Max Boot lauds "American Soldier" in the Washington Post, but misses the mark when it comes to assessing the facts.
As far as books go, I agree with Max Boot's review in the Washington Post that retired Gen. Tommy Franks' memoir American Soldier
reads very well. Indeed, Mr. Boot's review says almost the exact same thing as my midstream review
, even citing the same exchange between Gen. Franks and the "mob of Title Ten motherf---ers". My recommendation is still the same — read the book.
But as a work of history or policy explanation, my verdict differs from Mr. Boot's — I think the book falls short. Gen. Franks fails to explain the single biggest failure of his tenure at CENTCOM — the failure to secure the post-war peace in Iraq. And when he tries to explain it, Gen. Franks basically points the finger at his political bosses and says "it was their fault." Mr. Boot writes that Gen. Franks adequately explained this, as well as other issues like pre-war intelligence and the diversion of planning resources to Iraq in Fall 2001 when the Afghan war was raging. Here's what he had to say in the Post review
Gen. Tommy Franks, who as head of U.S. Central Command presided over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has duly produced the expected autobiography. It is a good read, thanks to the work of veteran ghostwriter Malcolm McConnell; the early sections on Franks's blue-collar upbringing and Vietnam service are particularly affecting. But it has not made as much of a media splash as some other accounts of the administration, because it is not hostile to George W. Bush. Really???
To the contrary, American Soldier rebuts some criticisms directed against the president. Bush has been accused, for instance, of taking his eye off Afghanistan by ordering the plan for a possible war with Iraq in the fall of 2001. Franks writes that, given the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, this was a sensible request, and that "our mission in Afghanistan never suffered" as a result.
Scores of pundits have accused the administration of lying, or at least distorting the evidence, about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But Franks reveals that the leaders of Egypt and Jordan told him that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons. Though no weapon of mass destruction was ever found, he writes, "I do not regret my role in disarming Iraq and removing its Baathist regime."
Another charge made against the administration is that political appointees failed to give the generals enough troops in either Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, Franks writes, it was his own choice to employ limited forces in order to avoid getting bogged down. Instead of relying on sheer size, he thought surprise and speed were the keys to victory — a judgment largely vindicated by events.
Are you sure about that? Or are you writing with your blinders on, Mr. Boot? It may well be the case that CENTCOM operational plan 1003-V succeeded during Phase III
of the war — that is, the major combat phase. Indeed, it can be argued that this plan succeeded spectacularly, leading to what has been called "catastrophic success". But what is abundantly clear, both to national security experts on the left and right side of the aisle, is that this same plan spectacularly failed when it came to Phase IV
of the operation. CENTCOM's plan, and the plans of CENTCOM's subordinate units, failed to anticipate catastrophic success as a possibility; it failed to effectively plan for worst-case scenarios of chaos and lawlessness; it failed to put adequate security and stability and nation-building resources on the ground quickly enough; and it failed to interface with the other departments of government, namely the State Department. The result is the mess we're in today. How in the world do these events vindicate Gen. Franks' judgment
: they don't
. And Gen. Franks even says
they don't in his book. Gen. Franks speaks to the issue of post-war planning and security a couple of times in his book, at one point laying the blame on senior Washington officials to give him sufficient policy guidance. Mr. Boot may not have read the same meaning in these words as I did, but then again, he hasn't served as an operational planner or even in uniform, so he may have missed the subtext. Let's turn to pages 351-2
, and the description of an OPLAN brief from Dec. 2001 to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Sec. Rumsfeld and Sec. Powell, among others:
"It was understood that the final phase, Phase IV--post hostility operations-- would last the longest: years, not months. ... The endstate of Phase IV included the establishment of a representative form of government in a country capable of defending its territorial borders and maintaining internal security, without any weapons of mass destruction.Analysis
I was aware that Phase IV might well prove more challenging than major combat operations..." [emphasis added]
: You have to have sat through a few OPLAN briefings to understand why this is significant. Here, Gen. Franks briefed the President and the NSC principals that Phase IV entailed significant
strategic and operational risk, and that there was no good solution yet for Phase IV. Yet, the discussion afterwards focused entirely on WMD, Scuds, issues with allies, and other issues focused on Phase III. No one asked Gen. Franks about Phase IV; it seemed like an afterthought. That makes sense because the White House and Pentagon leaders saw Operation Iraqi Freedom as Desert Storm II in many ways — where we dodged the post-war issue by limiting our objectives and pulling out rapidly. This passage implies that Gen. Franks was aware of the problem, but his bosses weren't — and he didn't pop a starcluster to let them know of the problem.
On page 393
, Gen. Franks tells of another briefing to President Bush and the NSC principals — this time in Aug. 2002, in the White House. Here again, Gen. Franks discussed the post-war issues, but apparently in a brief and optimistic way:
My final chart was potentially the most important: PHASE IV STABILITY OPERATIONS.Analysis
"The Generated and Running Starts," I explained, "and the Hybrid Concept all project Phase III ending with a maximum of two hundred and fifty thousand troops in Iraq. We will have to stand up a new Iraqi army, and create a constabulary that includes a representative tribal, religious and ethnic mix. It will take time.
"And well-designed and well-funded reconstruction projects that put large numbers of Iraqis to work and quickly meet community needs — and expectations — will be the keys to our success in Phase IV."
"We will want to get Iraqis in charge of Iraq as soon as possible," Don Rumsfeld said. On hearing his words, heads nodded around the table.
"At some point," I said, "we can begin drawing down our force. We'll want to retain a core strength of at least fifty thousand men, and our troop reductions should parallel deployment of representative, professional Iraqi security forces. Our exit strategy will be tied to effective governance by Iraqis, not to a timeline."
I saw further nods around the table. And then Condi Rice tapped her watch; we were out of time.
: Wow... the "group think" is so thick in this briefing that you can taste it. Heads nodding... eyes indicating assent without question... this is not an OPLAN briefing, this is a love-fest. Seriously, one can start adding up all of the implicit assumptions in these statements by Gen. Franks, and figure out exactly why the Phase IV plan went so poorly. For starters, there's no discussion of initial security needs, or initial needs for law and order. Second, there's no discussion of institutional responsibility for the key reconstruction projects described as being so essential — something we know now fell into the crack between State/USAID and Defense. Third, we have an incredibly optimistic troop redeployment estimate by Gen. Franks that reflects the best case
scenario for post-war stability and reconstruction efforts. I don't know whether less optimistic scenarios were presented to the President or not, but it's clear from Franks' book that he certainly didn't give him any. And so, President Bush decided to go to war on the basis of this best case
scenario, without the expectation that we could get bogged down in Phase IV. Of course, I blame the President for making that flawed decision and his top advisers (like Secretary Rumsfeld) for pushing it. But a certain amount of blame also belongs to Gen. Franks, for not highlighting the strategic and operational risks of this plan and pushing for their resolution before execution.
Of course, Gen. Franks dodges that bullet like a good soldier should, and lays much of the blame for post-war Iraq at the feet of his superiors. On pages 419-24, Gen. Franks discusses post-war issues in more detail, set against the backdrop of intensive pre-war preparation in Jan/Feb. 2003 — only weeks before the war. Here, Gen. Franks alludes to the absence of solid policy guidance and sufficient resources as issues that would come back to haunt him:
The military coalition would liberate Iraq, set conditions for civilian authority to stand-up a provisional government supported by Coalition stability forces, and provide security until Iraq could field her own security forces — a common-sense approach to a complex problem.Analysis
Naming Jay Garner [as the head of initial reconstruction efforts in Iraq] was a good first step, but it was only a first step. Washington would be responsible for providing the policy — and, I hoped, sufficient resources — to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people: jobs, power grids, water infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and the promise of prosperity. Iraq's oil wealth would be shared by people who had experienced only abuse, sacrifice, and penury for more than thirty years. [emphasis added]
: Hope is not a method!
Gen. Franks clearly points the finger at Washington here for failing to provide both the policy guidance and the resources necessary to accomplish Phase IV. You have to read the rest of the book to get this, because here he just leaves it as an open question. But rest assured, Gen. Franks never closes the loop on this one — he never says that Washington did
provide the policy guidance and resources to do the job. Franks reiterates this point on pages 441-42:
In my view, these [dealing with WMD, coopting the Iraqi military as a security force, and articulating a policy to deal with suspected regime war criminals] were among the strategic tasks Washington needed to address.
... Washington needed to get ready for the occupation and reconstruction — because combat operations just might be over sooner than anyone could imagine. At NSC briefings, Rumsfeld and I referred to that possibility as "catastrophic success."
Again, Gen. Franks hints quite strongly that "Washington" — presumably the White House, NSC and policy shop of the Pentagon — failed him.
So I'm not sure that Mr. Boot's review gets it right at all. I don't think this is a satisfactory explanation for why Phase IV has gone so poorly, but I do think that Gen. Franks is trying to shift some of the blame for this onto his former political bosses. Mr. Boot mentions this obliquely, with respect to the issue of disbanding the Iraqi military. Gen. Franks says several times that he would not have taken that action, and indeed, that his war plan assumed the continued existence and co-opting of the Iraqi military for post-war security. However, that's not the whole story when it comes to Phase IV. I think that Mr. Boot's review misses the mark in two major ways. First, Mr. Boot says that Gen. Franks does not "seriously ponder what more he could have done to foster a secure postwar environment in Iraq and Afghanistan." That's not true. He does ponder it, and at some length. But as a good soldier, Gen. Franks is not going to come out and say that the White House and Pentagon screwed the pooch on Phase IV — he's going to imply it in subtle ways, by shifting responsibility for certain segments of the operation or levels of command. That's exactly what he does in the book, but Mr. Boot misses it.
Second, the review implies that the other post-war criticisms of the Bush administration are unfounded — that the administration's judgment on this operation has been borne out by events. I just don't think you can make a colorable argument to support that point. The fact of the matter is that this administration latched onto every optimistic assumption in the book, as James Fallows reported
in the Atlantic Monthly, and failed to effectively plan for the chaos and instability that followed the war. Of course, you couldn't foresee that with any certainty. But you sure as hell could plan for it — and in my opinion, it was derelict not to at least anticipate (and plan for) a worst-case scenario. As I wrote in June 2003
for the Washington Monthly, we have always known that it takes more troops and time to secure the peace than to win the war — it's simply a more complicated endeavor. We ignored the lessons of Germany, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo in Iraq, and we are now paying the price.
: After writing this, I thought of another irony in Mr. Boot's review. He, of course, authored the excellent military history book The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power
. That book chronicled the many small wars of the U.S. military near the turn of the 20th Century, including those in the Philippines and Latin America. After its publication, some saw the book as an argument for how
America could intervene abroad successfully. Ostensibly, we are now engaged in a very big "small war", to use the term of art from the USMC manual of the same name. And yet, Mr. Boot's review made no mention of the counterinsurgency history he so well aware of, nor of the difficulties the Army and Marines have faced in Iraq.
Post Script II
: W. Charles Campbell has an interesting note
on Tommy Franks' book and these issues at his blog Cosmic Wheel. Check it out.