The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics, and Military Lessons

Article excerpt

The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics, and Military Lessons by Anthony H. Cordesman. Center for Strategic and International Studies (, 1800 K Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006, 2003, 592 pages, $25.00 (softcover).

As of this writing, Anthony Cordesman's comprehensive volume might be the best place to begin any study of the ongoing War of the Iraqi Succession. It is also a useful encyclopedia of all sorts of information connected with military aspects of the war and a helpful guide to official sources available as of the summer of 2003. The book is likely to remain a standard reference for basic war-related facts for years. It surely will be both the starting point and a baseline for numerous subsequent studies. The work's focus is entirely consistent with its subtitle: the military strategy of the combatants, the operations and tactics of the coalition campaign, and the military conclusions that one might draw in an admittedly limited and preliminary manner. The volume thus delivers precisely what it promises and does so in a measured, objective, and well-organized manner. Its timely appearance is the source of both its value and, as Cordesman himself readily acknowledges, its limitations.

A brief review of the book's organization reveals something of its scope and ambition. Following an introductory chapter on the limits of analysis, The Iraq War devotes about 40 pages to the forces involved on both sides, nearly 100 to the course of the war, about 370 to "lessons" of various kinds, and about 50 to "the civilian aspects of nation building and the challenge of winning the peace." Numerous explanations of various weapons and communications systems, emerging technologies, and operational concepts provide enormously useful clarifications of technical issues that would otherwise bewilder many readers. There is something here for everyone but all too little from everyone, or at least many, who might have had or will have something of value to contribute to fundamental questions. That, of course, raises the question of sources.

The book has an exceptionally solid foundation in the three kinds of sources most readily available at such an early stage in the war's historiography. Inevitably, Cordesman relies upon the official briefings of the coalition's aggressive public-relations machine, upon the early "documents" manufactured to summarize points that the various governments wished to present, and, to a lesser degree, upon a variety of journalistic accounts. Extensive quotations from official briefings and published statements provide quite a comprehensive version of the US government's view of the course of the war. The notes are very clear guides to the locations of transcripts of briefings and other sources summarized in the text. When technical clarification requires further explanation, the notes refer the reader to articles or books helpful in understanding the basis of the author's discussions. In all these respects, the volume is a model of what can and should be accomplished in such a preliminary study.

Cordesman provides an encyclopedic listing of coalition forces of every kind and of their actions in the course of the campaign to the fall of Baghdad. Iraq had no navy to speak of and an air force incapable of resisting the kind of aerial strength available to the world's wealthiest, most advanced nation and its allies. As Cordesman notes, on the ground several factors acted to nullify Iraq's moderate advantage (largely apparent rather than real) in numbers. …