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Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy

Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy by Steven Metz. Potomac Books, 2008, 288 pp.

Dr. Stephen Metz is chairman of the Regional Strategy and Planning Department and research professor of national security affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College. He is the author of more than 100 publications and currently serves on the RAND Corporation Insurgency Board.

Metz is masterful at weaving what can be difficult concepts into an easy to follow timeline that documents the various phases of the Iraq war and the resources dedicated to winning. In some cases he cites decisions that caused the war to go in a different direction than predicted because of limitations from previous administrations, both military and civilian.

This book gives an outstanding background of US strategy and worldview, specifically how it relates to Iraq, and how our decisions there have impacted operations. Some of the issues have their roots in our conduct of previous wars and how what has been successful in the past has become part of our national collective strategy, including the Nixon doctrine and the collapse of the Soviet empire. These strategies have evolved into the doctrines we currently follow. Ultimately they can be defined in military terms, as when a decapitation of the hostile regime occurs, democracy will take root in the void. The unfortunate aspect of this strategy is that we have only partially planned for what to do if democracy does not take root and have not made the necessary structure an administration priority when planning conflicts.

The Bush strategy, as discussed in this book, essentially placed a lot of resources on creating democracy but never explored how it would actually happen or the potential hostility that would be directed toward us while military operations were still underway. The book further discusses how we applied military force during the Iraq invasion, the information leading to decisions, and the results of not having advice from experts in the Iraqi culture during the debates.

The beginning of the Iraq war gave examples of how political reality affects any planned military operation and how the past impacts current operations. One example is when Gen Tommy Franks’ plan to utilize the 4th Infantry Division on the northern front faded away when political problems led the Turkish Parliament to deny transit rights for American forces. This forced a complete rework in strategy and changed the timing of the invasion. The fact that the invasion went forward can be debated but the end result of fewer troops available for the fight cannot.

This also contributed to the next phase of the operation, which was stabilizing the country. The roadmap for the invasion and the ensuing repercussions of decisions leads readers to the realization that there were failures on many levels. Metz detailed some mistakes, including underestimating required resources for country stabilization, not ensuring public support by mobilizing huge numbers of Reserve and Guard personnel, and assuming an international coalition would be formed. The coalition was required for other nations to have a stake in the outcome. When this did not happen, the United States became the only country responsible for rebuilding infrastructure and helping the population recover.

The final phase of the Bush strategy was to rebuild the country and allow for democracy to flourish. Although lofty words, the realization that the military was not the trained asset necessary to accomplish these goals seems to have been overlooked by numerous government entities. The release of the latest counterinsurgency manuals does not change the fact the military was not equipped or manned to effectively change the direction of the war while also conducting combat operations.

An interesting question is whether it was even possible to convert Iraq to democracy. There was an underestimation of the extent to which Saddam Hussein had brutalized the country and the amount of intolerance for outside interference the Arab culture would withstand. These issues manifested themselves during various phases of the war and its aftermath, starting with the removal of Ba’ath officials and continuing with how to rebuild the nation. The latter was partially thwarted by advice from Iraqi exiles that were not as in touch with the country’s populace as previously thought. All these problems lead to the same basic premise when viewed strategically. If you do not have a clear-cut campaign plan detailing how you will win the war and at what point you declare victory and withdraw, then you are destined to stay longer and pay a higher price fixing errors made along the way. It is extremely important to work within the country’s culture when nation building and understand the security implications of previous decisions.

This book gives clear-cut examples for exploring policy and strategic implications of nation building. It illustrates how policy decisions, if not revisited, will have implications that last well into the future. It is also extremely important to realize that not everyone in the world trusts us, and it is necessary to build effective international coalitions to affect not only present operations but also those in the future. The book is definitely worth reading, and applicable to anyone who studies strategy in any aspect.

Frank Murphy

Travis AFB, CA

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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