Fight Club by Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Monthly book reviews
In the latest Washington Monthly - Washington Post military correspondent Tom Ricks (Fiasco) reviews two recent additions to the war in Iraq library - Warrior King: The Triumph and Betrayal of an American Commander in Iraq by Nathan Sassaman, with Joe Layden and Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story by Ricardo S. Sanchez, with Donald T. Phillips.
On Warrior King:
About eighteen months ago, the US Army produced an important new manual on counterinsurgency that, when implemented last year in Iraq, helped American troops greatly improve the security situation there. Retired lieutenant colonel Nathan Sassaman's recent memoir, Warrior King, is the mirror opposite of that document - it is, effectively, the anti-manual. And it should be required reading for anyone who is deploying to the war in Iraq, or who wants to know how we dug so deep a hole there in 2003 and 2004.
Warrior King is a blueprint for how to lose in Iraq. Of course, that's not how it is presented by Sassaman, who commanded a battalion of the 4th Infantry Division in the Sunni Triangle during the war's first year. (Full disclosure: I am mentioned, neutrally, in the book.) In Sassaman's mind, he's a winner who understood that prevailing in Iraq meant breaking some furniture. A former West Point quarterback, he tended to see the civilian population not as the prize in the war, but as the playing field on which to pound the enemy...
On Wiser in Battle:
A companion volume to Sassaman's is retired Army lieutenant general Ricardo Sanchez's Wiser in Battle, a defense of his time as the US commander in Iraq in 2003--04. He is scathing in his criticism of the Bush administration, but about two years too late to be newsworthy, since it is now widely accepted that the handling of the war from 2003 through 2005 was a fiasco.
Sanchez's volume is another report from the old, pre-"surge" US Army that never really understood what it was doing in Iraq and believed that whatever the problem, the answer probably was more firepower. (I'm also mentioned in Sanchez's book - negatively, as supposedly emblematic of an incompetent and biased media in Iraq.) Sanchez is, however, more self-aware than Sassaman. He has a clearer understanding of what went wrong during his time in Iraq. Most notably, he doesn't just blame civilian leaders, and sees that his army was part of the problem.
Even so, he doesn't really get it either. Sassaman writes, "Force was the only thing that seemed to work ... the only thing the Iraqis seemed to understand." Sanchez comes to a similarly wrongheaded conclusion: "Force seemed to be one of the few things that Iraqi insurgents clearly understood." But these are the voices of ignorance. Neither man seems to understand that when force is the only way American forces can communicate, it will be the only thing Iraqis will hear...
Much more on both books at Washington Monthly.