July 11, 2008

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Wiser In Battle

I just finished the book Wiser In Battle, by LTG Ricardo S. Sanchez (USA Ret.) and Donald T. Phillips. Sanchez commanded coalition forces in Iraq after the invasion. Phillips has written several books on leadership from a historical/political perspective.

Though the meat of the book is Sanchez's account of his command in Iraq: his biography, learning experiences and explanations of Army command form the context from which he tells the story. It's a helpful approach. Just what is it that generals do? What do they have to worry about? What goes on in a headquarters? Where does civilian authority end and military authority begin?

US soldiers stand near the landmark
(AFP/File/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

V Corps assumed total responsibility of all U.S. and coalition ground operations in Iraq after President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished!" The fact that a corps (3-star) command assumed this monumental task was only the first in what was to be a never-ending series of mistakes and disorganized knee-jerk reactions.

The agenda that took us to war was at best short-sighted, and at worst handled in a way that put the President's second term in higher priority than the war, and troops fighting it.

As commander of V Corps, Sanchez experienced 18 months of poor (or little) strategic planning that would increasingly put him in a position of having to rob Peter to pay Paul, create policy where none existed nor was given when requested, and hold the collective hand of the State Department. In addition, the Army was trying to appease a Secretary of Defense who insisted on complete control of the remote, changed channels on his terms, and kept the volume on mute.

Sanchez outlines his military experience at each command level he assumed along his career, and the lessons learned. He also shares his personal life and how it shaped his attitudes and thinking. He then takes the reader on a journey into 'post-war' Iraq, where the lessons he learned during his career were at odds with the White House, the Senate, and media-driven public perceptions.

The silhouette of a US soldier appears on a wall as the sun rises during a patrol in Baquba, in March 2008. George W. Bush on Monday signed into law a 162-billion-dollar spending bill funding the Afghanistan and Iraq wars well into 2009 -- roughly six months into his successor's term.
(AFP/File/Patrick Baz)
(AFP/File/Patrick Baz)

He covers, in detail, the problems at Abu Ghraib, the insurgency, when and how al-Qaeda got involved, Fallujah, and the problems with Muqtada al-Sadr. He describes having to take equipment from U.S. troops, who were already under-supplied, to give to the coalition forces.

Recounting the first assault on Fallujah, he writes how a few days into the operation, the President ordered forces to 'cut and run' under fire - a decision that fueled the insurgency and invited al-Qaeda to pour into the country.

His accounts of dealings with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Ambassador Paul Bremer, who was supposed to be administering Iraq's recovery, leave the reader with a sense of dismay as to how such people could be selected for the highest positions in the country.

I think back to the Clinton years, and the years since, and all of the stories of how the Clintons disrespected the military. Yet, in all of those years, not one service man or woman, officer or enlisted, ever stood up and supported that claim.

File photo shows US soldiers guarding a house in the village of al-Awsat south of Baghdad. The US Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a compromise bill to free up 162 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the final congressional step before the bill goes to President George W. Bush for his approval.
(AFP/File/Patrick Baz)
(AFP/File/Patrick Baz)

Gen. Colin Powell resigned his position as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when President Clinton advocated allowing gays to serve in the military, but he claimed only a strong difference of policy. Sanchez is not the first military officer to make these claims about the Bush administration. According to him, he was urged by many serving officers to write this book because they can't speak out while in uniform. Sanchez supports a large number of claims in the military and other government agencies that this administration has repeatedly demonstrated a 'my way or the highway' attitude and will squash any dissent.

To be fair, Sanchez was ultimately relieved of his command of V Corps. He was blamed, at least initially, for the failures in Iraq. It ultimately cost him a fourth star and nearly cost him his third. He feels betrayed, set up as a fall-guy, and the victim of blatant lies.

To say that there are some sour grapes in his book is an understatement. It can be argued that this book represents the ravings of an angry ex-employee of the government. Yet, his claims are supported and shared by some investigative committee findings and many fellow officers. He doesn't attempt to hide his ill will and goes to great length to explain the reasons for it. He states a good case for the poor treatment of himself and others, along with the devastating effects being suffered by our troops. Jerry O

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