COBRA II is the literary product of collaboration by two well-sourced writers. Michael R. Gordon's credits include working as military correspondent for the New York Times since 1985, co-author of a book on the first Gulf War (THE GENERALS' WAR) and extensive war coverage in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Panama and the Persian Gulf. Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General, was a New York Times military correspondent as well and is currently a military analyst for NBC. Together, they have produced a careful documentation of the events leading to, during and after the American invasion of Iraq. COBRA II may be the reference book of this war's history for many years to come.
Prefaced by 18 pages of detailed maps, the more than 500-page book covers the timeline preceding the call to war, history of the decision for war, planning strategies used, and the action itself. Nearly 100 pages of notes provide the documentation used as resource material. The finished product is not an attempt to whitewash events that happened but to provide analysis of the conflict in order to understand the decisions made at critical times along the road to war.
The authors discuss the United States response to the vicious attacks on September 11th as a "war on global terror." The Bush administration's decision to follow their Afghanistan success with a confrontation with Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was a response based on intelligence at the time linking Hussein to global terrorism. His failure to cooperate with United Nations inspectors regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) further ignited the plan to go to war. Beyond Afghanistan, renegade states that sponsored terrorism needed to be stopped.
COBRA II is written from still-secret documents and the military's post-action reports, displayed in the notes section. Classified United States government intelligence gives meat to information about Hussein's war strategy development with his High Command. From the beginning of the planning activity, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld weighed a full circle of possibilities of engagement with his generals. Rumsfeld held that a minimal number of troops would be necessary to accomplish the military goal. Secretary of State Colin Powell, because of his prior military experience, disagreed. Sheer numbers of personnel required would be a continuing source of conflict between war planners. Rumsfeld was persuasive and won the numbers game.
General Tommy Franks is a key figure in the initial push to war and meets extensively with Pentagon and Defense Department planners. In theoretical conflict over troop strength required to do the job, Franks works closely with Rumsfeld to expedite their plan; the planning stage evolves over a seemingly endless period. Code words for every stage of conflict spatter across, and pepper, every page of COBRA II --- CENTCOM, OPLAN, MICLIC, AVLB, WMD, RCT, LAR and AAV, to name a few. Separate battles of engagement are covered with searing details. Commanders fail to communicate their correct field positions. Unified resistance quells forward progress. Heretofore unheard-of sites like Nasiriyah, Tikrit, Al Udeid, Ramadi and Rutbah become household fixations on American television.
A large portion of COBRA II is devoted to the push to Baghdad. The pitfalls encountered by American troops bring to light miscalculations due to faulty prior intelligence. Much later, when Saddam Hussein climbs from his dirty hiding hole, the conflict's justification is reaffirmed. As in all war, future analysis may justify or refute decisions made before and during the conflict.
COBRA II is the code name for the ground war in Iraq, a suitable name for the book that covers its planning and implementation. Not for everyone, COBRA II is an extensive description of the personnel, battle plans, battle details and political repercussions of decisions made. Readers who seek to become informed about the Iraq war will stick like glue to its every word.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on March 14, 2006