeditated and deliberate ignorance and incompetence.
While the old saw that "war is too important to be left to the generals" is still viable, it is equally true that to ignore or to go against the advice of those most experienced in such matters is foolhardy. Imagine yourself as President of the United States being told by your most experienced and senior generals such as Wesley K. Clark and Colin Powell--just to mention the two most prominent--that an invasion of Iraq would be unwise, counterproductive, and very expensive both in terms of monies spent and lives lost. What would you do?
What Bush did was to ignore the experts and to go with the neoconservative ideologues in and around the White House and people like Rumsfeld, and to do it without thinking the consequences completely through. As Gen. Clark so calmly and convincingly points out, the invasion of Iraq was a military success and a reconstruction failure of the most obvious and predictable sort. He writes, "Destruction of enemy forces on the battlefield creates a necessary--but not sufficient--condition for victory." (p. 88) More specifically, the planners failed to anticipate "various contingencies...including the possibility of postwar Iraqi resistance." (pp. 86-87) It is amazing to realize that the Bush White House apparently thought that the scattered Baathist elements and the Shia faithful would turn into flower children and hand out daises to the occupying soldiers.
Perhaps the simplest and most telling criticism is that "decisive operations (how to defeat Iraqi forces) had taken priority over the postwar plan (how to achieve the real objectives in Iraq)." (p. 89) However Clark's most important criticism is this: "the Administration raised the costs and risks of the mission by preventing our use of the full array of tools available to win modern war" by being "unwilling to exploit the international legitimacy and support from international institutions like the United Nations and NATO." (p. 92)
Now in May 2004 as I write this, Bush is practically begging the UN and anybody else who will listen to help us extract ourselves from the quagmire.
As to Bush's motive for invading Iraq, Clark asks, "if a primary but unspoken purpose of the campaign was to demonstrate the skills and courage of the American armed forces, then surely... [the military invasion] was a success." (p. 101) What he is suggesting (in a larger and less sanitized sense) is that we showed the world not only the awesome power of our weapons but our willingness to use them. I think that this was the real purpose of the invasion of Iraq. An easy victory against an overmatched (and evil) opponent in which the "shock and awe" of our military might could be displayed for all the world to see was what Bush had in mind. One cannot help but observe that such a scenario (successfully constructed) would work toward his becoming a two-term president and would fit well the mind set of a mediocre man whose personal advantages had allowed him many easy victories in his personal life.
Another "unspoken" reason for invading Iraq was to draw attention away from the fact that we had not caught Osama bin Laden and that the Bush administration really did not (and does not) know how to go about doing that. Let me make a suggestion: use the $200-billion plus that we have squandered in Iraq to persuade the tribesmen and warlords of Afghanistan and the government of Pakistan to help us find bin Laden. What Bush has accomplished in Iraq amounts to a giant recruiting poster for terrorists. Indeed the boots on the ground in Iraq serve as training targets for a mushrooming terrorist population.
Clark also addresses the larger theoretical issues, that of preemptive wars (he's in favor of them but only as self-defense on a multilateral basis) and the delusion of an American Empire. He points out that the word "empire" no longer has any real military or economic meaning. The US in fact, through globalization, has in effect created an economic empire, the maintenance of which requires a lot more than military might. Clark calls this the "virtual" American empire, and I think that is insightfully apt terminology.
There's a lot more to this book than I can discuss here, but let me add one more thing. Clark makes the astute observation that one of the tactics of terrorism is entice governments into instituting "repressive security measures...and so lose the support of its citizens" (p. 106) We can see the beginnings of such measures in the United States with the Patriot Act. One hopes that we do not fall into this trap, the ancient one of allowing the ends to justify the means on our way to becoming our enemy.