TO UNDERSTAND INSURGENCY IN IRAQ:
READ SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
Reprinted with the permission of Inside Washington Publishers
Inside the Pentagon, Dec. 2, 2004 -- When officers in Army Col. H.R. McMaster’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment deploy to Iraq early next year, their preparation for countering the insurgency will have included not only a list of arduous military readiness exercises, but also a litany of books on warfighting and Middle Eastern history.
The mandate to exercise the brains of the “3ACR” comes from somebody who knows a thing or two about military history. The brigade’s troops will be led in Iraq by an acclaimed writer whose own book appears on the “must read” lists of other uniformed leaders.
McMaster’s 446-page “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam,” published in 1997, is an indictment of the top political and military leadership of the 1960s and ’70s, based on five years of research into previously classified meeting transcripts, telephone conversation tapes, personal diaries and interviews with participants. Disaster in Vietnam, McMaster concludes, was caused “by uniquely human failures at the highest levels of the U.S. government,” according to the publisher.
Some see it as a cautionary tale potentially relevant to current challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The book “contains remarkable parallels with today’s environment, and ought to serve as a matter of sober conscience for this generation of military leaders,” retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold tells Inside the Pentagon. Newbold commanded the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit when it served as the vanguard force for Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, later becoming director for operations on the Joint Staff.
His recommendation is among more than 100 books advocated by active-duty and retired military leaders and defense experts in an informal survey ITP conducted late last month. Individuals with relevant experience or expertise were asked to name up to three books that officers or troops might find essential as they prepare to counter the insurgency in Iraq and help rebuild that nation.
The suggestions may also prove useful holiday reading for others seeking greater understanding of what may sometimes seem a confounding and intractable situation in Iraq, involving complex military, political, economic, cultural and historical dimensions.
Many respondents exceeded the three-book limit, but the poll turned up an interesting mix of titles. Unless otherwise noted, the year cited in this article is the publication date of a book’s currently available, hardcover edition.
There is notable interest in one new book in particular -- Marine Corps Col. Thomas Hammes’ “The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century.” At the same time, ITP’s query elicited a small avalanche of out-of-print and hard-to-find volumes on counterinsurgency warfare.
Hammes’ book, published in September, drew the most plaudits, with one in four senior officers and military experts volunteering the title. The Marine infantry and intelligence specialist argues in the book that the U.S. military has adapted poorly to “fourth-generation warfare,” in which guerillas and terrorists employ low-technology tactics to exploit American vulnerabilities. The only way to prevail against this brand of threat, Hammes asserts, involves flattening military hierarchies and decentralizing command and control, giving greater initiative to small military teams and individual troops.
Hammes is a senior military fellow at National Defense University in Washington.
“The Sling and the Stone” is a “very interesting book” that is “worth the read,” though perhaps more appropriate for senior leaders than junior officers, says Jan Horvath of the Army’s Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. Horvath coordinated his service’s new counterinsurgency manual (ITP, Aug. 26, p1).
Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Frank Hoffman, who visited Iraq earlier this year, calls the 336-page publication “extremely relevant” to the Iraq situation. He is joined in the recommendation by retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, a veteran of the Vietnam and 1991 Iraq wars who also served in Egypt, Israel and Lebanon in the late 1970s; Marine Corps Col. G.I. Wilson, a fourth-generation warfare expert with recent experience in the Middle East; and retired Air Force Col. Chet Richards, once a military attaché in the region.
(Richards has also posted a full review of the Hammes’ writing on Amazon.com, the Web-based bookseller.)
A close second for most-recommended book is one that was originally written for private distribution in 1926. T.E. Lawrence’s 700-page tome, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph,” remains appropriate today for Iraq-bound forces, several readers noted.
The book, available in a 1991 reissue paperback edition, is Lawrence of Arabia’s first-hand account of his efforts to unify Arab factions against the occupying Turkish army in the early 20th century. Among those advocating a read of it are Newbold; Air Force Gen. T. Michael Moseley, who commanded U.S. Central Command air forces during last year’s war in Iraq; and Richard Kohn, a former Air Force historian who now heads the Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Moseley also recommends Lawrence’s 1919 “Revolt in the Desert” (available in 1993 reprint) and Michael Asher’s 1999 book, “Lawrence: The Uncrowned King of Arabia.”
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who until this fall commanded the 1st Marine Division in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, recommends “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” as well as “The Letters (Travel Library)” by Gertrude Bell, whom Mattis describes as the woman “who practically invented modern Iraq.” A 1987 version of the book is available.
Mattis also led the 1st Marine Division’s assault on Iraq last year, 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Task Force 58 operations in southern Afghanistan in 2001, and a Task Force Ripper assault battalion during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
The general notes that, while in Iraq, he also frequently consulted the 2003 “Inventing Iraq,” by Toby Dodge. “There were more [books], but these were the best,” Mattis says.
A number of Army officers and Marines also are cracking open another book with yellowing pages: The Marine Corps’ own “Small Wars Manual 1940.” Incorporating lessons from more than 100 years of expeditionary fighting, the manual includes practical information and insight for counterinsurgency operations, several officers and experts say. The service is circulating in draft a new update called “Small Wars/21st Century,” expected for release early next year, according to Marine officials.
The 1940 Marine Corps manual appears on McMaster’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s recommended reading list, as does a 1906 book with a similar title: “Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice,” by C.E. Callwell, a British colonel. The latter title is available in a 1996 paperback edition.
Michael Vickers, a former Army special operations officer who worked for the CIA in the Near East, suggests “Mars Learning: The Marine Corps Development of Small Wars Doctrine, 1915-1940” by Keith Bickel, available in a 2000 edition paperback.
The reading list for the Fort Carson, CO-based 3ACR, obtained by ITP, features a number of other volumes popular with those in the know about countering insurgencies. They include “A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962” by Alistair Horne, which “provides abundant information about the Mediterranean conflict, religion, geography and politics that affected it,” according to an online description of the book. The title is also recommended by Army Maj. Don Vandergriff, a personnel expert and author of the 2002 “Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs.”
Consider the book a strategic investment: A used paperback version of the 1987 Horne book -- in “acceptable” condition -- was being offered this week on Amazon.com for $97. An audiotape version could be procured at the same location for $80.
Then there’s the similarly titled “Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power” by Max Boot -- also recommended by Hoffman, the retired Marine lieutenant colonel.
“One doesn’t have to agree with Max’s neoconservative agenda to appreciate his delicate pen and ability to distill a lot of material into a smooth narrative,” says Hoffman. “It’s a good remedy for those who felt nation-building was beneath our superpower status.”
If the similarity in titles is not confusing enough, you may want to pick up “A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East” by David Fromkin, which was reissued in paperback in 2001. Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, recommends that one, noting he read it on the advice of CENTCOM chief Army Gen. John Abizaid. Moseley seconds the suggestion.
Smith also offers the title, “Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World,” by Margaret MacMillan. The 2003 paperback includes a foreword by Richard Holbrooke, former President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations.
The two books “are must-reads for anyone interested in the Middle East and how we got to where we are today,” Smith tells ITP.
Looking for more good books on Middle East history, culture and religion?
Moseley recommends “all of Bernard Lewis’ books on the Middle East,” whereas some other readers picked and chose among that author’s works. Here are some titles by the longtime historian -- a favorite of neoconservatives -- the years of publication and those who recommend them:
* “The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror” (2003): Vickers and McMaster’s 3ACR book list;
* “The Arabs in History” (2002 paperback): 3ACR book list;
* “What Went Wrong: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East” (2001): Van Riper; and
* “The Shaping of the Modern Middle East” (1994): Horvath.
For those seeking a counterpoint to Lewis’ distinct perspective, there are alternatives.
Vickers, now at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, joins the 3ACR reading list in recommending Phebe Marr’s 1984 book, “Modern History of Iraq.” The second edition, issued last year in paperback, “places in historical perspective the multiple crises and upheavals that afflict contemporary Iraq,” according to the publisher. Marr formerly served as a National Defense University scholar.
There’s also Kanan Makiya’s 1998 paperback, “Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, Updated Edition,” which Kohn commends.
Two Ralph Peters books appeared on expert lists. “Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace,” a 2003 book by the retired Army lieutenant colonel, comes recommended by a source who opted not to be named. And retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. H. Thomas Hayden (more on him in a minute) suggests a read of Peters’ 2002 book, “Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World.”
Perhaps the most enthusiastic endorsements from officers and experts, though, are reserved for out-of-print or hard-to-find books -- mostly on counterinsurgency warfare -- that seem to have gained new urgency and application in Iraq. These include:
* “Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice” by David Galula. “May I suggest that you run -- not walk -- to the Pentagon library and get in line” for this book, says one retired CIA officer with counterinsurgency experience in Vietnam, who asked not to be named. Finding a copy of the out-of-print 1964 book “is almost impossible,” but Galula’s writing should be regarded as “a primer for how to win in Iraq,” says this source.
* “Defeating Communist Insurgency: Experiences from Malaya and Vietnam” by Robert Thompson. The British author recounts his experiences during the 1948 to 1960 Malayan Emergency in this 1966 book, reprinted in 1978. A single copy of the first edition in “acceptable” condition was available this week on Amazon.com for a pricey $59. Historian Kohn and the former CIA officer recommend it.
* “Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife” by John Nagl. This 2002 book by an active-duty Army officer remains in print, but its $81.95 price tag may put it out of reach for many readers. Nagl’s work compares the successful British occupation of Malaya with the flawed U.S. counterinsurgency effort in Vietnam. “In examining these two events, he argues that organizational culture is the key variable in determining the success or failure of attempts to adapt to changing circumstances,” according to an online book description. Vandergriff, the Army personnel officer, calls it “one of the finest books written on how to fight an insurgency, have an open culture that encourages adaptability and innovation [and] quick turnaround on lessons learned.” Vickers and McMaster’s 3ACR list agree.
* “Shadow War: Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict” by the aforementioned H.T. Hayden. Wilson recommends this out-of-print book by one of his former compatriots who spent two years in Vietnam and commanded a battalion in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Hayden, contacted this week, says the 1992 hardcover book is sized to fit in the pocket of a Marine’s utility uniform.
* “The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War: The Strategy of Counter-Insurgency” by John McCuen. Horvath, the Army counterinsurgency doctrine writer, says this out-of-print 1966 book addresses how to defeat a revolutionary adversary at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.
* “The Last Hundred Yards: The NCO’s Contribution to Warfare” by H. John Poole. Vandergriff, an assistant professor of military science at Georgetown University’s ROTC program, says his former cadets now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan “echo the value” of this 1996 out-of-print book.
Two more recent books by Poole -- both still in print -- turn up on multiple must-read lists. To handle fourth-generation warfare at the tactical level, Vandergriff and Wilson recommend Poole and Ray Smith’s October 2004 book, “Tactics of the Crescent Moon: Militant Muslim Combat Methods.” Vandergriff also likes the authors’ 2003 volume, “The Tiger’s Way: A U.S. Private’s Best Chance for Survival.” Richards, the retired Air Force colonel, suggests Poole’s 2001 paperback, “Phantom Soldier: The Enemy’s Answer to U.S. Firepower,” which includes a foreword by fourth-generation warfare expert William Lind.
Those interested in reading more about the insurgency in Vietnam would do well to read “We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young: Ia Drang -- The Battle that Changed the War in Vietnam” by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway, according to three of those surveyed. A first-hand account by an Army commander and a journalist, the 1992 book provides “an unvarnished look at war that treats friend and foe with dignity,” says Air Force Lt. Gen. Dan Leaf, who commanded the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing in the 1999 war over Kosovo and led an air-ground combat coordination element during last year’s war in Iraq. Newbold and retired Army Col. David Hunt, a former Green Beret and airborne Ranger who served in Bosnia in the mid-1990s, also recommend the book.
Another tome with “gripping insight into the nature of war and men at war,” says Leaf, is E.B. Sledge’s “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa,” available in a 1996 reprint. It’s also on the list for Horvath, who calls the book “unforgettable.”
If all this reality is a bit too depressing, readers may want to sink into a good novel. Recommended books include two pieces of fiction: “Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae” by Steven Pressfield and “Once an Eagle” by Anton Myrer. Newbold suggests Pressfield’s historical fiction, available in 1999 paperback. Hunt and Moseley recommend the 2000 Myrer book, which pits a virtuous soldier, Sam Damon, against the opportunistic officer Courtney Massengale.
Taken together, all this reading could be quite the antidote for holiday merriment. Is it possible all the bookishness might be for naught?
“Arab culture is such a broad subject that I despair of any non-specialist’s ability to learn much of it in a short period of time,” says Richards, the retired Air Force colonel, himself such a specialist. “The most important point might be that the Iraqis know our soldiers are Americans, and [Iraqis] do not expect them to play by all the rules of their society. As long as [U.S. soldiers] treat people with respect, and smile a lot, they’ll be OK. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern culture to know that kicking down doors at 2 a.m., screaming at and manhandling family members, and dragging off the men isn’t going to win a lot of friends.”
Another military expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, agrees books may be helpful but are no substitute for good training, judgment and fortitude.
“To fight and win against an asymmetric enemy, you need a reservoir of strength of character that will allow you to make the ‘right’ decisions in very tough circumstances,” said this source. “Military textbooks and other like books are not the sole source of that type of knowledge.” -- Elaine M. Grossman
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