In their coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom last spring, embedded reporters provided vertical depth but little horizontal scope. Profound portraits of individual soldiers and units were rarely complemented by competent narratives placing the various military operations in the context of a grand strategic view. That is the job not of war correspondents or even of military experts but of military historians. Williamson Murray, a senior fellow at the Institute of Defense Analysis, and Major General Robert H. Scales Jr., a former commandant of the Army War College, fill the void. Rarely is a quickie book this finely written and subtly thought through. There will be better, fuller descriptions of last spring's war, but none will frame the debate in a way that's both so timely and so economical.
The authors begin with the Gulf War of 1991, which, they note, marked the first time since the Korean War that the United States military fought at the "operational level," meaning at the theater level of command. The rustiness showed, and contributed to the fact that brilliant battlefield tactics failed to produce a strategic victory: Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime remained in power. In this second Gulf war, twelve years later, the operational performance was vastly improved, largely because of the "fertile minds" of three men: Army General Gary Luck, Marine General Anthony Zinni, and Army General Tommy Franks. Whereas Franks orchestrated last spring's war, it was Luck and Zinni who, in the years between the two Gulf wars, began the process at Central Command of turning service-oriented headquarters into joint commands, taking advantage of breakthroughs in communications and systems analysis. Without that, Franks's battlefield symphony would have been impossible. Franks's campaign was fluent and flexible enough to overcome what the authors believe was a major flaw in pre-war analysis: the failure to recognize the incredible depth of behavioral control that the Baathist regime maintained over its population.