back to article A general's tale of the US's Gulf War follies and Glyn Johns' life in music

El Reg bookworm Mark Diston looks at the latest from literature's non-fiction canon: US general Daniel Bolger endeavours to make sense of the senseless regarding America's operations in the Middle East and Glyn Johns, record producer for the stars, tells of his many, many, rock and roll years. Why We Lost: A General's Inside …

  1. moonrakin

    Iraq Overview

    hmmm... if you want a hair curling page-turner that regularly makes you emit pffff... noises

    Look no further than Thomas E Ricks ""Fiasco"

  2. Matt Bryant Silver badge


    "......Bolger explains that the traditional Arabic method of waging war – as described by such luminaries as T.E. Lawrence – involves raids and ambushes....." Er, yeah, in the First World War. Saddam's forces lost for exactly the same reasons the Arabs lost every war against the Israelis - the Arabs relied on outdated Soviet strategy and tactics that were meant for large-scale operations, and were consistently surprised and too slow to react due to more flexible tactics and strategies used by the Coallition (and the Israelis). The only people using the 'traditional Arab' strategies of raiding and hostage taking (an Arab tradition) are the Taleban and IS, and even they are tempering their battle tactics with those copied from the Coallition forces.

    ".....Bolger is ridiculously polite to his bungling political masters.... “The military offered advice hardly worth hearing”....." Like the surge, asked for by the generals on the ground, bitterly resisted by the politicians (especially by the Democrats for little other reason than "Predient Bush asked for it"), eventually agreed to and which worked?

    "......There was also a problem with the status of prisoners, who were not accorded the normal rights of prisoners of war. Bolger believes in a rare criticism of the politicos: “Leaving the detention situation so loosely defined would come back to bite them.".....The disasters of de-Ba'athification and the Abu Ghraib prisoner scandal....." So all political problems, resulting from political decisions, not those of the military.

    ".....unlike the locals, “the Americans lacked faith and staying power”....." Which has been the 'insurgent' mantra since first used by the Vietnamese (actually stated as such by Vo Nguyen Giap) against the US - that they cannot win a straight fight with a Western power and hence resort to a long-term grind in the hope the Western politicians will cave. Ironicly, Vo Nguyen Giap got the military training he needed from the American "Deer Team" during WW2 when he fought with the Allies against the Japanese. The lack of 'staying power' he predicted was as a political problem, not a military one.

    TBH, it looks like Bolger was angling for a job with the politicians, he just timed his book release too late for Chuck Hagel's job. The next time the Sec of Defence slot is open he'll probably have to deal with Republicans, not Democrats, and I expect the latter might not be as willing to accept his whitewash.

    1. P. Lee

      Re: WTF?

      In 1948 the Arabs were going to wage a conventional nation-state war against the far smaller Israeli military. They didn't expect the Israelis to strike first. The Arabs were fighting for territory and knew the Israelis couldn't win the same same fight. The Israelis weren't fighting for that though, they were aiming to destroy the Arab war machine massed against them (providing easy targets) and handed back the territory they couldn't hope to control.

      The Bush and Blair were hoping to control territory, disregarding British military experience of the early twentieth century and were thus doomed to repeat it.

      Its pretty hard to win a war when you don't know who the enemy is. Soldiers need targets to be effective. Beating Saddam was easy, but Saddam's repression was hiding what I knew from O-Level history: "The place is ungovernable by civilised means." "Don't get into a land-war in Asia." Too much of the population is battle-hardened and willing to die for their faction, against each other and against foreigners, for Western government, which relies on cooperation and losers in democracy accepting loss of control. Hence the talk of "liberating" Iraq, as if we were turfing the Germans out of France, rather than removing an Iraqi from leading Iraq. Even Serbian-Croat issues are easier than this.

      The West was always going to lose the political side of things. Once Saddam was gone, they were always going to lose militarily against guerrillas. It was always going to be a no-win situation. Tech is rarely effective against ill-defined problems and military tech is no different. Long before it started I got the feeling Bush just wanted a war, though I could never pin down any reasoning regarding what the upside was beyond expressing US military capabilities to the world and the Middle East in particular. Blair was even worse. With Britain's long military experience, wider world-view and lack of massive military stuff to show off, he had no excuse for stupidity. The only thing more depressing than our leaders stupidity is our failure to apply mid-term political pressure to stop them before the war and our failure to vote them out at the first opportunity.

      The recent CIA report and responses are illuminating with regard to confirming what we all knew. Policies (against torture) were abandoned because leaders felt pressure to do something. Here's the thing: the reason we have policies is that they are formulated when the pressure is off and people are thinking clearly, so that we don't make mistakes when the pressure is on. These are not just bad people, they are bad leaders, bad at organising leadership. 11/9 was a terrible event, but nowhere near as bad (in terms of effect) as the response *for our own people* never mind the Iraqis and others dragged into conflict by the lack of effective government in the Middle East.

      Stupid, blind and ineffective rulers who will get richer and more powerful at the expense of the lives of those far away and the livings of those nearby whose taxes fund the effort. No wonder the West is hated.

  3. Deryk Barker

    " Now I don’t know about you, but the house band in my personal hell is the Eagles. "

    What? While there's America (Horse with No Name)?

    This and the dismissing of Gram Parsons cast severe doubt on the author's musical taste.

    1. P. Lee

      re: Horse with No Name

      I assumed that was yet another drug song.

      Am I wrong?

  4. Lars Silver badge


    The Iraq war was a stupid thing by stupid people. Most Europeans knew it in advance many Americans too. No need to bash the army, it's not the army that start wars. Period.

    1. moonrakin

      Re: Period

      Again... if you a re curious about the run-up to Iraq - "Fiasco" exhaustively details the walk-outs of pretty much the entire cadre of senior American military with relevant ME expertise in the run up to the Iraq invasion - and some rather jaw dropping abject stupidity by the unelected "SPADs" stateside...

      As for UK involvement - perhaps it might be interesting to pursue this by maybe finding a guest reviewer with relevant experience like erm... say Tim Collins.

      I'd go along with not getting involved up to a certain level - but tactical assistance to the Kurds and Iraqis to get ISIS of their backs looks increasingly like a reasonable move - occupation ... No Way José

  5. Johnny Canuck


    The western powers gelded themselves when they invented and prosecuted the Nazis' for war crimes. I have no love for Nazis or any fascist regime, but by being so eager to prosecute and punish their enemies for the made up crime of "war crimes" we have essentially taken away our ability to win a war. By not punishing the entire population of our enemies we have essentially given them safe haven. Our enemies do not distiguish between civilian and military targets - to them both are equally valid. Yet under our "enlightened" "rules of engagement" we must put our soldiers in imminent peril before they can actually shoot at the enemy!

    This is all the result of politicians (lawyers and businessmen) trying to engage an enemy without sustaining any negative publicity. They see the miltary as a monlith, not individual soldiers with families and children. They are unable to engage with the soldiers - the military is just a tool.

    TLDR: You can't win a war unless you kill so many of your enemy that they fear for their very survival as a family/community. When you invent laws that stop you from doing that, you will nevr "win".

  6. Youngdog

    The oxymoron of Military Intelligence

    Armando Iannucci tells the story about why so many families were being shot to pieces by Allied troops at checkpoints in Iraq. Apparently the familiar western hand-signal (arm in the air, palm facing away from you) that means 'Stop' to most of us actually means the complete opposite to those in that part of the world. As a result unknowing civilians would be cut to ribbons after seeing the gesture and accelerating towards the barriers. This is of course an unfortunate and tragic misunderstanding - the real stupidity however is that it took 18 months for anyone to realise the mistake.

    "If we know the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impractical, we have still gone only half-way towards victory" - Sun Tzu, On the Art of War

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