The Iraq War: A Military History

Article excerpt

The Iraq War: A Military History by Williamson Murray and Maj Gen Robert H. Scales Jr. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (http://www. hup.harvard.edu), 79 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, 2003, 368 pages, $25.95 (hardcover).

The Iraq War hit the streets while many of the coalition troops who fought the war were still overseas, patrolling the streets of Baghdad and Basra. A well-documented book including color photos and maps, it provides analysis of the major combat phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the short but successful battle against the armies of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Although the study stands as a worthwhile contribution to the field of military history, it is important to examine the book critically in the context of the continuing global war on terrorism.

Initially, I regarded The Iraq War's "lessons learned," written 3,000 miles removed from a battlefield still warm, with some skepticism. I paused several times at unsupported assertions or editorializing that seemed to go beyond historical reporting. But this "quick look" at the war has some merit. Noted author John Lewis Gaddis describes its value well when he writes that it is "presumptuous to speculate ... so soon after the event, but it's also necessary. For although the accuracy of historical writing diminishes as it approaches the present-because perspectives are shorter and there are fewer sources to work with than in treatments of the more distant past-the relevance of such writing increases" (Surprise, security, and the American Experience [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004], p. 5) (emphasis in original).

The authors bring credibility to The Iraq War. Well known in military-history circles, Williamson Murray is a professor at the Army War College. An extensively published historian trained at Yale, he wrote a significant portion of the Gulf War Air Power Survey (Washington, DC: Department of the Air Force, 1993) over a decade ago. General Scales, formerly commandant of the Army War College and now retired, headed the US Army's Desert Storm Study Project and authored Certain Victory: The United States Army in the Gulf War (Washington, DC: Brassey's, Inc., 1994), the official US Army account of its performance in the Gulf War, originally published by the Office of the Chief of Staff, US Army, 1993. He too is well published and appears frequently on the academic and lecture circuits in Washington, DC.

Among the first of many analyses of Iraqi Freedom, this book provides a strong recounting of what one war fighter I know calls the "major muscle movements" of the battle. However, it is not a comprehensive examination of an integrated joint coalition campaign, and it is not in the same league as the Gulf War Air Power Survey, researched by a dedicated analytical team and published in several volumes about a year after Operation Desert Stormthe first Gulf War. In fact, perhaps a more accurate subtitle for The Iraq War might have been A Soldier's Perspective instead of A Military History.

In the prologue, devoted to Desert Storm, the authors assert that the "aerial assault was an exercise in overkill and lasted far too long" (p. 13)-an interesting suggestion for which they provide no evidence. Such a statement illustrates the book's greatest failing: lack of depth and balance regarding joint air and space power. Indeed, the analysis seems very two-dimensional and "surface-centric."

As readers move forward to the 2003 conflict in Iraq, they will find that the analysis of the joint air component's planning and execution is thin. According to Murray and Scales, "For all the talk of effects-based operations [EBO] and operational net assessment, the failure to understand the enemy where he lives-his culture, his values, his political system-quickly leads up a dark path where any assumption will do" (pp. 182-83). The authors do not seem to weigh Iraqi Freedom as a battle in the greater war on terror or credit the coalition campaign in Iraq with involving allies, several US government agencies other than the Defense Department and, effectively, all of our instruments of national power. …