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Refighting the War

- Abstract

Ten years ago, Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times and the retired General Bernard Trainor wrote a critically acclaimed revisionist history of the first Gulf war. Challenging the rosy consensus view of that four-day victory on the ground, The Generals’ War (1995) set out to show that the abrupt removal of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait could be explained as much by Iraqi impotence as by American competence. Nor was that the authors’ sole point of contention. At war’s end, they charged, civilian overseers in the Pentagon and at the State Department had failed to translate tactical military success into lasting strategic advantage. Instead, the murderous Iraqi dictator was left in power, and with him a geopolitical stalemate: though weakened, Saddam was still capable of paralyzing American Middle East policy for years to come.

Now, in Cobra II, the same authors have returned with an account of the three-week war of 2003 and its aftermath. The sense of déjà vu extends even to the dramatis personae. Here, in the celebrity role played earlier by General Norman Schwarzkopf, is General Tommy Franks—no less blustering and imperious, and at critical junctures no less deaf to the advice of more informed subordinates. If, in 1991, no real direction had come from Washington, thus allowing Saddam’s defeated generals to proceed pretty much as they pleased against the postwar Shiite and Kurdish resistance, so, too, we learn here, no plan to speak of existed for the aftermath of victory in 2003. Colin Powell, portrayed in The Generals’ War as nonchalantly allowing Saddam to persist in power, appears a decade later nonchalantly allowing the neoconservatives to pursue their trumped-up war.

About the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His “Re-rethinking Iraq: Nothing Succeeds Like Success” appeared in the April COMMENTARY.