Book Review of “Cobra 2” and the IDA Report. Lang

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Kitchener_sml The two books reviewed here bring to mind the remark of Crown Prince Rupprecht (Wittelsbach) of Bavaria who said of the British Expeditionary Force of 1914-15 that they were "an army of lions led by asses."

This will be in the Autumn number of "Middle East Policy" in the book review section and can be seen there or on their site in the last week of September.

Pat Lang

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23 Responses to Book Review of “Cobra 2” and the IDA Report. Lang

  1. Grimgrin says:

    In other words the “Surprisingly fierce resistance” that was put up by the Iraqis at the start of the invasion… was being put up by an enemy that had no plan, no equipment, no training and no organization.

    And some people seriously want to invade Iran.

  2. Peter VE says:

    “Gordon and Trainor imply that this view may have been overly optimistic.”
    Colonel, please warn us. I’ll have to clean the coffee off my monitor after I burst into laughter.

  3. wtofd says:

    Brilliant. I know we’ve discussed this before but I can’t find it in the archives: why did GWB twice refuse Rumsfield’s resignation? Loyalty? A refusal to admit anyone within arm’s reach was wrong?
    Also, as an aside, is there a link b/w the French at Dien Bien Phu, us/US in Iraq and the IDF v. HA? Specifically an over-reliance on air strikes?

  4. Michael Murry says:

    Before a famous naval battle, Lord Admiral Nelson looked at a list of the officers commanding his ships and lamented:
    “I can only hope that when the enemy learns of their names that he trembles as I do.”
    In Vietnam, we enlisted men said:
    “We are the unwilling led by the unqualified to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful.”
    Today’s update on that sentiment would probably read:
    “We invaded Iraq to dispose a dictator we did not fear because of weapons he did not possess in retaliation for an attack upon us in which he did not participate all for the easy enrichment and fleeting entertainment of the utterly uninvolved — and still we managed to lose.”
    I wonder what sage and gifted poet will summarize the madness when enraged mobs of impoverished Iraqis finally undermine the walls, swarm through the breaches, and loot the abandoned Baghdad Green Zone Castle down to its last remaining filament of precious copper wire.
    Oh, well. As that age-old sardonic rendition of stay-the-curse “optimism” says:
    “They told us to cheer up because things could always get worse. So I cheered up; and sure enough things did.”

  5. Kevin says:

    Col Lang,
    Read Fiasco: The American Military Experience in Iraq, Thomas Ricks. Better book….

  6. billmon says:

    “Gordon and Trainor imply that this view may have been overly optimistic.”
    “Despite the best that has been done by everyone . . . the war situation has developed not necessarily to our advantage.”
    Emperor Hirohito
    Surrender Broadcast

  7. Arun says:

    At this point in time, what would a person, with competence and good judgement coming into office, do?

  8. whitman1 says:

    Arun brings up an important point. So far the US has two strategies in play for Iraq:
    1. Stay and die
    2. Cut and run
    Is there anything better out there?

  9. pbrownlee says:

    Any of this sound familiar?
    Israeli colonel attacks army —,,329562704-119093,00.html
    “Talking about events leading up to the ground operation Amnon said: ‘I realised there was a problem with the readiness of the reserve regiment to carry out its mission. The regiment commander told me he was not ready. So I went to the division commander… he told me: ‘I don’t care, we’re going in’.’
    “Amnon returned to his division commander twice to request the order be changed and was rejected both times. In the end, he said, he subverted his orders because of his fears of mass casualties. Amnon, who made the claims in an interview with award-winning Israeli film director Nurit Kedar, commanded thousands of soldiers on the eastern section of the south Lebanon front.
    “Referring to the need to balance the pressure from higher up the military chain to launch the operation swiftly with trying to minimise the risks to the soldiers, Amnon said: ‘It was clear to me that I must carry out my mission, but I did not want others below me to know I was in this dilemma. Many things went wrong in the decision-making process concerning the handling of my operation. My division commander had his own evaluation. The officers at army headquarters were out of touch with what was happening on the ground… we made so many changes in 24 hours. They did not know how to react.”
    Seems a pretty drastic failure of leadership — I keep thinking of the Great Duke’s “I don’t know what effect they will have upon the enemy, but by God, they frighten me” (possibly apocryphal but the Peninsular War might well repay study these days) and Sir Ralph Abercromby’s 1798 description of his command as being “in a state of licentiousness which must render it formidable to anyone but the enemy”.

  10. taters says:

    Great comparison.

  11. mike says:

    pbrownlee – Congreve rockets??

  12. chew2 says:

    I read large parts of Cobra 2 and found it a very dense and disorganized read. It lacked any overall description of the US battle plan, so the overly detailed battle descriptions lacked any context.
    The book makes a big deal about the surprises posed by the irregular Fedayeen, but in the conventional battle these forces were swatted away and the U.S. forces rapidly occupied Iraq. Granted the Iraqi military efforts were pitiful as you pointed out.
    Certainly there was a failure by the military to prepare for an insurgency, but Gordon and Traynor present no evidence that it was the Fedayeen that morphed into the resistance. And it’s unclear that they they play any greater role in the insurgency than elements of the regular army. Nor did they provide much new about the overall US failure to plan for the occupation and insurgency, in particular the force levels needed for an effective occupation. After all Shineseki’s estimate of 300,000-500,000 troops was just off the top of his head.
    So overall I was quite disappointed in their book.

  13. Mike Moscoe says:

    Arun and whitman1 ask the question of what it between Stay the Course and Cut and Run.
    I’m no expert, but I thought the US Army preferred for its withdrawls be something less than the route implied by C&R.
    Isn’t there a carefully crafted plan for a withdrawl with options for counter attack and other active aspects to a retrograde. Certainly the USMC at Chosin didn’t Cut and Run.
    Despite the best efforts by the present administration to frame the debate as between these two extremes, I think the Democrats like Murtha, et al, are striving to come up with something in that vaste middle.
    Mike Moscoe

  14. Michael Murry says:

    When the subject of “fiasco” comes up in the context of our current middle eastern debacle, I hope we would all keep in mind the following history from “In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War,” by Alice Raines Trulock.
    “Grant’s overall strategy as commander of the Armies of the United States was to coordinate the use of those armies on all fronts. He also intended to use ‘the greatest number of troops practicable’ and ‘hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him.'”
    Later, one of Grant’s subordinate commanders, Joshua Chamberlain, wrote: “The hammering business has been hard on the hammer.”
    Undeterred by heavy Union casualties, Grant pressed on with his strategic hammering until at Cold Harbor, on June 3, 1864, at 4:30 A.M. “a frontal attack ordered by General Grant all along the Union line was executed.”
    “The result was a disaster that forever blemished Grant’s record and caused the death and wounding of thousands of some of the Union’s best officers and men within an hour of the initial assault.”
    “Later in the morning when an order went out to renew the assault, each corps to advance without reference to the other, it was reported that no one stirred — the generals made excuses later for the inaction — a silent protest that nothing could be gained from further slaughter.”
    Grant admitted later that “no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.”
    Chamberlain, though, as usual for one so gifted and literate, said it best:
    “Then the rushing, forced flank movements, known and overmatched by the ever-alert enemy; followed by reckless front attacks, where highest valor was deepest loss. … Morning reports at last not called for, and when we asked for explanation our superiors answered, confidentially, lest it seem disloyal: ‘Because the country would not stand it if they knew.'”
    I have only gone on here at such length because I know — as do most of us now — how long and assiduously the American government has labored to keep the country from knowing of the needless slaughter. True, Grant’s meat-axe strategy of attrition did eventually drive our own terrible civil war to its conclusion; but today’s armed intervention in the civil wars of others has only spread the conflict and pushed conclusion even further away. As with our previously failed intervention in Vietnamese national affairs, we have done nothing but extend the interregnum of violence and exacerbate the level of carnage. Obviously, the reckless men and women at the highest levels of our civilian and military “leadership” must fear above all else that the country will come to know this awful truth, and once we do, that we will not stand for any more of it. In this justifiable fear, if in nothing else, I hope our “leaders” prove correct. Otherwise, the anvil will do what it always does to hammers.

  15. tomas del sol says:

    Is there something in the air that people who lead the military people breath that makes them oblivious to reality?
    After working at the senior management level for more than twenty-five years, starting at an entry level position, any organization that I worked for, would not accept the performance of the workforce of either Israel, Hezbollah, or the US.
    Given the performance of the most recent conflicts, I would be quaking in my boots that my boss would tell me that the plan I implemented was a failure and please would I go to work for the competitor.
    This is a problem that any proficient CEO would discern within a short amount of time.
    Do we need a CEO type president, whoops on my part, we have one now, don’t we?

  16. Soonmyung Hong says:

    Recently, british thinktank “Chatham House” released a comprehensive report about Iran & its regional relation. It explains why iranian has confidence about their upperhandness well.
    * Iran, Its neighbours and the rigional crisis
    Along with this, a NDU report was very helpful to understand iranian position.
    * Reassessing the Implications of a Nuclear-Armed Iran (Judith S. Yaphe and Charles D. Lutes)

  17. Ghostman says:

    1. Review of the IDA Report puts together in succinct form the situation from Iraqi eyes. Interesting. What stood out for me was the big worries of Saddam. Seems that 2 of his big worries were the Iranians to the east, and Shia in the south. Saddam probably had that much right. But it doesn’t seem that our own DOD planned for such issues. Not at all good.
    2. The review of Cobra stuns me in how deep the DOD, or at least SecDef just decided to “chuck away” so much hard work and planning by so many talented people in our military. To take all the learning and creativity which is behind a JOPS, and within it the TPFDL, and just to, in effect say “it don’t matter” is beyond my comprehension.
    Every member of the WH and Pentagon press pool ought to read the Colonel’s review. And they ought to ask the questions of our President and SecDef: Why did you ignore JOPS? Why? Who advised you to ignore TPFDL? Who? These questions, and many more, I think are fair to ask, and not so “hyper-technical” that the President or SecDef should plead ignorance to.
    And while I’m in “wish land”, I also wish that this review would wind up on the front pages of our newspapers. That the cable news shows devote time to this, and that the information get out there.
    Even if a TV commentator wants to skip around the Colonel’s final conclusions on Rumsfield, then just focus on JOPS and the underlying TPFDL. Just ask the basic question- why was decades of hard, tedious, yet detailed planning and work by our military just chucked out the window?? I wish this review would reach wide distribution. Americans need to know these things.

  18. pbrownlee says:

    Congreve rockets — “rockets’ red glare” — now you’re talking — make mine a 32 pounder Carcass — and you can fire it.
    Might be crude but if you can manage to fire off, say, 40,000 of them (as at the Second Battle of Copenhagen in 1807) you can knock off a reasonably-Great Power — and get Heligoland.
    If Nasrallah is a student of the Napoleonic Wars (and the tactics of Admiral Sir James Gambier) or Tipu Sultan, watch out!

  19. Arun says:

    I’m not advocating “cut and run” or “stay the course”. But if we take Cobra-2 seriously, don’t we have to “change the course”?
    The question is – to what?
    E.g., should the US military be policing Iraq?
    I suppose it is a tribute to the institutional strength of the US Army that it can quickly convert a recruit into a soldier. Why is it taking so long in Iraq? Maybe the training of the Iraqi battalions should be subcontracted out to Egypt or Jordan? Ship the recruits there, train ’em in safety, ship ’em back.

  20. Arun says:

    I’m not advocating “cut and run” or “stay the course”. But if we take Cobra-2 seriously, don’t we have to “change the course”?
    The question is – to what?
    E.g., should the US military be policing Iraq?
    I suppose it is a tribute to the institutional strength of the US Army that it can quickly convert a recruit into a soldier. Why is it taking so long in Iraq? Maybe the training of the Iraqi battalions should be subcontracted out to Egypt or Jordan? Ship the recruits there, train ’em in safety, ship ’em back.

  21. Jonathan says:

    You ask “…the US Army that it can quickly convert a recruit into a soldier. Why is it taking so long in Iraq?”
    It seems to me that no matter how good the training got, no matter how adequate the equipment and the support, the question would remain of loyalty. To whom would these well trained soldiers be loyal? The current Iraqi government? Unlikely in my view.

  22. Arun says:

    India has more fault lines than Mesopotamia. Yet the British figured out how to raise an effective army that was one of the chief instruments of their colonial rule. It is true that India is probably very different culturally than Iraq, and while some claim it is revisionism, the idea of a shared “civilizational state” of India is probably quite ancient, though it rarely translated into political unity. In any case, India was not a nation-state a few centuries ago.
    I don’t know the answers, perhaps one can find them in books, e.g., like Philip Mason, A Matter of Honor (a history of the British Indian Army) encapsulated in the following quote from the Indian Army website :
    “Tradition fights. The Indian Army Sepoy (from the Hindustani word sipahi) and now Jawan (young man) or Sawar (rider) and his leaders formed a cohesive collective. They lived to serve the Unit, they were willing to die for it. Nothing must happen which would tarnish its honour, its izzat. The word in Urdu is a distillation hard to explain, encapsulating in itself the code of ethics given by Dharma (faith) and Namak (literally, salt). Unflinching loyalty was to a concept and not to a transient personality or cause. Always and everywhere, the Unit came first. Everything followed from it – the Regiment, the Flag, and the Country. This was the greatest battle-winning factor bequeathed by history to the Indian Army. The men were there, ready and willing to serve a flag, with honour, glory and mutual respect. Quick to appreciate these traits, successive British governments brought in more regional groupings into the Army. A fierce undying loyalty to the Unit was evinced by the British Officer Corps, and the Indian junior leaders and men reciprocated it. The greatest ambition of a British Officer was to command his Regiment.”
    The loyalty here is not to some political entity, it is to the army **itself**, or the unit of the army and its own tradition.
    I think perhaps Iraqis are also a “honor-bound” society, and it would be possible to raise an Iraqi army that is loyal in the same way.
    The army’s mission would be to keep the peace, and not to fight for any particular ideology.
    I am merely making suggestions here, the only way to climb out of the hole we’re in is to abandon all preconceptions – that an army is loyal to a state, that a united Iraq must resemble a European nation-state, etc., etc.

  23. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful response.

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