The Generals

The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army
By David Cloud and Greg Jaffe
Crown, $28, 330 pp.

It’s a dusty axiom that generals have the bad habit of fighting the last war, rather than the one they’re engaged in.

After Vietnam, the U.S. Army took the opposite approach. From the quagmire of ‘Nam, the Army took the “lesson” that it should never again engage in another counter-insurgency effort —or even study how to fight one.  (This, despite the fact that the U.S. had won the fight against the Viet Cong guerrillas by 1972, and its Special Forces knew exactly how to conduct such a war.)

This combination of arrogance and head-in-the-sand flight from reality became embedded in the command bureaucracy, which refused to train troops for counter-insurgency or even to compose contingency plans on how to fight such a war.

In The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army, a superb new book by David Cloud and Greg Jaffe, the authors contend that such an approach nearly led to disaster in Iraq.

During the Cold War, the Army was very well prepared for the Big Invasion (think Grenada, Panama and the first Gulf War), but it had no doctrine for dealing with guerrilla fighting.

At the core of this ostrich-like approach was the Powell Doctrine — a comforting bit of pabulum that became conventional wisdom even outside the military.  In short, the doctrine stated the U.S. should engage in a war only when vital (key word) national interests are threatened; that overwhelming force should be exercised in an all-out effort to win; and that a clear exit strategy should be drafted for when the pre-defined goal is met.

Conservatives liked the Powell Doctrine because it proposed engagement only when the U.S. used its massive military advantage, while liberals used it to argue every war was not a “vital” national security threat and no exit strategy ever was good enough to meet the standard.  (The universal acceptance of this policy was probably part of the reason the Bush administration focused so heavily on the WMD argument for taking out Saddam Hussein.)

But Powell merely gave the Army intellectual cover to not prepare for anything as messy as the aftermath of the Iraq War; and many in the Pentagon and the White House held to it, or something like it, for far too long, especially with the doctrine’s author sitting as secretary of state. (In contrast but along the same pendulum-swing kind of thinking, it is starting to look like the Army has over-learned the lessons of counter-insurgency in Iraq in today’s Afghanistan, where the restrictive rules of engagement make the conflict far too problematic.)

Years into the occupation of Iraq, when General George Casey Jr. assumed command in Baghdad, he asked the sensible question: “Who is my counter-insurgency expert?”  Stunningly, an Air Force officer whose hands-on experience came at 20,000 feet mumbled, “I guess that would be me.”

The Fourth Star ingeniously and engagingly tells the story of how the Army re-invented itself on the fly and under fire though the parallel biographies of four 4-star generals

  • George Casey Jr.: a solid “muddy boots” commander who refused to challenge civilian authority and assumptions, was determined not to “repeat the mistakes of Vietnam” and tried to work within standard Army doctrine to accomplish a limited mission in Iraq – which he genuinely seemed to think he was accomplishing.
  • John Abizaid: A brilliant academic, he made himself an expert in the Middle East. He knew enough to doubt the Pentagon’s strategy and assumptions about Iraq but not enough to devise a strategy for victory.
  • Peter Chiarelli: The no-nonsense commander of Baghdad recognized that the key to victory was to make the population’s life better.  Chiarelli implemented his own successful counter-insurgency tactics over the objections of civilian planners. He had epic battles with his own command but ultimately was unable to bring the Army to adopt his tactics.
  • David Petraeus: The brilliant thinker initially was an awkward commander, but he eventually persuaded President Bush to his way of thinking. Petraeus transformed Big Army into a flexible, quick-reacting force capable of successful defeating the insurgency.

While Cloud and Jaffe are frank about each general’s shortcomings — particularly Casey’s —readers, in the end, will admire each of these men for their dedication and service.

It may surprise many to learn, for instance, that Casey — whose media statements the last few years have verged on the pusillanimous, such as when he said about the Ft. Hood massacre, “As horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” – was a tough and skilled warrior who passed Delta Force training and was invited to join that elite commando unit.  It’s also telling that he turned the billet down over family considerations, and followed a much safer and standard course for promotions.

Any reasonable book on the Iraq War must deal with the awful tenure of Ambassador Paul Bremer. The authors reveal Petraeus had a civil government and consensus administration set up in Mosul but had to fight Bremer — and even ignore some of his directives — to keep things from breaking down as they did in the rest of Iraq. (The situation eventually fell apart after Petraeus was rotated stateside.)

Bremer’s policy of absolute de-Baathification and the State Department’s electoral process by which Iraqis voted for ethnic leadership, rather than representatives by territory or district, certainly created chaos. However, Cloud and Jaffe show this was the policy of the Bush insiders as well, and Bremer was acting under Bush’s direction more than some books give credit (or blame) for.

In a teleconference related in the book, we see Abizaid raised doubts about the de-Baathification policy and was shot down cold by Douglas Feith, a prominent conservative at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s reluctance to “nation build” — which sounded just like the kind of long-term slog he wanted to avoid — led to a vacuum of leadership on the counter-insurgency strategy.  Despite his efforts to reform the military bureaucracy, Rumsfeld was influenced by the Powell Doctrine and Big Army reluctance to engage in what he might have called “the war we have.”

The book also touches on the importance of a little-known “tribe” in the Army — officers who attended or taught at the Department of Social Sciences at West Point, generally referred to as “Sosh.”   At Sosh, the generals-in-waiting were taught economics and diplomacy as well as military strategy, and their big picture thinking was extended beyond just the battlefield.

Petraeus and Chiarelli, the generals most apt to recommend workable solutions in Iraq, were heavily influenced by their time at Sosh, while Casey took a combat/weapons systems-oriented route to his promotions.

Rumsfeld famously said, “You go to war with the Army you have.” The Fourth Star tells how we got from the Army we had then to the Army we have now.

By taking their unique biographical approach to their subject, Cloud and Jaffe keep The Fourth Star from being a dry tome about military strategy that only an attendee at the War College would read.  Instead, this compelling and incredibly accessible book will fascinate even the lay person interested in military issues — or even anyone who enjoys well-told biographies.

  • Turbeaux

    Actually, Rumsfeld was right. In Iraq as soon as Saddam was captured and the country had been scoured for WMD, we should have exited Iraq ASAP, as the last thing the USA needed to do was to get bogged down in another fantasy based nation building mission meant to win the hearts and minds of Muslims who are obligated per their religion to hate our guts no matter what. Unfortunately, we failed to heed and learn the lessons of Somalia and Lebanon.

    Our entire fantasy based nation-building mission in Iraq was based on the political correct multicultural canard that Islam is a religion of peace that is being hijacked by radicals. Thus, we must help to empower the moderates in order to counter the radicals. However, that asinine assumption is exceedingly fantasy based to say the least because it is not true.

    In fact, we should have exited Iraq ASAP and as soon as Saddam had been captured and the country had been scoured for WMD, and then crossed our fingers and hoped and prayed that the gigantic vacuum we left behind via the ouster of Saddam in Iraq would have led to a major sectarian war between the Sunnis and Shiites, which would have inevitably sucked in Saudi Arabia and Iran in the hopes that the sectarian war would have lasted for many, many years. Why? Because Muslims killing each other inside the Dar al Islam helps us, the Dar al Harb, at the same time that it also harms and weakens the Dar al Islam.

    In any event, all we accomplished in Iraq was to create another Sharia state that was able to rejoin the global jihad far faster than otherwise. Indeed, we were our own worse enemy.

    Not only that but the only freedom that Sharia allows is the freedom for Muslims to become more devout slaves of Allah. Indeed, the entire Iraq campaign is one of the greatest fiascos not only in American history but also ever in the history of the world.

    As a matter of fact, this book should be a story about how our current crop of generals through gross incompetence and dereliction of duty miserably failed to study, learn, and understand the enemy.

    By the way, the fiasco in Afghanistan is just as bad if not worse. The mission should have been limited only to the eradication of OBL and AQ in retaliation for 9/11. However, because we became transfixed on the fantasy-based notion of empowering the moderates to counter the radicals, we didn’t devote enough attention and resources to the eradication of OBL and AQ and ended up allowing them to escape because we were more focused elsewhere.

    Not to mention that we had no business jumping into the civil war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, as both factions were Sharia compliant. If anything we should have helped out whichever side happened to be the weakest at any given point in an attempt to prolong the civil war as long as possible because again Muslims killing each other inside the Dar al Islam is good for the Dar al Harb (us) and bad for the Dar al Islam (them).

    Meanwhile, while we remained bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, Europe is rapidly being Islamized via stealth non-violent means of jihad, and the lost of Europe will do far more harm in the greater scheme of things than the lost of some backwater nobody cares about in central Asia.

    The reality is our current crop of leaders and generals today don’t have the first clue with respect to the real nature of the threat we are facing and they couldn’t be any more incompetent. Not to mention that they won’t lift a finger to stop Iran from getting nukes at the same time that they also blame all the instability in the Middle East on Israel. In other words, today we are absolutely helpless.

    Finally, if anyone is still gullible and naïve enough to believe that the surge in Iraq was somehow a victory for the USA, then you need read Diana West’s revealing three part series, which you can access via the following link.

    • DavidForsmark

      Your "should have" points are fair, and well-argued. However, once Rumsfeld was tasked with managing an occupation by the Commander-in-Chief, he should not have let his reluctance make him a passive participant. Also, Rumsfeld's shop DID press de-Baathification, which made no sense if you were staying OR going.

      Rumsfeld's duty was to fight the war he had, not the war he wanted to fight.

      However, Rumsfeld never made a loud case for beating Saddam or the Taliban then withdrawing and risking anarchy, either. If he had been as convinced as you, he should have fought for that and resigned.

      • Turbeaux

        I agree. I wasn’t trying to let Rumsfeld off the hook or give him a free pass. I was just simply pointing out that the nation-building missions in both cases were incredibly fantasy based that led to disastrous consequences.

        The reality is today we don’t have anyone in a position of power that has the first clue with respect to the real nature of the enemy we face. In any event, someone credible needs to write a book and lay it all out. No doubt it would stir up much controversy.

    • aliko

      You know what's funny? before typing my response, I searched this page for the word "oil" and got nothing.

      Leaving Iraq after removing Hussein would've created the chaos you described but with it, the oil prices would definitely spike to levels that would've caused chaos in China and the west. Can you imagine what $200/barrel (a conservative estimate) would do to transportation, electricity, industrial production etc.?

      • Turbeaux

        So you think that Muslim countries can fund jihads without selling oil, especially when their economies aren’t diversified and they are dependent on the sale of oil as their lone source of income?

        Hell, I think the price of oil would have actually come down, because the various factions would have to sell more oil to finance their jihads. Indeed, we could have avoided the oil shortage of 2008 that somehow mysteriously arose by coincidence during a presidential election year, and which precipitated the financial meltdown.

        Moreover, I also don’t believe in the theory that attacking Iran would necessarily cause oil prices to skyrocket, since Iran’s only source of income is oil. Hence, Iran has no choice but to sell oil or otherwise it won’t have a source of income coming in. Thus, if Iran doe shutdown the Strait of Hormuz as it threatens to do, it will just be cutting its own throat.

    • Army Guy

      The one argument I have is against your premise that this place, Iraq, will become a Sharia state. I don’t see it. The people are voting strongly against the religious parties in most provinces; only in the Shia south are they interested in Sharia. Everyone else rebels against strongly religious leaders; there are plenty of secularist Shia, Sunni and Kurd.

      However, after being here now for my second tour, I think we should have swept in, done our business, and quickly left…much like we did in the first Gulf War. Maybe we could have provided more concentrated support to the Kurd north, but that’s it.

      Now that we’re here…and I believe are very close to some real, concrete sucess…it is not the time to give up. We’ll leave on our timeline with honor and success, and if it devolves into a sectarian nightmare, well, it’s on them. We’ve given them every available opportunity to make a go at it. And based on what I’ve seen, and the improvements between my two tours, I think they legitimately have a chance to be something great here in the middle east.

      • Turbeaux

        Thanks to former Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a Muslim who managed to infiltrate our useful idiot State Department and who also, by the way, oversaw the implementations of the constitutions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Sharia has already been embedded in each country’s respective constitutions, and also both countries have already prosecuted people on blasphemy and apostasy charges in well publicized cases.

        Thus, while you may not be aware of it yet, but both countries are already Sharia states, and because both countries are already Sharia states, both countries will inevitably rejoin the global jihad far sooner and much stronger than otherwise. In other words, all we managed to do via our extremely misguided fantasy based nation-building missions in Muslim countries was shoot ourselves in the foot.

        In addition, while at this point because of the USA’s presence in Iraq, the secularists may currently hold more sway. In any event and in the long run, can you point to a single country in the history of the world that has ever managed to permanently escape from the iron grasp of Islam?

        Look at Turkey, for instance, after decades of enforced Kemalism and secularism, for all intents and purposes Islam has all but snuffed out Kemalism and secularism inside Turkey today. Indeed, most Turkey watchers already consider Turkey a lost cause to Islam today.

        In the long run, the same thing will eventually happen in Pakistan too, which is why I advocate confiscating and destroying their nuclear weapons arsenal before it does inevitably happen.

  • cedarhill

    Powell is likely the most over rated military person. He truly stands in the long shadow of Saddam Hussein as a military thinker and competes favorably with Baghdad Bob. The first time I hear "The Powell Doctrine" I thought he must have picked it up from a group of kids playing king of the hill.

    Powell, simply, was a politician that used every means at his disposal, including race, to advice himself. Even Mae West would have beaten him on the field of combat.

    • FWB

      Truer words may never have been written.

    • Turbeaux

      Powell was also a horrible Secretary of State. Of course, Condi "appeaser" Rice wasn’t any better, and Hillary "Rotten" Clinton couldn’t be anymore rotten. Indeed, our entire State Department is a joke.

  • eerieSteve

    I refuse to concede the point which your argument bases itself upon, that Iraq was a military defeat for the United States. Politically? No. But the US Armed Forces took an entire country, used it as a massive fort to recruit every wack job in the Middle East, and eliminated them. Period. Like it or not, our objectives were simple. Kill an enemy, regardless of nation or creed.

    In the process, 25 million people were freed, and we saw the birth of new technologically developments which can quite well end all wars, like unmanned aerial vehicles and the US missile shield.

    Iraq has a bad name for one thing and one thing only, the US media's complete dedication to undermining a sitting commander in chief during a global war effort.

    Well public, you wanted an anti-Bush, now you got it with up to 20% unemployment in Detroit. The fact that the Democratically organized Iraqi Army fights for itself now exists as a testament to the strengths of our values as Americans. It would be a most tragic turn of events to see the region Balkanized over no less than complete and utter American stupidity.

    • Turbeaux

      Hey dude…I supported the wars initially and still do support the military today even though I know their missions are exceedingly fantasy based, plays right into the hands of our enemies, and doesn’t have a prayer in hell of ever being successful because it is based on a political correct multicultural fallacy.

      In any event, you claimed that we freed 25 million people. Pardon me but the only freedom Sharia law allows for is the freedom for Muslims to become more devout slaves of Allah, hardly the kind of thing that you and me and we over here in the USA would consider to be freedom.

      Nevertheless, my perspective gradually began to change over time after I began to study, learn, and then understand the true nature of our enemy. After that I finally slowly realized how thoroughly misguided and incredibly fantasy based our military strategies have been.

      Unfortunately, you haven’t evolved up to that point yet. Indeed, you are still at the point where I was back in 2003, and you have a long way to go.

      PS: I despise Obama just as much as you do.

      • eerieSteve

        Regardless of the point, Sharia or not, the enemy, meaning people blowing themselves up for al-Qaeda/Baathists/Mookie, have been killed about 30 to 1. There were three major Islamic states which sponsored terrorism on 9/11 which really troubled the US, and now there is just one. We have cut off well springs of the Islamic fundamentalists enemy.

        I don't hate Obama. I like him as the President and wish him well. Hopefully he would do the right thing by the Iraqi people and be a good president, however I do not see his Balkanization strategy as beneficial.

        He who cannot learn to decimate cannot wage war.

    • bropous

      Steve, agreed 10000%. The nation of Iraq is now a nation with a FUTURE, which it did not have under Sadam Husayn. The Iraqi PEOPLE are now a people with a FUTURE, which they did not have under Sadam Husayn.

      I find the analysis of this book on the turning away from WINNING counterinsurgencies by the US military, and in fact the deliberate REFUSAL to even CONSIDER the possibility of a counterinsurgency, as tremendously important to keep in mind. We had a bad experience in Vietnam (mostly due to ridiculous Rules of Engagement and the on again/off again interdiction of men and materiel through North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), and what was the answer of the Pentagon's Perfumed Princes? "Well, let's not get our boots muddy EVER again. Let the enemy have the bush, we have the cities and the roads."

      And how many US casualties in Iraq occurred as a direct result of the REFUSAL of the command structure to even begin to conceive of how to fight and win a counterinsurgency?

      • bropous

        Thank heavens for "Malik Daoud" and his ignoring orders from Bremmer, making Mosul more secure in the process.

        And, yes, agreed also that the US media committed outright treason and sedition by attacking our own nation, our own military and our allies with greater gusto than they would ever criticize the murdering jihadis.

        And Turbeaux, I refuse to consign ALL Muslims to the radical clique. I am absolutely happy to know when some murdering Muzzie Bites the Big One. But I also know that the LIBERATION of Iraq gave a chance to millions of Iraqis to build REAL futures instead of sending their kids off to blow up a pizza parlor wearing a suicide vest.

        • bropous

          And Turbeaux, I happen to find your "epiphany" about the "real nature of the enemy" to demonstrate you DEVOLVED since 2003, not evolved.

          ANY TIME you make a blanket assumption regarding entire groups of people, you are exhibiting bigotry.

          That said, I would love to see every member of CAIR waterboarded to determine their connections to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, etc. THOSE scumbags, dang right, I want them ERADICATED. Then NORMAL people who are Muslim can live without the threat of terrorism directed against them and their families if the lunatics deem them "apostate".

          Honestly, I wipe my rear end with the Koran because I despise its philosophy.

        • Turbeaux

          Here you go bud. Click on the below link, purchase a couple of those books, and then come back and see me after you have read them. Then we will have a debate.

          Things aren’t always as they seem. Remember that.

      • eerieSteve

        The root of all evil exists as want. The casualties can and should be directly attributed to the want of the US media to have a direct subversion effort on a sitting US President during war in a venial effort of just wanting to sell more news. Bottom line means if we had a strong president, no UN pull out after the Samara Mosque bombing which was the root cause of the Iraqi Sectarian violence.

        Hopefully the Republican party learns this lesson. President Obama already has proved he has the chops to take out terrorists. Now we have to see if he has the resolve. I suggest, especially since conservatives do not have the Congress anymore, work with Obama to keep him strong internationally and let the elections decide the domestic money.

        Attack Soros, and let Obama have some Lebensraum.

  • USMCSniper

    We no longer delare war nor do we fight wars, even of wars of containment in their true sense have given way to nation building and peace keeping. American soldiers and Marines are political pawns saddled with the PC rules of engagement that value the lives of civilians used as human shields more than those of American soldiers and Marines. We do not fight wars to win, we fight them for a strategic position for our politicians at the negotiating table where victory is never a goal and defeat is not off the negotiatingtable.

  • Stephen_Brady

    I'm rather surprised that no one has come into the debate to argue against the statement "This, despite the fact that the U.S. had won the fight against the Viet Cong guerrillas by 1972, and its Special Forces knew exactly how to conduct such a war." Of course, it's early.

    I was in Vietnam, and far from being the invincible "hidden warriors" that the news media and Hollywood made them out to be, the VC were imminently destroyable. I was a sniper, and worked alone. I hunted them like deer, as I did at home.

    This is why there were two conventional invasions from the North (and they were crushed, too). When the North Vietnamese (probably under pressure from their political masters in the Kremlin) saw that their efforts in the South were failing, they went for broke, and lost badly, both times.

    Completely on topic, however, General Petraeus is one of the best minds in the US Armed Forces, and deserves every "Kudo" he receives from the troops, and the American people, at large.

    • bropous

      Stephen, would you agree with the analysis that the Viet Cong had been virtually eliminated as a force as a result of the American VICTORY during the North Vietnamese Tet holiday offensive? Just curious as it would seem you would be someone whose opinion on that subject would be pretty dang realistic.

      • Stephen_Brady

        Sorry about the delay in answering you.

        I would agree with you, indeed. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I'm of the opinion that TET was launched primarily because the insurgency in the south was failing, and failing miserably.

        I realize that anyone who lost a relative to an AK-totin' VC maggot might disagree with me. But my experience with the VC was that they were honored only by the American news media and the Left. By the time of TET, they were a shadow of what they were, in previous years. The terrible atrocities they perpetrated on their own people, in their "recruitment" drives, was proof of this.

  • Sara

    The Us wants to win wars w/o killing people and breaking things. Any time they kill people and break things, liberals object and the military backs down. So, we will only really fight a real war when it is on our shores. At that time, liberals/communists/progressives need to be going with the enemy.

    • Stephen_Brady

      Sara, the military won't back away from defeating any enemy, unless the political will of POTUS and the generals limits them to restrictive rules of engagement. Soldiers want to win a war, not lose thousands of their own and go home, without anything settled.

      As for the war on our own shores, it's already going on, and the Left has decided that it's simply an "law enforcement issue".