Pentagon correspondent: Army’s mindset, tactics ill-prepared for Iraq
Fort Leavenworth When Greg Jaffe and David Cloud started to write their book, “The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army,” they set out to determine why the Iraq War was a near catastrophe.
“It felt like young officers were really disillusioned with their senior leaders for plunging them into a war in which their Army was unprepared,” Jaffe said about the early years of the Iraq War. “I think a lot of young officers felt that they knew more about Afghanistan and guerrilla war than their commanders did because they had lived it. It was a dangerous time for the Army and a dangerous time for the country.”
On Nov. 4, Jaffe, the Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize winner, spoke to officers and civilians about the book as part of the Command and General Staff College’s Marshal Hall Lecture series at Fort Leavenworth.
In the book, Jaffe and Cloud, a former Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times who also covered national security and intelligence issues for the Wall Street Journal, write about four Army generals — George Casey Jr., John Abizaid, Peter Chiarelli and David Petraeus. Their book focuses on how the generals joined the Army in the wake of its defeat in Vietnam, how the Army helped shape their lives and how they helped shape the Army and the Iraq War.
Jaffe said for years the Army never learned its lesson on Vietnam and continued focusing on preparing to fight big tank battles in open spaces.
“At the time, John Abizaid’s Army is focused entirely on a massive tank-on-tank battle with the Soviets,” Jaffe said. “They get lucky in the Gulf War and get exactly what they are prepared for. Tony Zinni (retired US Marine General) says, ‘We found the one guy dumb enough on the planet in Saddam Hussein to fight us in a tank-on-tank war.’”
But that strategy and planning didn’t hold up again in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jaffe said that in the fall of 2007 things in Iraq started to turn around when the Army became less about hunting bad guys than it did becoming “heavily armed anthropologist.” He said the four generals’ ability to lead change in Iraq varied greatly.
“The U.S. Army that was fighting in 2007 and 2008 was almost nothing like the Army we remembered from 2003 when we started covering this war,” Jaffe said. “The people were largely the same, but the Army was almost unrecognizable. Troops that had been focused on hunting insurgents were now talking about religion, politics, culture and raising chickens.”
During the lecture, Jaffe also gave his opinion on why education is key for future officers to make a large impact on the future of the Army.
“I think it's really important to send officers to civilian graduate schools. Part of me — and I’m not going to make myself popular here — would say let’s shut down the Army War College and let’s send everybody to get a master’s degree, send them to a civilian graduate school. Make them sit next to some liberal leftist socialist in Columbia University. I think that would help a lot in terms of opening world views.”