- Hardcover: 330 pages
- Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY) (13 Oct. 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307409066
- ISBN-13: 978-0307409065
- Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.8 x 24.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,703,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army Hardcover – 13 Oct 2009
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All that said, this biography/history as seen by the backgrounds, actions and personalities of the 4 generals contains mandatory knowledge for any future students working on this period of American history. It explores and compares conventional big wars, lessons from Viet Nam, and insurgency vs. anti-terrorism. The authors are expert journalists with impeccable credentials. They had the luxury of a year working with perhaps Washington's most important new think tank, the Center for a New American Security, to produce their book. It is largely compiled from first hand interviews with the key players and secondary sources. While the authors clearly respect all 4 generals, they diplomatically reveal the profound impact of varying personality styles, backgrounds, and circumstances. I found myself liking two of the four generals much more than the others, but that is largely a side issue when so much is discussed. It is clear that all four had intense loyalty to their missions, but also that mild rebellion within context and creative innovation are critical to military success in an evolving world. While not strongly attacking the larger context of Eisenhower's predicted military-industrial complex, the authors made it clear that much of the innovation needed for the future of the United States Army will be resisted because it does not involve the purchase of massive amounts of hardware or allow for civilian contractors to pour billions into worthless, irresponsible projects. As I read, I found myself wondering about the old question: does history make the man, or the man make history? Would events have been different if Gen. Petraeus had been the chief at the beginning rather than the end of the war? And, will the military or our politicians ever take seriously the need for both troops and civilians in war zones to know foreign cultures and arrive with language skills?
Where this book breaks new ground, at least to me, is its focus on the other three. After reading about Casey and Abizaid, I had a much better understanding of what they were trying to achieve in Iraq and the problems they faced. I felt pity for them because based on this book, it appears they were a victim of events as much as their own failings. Casey is depicted as a well meaning man with a great tolerance for criticism, surprisingly surrounding himself with people who did not agree with his point of view. Abizaid is the type of commander I would have thought was well suited for the Middle East. He had expressed a strong interest in the region early in his career before the Persian Gulf War, studied there, and learned Arabic. What we see of these men goes largely unmentioned when discussing the surge, that many of the elements that allowed the surge to work began before the strategy was changed.
Chiarelli is a different case. He seems to have done well in Iraq but was unable to get his desired command, Petraeus'. As a result, while Casey is likely finishing his last job in the Army as Chief of Staff and Abizaid is retired, Chiarelli probably has a future on the Joint Chiefs.
The book offers excellent background on these four men. It also shows the Army at the crucial period following Vietnam and before the Persian Gulf War as these men were mid-career. Finally, it shows what happened in Iraq as it deteriorated and gives the perspective of the commanders who were there. Many other books on Iraq are dismissive of the commanders from 2003 to 2007 while lionizing Petraeus. While General Petraeus deserves praise, these other men deserve attention too.
There are some great tidbits in the book about how these generals felt about their civilian commanders, how they interacted with each other, and how staffing works in the Army. It offers all this in a very accessible, readable way.
Using personal access to the generals and many others in the Army, Jaffe and Cloud tell the personal stories of these four officers and how their backgrounds influenced the generals they became. Abizaid took a non-traditional approach to his career, focusing in Middle Eastern studies, and was uniquely educated and prepared to work in the Arab world. Casey was the son of a general killed in Vietnam with no aspirations to stay in the Army, and his conservative and shepherding approach to leadership resulted in a conservative leader who presided over the deterioration in Iraq. Petraeus was the brilliant, driven leader who became a disciple of counterinsurgency warfare in the 1990s. And Chiarelli was the thorough leader who saw firsthand as a division commander early on in Iraq what was needed and worked hard within the system to do this.
As they rose through the ranks these leaders' careers often intersected, and finally all have played important, and differing, roles in the Iraq War and the shaping of the current US Army.
(One episode in the book, if true, really disturbed me. After the successful Iraqi elections in January 2005, according to the book Casey and his aide toasted the day with some grappa. Soldiers in Iraq are not allowed to drink, but their commander did.)
This is a very enlightening book about four of the top leaders of the modern US Army. More importantly, it tells the story of their ideas on how to lead and fight a modern war. It is not a comprehensive story but instead based more on anecdotal stories. Despite the overstated title (this book doesn't tell the story of an "epic struggle"), this is an excellent book that should be read by anyone interested in current military affairs.
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