Ten years ago, in his foreword to the first On Strategy, General Jack N. Merritt, then commandant of the U.S. Army War College, noted that it was “important for the reader to understand what this book is and what it is not. It is not, nor was it intended to be, a history of the Vietnam war. It is not a detailed account of day-to-day tactical operations.... What was intended was a narrow focus on the war in the area of major concern to the Army War College— ‘the application of military science to the national defense.’ Using Clausewitzian theory and the classic principles of war, the book attempts to place the Vietnam war in domestic context as well as in the context of war itself.”
A decade later, General Merritt’s words apply as well to On Strategy II, a direct descendant of that earlier work. Again I must acknowledge my enormous debt to General Merritt and to then Army chief of staff General Edward C. “Shy” Meyer and to the many others who made that earlier work possible, for without On Strategy there could have been no On Strategy II.
Ironically, my initial involvement with the Persian Gulf war came not through the military but through the media. NBC News Pentagon correspondent Fred Francis championed me from the very first as a strategic military analyst, and his good offices led to some 125 TV appearances during the war, primarily on NBC and CNN, but also on ABC, CBS, Fox, C-Span, and Canada’s CBC-News world, and to scores of radio interviews across the United States and abroad.
Serving as NBC News military analyst for their America at War special reports during Operation Desert Storm, I was able to gain a unique insight into the war. For that, much thanks to NBC senior vice president Timothy J. Russert; to Nancy Nathan, Washington producer of the Today show; to NBC Washington Bureau’s Betty Nevins, Marcie Rickun, and Colleen Halpin, and to Kristin Moore and Alison Rosenberg in New York. Special thanks also to Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley of NBC News, and to the Today show’s Bryant Gumbel, Deborah Norville, Faith Daniels, and Katie Curie.
In the first three months of Desert Shield, thanks to CNN Pentagon correspondent Wolf Blitzer, Washington Bureau chief Bill Headline, and CNN vice president Gail Evans in Atlanta, I served as the military analyst for CNN’s Crisis in the Gulf reports. My appreciation to them, to Pat Reap and Jill Neff, and to news anchors Bernard Shaw, John Holliman, Reid Collins, and David French.
Thanks also to the producers and production staffs of CNN’s several talk shows and their hosts, including Marlene Fernandez’s Telemundo; Crossfire's Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsley; Larry King Live's Larry King; and Bob Franken of Newsmaker Sunday.
In addition to my weekly syndicated newspaper column, Shelby Coffee, the editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times, asked me to be their “Drew Middleton”—for many years the distinguished military correspondent for The New York Times—and to write a series of analyses of the strategic issues of the war.
Special gratitude to Shelby Coffee for that great honor, as well as to my editor, Tony Day, and the staff of the newspaper’s War Desk for their help in that endeavor. Also most helpful, as usual, were the Los Angeles Times Syndicate’s managing editor, Steve Christiansen, and copy editors Connie Cloos and Tim Lange.
Another great honor was Congressman Les Aspin’s invitation to testify before his House Armed Services Committee on the situation in the Gulf, and Senator Herbert Kohl’s invitation to testify before his Governmental Affairs Committee on media coverage of the Gulf war. Much thanks to them and to their staffers for that special opportunity.
When I wrote my critical analysis of the Vietnam war it was six years after the war’s end, and there were over six thousand books already in print from which to glean my data. This work was completed some six months after the end of the Gulf war, and only a handful of books were available. As is evident from my footnotes, most of the material came from news accounts and from official government documents.
From Julie Damgard of White House Media Relations came copies of presidential speeches and announcements. Colonel F. William Smullen III, the special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided copies of documents on reserve mobilization and on the chairman’s views on future military force structures, and provided sound advice and commentary from an old friend as well.
Major Doug Hart of the office of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs provided data on the reserve components. Lieutenant Colonel John Olsen of the U.S. Central Command provided copies of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s post victory briefings, reproduced as an appendix to this work, as well as information on military-media relations. And Major Jim Bates of the Military Airlift Command provided data on airlift and deployment of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.
Colonal Bill Mulvey (who later deployed to the Gulf) and Colonel Dave Kiernan and others in Army public affairs were most helpful in providing or locating data on the war, as were the public affairs officers of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
A particular debt of gratitude to the readers of the first drafts of this work, including Colonel Donald E. Lunday, the deputy commandant of the Army War College; Colonel Ralph L. Allen, the chairman of the Army War College’s Department of Military Strategy, Planning, and Operations; and Lieutenant Colonel Larry F. Icenogel, the War College’s public affairs officer who served on temporary duty in the Gulf.
Major thanks also to Dr. David Maclsaac of the Air University for his advice and for the documents he provided on Air Force doctrine. And special thanks to Major Mark Clodfelter of the Air University for his critical commentary on the chapter on aerospace doctrine.
Thanks likewise to Dr. Mackubin Owens (colonel, USMCR) of the Naval War College for reviewing my chapter on naval doctrine and for providing a forum for discussion of my chapters on doctrine before a Naval War College symposium. Also appreciation to Mr. Frank Uhlig, editor of the Naval War College Review, for the documents he provided on the evolution of naval doctrine.
Many others directly or indirectly helped with this work, including Brigadier General Tim Grogan of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, for his explanation of the evolution of joint doctrine; Navy captain Danny McGinn and the other members of the Naval War College’s Strategic Studies Group for their discussion of strategic futures; and Air Force chief of staff General Merrill A. McPeak for his discussions of stealth technologies and the future of the Air Force.
A final word of thanks to my editor, E. J. McCarthy of Dell Publishing, who not only provided the original inspiration for this book but who also provided kind words and encouragement along the way; and to my wife, Eloise, and our two sons, Major Harry G. Summers III and Major David Cosgrove Summers, U.S. Army. And special thanks to our daughter-in-law, Chief Warrant Officer Kathy L. Summers, who gave the war a personal dimension as she raced across Kuwait and into Iraq with the lead brigade of the U.S. VII Corps’ 3d Armored Division.
In expressing my thanks to those who provided comments and advice, I must add that the conclusions and such errors as the books may contain are solely my responsibility.
February 1, 1992
Forging Victory from Defeat
America was regarded as a paper tiger. ... It was beaten like a wet rat in Vietnam and because of this we tended to underestimate it. But the Gulf war has changed all that.
An Asian diplomat in Beijing, as reported by Michael Breen, “North Korea in ‘Gulf ‘shock.’ ” The Washington Times (March 12, 1991), p. Al.
If you would understand America’s victory in the Persian Gulf war you must first understand America’s defeat in Vietnam. Combat experience in the jungles of Vietnam was the common thread that bound all the senior U.S. commanders in the Persian Gulf war, from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, to General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander in the field, to the senior Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps generals to their colonels commanding the regiments and brigades.
But as will be seen, the lessons they drew from the jungles of Vietnam were light-years away from the perceptions held not only by the Asian diplomat quoted above but also by many people around the world, including some Americans. Seen as a loser that had been defeated by a ragtag peasant army in Vietnam, plagued by a series of mishaps at Desert One in Iran and at the Marine barracks in Beirut, their successes in Grenada and Panama overshadowed by reports of things gone wrong, they were ridiculed in the media as “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”
No wonder that those who knew the military only from what they had read in the newspapers or seen on television had such a low opinion of America’s fighting forces. Even at the beginning of the Persian Gulf crisis there were all kinds of stories about how the high-tech equipment wouldn’t work in the desert, how the military had prepared for the wrong war at the wrong place, and how in any case the peacetime “all-volunteer” military would fall apart at the first sound of the guns.
Future conspiracy theorists will have a field day, for from a distance it surely will look like an enormous media disinformation campaign orchestrated by the U.S. government designed to lull Saddam Hussein into a false sense of complacency. And that would not have been hard to do, for by several accounts he had already gained his impressions of American impotence from discussions with bragging North Vietnamese “guest workers” sent abroad to earn hard currency for their bankrupt socialist regime.
Although they would later complain about being used by the government, the media’s own nattering-nabobs-of-negativism style of reporting, which tends to hype bad news and ignore the good, was the unintended culprit. It is a news style that Americans understand and almost unconsciously discount, but it can be totally misinterpreted overseas. In any event, it gave the United States an enormous psychological warfare advantage in the Persian Gulf war, an advantage all the more sweet for being fortuitous.
As events were to dramatize, the notion that America was a paper tiger, fierce in appearance but toothless in reality, was (to use H. L. Mencken’s words) “neat, plausible… and wrong.” The reason it was wrong is what this book is all about.
Like its predecessor, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, this work is not intended as a history of the Persian Gulf war. It is not a day-to-day account of tactical operations or a recounting of strategic and operational events. It is rather a critical analysis of the war—critical not in the first sense of that word, “tending to find fault,” but in its second— “characterized by careful analysis and judgment.”
Using Clausewitzian theory and the classic principles of war, On Strategy II examines how the victory in the Persian Gulf was forged from the defeat in Vietnam. Among other things, it deflates some of the mythology surrounding the Vietnam war, examines the postwar renaissance in the military that passed almost unnoticed in the larger community, and looks at the doctrinal changes that radically transformed the American way of war by propelling it not so much into the future as by returning it to its conventional-war past.
The intent, as with the earlier work, is to provide a deeper appreciation of strategy and the art of war so that Americans can “know the instrument they mean to use” to provide for their security and protection in what continues to be a most dangerous and uncertain world.