From Storm to Freedom: America's Long War with Iraq

  • Published

From Storm to Freedom: America’s Long War with Iraq by John R. Ballard. Naval Institute Press, 2010, 352 pp.

From Storm to Freedom is both a historical narrative and strategic analysis of political and military involvement of the United States in Iraq. Author John R. Ballard delivers a carefully assembled view of what happened with Iraq and how US conflict there fits historically with other wars in which the United States has participated, as well as a critique of the various operational strategies used by the United States in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Iraqi Freedom.

He begins with an interesting analysis of the ways in which the Vietnam conflict played a part in shaping military thought leading up to Desert Storm. He then describes that operation—together with Desert Shield and Iraqi Freedom—in great detail, walking through the lead-up to each and critiquing both national defense strategy and unit-level tactics. Organized chronologically, the book presents the more subjective analysis near the beginning and end of the two conflicts and relates the bulk of the battles in a factual, objective manner.

The author’s bookending assessments of the decisions leading up to and following both wars are honest and well researched. Dr. Ballard supplements his work with nearly 60 pages of notes and references, and his use of numerous direct quotations lends even more credibility to both the historical and critical analyses. I consider these evaluations the best part of the book because they brought to light a number of ideas I had not previously encountered in the media or elsewhere.

The primarily academic treatment of the battles themselves would not be particularly engaging for readers unfamiliar with ground-troop tactics and higher-level strategy. A Soldier or Marine, perhaps, would find these sections more interesting than would an Airman or civilian. Dr. Ballard includes few anecdotes of individual soldiers but pays much attention to generals and the accounts of their time commanding in Iraq. In the analysis, however, he says almost nothing about the involvement of airpower in either war—probably the book’s greatest shortcoming. His background as a Marine may have influenced his coverage of airpower.

The author’s discussion of the political and ideological issues concerning the wars and America’s hand in them is fresh, engaging, and convincing. His connections between Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom depart from mainstream commentary, arguing that our sanctions and massive bombing campaigns during Desert Storm so crippled Iraq that it crumbled much more easily than predicted when the United States invaded in 2003 and caused much more civilian resentment than we had anticipated. Dr. Ballard declares that the United States had been incidentally kindling an insurgency before the invasion in 2003 and that the invasion and de-Baathification decision by Amb. L. Paul Bremer inflamed it fully.

He lauds the execution of the initial military push into Iraq in both operations but strongly criticizes decision makers for not having a strategy for the following phase of the war, pointing out that it began prematurely in both cases. The author describes, without malice, excessive praise, or politicization the shortcomings and beneficial aspects of decisions made by both President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush prior to and during the two conflicts. I was impressed with the calm, logical, and methodical treatments of the two presidents’ decisions to go to war and the aftermath thereof. Many pundits only pan the president for the way things went in Iraq; Dr. Ballard, though, maintains that the day-to-day preparedness and external thinking of generals and ambassadors also made or broke strategy in Iraqi Freedom and that all levels of government are to blame when things go right or wrong in a conflagration between belligerents. His discussion and comparison of the various strategies used by commanding generals are clear and concise, giving the reader greater understanding of the situation in Iraq and its resolution. Although he never uses the phrase, the author describes “winning the hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people and points out that, in concert with the surge, the effort to restore communities after clearing them of insurgents allowed us to leave Iraq in good conscience.

I did note a few problems with the book, such as the lack of distinction between its notes and bibliographical references. The commingling of the plentiful bibliographical citations with the notes sometimes proved confusing. Furthermore, I was surprised by the large number of sometimes glaring typographical errors. Nevertheless, these flaws do not detract from its message, and I recommend From Storm to Freedom to anyone interested in a straightforward, rational discussion of military strategy and global politics as seen in the two wars in Iraq.

1st Lt Travis J. Pond, USAF

Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida

"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."