A New Kind Of War?

Lessons from Iraq

To the surprise of many if not most Americans, Operation Iraqi Freedom turned out to be, in many respects, an old-fashioned war. Just when we had bought into the notion that for U.S. forces, at least, old-fashioned wars, fraught with waste, carnage, miscalculation, and massive destruction, had become obsolete, we watched our soldiers marching on Baghdad run smack up against the past.

To see the war as depicted by the Pentagon or at Central Command Headquarters in Qatar was, of course, to miss that collision. At the operation’s outset, General Tommy Franks had promised a war "unlike any other in history, a campaign characterized by shock, by surprise, by flexibility, by the employment of precise munitions on a scale never before seen, and by the application of overwhelming force." His forces would deploy "across the breadth and depth of Iraq, in some cases simultaneously and in some cases sequentially," implementing a plan that offered Franks the "latitude to build [a] mosaic...in a way that provides flexibility so that we can attack the enemy on our terms."

The theater commander’s reassuring vision meshed neatly with Washington’s political requirements. So, in the days and weeks that followed, for the most part, the war plan became a script. At daily press conferences, officials announced that all was proceeding precisely as expected. They rejected suggestions that one development or another had caught...

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About the Author

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations emeritus at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies.