The frustrations of occupying Iraq have obscured the short, sharp military campaign with which the United States and the United Kingdom seized the country in the first place. Although Saddam Hussein's regime was rotten and inept, it did have a defense strategy, which coalition forces beat through well-planned variations in the pace and character of their attack: moving on the ground without waiting for the air offensive to finish; adjusting quickly to resistance in the south; gradually isolating opposition in Basra while making dramatic thrusts into Baghdad with the enemy disoriented and off balance. The war against Iraq was the culmination of decades of refining technology and tactics, wielded against increasingly poor opponents, that have made the U.S. armed forces unbeatable in anything resembling regular warfare.
In the first of these three books, all by established authors, Norman Friedman offers a comprehensive, workmanlike account of the first months of the war on terrorism, from the attacks of September 11 to the overthrow of the Taliban, accompanied by forays into the complexities of Central Asian affairs, the transformation of the U.S. military, and the nature of terrorism. His discussion of the disappointing Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan reveals the immense difficulty of taking on a shadowy enemy. Although Friedman takes the story up to the outbreak of the war against Iraq, he probably now wishes he had concluded his narrative earlier, rather than ending it before that war's final outcome was clear.
This, of course, is one of the perils of instant history. But the academic depth of Williamson Murray and the professional experience of Major General Robert Scales ensure that their lively account of the war against Iraq is a superior, authoritative product. Its focus is operational (neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Paul Wolfowitz appears in the index), but the authors acknowledge the importance of political context, especially the "sustaining power of tyranny" even in the face of a "shock and awe" air assault. They are also well aware that the current stage of the war requires a different approach, although they do not explore what may turn out to be the greatest weakness of the campaign: the mismanagement of the transition from an invading to an occupying force.
One does not approach a book by Anthony Cordesman with the expectation of light reading, but his extraordinary industry and productivity, along with his clear and independent analytical judgment, command attention. As the title suggests, Cordesman's approach is didactic: he collects the best available evidence and supplements it with his own observation and interpretation. He addresses not only the course of the war, but also a range of related issues, from equipment performance and the "Rumsfeld doctrine" to the apparently flimsy evidence on which prewar claims about weapons of mass destruction were based. By taking the story up to July 2003, Cordesman also addresses the problems of transition to a type of operation in which U.S. military advantages have little effect.