The Iraq War: A Military History

Article excerpt

Murray, Williamson, and Robert H. Scales, Jr. The Iraq War: A Military History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press (Belknap), 2003. 312pp. $25

The pairing of Professor Williamson Murray and retired Army major general Robert Scales, Jr., is a potent and unusual combination of combat experience and superb scholarship. The Iraq War captures both the strategic underpinnings of the war and the operational designs that led to the stunning success of the initial military campaign of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The end product is an extremely rare occurrence-an insightful overview and assessment of the second Gulf war produced while the guns were still warm.

That this duo joined forces to produce such a superlative history is not unexpected. Murray's reputation as a military historian of the first rank was recently confirmed in his highly acclaimed A War to be Won (Harvard Univ. Press, 2000), an operational-level perspective of the second World War coauthored with Allan Millett. Murray's credentials also include his role as the principal author of the Gulf War Air Power Survey, a history of air operations in Operation DESERT STORM. His partner in this current effort is a model soldier-scholar, combining a thirty-year military career as an Army artilleryman with solid credentials, including a Ph.D. in history from Duke University, a tour as Commandant of the Army War College, and several previous books on firepower and future conflict. he was also the project director and principal author of the U.S. Army's official history of the first Gulf war. The critical themes of his previous book, Yellow Smoke: The Future of Land Warfare for America's Military (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), on the future of land power in the twenty-first century, are suffused throughout The Iraq War and help put the last conflict into a larger historical setting.

This book is a pleasure to read, combining lucid prose and mastery of both history and operational detail to permit the reader to grasp clearly the dynamics of the race to Baghdad. Unlike the initial reporting of the fighting by embedded journalists, these analysts are not limited to a narrow "soda straw" viewpoint of the war. They put the war in its proper strategic and historical context, and the conduct of the fighting in its proper place with the evolving changes in the conduct of war. The crisp text is artfully edited, and it is amplified by several dozen photographs and a set of high-quality color maps. The latter are all-too-rare additions to history texts and further distinguish this book from pretenders.

The concluding chapter provides critical insights on the political and military implications of this war. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book; one can only hope that it will be widely distributed among the halls of Congress as well as in the educational centers of the U.S. armed forces. This evidence of the enduring nature of war, with its immutable fundamentals, will not surprise realists, combat veterans, or military historians. Nonetheless, it should be required reading for enthusiasts of the putative "dot.com" economy and their irrational exuberance for information technology. …