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Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account…

Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan…

by Daniel Bolger

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"It's all my fault. I thought my men were invincible." So lamented Robert E. Lee after the third day of Gettysburg. For some reason not easily understood by a non-military person, an element of near infallible judgment is imputed to those who wear stars of rank on their uniforms. From the outside looking in, we are confounded. In management, mistakes are anticipated, and tolerated, so long as the person who errs learns. Not so the Flag Officer. Once in the upper strata of command, a person forgoes the right to make a mistake. Given such a premium placed on inerrancy, it is little wonder that other than a tiny fraction of Flag Officers will seize the moment and do something totally unexpected and risky.
Bolger presents an above average detailed history of our military in Iraq and Afganistan; and then attempts to answer the presumed question of what went wrong. His assumption that something did go wrong is key to this work. His assumption is correct but for the wrong reasons. The military does not take us into war; our civilian leadership takes us into war. IF the military took us into Iraq or Afganistan, then it would be correct to identify and correct their erroneous thinking. If we failed in either or both of those wars, it was due to the civilian leadership. I suppose it is not an especially difficult process to conclude that war with another country is necessary, and I think a good case can be made for both. Where the civilian leadership failed is clearly tasking the military with what was desired to be accomplished and what would constitute a successful performance. If I have a clogged drain, I hire a plumber to make necessary repairs. I consider the job done when the drain works as I expect it to work. Except for the loss of life, turning the military loose to exert the National Will is really no different. Neither President Bush nor President Obama clearly stated what would be a satisfactory conclusion.
Where the Flag Officers failed in Iraq and Afganistan is not fighting the war as they were taught to fight. In this, they acted no differently than most of us would act: avoid blame at all costs. ( )
  DeaconBernie | Jul 21, 2017 |
This book took me longer than normal to read, because I had to keep stopping to think about the points that it made. And it wasn't until I got to the epilogue that all those points really got tied together into a coherent theory, but that theory makes so much sense at that point. If you want an honest look at how the Global War on Terror was conducted, both from the top down and the bottom up please read this book. If you just want to understand how things ended up the way they did, at least read the epilogue. Thoughtful and insightful, should be mandatory reading for anyone involved in the military or foreign policy. ( )
  readlifeaway | Aug 21, 2016 |
Apparently General Bolger ran out of gas after he he constructed the title. It adds nothing but a few stories to collection of data and certainly does not answer the question of the title. I sense a huge amount of pent-up frustration that Bolger wanted to release but drew back from actually saying what was on his mind. This book does nothing to inform. ( )
  DeaconBernie | May 20, 2015 |
What does it take to be still called a work of non-fiction? This is the military history equivalent of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. The author is creating his own reality of imagined facts - Rommel's Afrika Korps on the Red Sea, denying the preemptive war against Saddam Hussein, warming up the long debunked Al Qaeda connections of Saddam. It is really sad that Conservative ideology trumps professional practice. What is good for the goose (Harvard's Niall Ferguson) is now obviously good for this gander at North Carolina State, the Fox News-ification of history. Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

Apart from the "truthiness" and the shallowness of the analysis (Bacevich's NYT review said "Bolger has next to nothing to say about the first function (i.e. matters related to politics and strategy)." while for the reasons "Perhaps Bolger poses the wrong question."), the author shows his true colors as a bigot with staggering generalizations about "the" Muslims. There is truly no shortage of bad behavior that one can discuss about Islam but the author already lashes out against inoffensive ones such as praying towards Mecca. Winning hearts and minds is thus not practical with such "ambassadors". Bolger's aversion to all things foreign and foreigners does not end there. He hates the French and quite a few other nations and even the British receive hardly a kind word. The United States would have better kept such persons inside its borders.

It is also sad to see such hatred against institutions such as the Geneva conventions and the Red Cross that had been created and sustained by much US effort and try to uphold some level of professionalism and civilization. Bolger seems to be envying the barbaric liberties of his enemies.

The book thus only indirectly answers its titular question. If one promotes bigoted persons averse to facts into leadership positions, debacles such as in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in New York (9/11) and New Orleans (Katrina) are bound to happen. It remains to be seen whether the US military will be able to undertake a similar cleaning-up process as happened after the Vietnam War. ( )
2 vote jcbrunner | Nov 22, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0544370481, Hardcover)

A high-ranking general’s gripping insider account of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it all went wrong.

Over a thirty-five-year career, Daniel Bolger rose through the army infantry to become a three-star general, commanding in both theaters of the U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. He participated in meetings with top-level military and civilian players, where strategy was made and managed. At the same time, he regularly carried a rifle alongside rank-and-file soldiers in combat actions, unusual for a general. Now, as a witness to all levels of military command, Bolger offers a unique assessment of these wars, from 9/11 to the final withdrawal from the region. Writing with hard-won experience and unflinching honesty, Bolger makes the firm case that in Iraq and in Afghanistan, we lost — but we didn’t have to. Intelligence was garbled. Key decision makers were blinded by spreadsheets or theories. And, at the root of our failure, we never really understood our enemy. Why We Lost is a timely, forceful, and compulsively readable account of these wars from a fresh and authoritative perspective.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:04 -0400)

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