Historian Victor Davis Hanson has remarked that the United States has fought four Iraq Wars, the Gulf War of 1991, the 12 year armistice enforcement from 1991 – 2003, the Iraq War of the Spring of 2003 and the Insurgency War of 2003 – . Historian Williamson Murray and Gen. Robert Scales (ret.) have collaborated on this late 2003 volume about the third US v. Iraq War that ended with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. Their intent was to write a straightforward account of the lead-up to the conflict in context, a description of the actual US/British led invasion and an analysis of why the conflict ended the way it did and what the results mean for future United States and British military strategy and policy.

Previously, Murray had written the military account of the US air war during the 1991 Gulf War and Maj. Gen. Scales had written the official postwar analysis of that six week conflict. Both are experts in the US military’s strategy and weaponry. And more importantly for how they wrote this work, both are knowledgeable in how the United States changed its approach to manpower and tactics between the first and third Iraq Wars.

The significance of this volume is to concisely describe how the US military approached its third Iraq War, what the differences were on the operational level between this conflict and previous ones and likely lessons to learn and apply for future military operations. The Iraq War was written in late 2003, after the end of the operation to overthrow the Baathist regime and before the insurgency and founding of the new Iraqi government took hold. So the authors’ comments about the continued need for initiative, change and operational awareness in future conflicts is almost prophetic in light of the last two years.

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The change in tactics in the 12 years between the wars was near revolutionary. For decades, the military had attempted, with sometimes great failures, to integrate the various services, to have a more networked approach to battle and to place much more decision making authority at the junior officer level.

The authors description of the origins of the present conflict, especially in regards to the period from 1998 to 2003 have to be some of the best summary descriptions of how the United States and Britain went from a soft conflict in enforcing the no-fly zone to a hot war with invasion in print. The 30 page summary of this time period should stand the test of time in its description of this time period.

The authors spend considerable time in this short volume, 258 pages, in contrasting the evolving nature of the US military and the static, fearful state of the Iraqi military and its totalitarian regime. What makes this book especially useful is how it places this war in context of US military operations from the Korean War to the present. In what could have been a standard ‘setting of the board’ before a war piece of writing, the authors instead write a near case study on the modern, revolutionary applications of synergy of forces, networked operations, rapid intelligence and useful training to a type of warfare so traditional that a Clausewitz or Thucydides would recognize.

The book does break down operations by time and emphasis, like the initial ground campaign or the British war near Basra; but the more one reads of this volume, the necessity of the joint nature of operations ends traditional ways of dividing chapters and sections. When the military operations become so seamless, that American units can blend in with British commanders for a day or so without a loss in communications or mission ability, then the reader can begin to understand why this war was conducted so differently from other conflicts.

As this book describes actions on the operational rather than command level, mistakes are usually listed as failures to plan for supply services, or the rate of speed or lack of, that forces had to contend with due to failures in joint planning or operations. The actual combat against Iraqi forces is largely described as mismatch between a highly mobile force with decisions made at the junior level vs. an Iraqi force that could have dug in to make a short fight a lot harder had it communicated and coordinated effectively.

The ultimate lessons from this book include future benchmarks such as independent forces that are capable to move as ad hoc units, with precision. There are warnings from the authors about an over-reliance on technology and the “white noise of information” overload. Their warnings about the best ways to fight a highly technological force such as the US or the British through guerrilla insurgency are sadly true 3 years later. The authors recommendation that civilian leaders need to handle the problems that come through victory are just as important as the need for the military to adjust to changing battlefield environments continues to ring true on a daily basis.

The reader will not find detailed descriptions about the political or cultural implications or machinations before, during or after the Iraq War of 2003, as this is strictly a military account. What the volume is essentially about “how military force has the capacity and will to defeat rogue states that threaten the vital interests of the American people ( pg. 252).” The maps and pictures are excellent and relevant. For its purposes, this book is highly recommend.