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Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraqby Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor
"Why has the war gone so wrong? Cobra II is the most serious attempt so far to answer this question....Throughout military history...nations and individuals have paid a terrible price for the decisions of commanders in whom daring and determination were married to delusion, self-regard, and a fatal disrespect for their adversaries. Whatever the outcome in Iraq, Gordon and Trainor have definitively entered Operation Iraqi Freedom on that sorry roster." David Rieff, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
Informed by unparalleled access to still–secret documents, interviews with top field commanders, and a review of the military's own internal afteraction reports, Cobra II is the definitive chronicle of America's invasion and occupation of Iraq — a conflict that could not be lost but one that the United States failed to win decisively. From the Pentagon to the White House to the American command centers in the field, the book reveals the inside story of how the war was actually planned and fought. Drawing on classified United States government intelligence, it also provides a unique account of how Saddam Hussein and his high command developed and prosecuted their war strategy.
Written by Michael R. Gordon, the chief military correspondent for the New York Times, who spent the war with the Allied land command, and Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general and former director of the National Security Program at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Cobra II traces the interactions among the generals, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and President George W. Bush. It dramatically reconstructs the principal battles from interviews with those who fought them, providing reliable accounts of the clashes waged by conventional and Special Operations forces. It documents with precision the failures of American intelligence and the mistakes in administering postwar Iraq.
Unimpeachably sourced, Cobra II describes how the American rush to Baghdad provided the opportunity for the virulent insurgency that followed. The brutal aftermath in Iraq was not inevitable and was a surprise to the generals on both sides; Cobra II provides the first authoritative account as to why. It is a book of enduring importance and incisive analysis — a comprehensive account of the most reported yet least understood war in American history.
"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made headlines last week by conceding that the Bush administration had made 'tactical errors, thousands' in waging the war in Iraq. But, she argued, the administration pursued the right underlying strategy in toppling Saddam Hussein, and history's judgment will be based on whether 'you make the right strategic decisions.' In their 'inside story' of the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) war, Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor stand Rice's assertion on its head. They show that the U.S. military's tactical brilliance during the war's early stages came despite the strategic miscalculations of senior civilian and military leaders — and that the Bush team's misjudgments made the current situation in Iraq far worse than it need have been. As it turns out, in addition to the war with Iraq's tyrant, there was an ongoing war between U.S. field commanders, their own senior commander (Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of Central Command) and civilian leaders in Washington. The Bush administration's two major strategic miscalculations are by now familiar: first, a broad-based intelligence failure regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the viability of its economic infrastructure and the reception Iraqis would give invading U.S. forces; and second, underestimating the challenge of stabilizing post-invasion Iraq. Gordon and Trainor — respectively a New York Times reporter and a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general, and collectively the authors of a widely hailed 1995 book on Operation Desert Storm, 'The Generals' War' — go beyond these issues to focus on logical flaws in prewar planning that should have raised eyebrows among senior U.S. officials. For example, they report that when the CIA identified nearly 950 suspected WMD sites, military planners argued for additional troops to secure them lest the terrorists purportedly in league with Saddam Hussein spirit the WMD away during the chaos of war, thereby producing the very outcome the administration was trying to avoid. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was determined to attack with a 'lean force.' The book's core, however, centers not on Beltway deliberations but on the dash to Baghdad by the Army and the Marines.The authors do a fine job making one of the most lopsided campaigns in memory interesting, but the surprises that the Americans encounter turn out to be even more compelling. Senior U.S. field commanders soon realize that their principal enemy is not the Iraqi army but irregular forces — many of them foreigners — employing guerrilla tactics. These are portents of the full-blown insurgency to come, but no one back in Washington proves capable of connecting the dots. While U.S. soldiers and Marines shifted their focus on the fly, the Bush administration failed to recast its strategy for the postwar endgame. Consequently, once American forces seized Baghdad, U.S. troop deployments were curtailed and units were instructed to prepare for a rapid drawdown — even while the Iraqi police and military forces that the administration expected to preserve order were being disbanded. While Gordon and Trainor recount the misjudgments of many senior civilian and military leaders, Gen. Franks fares the worst. Many of his statements defy explanation, including his mystifying declaration that 'I am not gratified by enough forces on the ground' and his fondness for terms like 'functional componency' and 'strategic exposure.' The general's battlefield guidance is often, well, general; he tells his commanders to take 'action on all fronts,' which, as the authors note, is 'no better than issuing no guidance at all.' The authors conclude, scathingly, that Franks 'never acknowledged the enemy he faced nor did he comprehend the nature of the war he was directing.' The senior military leadership in Washington comes off little better; they are depicted as a bunch of empty suits. Then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, is portrayed as a reflexive team player incapable of expressing an independent view. The Army chief of staff at the time, Gen. Eric Shinseki, warned before the war that projected U.S. troop levels were too low to stabilize Iraq, but the authors report that he failed to press home his case once his views were dismissed by senior civilian leaders around Rumsfeld and his then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Unfortunately, the focus of 'Cobra II' (which takes its title from the Army name for the drive to Baghdad) is limited by Gordon's experiences as a reporter embedded at the U.S.-dominated coalition's land command during the invasion. The book thus emphasizes ground combat; the 'shock and awe' air campaign, for example, receives far less attention than it deserves. Moreover, while the book's subtitle claims to cover the occupation of Iraq, the narrative essentially ends in the summer of 2003. Finally, key policymakers such as Vice President Cheney and Rumsfeld declined the authors' requests for interviews; Franks offered only an hour. Thus the views of those at the center of the war were often not captured. Still, 'Cobra II' stands as the best account of the war to date. Toward the end of the book, some Marines fighting to capture Baghdad come upon a group of Iraqis outside a walled compound who keep waving their hands at knee level. Initially confused, the Marines break into the compound to find that the Iraqis had been trying to signal that it housed children: more than 100 of them, dirty, bruised and malnourished, apparently imprisoned by the regime for their families' supposed disloyalty. The episode comes as a chilling reminder of the horrors of Baathist rule. When Rice speaks of the 'strategic' decision to depose Saddam Hussein and his barbaric regime, she is referring to a laudable goal, not a strategy. The war is not over, and good strategy is still very much needed. 'Cobra II' offers an instructive lesson on the consequences of inadequate strategic planning. If its message is heeded, Americans may yet look back on this conflict and recall the words of Georges Clemenceau, France's leader during World War I: 'War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.' Andrew F. Krepinevich is executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University." Reviewed by Andrew F. Krepinevich, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"The authors do a fine job making one of the most lop-sided campaigns in memory interesting, but the surprises that the Americans encounter turn out to be even more compelling....Cobra II stands as the best account of the war to date." The Washington Post
"What makes Cobra II so important is the extensive reporting that backs up every major pronouncement....[A] classic military history of the blow-by-blow fighting to Baghdad." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"If the style of the narrative is sometimes a dull combat gray, Cobra II expresses a frustration (even a contempt) for the war's planners that is perhaps just as much part of the color of military life now, three years on." Newsday
"A truly remarkable piece of research and reconstruction...extraordinary: a richly detailed human drama, impeccably documented, sure in judgment, and not likely to be matched, still less surpassed, for a long time." John Barry, national security correspondent, Newsweek
"Provides a behind-the-scenes look at the highest levels of military decision making that determined the outcome of the first Gulf War." U. S. Army Chief of Staff's Professional Reading List
"A superb account and analysis of what went right and what went wrong in the Gulf War. All of the inside stories of the people and the policies, the triumphs and the blunders, are here." Jim Lehrer, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
"This model of investigative military history punctures the self-aggrandizing manipulations of commanders and the self-serving hype of politicians...[It leaves] the battlefield strewn with burned-out myths." Daniel Schorr, senior news analyst, National Public Radio
"A fascinating account of the war. I recommend it to my friends as something that gives them a different element of some of the key decisions that were made." Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense
"Cobra II will likely become the benchmark by which other histories of the Iraq invasion are measured....Considering the wealth of detail it contains, Cobra II is a smooth read, but a passing familiarity with the military and the events in question will help the reader." Sean Naylor, The New York Times
"Focuses on high-level decision making and offers the most comprehensive and probing examination thus far of the Gulf War's strategy and operations. It is likely to remain for some time the best single volume on the Gulf War." Eliot A. Cohen, Foreign Affairs
There have been many reports about the Iraq War and the vicissitudes of the American occupation, yet none heretofore has been informed by the inside story. Cobra II is definitive. Rendered fairly and documented impressively, it offers a galvanizing account of the strategy, the personalities, the actual battles, the diplomacy, the adversary, and the occupation. It is full of fresh revelations.
A revelatory work of investigative journalism, this comprehensive and unfiltered account of the war in Iraq is written by the only reporter who was embedded with the Allied land command.
About the Author
Michael R. Gordon is the chief military correspondent for the New York Times, where he has worked since 1985. He is the coauthor, with Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor, of The Generals' War. He has covered the Iraq War, the American intervention in Afghanistan, the Kosovo conflict, the Russian war in Chechnya, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and the American invasion of Panama. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general, was a military correspondent for the New York Times from 1986 to 1990. He was director of the National Security Program at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government from 1990 to 1996. Currently a military analyst for NBC, Trainor lives in Potomac Falls, Virginia.
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