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Cobra II : The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (edition 2006)

by Michael R. Gordon

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Title:Cobra II : The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq
Authors:Michael R. Gordon
Info:Pantheon (2006), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:war, iraq, history, america

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Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael R. Gordon

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This is a detailed and thorough account of the military aspects of the 2003 Iraq invasion. It spans from just after September 2001, going through the steps of building the operational plans for the invasion, to the summer of 2003 not long after the end of "major military operations" after the collapse of the Iraqi regime.

Today, like most people, I consider the invasion a disastrous mistake since the official reasons why the U.S. invaded Iraq were ultimately found wrong: there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the Saddam regime did not partake in the September 2001 terrorist attacks with al Qaeda.

But what this book does very well explain is how much the actual plan of invasion, which did enabled a lightning quick military victory over the Iraqi regime, turned out to be also the source of the failure of the occupation and pacifying of Iraq post-invasion.

There are 2 key elements explaining this failure: the new doctrine pushed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld which held the view that the development of new battlefield technology rendered large armies obsolete and overly costly; and the almost obsessive fear of getting sucked into "nation building" after invasion. When looked independently of each other, making full use of technology and preventing the lengthy and uncertain undertaking of nation-building are reasonable propositions. But in the context of a Middle east invasion and in a country like Iraq, they are delusional.

This is because the doctrine of a small invasion force equipped with force-multiplying technology can make you win a war, but it will not make you win the peace. Technology is no replacement for a large security footprint to manage most societies where the government has collapsed after military defeat. This is especially true in Iraq, which is culturally, religiously and ethnically very diverse, and prone to internecine conflicts.

As a consequence, the US forces were not in a position to successfully stabilize Iraq post-conflict and help Iraqi society build a democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. It is no accident that things turn out that way, they are the direct consequence of misguided and delusional policy forcefully implemented, and compounded by serious judgment errors (the drastic deBaathization, which released on the streets frustrated and humiliated soldiers and officers, being the most egregious error). The Bush administration did not want to have a large force in Iraq, and it did not want to do "nation building" as it smacked of Bill Clinton's policy in the Balkans. The consequence of this was ultimately a nation wasted, plunged into civil conflict, and a breeding ground of future terrorist groups such as ISIS.

( )
  SuperIke | Jul 3, 2017 |
Some interesting tidbits so far:

1. Both Saddam and the United States failed on intelligence. Saddam was not worried about the U.S., but he was terrified of a Shiite rebellion in the south, similar to the one he put down so brutally after the first Gulf War.

2. Saddam wanted to show the world that he did not have any WMD. He sent orders to his commanders to make sure that the sites had been cleaned up and no WMD were present in preparation for weapons inspectors. He did not want to give the U.S. a casus belli. Unfortunately, the CIA misinterpreted data from spy satellites and assumed that Saddam was trucking the stuff away or hiding it.

3. No preparations were made for installing a government after a successful invasion. The Iraqis were looking for some kind of force to maintain order after the troop took Baghdad. U.S troops were under orders not to interfere, so looting quickly became uncontrollable sending the message to everyone that the U.S. had lost control.

4. Franks tried to fire one of top corps commanders who recommended a pause during the invasion because it was becoming apparent that the Fedayeen were a force to be reckoned with behind the lines. Franks wanted the fastest trip to Baghdad possible with no stops along the way. This decision came back to haunt them.

5. Rumsfeld continually tried to trim the size of the invading force despite concerns of the top U.S. commanders.
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
As I did not want to spend much money on this book, I come late to the party with a withdrawn library copy. Even in 2010, this book remains surprisingly readable - under two conditions. First, the book assumes familiarity with the structure, arms and command of all US forces. It never explains the difference between a RCT (regimental combat team) and a BCT (brigade combat team). The lack of an Order of Battle is inexcusable and hampers the reading process (as do the sub-par maps). Secondly, the authors also assume familiarity with the political personnel on both sides.

The chronological account is well told, although it suffers from the inclusion of two much sideshows. The authors offer vignettes of all service branches (except the Navy) which distracts from the main events. The fighting is well described and vivid. I wish more Iraqi voices could have been inserted into this US centric account.

The false pretense and the press collaboration in the build-up to the war (of which at least one author was heavily involved in) do not feature in this campaign account. It only shows that the political opposition prevented a desired early attack, which given the general state of unpreparedness might have resulted in a fiasco from the start. In contrast to other, harsher accounts, Tommy Franks is presented as a simple (favorite film; The nutty professor) but devoted servant of his political masters. Strategic thoughts were not wanted, so he concentrated on the run to Baghdad which was immensely facilitated by the stupidity of Saddam Hussein, a dictator way past his prime. If Saddam had systematically destroyed the Euphrates bridges, US logistics might have been overwhelmed by the resource hunger of its own forces.

The stupidity was evenly matched by the Americans. The consistently incompetent CIA. the hunt for non-existent WMD coupled with the failure to protect these suspected sites and ammo dumps, choppers attacking directly into a prepared position, ... The command structure of the Americans was top-heavy. The tip of the spear consisted of but two infantry divisions which carried out most of the fighting, arriving thoroughly exhausted in Baghdad only to be pressured into guard duty. The systematic break-down of the public order by the "thunder runs" and the subsequent and deliberate failure to provide order remains a professional disgrace. The Iraq War created a new category of war crime: Not issuing orders and not stopping the buck.

The Americans were lucky that they were only facing the shell of a real army. Then again, the war was based on cracking a shell with its two division prong. Not much thought was given to Phase IV and any mention of it vigorously stamped out. The White House wanted a cheap, quick and easy war and any clashes with reality were avoided at all cost. The war (first acronym: OIL) turned out to be a complete success for the oil industry as well as the military-industrial complex. The suffering it caused for a country, the soldiers' families as well as the rest of the world are unfortunately not part of the equation. ( )
2 vote jcbrunner | Mar 21, 2010 |
Written by Michael R. Gordon, the chief military correspondent for The New York Times, who spent the war with the Allied land command, and Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general and former director of the National Security Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Cobra II traces the interactions among the generals, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and President George W. Bush.

The book is not an easy read. Although this is an important, if not essential read, the prose can be hard-going at times, the actual incidents of war make it difficult enough to stomach, but it is also punctuated by examples of individual courage and heroism uncharacteristic of many volumes about war. The substance of the work then is not smooth nor pleasant but it is a convincing and detailed account of the war. On balance, it provides a more straightforward rendering of battle than Bing West's, The Strongest Tribe, but it concentrates on the actual military story rather than the politics behind the war such as in Woodward's several works, especially Bush At War, on the topic.
  gmicksmith | Jan 10, 2009 |
Fiasco was better. ( )
  scottwmcgregor | Sep 11, 2008 |
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Michael R. Gordonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Trainor, Bernard E.main authorall editionsconfirmed
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Wars must vary with the nature of their motives and of the situation which gives rise to them. The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and the commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375422625, Hardcover)

Informed by unparalleled access to still–secret documents, interviews with top field commanders, and a review of the military’s own internal after–action reports, Cobra II is the definitive chronicle of America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq—a conflict that could not be lost but one that the United States failed to win decisively. From the Pentagon to the White House to the American command centers in the field, the book reveals the inside story of how the war was actually planned and fought. Drawing on classified United States government intelligence, it also provides a unique account of how Saddam Hussein and his high command developed and prosecuted their war strategy.

Written by Michael R. Gordon, the chief military correspondent for The New York Times, who spent the war with the Allied land command, and Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general and former director of the National Security Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Cobra II traces the interactions among the generals, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and President George W. Bush. It dramatically reconstructs the principal battles from interviews with those who fought them, providing reliable accounts of the clashes waged by conventional and Special Operations forces. It documents with precision the failures of American intelligence and the mistakes in administering postwar Iraq.

Unimpeachably sourced, Cobra II describes how the American rush to Baghdad provided the opportunity for the virulent insurgency that followed. The brutal aftermath in Iraq was not inevitable and was a surprise to the generals on both sides; Cobra II provides the first authoritative account as to why. It is a book of enduring importance and incisive analysis—a comprehensive account of the most reported yet least understood war in American history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:45 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Draws on interviews with General Tommy Franks, Condoleeza Rice, and other officials and military personnel to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the decision-making process that determined the nature of American involvement in Iraq.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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