This month’s issue of AFJ concentrates on the “war in words”; that is, how Operation Iraqi Freedom has begun to be recorded by history, or at least history as it appears to the best military correspondents of our time. From his desk at The Washington Post — and before that, at The Wall Street Journal — Tom Ricks has been foremost in re-establishing the traditional role of the military correspondent. There is a significant distinction to be made between “defense reporter” — someone whose beat is the Pentagon bureaucracy — and “war reporter” — someone who follows combat — and what Tom does. A mature military correspondent can tie it all together: the Pentagon personalities and the view from the field, all within a broader framework. In these days of brief, bright “news nuggets,” Ricks is a rare and endangered species. His new book, “Fiasco,” which we have excerpted, is a tour de force of reporting and analysis, propelled by a passion that comes from empathy for soldiers, bred from long familiarity.
Ricks’ main competition for supremacy comes from The New York Times’ Michael Gordon, now less active as a daily journalist but still deeply knowledgeable about military affairs. Alan Gropman — himself a deeply experienced student of the military and a professor at the National Defense University — gives an extended review of both Gordon’s (and his longtime co-author, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor’s) recent book “Cobra II,” as well as “The Assassin’s Gate” by George Packer. From an entirely different perspective, our Blogs of War columnist Chris Griffin gives a guide to a collection of milbloggers’ books: These are as much a “first take on history” as more traditional narratives, and at the same time more personal views, as were, for example, the works of Robert Graves or Siegfried Sassoon and the “trenchline poets” of World War I. And 1st Lt. Micah Andrew Niebauer takes a close look at a former Marine’s view of the war — at home and abroad — in his review of “One Bullet Away” by Nathaniel Fick.
Yet another view of the war comes from Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, an assistant to the deputy secretary of defense who has served in Iraq but is perhaps best known as the author of “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam,” a cult classic for soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. Nagl suggests “a better war” — that is, an improved approach to war — for Iraq as a way to “make up for lost time.”
Two AFJ regulars round out the issue. Frank Hoffman asks the naval question: “What would Julian do?” “Julian” in this case refers to Sir Julian Corbett, Great Britain’s greatest advocate for a naval strategy and a fleet that can control sea lines of communication, quite a different approach from the tradition of the U.S. Navy and Alfred Thayer Mahan. And finally, Ralph Peters peers into the heart of Africa, searching for strategic light in a continent plagued by strife, poverty, and poor governance, but increasingly important to the U.S.