Academic journal article Military Review

Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Academic journal article Military Review

Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Article excerpt

WHY WE LOST: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Daniel P. Bolger, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, New York, 2014, 544 pages

Lt. Gen. (retired) Daniel Bolger opens his book by writing, "I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism" As intended, the statement grabs the reader's attention, but the focus of the work is not how one general lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; rather, his underlying theme is that the U.S. military forgot its Sun Tzu in that it did not know the enemy or itself. This dual failure resulted in a series of unrealistic goals that led the United States to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory-or at least from the jaws of good enough. The blame Bolger places on himself and his fellow general officers is that their "lack of humility" prevented them from challenging the underlying assumptions that drove U.S. policy and from challenging their belief that they could transform Iraq and Afghanistan.

Undoubtedly, the strongest part of Bolger's argument is that the United States did not understand its enemies in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The historical context for this discussion is set with a review of Desert Storm, the USS Cole, and 9/11 attacks, and the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The driving force behind this analysis is to answer the question, "Who was the enemy?" Bolger contends the failure of policy makers to answer that basic question placed the United States on the long-war road with available options decreasing with every passing year. Furthermore, because senior U.S. leaders did not know who the enemy was, they also did not fully understand the nuances of tribal warfare. In particular, they failed to grasp the importance of patience and the ability of tribal warriors to bide their time.

The second part of Bolger's argument deals with how the United States saw itself. He contends the U.S. military never reconciled itself to the idea it was a force designed for short, decisive, conventional conflicts and not long, drawn-out counterinsurgency operations. …

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