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Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

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A high-ranking general’s gripping insider account of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it all went wrong. Over a thirty-five-year career, Daniel Bolger rose through the army infantry to become a three-star general, commanding in both theaters of the U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. He participated in meetings with top-level military and civilian players, A high-ranking general’s gripping insider account of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it all went wrong. Over a thirty-five-year career, Daniel Bolger rose through the army infantry to become a three-star general, commanding in both theaters of the U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. He participated in meetings with top-level military and civilian players, where strategy was made and managed. At the same time, he regularly carried a rifle alongside rank-and-file soldiers in combat actions, unusual for a general. Now, as a witness to all levels of military command, Bolger offers a unique assessment of these wars, from 9/11 to the final withdrawal from the region. Writing with hard-won experience and unflinching honesty, Bolger makes the firm case that in Iraq and in Afghanistan, we lost — but we didn’t have to. Intelligence was garbled. Key decision makers were blinded by spreadsheets or theories. And, at the root of our failure, we never really understood our enemy. Why We Lost is a timely, forceful, and compulsively readable account of these wars from a fresh and authoritative perspective.


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A high-ranking general’s gripping insider account of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it all went wrong. Over a thirty-five-year career, Daniel Bolger rose through the army infantry to become a three-star general, commanding in both theaters of the U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. He participated in meetings with top-level military and civilian players, A high-ranking general’s gripping insider account of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it all went wrong. Over a thirty-five-year career, Daniel Bolger rose through the army infantry to become a three-star general, commanding in both theaters of the U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. He participated in meetings with top-level military and civilian players, where strategy was made and managed. At the same time, he regularly carried a rifle alongside rank-and-file soldiers in combat actions, unusual for a general. Now, as a witness to all levels of military command, Bolger offers a unique assessment of these wars, from 9/11 to the final withdrawal from the region. Writing with hard-won experience and unflinching honesty, Bolger makes the firm case that in Iraq and in Afghanistan, we lost — but we didn’t have to. Intelligence was garbled. Key decision makers were blinded by spreadsheets or theories. And, at the root of our failure, we never really understood our enemy. Why We Lost is a timely, forceful, and compulsively readable account of these wars from a fresh and authoritative perspective.

30 review for Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bob H

    This is a candid, heartfelt and perceptive a look at the US-led campaigns, 2001-2014, in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's not a spoiler to say that Gen. Bolger spells out how the two campaigns came to muddled ends. While his book doesn't have a fall-of-Saigon ending - and this book published before the full emergence of the Islamic state - it does mark the effective US departure from both wars, at least this time. The blame for this debacle, he says, is in the civilian leadership and generals, and he This is a candid, heartfelt and perceptive a look at the US-led campaigns, 2001-2014, in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's not a spoiler to say that Gen. Bolger spells out how the two campaigns came to muddled ends. While his book doesn't have a fall-of-Saigon ending - and this book published before the full emergence of the Islamic state - it does mark the effective US departure from both wars, at least this time. The blame for this debacle, he says, is in the civilian leadership and generals, and he counts himself among them. His narrative is a full-on, but terse, military history of both conflicts, post-9/11, and he includes background with the Soviet and British empires' experience there. His post-9/11 story is almost episodic: a series of tactical incidents that demonstrate, time and again, that US and coalition forces fought well, fought smart, adapted, in a neverending cycle of victory, withdrawal to base, return. The men and women fought superbly, he asserts, and their efforts weren't the reason for the ultimate end. He even demonstrates that coalition forces, including Iraqi army and Sunni militias, could be part of the successes, and tells us much about the Awakening ("sahwa") offensive by the latter in Iraq. He also tells of the personalities involved, the minor US and local tactical leaders, and of the generals - Abizaid, Casey, Odierno, among others, not to mention the charismatic and puzzling David Petraeus ("Malik Daoud," King David), a T.E. Lawrence figure in Gen. Bolger's telling, complete with his own book, Army Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency. It's a small but telling aside that Gen. Bolger mentions other Army doctrinal writing - the 1976, 1982 and 1993 editions of FM 100-5, Operations - which suggests both the Army's evolving tactics and also Gen. Bolger's inside knowledge. (He also references other literature of the region, Lawrence, Kipling (he quotes "when you're lying wounded on the Afghanistan plain" in Petraeus' context). One false note: Gen. Bolger's brusque dismissal of the Abu Ghraib affair, and his bald assertion that "the U.S. military did not torture anyone" there. He could have said more to back this up: for one thing, elsewhere in the book he mentions the Army's common use of staff field investigations under Army Regulation 15-6 to deal with incidents with civilians. Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's 15-6 accusatory report on Abu Ghraib is public record, but Gen. Bolger doesn't touch on it. (He also says little about "contractors", both at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in these wars, and their role does need examining). Gen. Bolger does talk, in other chapters, of civilians killed in encounters with US personnel, candidly enough, and his main point seems valid: that even the best-trained and -disciplined personnel might go rogue if driven too hard, for too long. His conclusions can be surprising: that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was just about destroyed by the end of 2001, and that, once invaded, a 2003 pullout in Iraq would have been disastrous enough. Still, he tells us that a stable, democratic republic in Mesopotamia was too "high-flown" a war objective, and that pacification of Afghanistan - a job the Soviet and British empires could not do - was ultimately in vain as well. So, Gen. Bolger's book still is worth a high recommendation. He tells us why, more than how, both campaigns ended in futility. He does tell us just how much of the combatants' courage, training, and suffering went into this, and it's worth absorbing by readers, and policy-makers, before the US attempts something like this again.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Clarke Wood

    This book started out with the intriguing statement that the author, a retired general, lost the war on terrorism, and his intent in writing the book is to explain the failures of America's military leadership, though he does admit that political leadership does deserve some of the blame. The books intent is supposedly then to discuss what went wrong in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem is, this book does nothing of the sort. The author provides a brief summary of recent middle easte This book started out with the intriguing statement that the author, a retired general, lost the war on terrorism, and his intent in writing the book is to explain the failures of America's military leadership, though he does admit that political leadership does deserve some of the blame. The books intent is supposedly then to discuss what went wrong in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem is, this book does nothing of the sort. The author provides a brief summary of recent middle eastern history with respect to Iraq, Al Qaeda, and Afghanistan, and then provides stories about specific units and US commanders in Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and the war on terror in Afghanistan. While it is conceivable there is some broader lessons to be derived from recounting the stories of valiant soldiers engaging in firefights and dodging improvised explosive devices, there certainly is no attempt to put these individual battles or operations into some sort of context, or anything related to the author's supposed purpose or thesis. After a long slog through unit after unit's experiences in one darned place after another, in the last chapter, the author finally tries to return to his original object. Here is a little stylistic hint one might have hoped his editor would have shared with him. When your book is essentially a historical interpretation, you do not write like a mystery novel, where the reader has to wait until the end to find out "who did it." As it happens, the last chapter kinds of reads like more of an awkward afterthought devoid of any earth shattering conclusions. Prior to getting to this, the author makes a lot of highly questionable assertions that would give any serious scholar of the conflicts pause, including: 1. Saddam Hussein had a working relationship with Al Qaeda 2. Iraq was working on weapons of mass destruction 3. Invading Iraq in 2003 was completely logical decision 4. General McChrystal lost his job because he was a political babe in the woods who could not conceive that inviting a reporter along while he and his entourage regularly and openly badmouthed the president, vice president, Ambassador to Afghanistan, as well as plenty of other lesser mortals may not have been a career enhancing move....... 5. General Petraeus's surge stabilized Iraq. To save others from the agony of reading the whole book to get to his underwhelming insights, allow me to summarize: 1. The US military is designed for short conventional conflicts. 2. Counterinsurgency campaigns are hard to win and are even harder to maintain over the long term. 3. US military leadership failed to present credible alternatives to what they ended up doing. Wow,it must have taken many nights coming up with these gems of knowledge. With recent history like this, the author could have explored a lot of different things, including: 1. Was invading Iraq actually a good idea if the goal was defeating Al Qaeda? 2. Is the concept of counter insurgency even valid, or is it a largely theoretical model? 3. Was a counter insurgency campaign in Afghanistan likely to work given some of the environmental constraints? 4. Assuming Iraq was stabilized, can the "surge" be credited for this? Sadly, this was not done. If we can agree that neither the Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns worked out as intended, then would it not make sense to first question some of the strategic assumptions that participants made, and then after exhausting all that, next you could drill down into the actual operational decisions, and then finally tactical ones? If this was done, the book would probably be a bit academic, but would be or more value than what we got, which is really nothing more than a bold introduction, a collection of anecdotal war stories, and some weak conclusions. I do not mean to slag on the author. Having read a few interviews, Mr. Bolger does come across as sincere and well intentioned, but this book misses by miles.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sud666

    What an interesting book. Having served a decade in the GWOT (Global War on Terror) both in Intelligence and Special Operations, this was a great opportunity to see the war from a big picture. Written by a 3-star General (Lt. General) it is a combination of history and political science book, though written as a history book. Full of stories of individual soldiers, this great book is important in that it shows for all the mistakes in both wars-very little of it was done at the Division-level or What an interesting book. Having served a decade in the GWOT (Global War on Terror) both in Intelligence and Special Operations, this was a great opportunity to see the war from a big picture. Written by a 3-star General (Lt. General) it is a combination of history and political science book, though written as a history book. Full of stories of individual soldiers, this great book is important in that it shows for all the mistakes in both wars-very little of it was done at the Division-level or lower. What I mean is that the warfighters did their mission. These brave and dedicated men and their commanders did the best they could. It was senior officers, the civilian command and corrupt/incompetent foreign "help" and a deeply disturbing, overly-sensationalist media that led to our "losing". The book is very fair in handing out the blame to senior commanders (4 Stars, Theater commanders, Joint Chiefs); the Civilian Authorities (both Presidents and their senior National Security staffs). The senior military criticisms comes with the caveat that they have to follow the orders of their civilian bosses, but still there were things they could have handled better. President Bush, deserves some blame for hubris and being inarticulate during the Iraq War-when a more engaged and direct, forceful message was needed. Not to mention once the opening phases of both wars were over-instead of going into long term development phases, we should have withdrawn and done containment operations. But he does get credit for the surge in Iraq. President Obama, the author factors in the fact he ran as an anti-war candidate, gets the blame for giving away everything that came out of the surge. In Afghanistan, Pres. Obama gets the blame for moronic rules of engagement and for really just winding down the engagement to the point where the men on the ground were just marking time. Overall- this was a great book. Fair, honest and judicious. If you want a fair book, not from some brainy academic type who has never set foot in these countries and certainly never heard a shot fired in anger- but rather from the horses mouth, this is the book for you. Explains much of what we did so right and points out the things we messed up. Hats off to a great book. Warning though, if you have rose-tinted glasses on about the duplicity and downright awfulness of the modern sensationalist media, you will not like this book since those little darlings in the media are pointedly mentioned in the awful messes they create- just for ratings and selling newspapers. When I was a graduate assistant I used to ask my undergraduates "What do you think the role of the media is?", most of the young, and well-intentioned students would respond with "inform the public of the news"..and I would always remind them that the true answer was "SELL the news and influence the average American". Nothing about that has changed with the reading of this book. It also does fairly blame a self-absorbed American civilian population that suffers from ADD and is addicted to thoughts that can be expressed in "140 characters or less". Reminds me of a sign I saw ,when I was in Iraq, hanging on a board at Marine HQ- "America is NOT at war. The Marines and the military are at war. America is at the mall." So, very true.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Scott Rhee

    Daniel P. Bolger is a retired Army lieutenant general. He has served for thirty-five years in the U.S. military with distinction, having served in positions of command in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a history professor at West Point. If anyone could articulate the reasons why we failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would most likely be him. Unfortunately, even after reading his fascinating if convoluted 436-page book “Why We Lost”, the answer is still not very clear. It may not be his fault, t Daniel P. Bolger is a retired Army lieutenant general. He has served for thirty-five years in the U.S. military with distinction, having served in positions of command in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a history professor at West Point. If anyone could articulate the reasons why we failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would most likely be him. Unfortunately, even after reading his fascinating if convoluted 436-page book “Why We Lost”, the answer is still not very clear. It may not be his fault, though. It may simply be because the book is mis-titled. It should be titled, "Why We Are Still Losing". He starts by blaming himself. Literally. His first line in the book: “I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on terrorism. (p. xiii)” It’s a bit harsh and probably unfair, but the point he is trying to make is well-made and valid: he and other military leaders didn’t have the wherewithal or gumption to convince the politicians that going to war in Iraq was a bad idea to begin with. Subsequently, their second mistake was being unable to convince the politicians that sticking around in both Afghanistan and Iraq after the initial occupation would inevitably create more problems than it tried to solve. It boiled down to hubris: “Despite the unmatched courage of those in U.S. uniform---including a good number of generals who led their people under fire---our generals did not stumble due to lack of intellect. Rather, we faltered due to a distinct lack of humility. Certain we knew best, confident our skilled troops would prevail, we persisted in a failed course for far too long and came up well short, to the detriment of our trusting countrymen. (p.431)” Bolger begins the story of the debacle with the success of the U.S.’s first endeavor in Iraq, Desert Storm, led by Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf. That extremely brief 1990-’91 win was, in Bolger’s assessment, a refreshing taste of victory for the U.S. military, after almost two decades of forgettable minor skirmishes and a country still reeling from Vietnam. The U.S. military needed that win, according to Bolger. We needed to feel great again. Unfortunately, a feeling of greatness is often accompanied with a feeling of self-righteousness. We got cocky. Then, 9/11 happened. There was that national sense that our mother just walked into our bedroom while we were masturbating. It was devastating. We had to save face. Afghanistan was justifiable. Unfortunately, we didn’t follow through, and then we decided to commit ourselves to another war in Iraq, which wasn’t exactly justifiable. Bolger writes about the failed search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the success of General David Petraeus, the infamous Rolling Stonearticle about Stanley McChrystal. He writes in detail about some key battles, detailed accounts based on interviews with soldiers on the ground. He admits that one of the main problems of both wars was that, as both wars progressed, it became obvious that we didn’t really know who the enemy was. Was it Al-Qaeda? Was it the Shiites? Was it the insurgents? Was it the entire Afghani and Iraqi population? Because, at some point, all of these groups became the enemy. As Bolger writes, “Every man shot by U.S. soldiers wore civilian clothes. If he had an AK-47, was he getting ready to shoot you or merely defending his family? If he was talking on a cell phone, was he tipping off the insurgency or setting off an IED, or was he phoning his wife? (p. 226)” For those of us who don’t wear the uniform, this helps to put into perspective the unbelievable daily stress of the soldiers on the ground. What it doesn’t help to clarify is why we stayed so long. Bolger’s book is, if anything, worth reading solely for the historical overview. It is a thoroughly researched, extremely well-written, and, at times, suspenseful story of war. It’s not a stretch to say that it is as riveting a read as any novel by Tom Clancy. But one never forgets that it isn’t a novel.

  5. 5 out of 5

    James

    LTG Bolger's review of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is disappointing. The title is a bait and switch--promising an examination of the strategic failures of these two wars but offering largely anecdotes of ground-level combat. The stories of the battles are told in greater depth and with more personal observation by those who actually fought them. Bolger commanded large organizations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and his reputation within the Army combined with this book's pre-publication med LTG Bolger's review of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is disappointing. The title is a bait and switch--promising an examination of the strategic failures of these two wars but offering largely anecdotes of ground-level combat. The stories of the battles are told in greater depth and with more personal observation by those who actually fought them. Bolger commanded large organizations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and his reputation within the Army combined with this book's pre-publication media blitz led me to hope for a serious insider discussion of the strategic choices that left us where we are today. Instead, Bolger offers, to the extent he has a thesis at all, a recapitulation of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine of quick, decisive force with a clear exit stategy. The prescription is appealing to those who experienced the euphoria of the quick, Gulf War "victory," but it fails to address our continued tendency to land in wars that do not fit neatly into our preconceptions. Bolger even acknowledges that the Gulf War "victory" was a strategic illusion. If so, then his preferred method of warfare failed to achieve its political ends. Bolger, like so many U.S. security pundits, does a great job of identifying the failures in our post-Cold War strategy without offering any real insight into how to do better. The U.S. today must deal with a frustrating paradox: we are the wealthiest country in the world and expend more resources on defense than the next 14-15 countries combined. All things being equal, we would expect to be superior in whatever military arena we choose to emphasize. This is an extremely effective strategy for deterring conventional threats from rival nation states. However, we cannot expect any adversary to challenge us in our arena of greatest strength. Developing overwhelming capability in conventional military operations will not eliminate opponents; it will drive our opponents to employ asymmetric techniques like flying IEDs and people’s war. The more effective the U.S. military is at conventional warfare, the less likely we are to engage in conventional warfare. Asymmetric means are very costly to our opponents, but a few will still be willing to employ them, particularly when their survival depends upon it. Despite our preparation and predilection for maneuver warfare, we have ended up confronting asymmetric threats in Vietnam, El Salvador, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philipines, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. We have been successful where opponents have failed to maximize their strengths against our weaknesses. We have largely failed where our opponents have proven resilient, persistent, and used safe havens. It is all well and good to say we should not engage in nation-building that might lead to counterinsurgency, but our repeated failure to heed that advice requires us to either embed it in our political process or rethink our strategy, doctrine, manning, and equipping. Modern conventional warfare requires few people and lots of expensive technology--largely due to choices the United States has made about equipping and training our forces. Our conventional forces are roughly equal or even greater in capability to the "special forces" fielded by other nations or by our own in the past. Even the United States cannot maintain both a very large military relative to our population and equip/train it to the levels we have come to expect. Superbly competent infantry have proven invaluable in tactical counterinsurgency just as superbly competent combined arms formations facilitated the rapid overthrow of Iraq. However, the size of our military, particularly the ground forces, has continually limited our reach and therefore our capability to control populations--the essential function of counterinsurgency. Manning a larger ground force at the current levels of training and equipping is prohibitively expensive in the absence of more significant threats than we currently face. We have two reasonable courses of action going forward, but each involves significant tradeoffs. We can continue on the current road of high-tech mastery. It will cost us a lot of money and leave us without an effective means to control foreign populations over long periods of time. If we build a national strategy around defending U.S. territory and vital national interests and leaving the rest of the world to muddle through their internal issues, this could work. It will frustrate those who do not differentiate between amounts of military power and types of military power. Recent history indicates we will continue using our superb hammer to drive screws with predictable results. We can taper off our addiction to high technology. Paradoxically, this may position us better for some future great power war. We could start day one with lots of room for growth and lots of R&D but few sunk costs. Currently, we have enormous sunk costs and had better hope that we bought the right stuff. We have not demonstrated much capability for adapting quickly after the shooting starts. With less money spent on hardware, and I would argue additional tapering on per-person personnel expenses, we could afford a larger military that would be perfectly adequate for defending U.S. territory and vital interests, provide adequate manpower to occupy other countries if necessary, and remain more connected to the civilian population. It would NOT deliver lightning fast and bloodless victories in future Desert Storms. We would pay in casualties to some extent because we would be fielding a military of adequately-equipped citizen soldiers rather than superbly equipped/trained operators. Ask the guys in the Huertgen Forest how that can turn out. LTG Bolger never really addresses the strategic paradox that put us in this position in the first place. If he is willing to stand up in the public square and loudly oppose future military operations to shape the world to our liking in the absence of existential or at least deadly serious threats, I will stand right there beside him. If not, then perhaps the problem lies not only in our decisions to fight such wars but in the institutional military's refusal to prepare for them. Here is one area of praise for the book. Bolger lays squarely on the general officer corps the responsibility for not arguing the case against the Iraq invasion and the Afghan nation-building. He essentially calls his fellow generals moral cowards as a group. Unfortunately, he undermines his own point by praising individually nearly every general he names. Only David Petraeus comes in for anything approaching personal attack. The other generals are all smarter than the press gave them credit for. They all see clearly (even though they see differently). When they fail it's because they were too trusting or too honest. He conspicuously avoids naming those generals who deserve particular and unmitigated condemnation. Likewise, Bolger finds admiration for some of the less savory characters of the wars. He praises COL Mike Steele and implies that he was treated unfairly. Bolger clearly loathes the rules of engagement imposed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but he completely fails to address the historical precedents--we tried unfettered strikes and high collateral damage in Vietnam. How did that work out? He acknowledges war crimes by various lower-ranking U.S. service members but either poo-poos them as mostly harmless shenanigans (Abu Ghraib) or emphasizes the tremendous pressures that must have led good-hearted American boys and girls to such lengths (Mahmudiah, Haditha). Why We Lost essentially argues that we lost because we played. Bolger praises the courageous efforts of American service members and junior to mid-grade leaders. He condemns the general officers as a body (though not individually). In the end, however, he offers no path forward. To the extent he hints at a prescription, it is one that has been tried and found wanting. The U.S. has become the indispensable nation. Too many political blocs within the U.S. are unwilling to simply accept a world that does not conform to our desires. Unless that culture changes in the near future, the military will have to build itself for the world in which it lives--not the world in which it would like to live. Incompetent and purely evil opponents will not line themselves up in countries with U.S. ally neighbors and offer to fight us mano-a-mano. The last guy who did that ended up on the end of a rope.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Marcus Fielding

    Daniel Bolger’s Why We Lost starts off as a bracing confessional: “I am a United States Army General, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism. It's like Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem. To wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.” Bolger places the blame for ‘why we lost’ not to any particular person or persons, decision or event but at the feet of U.S. generalshi Daniel Bolger’s Why We Lost starts off as a bracing confessional: “I am a United States Army General, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism. It's like Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem. To wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.” Bolger places the blame for ‘why we lost’ not to any particular person or persons, decision or event but at the feet of U.S. generalship - his peers. “Above tactical excellence yawned a howling waste”, Bolger laments. Typically such criticism comes from lower ranking officers or in time from historians. Bolger seems an unlikely source for such an assessment and I’m pretty sure that he didn’t secure an agreement on such a confession from all his general officer peers. Bolger served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 as the officer in charge of training the Iraqi army, and then from 2009 to 2010 as commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division. After that, from 2011 to 2013, he led the U.S.-NATO mission training the Afghan army and police. He holds a doctorate in history and has written several military histories. He speaks his mind, comparing himself to Gen. Joseph ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell of World War II fame, who was known for his coarse personality. Why We Lost is neither a memoir nor a window into high-level meetings and discussions. It is largely a casual open source history, U.S. centric and well-padded with heartfelt stories of erstwhile soldiers and Marines in firefights and other challenging circumstances. It does not, however, clearly identify the key reasons ‘why we lost’, or even establishes that ‘we’ have indeed ‘lost’ (vice having shortfalls in meeting the original objectives). Bolger’s honesty is refreshing but his prose at times reads like an exercise in introspection and venting personal frustration - something a psychologist would suggest a patient does to expunge demons. In measured doses, self-flagellation cleanses and clarifies but placing all the blame on America’s generals lets too many others off the hook. There is always a risk that professional military advice to politicians becomes ‘politicised’ or compromised to some degree; particularly in the more challenging circumstances involving insurgencies and nation-building as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is little doubt that both of these ‘projects’ required much more than just a military response. Perhaps Bolger should have asked “What is the U.S. and its allies seeking to achieve in the Middle East and to what extent can the military contribute to that enterprise?” Of course, that question is not for generals alone to answer. It rightly belongs to elected and appointed officials. Despite his thesis regarding a failure of generalship writ large, with a single exception, he describes the three- and four-star officers who have run those wars as “decent and well-meaning”; perhaps damning them with the absence of terms like intelligent, bold or courageous. That exception is David Petraeus, who Bolger clearly loathes. “Petraeus was all about Petraeus,” Bolger writes. He was a charter member of “the careerist self-promotion society that hung out near the military throne rooms.” “King David” excelled at selling - mostly himself, but also for a time the Iraq war. Toward that end, he assiduously cultivated journalists, academics and members of Congress, who spread his message “like docile carrier pigeons.” Bolger’s strategic case is that the U.S. military should have gotten out of Afghanistan and Iraq as quickly as possible after the combat-operations phases and never started down the road of counter-insurgency and nation-building. He believes that ‘we lost’ largely because our generals never argued vigorously for this course of action: “Over time, piece by piece, the generals recommended slogging onward, taking on two unlimited irregular conflicts.” I think in many respects this is exactly what did happen in Afghanistan with the draw down in 2002 and transition to NATO leadership, and I’m not convinced that this was a realistic course of action in Iraq circa 2004. Why We Lost weighs significantly into the ongoing debate over how the U.S. should wage war. Bolger wrestles with defining the nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both cases from the external interveners perspective there seems to have been a distinct combat operations phase to remove two governments, followed by a ‘post-combat/counter-insurgency/reconstruction/ stabilisation/nation-building’ phase. Within the second phase there have been insurgencies against the two new governments ‘playing host to an semi-imperial occupier’, as well as ‘civil wars’ between different ethnic and religious groups within both countries. Bolger recognises that this type of post-combat/ counter-insurgency/reconstruction/ stabilisation/nation-building actions are complex, difficult and expensive, and require a long-term commitment in support of a legitimate host-nation government. Bolger believes that given the circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq the objectives for this second phase were preordained to failure from the outset. He may be right, but such a judgement is much easier in hindsight. Bolger argues that the U.S. military is not designed or suited to post-combat/counter-insurgency/ reconstruction/ stabilisation/nation-building operations and should focus on short conventional combat operations against a clearly-defined enemy force. This is almost identical to the perspective in the U.S. military after the war in South Vietnam and which saw the organisation eschew military operations other than ‘real’ war for the better part of three decades. In a couple of instances Bolger seems to espouse the view that ‘we lost’ because not enough force was being applied - largely in response to complaints of civilian casualties from the Karzai government. “Many of the average Pashtuns...accepted that in a war, innocent people sometimes get killed. Afghans would never love the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), but they might well fear and respect the occupiers.” Here Bolger seems to revert, disturbingly, to a misplaced imperial or colonial mindset. Bolger’s language is sometimes too casual and his charges often unsubstantiated with evidence or examples. As the book goes on, the Vinegar Joe tone wears on the reader. Red Cross workers are “international do-gooders.” On President Obama, Bolger is unfair: “The thoughtful, deliberate U.S. president thoughtfully and deliberately condemned Americans in uniform to years of deadly, pointless counterinsurgency patrols.” On former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, he is simply offensive: “Karzai’s writ ran to the outskirts of Kabul...At least his obnoxious half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was no more, having been assassinated.” Bolger also repeatedly refers to Clausewitz’s friction and Sun Tzu’s dictums in an effort to explain the nature of the wars; but almost to the point of banality. In the early stages of Why We Lost Bolger states that the so-called Global War on Terror has ‘gone awry’ but the book focuses almost exclusively on the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other counter-terrorism actions around the world are only peripherally mentioned. While ‘victory’ has remained elusive in those military-centric actions, there has been more success in global coordination in the intelligence, finance, legal and policing (i.e. non-military) realms against terrorism. The recent re-intervention in Iraq and the conclusion of the ISAF combat operations in Afghanistan has given rise to a lot of questioning and soul-searching. Americans in particular are thinking afresh about the world and their place in it. As U.S and coalition military forces, including Australians, once again go to war in Iraq and stretch out their withdrawal from Afghanistan it is certainly worth thinking deeply about the nature of the wars we are participating in. Bolger’s book is an important one - a testament to the frustrations and complexities of more than a decade of war after 9/11, the end of which remains out of sight. But as Bolger himself admits, the young men and women who served at the sharp end will be far more able to process the lessons of these wars than his own generation. This book is worth reading and will hopefully help that generation begin this necessary and important process.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dachokie

    Best Examination/Explanation of Iraq and Afghanistan Conflicts to Date … This book was reviewed as part of Amazon's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the book. For a decade, the media has beaten the dead horses known as Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom to influence public and political opinion (nationally and globally). While the sickening habit of spewing the daily American body-count ironically ended when a new President presided over both wars (even though Americans were stil Best Examination/Explanation of Iraq and Afghanistan Conflicts to Date … This book was reviewed as part of Amazon's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the book. For a decade, the media has beaten the dead horses known as Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom to influence public and political opinion (nationally and globally). While the sickening habit of spewing the daily American body-count ironically ended when a new President presided over both wars (even though Americans were still dying), the slightest American misdeed in either theater surely found its way to being a headline in some form or another … a drum-beating reminder to Americans that we really screwed things up in the world. Regardless of how the media reports or spins news of the wars (your pick), it always seems to be in bits and pieces. Finally, after 10+ years, someone of authority has come forward and provided a cogent look at what really happened (good and bad) in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Retired Lt. General Daniel Bolger’s WHY WE LOST is arguably the best overall critique of the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan … from top to bottom. The cringe-worthy title of this book almost led me to avoid reading it … I wasn’t ready for a book solely aimed at hammering another negative nail in the US military’s decade-long two-theatre mission … more bits and pieces heaped on the ever-growing pile. For me, the saving grace was the author: a recently-retired 3-star general who earned a Combat Action Badge, three Bronze Stars (one with valor) and was actually on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. In other words, a person of authority likely to speak authoritatively, not politically. Any initial suspicions I had of reading a partisan perspective of these wars were erased from the start as I quickly found myself fully immersed in a much-needed lesson of misunderstood modern history, told in a candid manner that finally puts all those bits and pieces together. So what does Bolger do right? What he does is simply provide a straightforward, all-encompassing narrative of the US “War on Terror” from the bombing of USS Cole (2000) to mid-2014 … a time-frame that includes the devastation of 9/11 and the US response in Afghanistan and ultimately, Iraq. Surprisingly concise and rich with detail, I found it quite impressive that so much could be revealed in less than 500 pages, but Bolger deftly manages to do just that. Rather than an after-battle report from a commander’s perspective, the book provides a complete perspective of events, from the “boots-on-the-ground” all the way up to the Oval Office. Readers are taken on nerve-racking foot-patrols, traverse roads strewn with IEDs and feel the experience the ominous perspective of Americans fighting alongside “friendly” Iraqis and Afghans that may suddenly turn on them (so-called “green on blue” incidents). We see how directives being issued thousands of miles away in the climate-controlled confines of Washington impact those carrying the fight to the enemy. Conversely, we see how the political consequences of civilian deaths and occasional American immorality (actual and purported) led to more stringent rules of engagement and other restrictions that left troops more vulnerable. Overall, Bolger provides readers with a better understanding of how today’s wars are not only fought on the battlefields, but in the media and at the election booth. Gone are the days of troop divisions attempting to steamroll anything and everything in their paths (like Patton); the US fought its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under rigid constraints set forth by political reaction to media reports on events that were all-too-often crafted and exploited by the enemy (dead Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters wearing civilian clothing conveniently upped the tally of “innocents” being killed). As frustrating as it was to read about our men and women fighting on terms dictated by the enemy, it is easy to see how delicate/tricky it is to conduct military operations regions where the slightest “incidents” could destroy fragile alliances with supportive Iraqis and Afghans … leading to more dead Americans. As much as I initially disliked the book’s title, it honestly reflects Bolger’s take on how things panned out in Iraq and Afghanistan: we reacted to 9/11 and rightfully aimed to eradicate the perpetrators hiding-out in Afghanistan, but failed to manage our hubris and placed ourselves in an unwinnable situation. While the US military’s initial (successful) response to 9/11 garnered widespread support, the US suddenly found itself at war with an ambiguous enemy that could be anywhere and everywhere at any given moment. With the need to widen the scope of the original plan leading to a war with Iraq, the US placed itself in an open-ended, two-front conflict that seemed to have no definitive goals … a war of attrition that pitted an impatient, casualty-sensitive America against cunning enemies with no time (or ethical) limitations. Bolger does a wonderful job illustrating the good, bad and the ugly of what went down in Iraq and Afghanistan and holds no punches when assigning (or accepting) blame. While there is plenty of “good” painted throughout the book (mostly, the professionalism, capability, ingenuity and resolve exhibited by American men and women carrying out the missions), the “bad” and “ugly” certainly stain the canvas (Abu Ghraib and other incidents) No stone is left unturned in WHY WE LOST, Bolger provides a thorough account of all significant events (large and small) and candidly details all the “players” involved and the overall effect they had on the “big picture”. The presentation of the material leads to a smooth and addictive read that is politically neutral and never boring. As I surely did, most readers will find WHY WE LOST a valuable educational resource that consolidates all the piecemeal books and articles that focus on more singular events. Bolger’s ability to weave detailed stories of small unit combat assists in clarifying the overall narrative and makes it personal by specifically naming those fighting and dying in the unit actions described. I found myself shaking my head in frustration throughout reading the book as bit-by-bit it became sadly evident why Bolger opted for the blunt book title. While the US learned hard lessons and gained extremely valuable experience in how to fight modern wars against an enigmatic foe, we failed again to understand or factor the history of the places we opted to fight and more importantly, we underestimated the resolve, capability and culture of those we chose to fight against. US military might combined with GI ingenuity and professionalism led to overwhelming battlefield success at every turn. But, like Vietnam, strategic blundering not only negated the victories on the battlefield but sacrificed American lives for an ever-evolving mission with no apparent end.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An overview from the First Gulf War to the Second with Afghanistan to boot. I found myself recognizing many of the names and the places, especially those around the Fallujah and Ramadi areas circa 2006-2007. Recognition made this subject even more interesting on my part. The author discusses the pros and cons of the first Gulf War. The fantastic redemption of American military arms after the loss of Vietnam. A 100 hr campaign that ended in a successful termination of hostilities and images of th An overview from the First Gulf War to the Second with Afghanistan to boot. I found myself recognizing many of the names and the places, especially those around the Fallujah and Ramadi areas circa 2006-2007. Recognition made this subject even more interesting on my part. The author discusses the pros and cons of the first Gulf War. The fantastic redemption of American military arms after the loss of Vietnam. A 100 hr campaign that ended in a successful termination of hostilities and images of the burnt out Iraqi column on the Highway of Death. I still remember burnt out tanks and blown apart bunkers in Kuwait. Or was it a victory? Shiites who rose up again were slaughtered when we allowed the Iraqi Army the use of their helicopters. They paid us back in Sadr City. Also the Iraqi's were so kind to oblige us with the exposure of their divisions and fixed positions. Our airpower made short work of the Iraqi army so thankfully exposed to our airstrikes and TLAM missile shots. Later we invade Afghanistan with a perfect Blitzkrieg that would make Rommel proud. Except this isn't what we want. We did it but lost interest. Al Qaeda was knocked out. But we gained a new enemy, the Taliban. These Taliban were the same people we armed during their war with the Russians. Iraq became a new shiny object. We were overzealous due to our quick victory and moved on. We turned over Afghanistan to NATO and went off to Iraq. The knockouts continued. Saddam's armies crumbled under the lightning strikes. The Iraqi Air Force never even took off. Baghdad was ours in a matter of weeks. Yet again, visions of the future emanated. Fedayeen (civilian irregulars) put up more of a fight than the regular Iraqi army. Later we dismissed the Sunni Baathists and Army and the Shia filled the void. The Sunni insurgency was born and Zarqawi's AQI became a menace. The Golden Mosque was bombed and now we had a sectarian civil war. Iraq bogged us down while slowly the Taliban recovered. Iraq and Afghanistan became slugging insurgencies similar to Algeria, Vietnam, and other worse places. How did we let ourselves get wrapped back up in guerrilla wars...remember we swore we would not do that again. Hubris. We got cocky. We thought we could pull it off...meaning the US fighting men and women could do it. Just like they always do. In this case we could not. We had to leave and hope for the best. ISIS, Taliban, Iran resurgent, who knows where it will end up. A good book for a long weekend. Enjoy.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John Rose

    Great book Great book well written nicely done outline of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Hope we learned the lessons from these wars of counterinsurgency and avoid them in future

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cptmorgan03

    Fun Read, Ultimately Unsatisfying. LTG Bolger successfully recounts over fifteen years of warfare against the back drop of the simple question of “who were we fighting.” This question was used as a rhetorical tool as he skillfully moves the reader through the strategic, operational, and tactical narratives of war. His chapters were brought to life through gripping accounts of combat from small neighborhoods in Baghdad to provincial towns in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this is where the preponder Fun Read, Ultimately Unsatisfying. LTG Bolger successfully recounts over fifteen years of warfare against the back drop of the simple question of “who were we fighting.” This question was used as a rhetorical tool as he skillfully moves the reader through the strategic, operational, and tactical narratives of war. His chapters were brought to life through gripping accounts of combat from small neighborhoods in Baghdad to provincial towns in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this is where the preponderance of the book stayed. Thankfully the artistry in which he combines the narrative from the strategic to the tactical makes this book a must read as a survey for the two wars. However, his opening gambit of blaming himself for the failures (or muddled endings) of two wars, is left to never be truly explored. The final chapter comes way too late to answer why we lost, or to even answer “who were we fighting.” LTG Bolger was an exceptional leader—from personal experiences. He was/is known as incredibly insightful and brilliant with regards to strategic appreciation, it is unfortunate that the reader does not get to see these capabilities in his analysis.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Wilkin Beall

    I was hoping to come away with more understanding about who the enemy was. I think the disappointment that I did not is my chief complaint with this book. The author simply does not ask the right questions. It's really unclear if he has asked any questions at all. The book is mainly a recounting of various incidents of individual firefights in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The overall architects of the counterinsurgencies are named and and described in terms of their personal histories and perhaps I was hoping to come away with more understanding about who the enemy was. I think the disappointment that I did not is my chief complaint with this book. The author simply does not ask the right questions. It's really unclear if he has asked any questions at all. The book is mainly a recounting of various incidents of individual firefights in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The overall architects of the counterinsurgencies are named and and described in terms of their personal histories and perhaps how well they relate to one another but their policies are glossed over and I think ultimately misunderstood by author. He acknowledges that there are policies but to have them discussed in any probative manner you will need to look elsewhere. It never seems to occur to this author to discuss the motives of the enemies, the various religious and ideological sects, and I do not think this ever interested him at all. They are simply 'the other' whose culture informs their actions and beliefs but those cultures are left unstudied. Why, for example, are the insurgents who are relatively untrained and unsupported compared to America's friendlies, the national forces of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Maliki in Iraq, so much more effective and committed and why does it seem without American support the insurgents would have no trouble at all pushing them aside. Why are the Afghan and Iraqi police and army units such bumbling incompetents and need so much support from the US while the enemy seem to do so well without it? Are these people not drawn from the same villages and towns and from the same cultures? This question is never asked much less answered? Who are the enemy? What makes them different from their neighbors who support the corrupt regimes propped up by our own government? By this I do not mean simply that the Shia are opposed to the Sunni and Pashtun opposed to the members of the Northern Alliance. I mean why does America always align themselves with the most corrupt and incompetent of whatever conflict they happen upon. Answering this question might really shed some light upon ourselves as well as the conflict. The answer may well be extremely inconvenient and is probably far more logical than we would like to imagine. In the end the reader comes away with a certain understanding of what a soldier's experience might have been serving in both of these war zones though that kind of thing has been done better by many other writers. The real understanding of how guerilla warfare works and why it is so very difficult to contend with is missing. The book is over 400 pages and is only indicative of the seemingly limited mindset of the soldiers who were charged in fighting these wars. Surely they cannot have been as unimaginative as this book implies if one is to extrapolate the abilities of those fighting the insurgents from their brother officer who has written this book. I think that is what disturbs me the most. Was the American officer class simply not properly trained to comprehend the wars they needed to fight or does this particular author not have the perception to describe the actual processes they used to develop their strategies? I hope it is the latter. It is not easy to write a good book and this book is evidence of that. I do not believe that American policy makers are all idiots but that is the impression one comes away with after reading this book. They deserve a better apologist than this one. Nation building does seem like an idiotic, quixotic, naive concept. Someone should address it but it is barely mentioned in this book. In the end we take what we get in its pages. It's unfair to criticize a book for not being the one the reader would have preferred to have read. But even taken for what it is, Why We Lost is an uninspiring read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    “Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars” by Daniel P. Bolger (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Eamon Dolan Books, 2014) was a fine narrative of the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the title was more provocative than the telling. Three-star general Daniel Bolger (Ret.) is a writer of the first rank, well-spoken and well-read…besides The Citadel he is an alumnus of the University of Chicago graduate school with both a M.A. in Russian history and a Ph.D. i “Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars” by Daniel P. Bolger (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Eamon Dolan Books, 2014) was a fine narrative of the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the title was more provocative than the telling. Three-star general Daniel Bolger (Ret.) is a writer of the first rank, well-spoken and well-read…besides The Citadel he is an alumnus of the University of Chicago graduate school with both a M.A. in Russian history and a Ph.D. in military history. Yet, his tale of these wars against terrorism doesn’t read like an academic tome…it is very approachable for the non-military reader. Bolger’s thesis is that the major decisions “made, delayed, or avoided” by American civilian and military leadership during the wars directly led to the unsatisfying result in both theaters. His narrative begins with the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, and brings the battle forward to our invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and then Iraq in 2003, followed with our decade of involvement. In his view the Global War on Terrorism did not start on 9/11 but back in the early 1990s, making it more-appropriately a 25-year war. While the title implied the author was going to point out the errors we made, the book lays out more like a survey of all the things we did. For someone looking for a detailed timeline of how we got involved, what we did each step of the way, and how we eventually withdrew our forces…this is your book. But it isn’t an account of Why We Lost. Bolger does mention some errors on the part of American generalship, singling out David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal for a wedge of gentle disparagement, but the book is not an expose of the military leadership and its failures. The author digresses from his storyline often to educate and give perspective, which for some might be a distraction but for me was very helpful and really fleshed out the details. The author mentions but never details his role other than to refer to himself as “lower down on the food chain. Despite these small nits, this book was an enjoyable read on the Global War on Terrorism. While many of us have been aware of the ups and downs of the wars over the last 25 years and have followed the storyline in the newspapers, here in a single book one has all the details assembled in one easy-to-grasp and entertaining volume. Recommended, especially for those that enjoy military history.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Steve Kohn

    I'm going back to the summarizing Epilogue to search again for a simple sentence or two explaining "why we lost." It didn't jump out at me the first time, and it didn't the second. Was it that our most senior officers set and executed bad strategy? Was it that the Iraqi and American political leadership didn't give our military a free hand? Was it that we didn't think through the costs in blood and treasure of nation building? All of that is suggested in the book. Is it my reading ability failing I'm going back to the summarizing Epilogue to search again for a simple sentence or two explaining "why we lost." It didn't jump out at me the first time, and it didn't the second. Was it that our most senior officers set and executed bad strategy? Was it that the Iraqi and American political leadership didn't give our military a free hand? Was it that we didn't think through the costs in blood and treasure of nation building? All of that is suggested in the book. Is it my reading ability failing me, but why didn't the author spell it out? He's a fine writer, evidenced by this book and his superb Army Magazine essays and reviews. A very capable writer, he would have had little trouble making himself clear. I was looking for just one paragraph that started with "We failed because..." and then a list of reasons given. Never found it. Still, we'll benefit from reading "Why We Lost" even if, as I believe, the author pulled his punches. Granted that I lack General Bolger's experience and intelligence, but here are my attempts to answer why we "lost." Among other things: -- great field commanders like LTC Nate Sassaman were not sufficiently supported, were in fact fired; -- we had idealistic notions (epitomized by LTG McChrystal's rules of engagement in Afghanistan, by the disbanding of the Iraqi military by Paul Bremer, by the willful ignorance of the millennia-long enmity between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq and the role of the Pashtuns in AFG) that we could gain the love of the local population; -- NCOs and junior grade officers failed to control the "Field Grade Privates" at Abu Ghraib, causing us indelible harm with the Muslim world (shame being a cancer hard to remove); -- most of all, to have the hubris to think we could or should rebuild nations that were still ruled by tribe, clan and family. Powell was wrong with his "If you break it, you own it." Sounded good, but was neither true nor doable. I propose "Break it if you have to, then let those who are more capable fix it." Our thousands who died, the many more maimed physically and mentally, are owed, at the very least, that we will never make these mistakes again. I wish General Bolger had stated the mistakes clearly enough so that we never will.

  14. 4 out of 5

    SpaceBear

    Bolger's book is definitely an interesting one, even though the title is a bit misleading. This book is a blow-by-blow account of the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing interesting historical perspective from the moment of each invasion through the different strategies that were tried over the successive years. This is a completely American book; the author makes no attempt to really get inside the heads of anyone other than the US military leadership. This doesn't discredit the bo Bolger's book is definitely an interesting one, even though the title is a bit misleading. This book is a blow-by-blow account of the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing interesting historical perspective from the moment of each invasion through the different strategies that were tried over the successive years. This is a completely American book; the author makes no attempt to really get inside the heads of anyone other than the US military leadership. This doesn't discredit the book, that in of itself is an interesting view, but the book operates on the assumption that American wars are justified and American fighting forces are without match either in morality or fighting ability. As such, all his conclusions are a little thin and often show a stunning lack of understanding of all groups other than the US military. One other small complaint; this is certainly not an analysis of why the wars were lost, but is a historical description of the wars themselves. There is a very short discussion in the end about what could/should have been done, but this is not the central focus of the book. This book is successful, however, in presenting the American military's changing views on the two wars.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    An apologetic masquerading as an analysis. Too much heavy lifting was left to the epilogue with the balance dominated by small unit actions. The author should have dropped the Desert Fox chapter for more decision making at the top level. There were snarky asides about journalists and Washington insiders but no real development of these arguments (the author may be right, but he did little to prove it). The book was also missing a number of matters that dominated headlines - Abu Ghraib got short An apologetic masquerading as an analysis. Too much heavy lifting was left to the epilogue with the balance dominated by small unit actions. The author should have dropped the Desert Fox chapter for more decision making at the top level. There were snarky asides about journalists and Washington insiders but no real development of these arguments (the author may be right, but he did little to prove it). The book was also missing a number of matters that dominated headlines - Abu Ghraib got short shrift, very little on the handing over of prisoners to local forces, nothing on Tillman, nor on private contractors filling in military roles, and the author excluded a number of setbacks such as Operation Red Wings. I also did find it interesting that the author fired shots at General McMaster without any acknowledgement of the latter's book on the military's involvement in the Vietnam war, a virtual parent of this book. The author writes well, but the title and introduction was very misleading, so I am judging him on whether he made out his argument on why "we" lost properly. He didn't.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jason Anthony

    After considering two Iraq/Afghanistan novels among the best of the past few years (Redeployment; Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk), I wanted to return back to a non-fiction telling of how the wars actually transpired. In this, the title made me think that General Bolger was going to give an insider's take on what happened and offer an opinion outside of the establishment. Instead, I got a very boring history book that rips away the drama and major events of the battles and instead focuses on the After considering two Iraq/Afghanistan novels among the best of the past few years (Redeployment; Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk), I wanted to return back to a non-fiction telling of how the wars actually transpired. In this, the title made me think that General Bolger was going to give an insider's take on what happened and offer an opinion outside of the establishment. Instead, I got a very boring history book that rips away the drama and major events of the battles and instead focuses on the minutiae (such as long lists of countries involved) when what those countries DID and what he thought of the actions would have been far better. I did learn a few things, which is why I kept reading, but this was not enjoyable nor was it well-written. I would recommend finding another book instead!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Scott

    Highly recommend this book to take a long look back at where we've been. Things that went right and things that went wrong. Had a few laughs along the way. Bolger has an approachable style and a clear knack for using storytelling to talk about a subject that matters. Highly recommend this book to take a long look back at where we've been. Things that went right and things that went wrong. Had a few laughs along the way. Bolger has an approachable style and a clear knack for using storytelling to talk about a subject that matters.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Thomas D. Towle

    An honest appraisal of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. A good read. Might be a little tedious for those not familiar with military operations. I enjoyed the detail of some of the individual engagements.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hartungt

    For military history buffs this is a must read. Bolger doesn’t deliver an enumerated post-mortem dryly recounting the myriad mistakes made in the pursuit of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather, he embeds reams of facts within the framework of war stories that emphasize the individuals and their contributions to the war effort. Bolger is a first rate story teller but he is also a meticulous researcher. He is also wonderfully balanced and nuanced in his analysis. No political axe grinder, he For military history buffs this is a must read. Bolger doesn’t deliver an enumerated post-mortem dryly recounting the myriad mistakes made in the pursuit of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather, he embeds reams of facts within the framework of war stories that emphasize the individuals and their contributions to the war effort. Bolger is a first rate story teller but he is also a meticulous researcher. He is also wonderfully balanced and nuanced in his analysis. No political axe grinder, he lays out the almost inevitable failure of our highly intelligent and educated command structure both military and civilian. Mixing in quotes ranging from Sun Tzu to Jimi Hendrix, relying on the teachings of Clausewitz and Mao, Bolger demonstrates how repeated tactical success can still lead to strategic failure. Not interested in the traditional sport of scapegoating, he paints portraits of the principal actors that show both the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals, the complexity and contrariness of the human condition, the competing priorities that are sometimes in contradiction and damned cussedness of trying to plan a huge undertaking like war and things going awry from jump. Bolger does display one understandable bias, he is pro-soldier, rightfully so IMHO, and he gives his comrades their due and highlights the heroism of the coalition forces particularly the USA. He doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant actions of the few and he presents the unvarnished stories of abuses and criminal acts. He does put these aberrations, and they were aberrations, into a context that explains them but does not excuse them. This Commander insists on exceedingly high standards of conduct for his troops. The military has its own special language and the jargon is used both to unite and divide. If you don’t know the lingo, you are not part of the club. Bolger uses this language like a Twain to add color and spice to his stories but he fully explains the terms or expressions in plain language so this work is accessible to all. You don’t have to be a member of the Armed Services to understand and enjoy this book. If there is weakness in his presentation it is a very minor and personal one. The Army S/G command structure is indirectly referenced but not explicitly explained. While S/G 2 and 3 get their due ( they earned it) and S/G 1 gets some props for the personnel policies, I would have liked to see the other S/G departments get a little love particularly the S/G 4 and 6. You can’t fight a war without stuff and information and the 4s & 6s of the Army were an integral part of the team and this was the ultimate team effort. Again, a minor deficiency. Bolger may have earned three stars while in the Army but he has earned five stars for this highly entertaining and informative book,

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Murphy

    Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by Daniel Bolger is a book that I had not expected, but one that I am glad that I read. Bolger has a great amount of respect for the men and women who were engaged in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and believes the heart of the reason why we lost was that our initial priorities were changed. The initial takedown of Saddam and the early operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban and AQ were masterful successes, but the ha Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by Daniel Bolger is a book that I had not expected, but one that I am glad that I read. Bolger has a great amount of respect for the men and women who were engaged in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and believes the heart of the reason why we lost was that our initial priorities were changed. The initial takedown of Saddam and the early operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban and AQ were masterful successes, but the handling of both wars following this - with a mixture of bad leadership, bad policy, and bad direction from the highest levels - resulted in failures. At one point, Bolger praises the decision to conduct the surge in Afghanistan, but then cuts it off at its knees saying that it would have been better to announce ten thousand troops would stay for decades than to send announce a large surge that would end in a very short time window. While we could win forever wars, it required that we were willing to be there forever, and it was clear that we never were going to make it to that point. Once it became clear that we would leave, all our adversaries had to do was wait us out - however painful that was. Bolger also comments on our allies and local partners, calling them ungrateful, and he does raise several interesting points about it. At the same time, this book has some downsides. Namely, it is an internal military account. Praise is given extensively for certain figures and for the armed services as such, but a healthy dose of criticism gets placed elsewhere. Whether it be leadership, allies, or even the press, the point seems to be that it is not the military that failed to win the war, but that it was being misused. Once it was clear that we were going to leave, we should have left and not wasted more of our soldiers lives. Instead we persisted, waiting for something to change, when nothing was going to change. Fighting to fight just so that defeat is temporarily staved off is not a recipe for success. If this was going to be a temporary war, then we should have already been gone. In fact, our success was immediate. It's everything that came after that screwed things up. ...and I'm not sure how I feel about that argument. Perhaps it's right. But maybe its not. Bolger spends most of the book as a narrative, and only gets into the explicit reasons at the very end. Other arguments for failure don't enter into this, and while its a general's inside account, Bolger doesn't really appear in this text outside of the role of editorial curator of the text. So I'm a little uneasy trusting this book. Still, I recommend it. Its part well-written and reasoned apologia and part insightful commentary. 86/100

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter Corrigan

    Could easily have gone 4.5 stars. This is an outstanding account of the GWOT (Iraq-Afghanistan, 2001-2014) that will leave you saddened and not very hopeful, given that we are STILL there! Not sure how much of an 'inside' account this really is as you hear very little (none?) about General Bolger's own experience in these wars. It is more of a standard history from a guy who knows or knows of the main players. As a general himself, his description and assessment of the various generals is excell Could easily have gone 4.5 stars. This is an outstanding account of the GWOT (Iraq-Afghanistan, 2001-2014) that will leave you saddened and not very hopeful, given that we are STILL there! Not sure how much of an 'inside' account this really is as you hear very little (none?) about General Bolger's own experience in these wars. It is more of a standard history from a guy who knows or knows of the main players. As a general himself, his description and assessment of the various generals is excellent with lots of insight into their strengths and weaknesses (that is the 'inside' part I suppose). He is also very good in describing various small unit actions, the equipment used and the formations involved but the larger strategy is remains somewhat opaque and probably for good reason. There wasn't and still isn't much of one (in what remains in Afghanistan anyway). The small unit actions are unaccompanied by any maps which is a bit of a surprise in a military book and no order of battle is presented. These are fairly minor shortcomings in what is very valuable resource. He repeatedly asks the key question: Who is the enemy? And with no real answer from our leadership the ability to 'win' was made almost impossible from the start. The insane lawyerly restrictions on U.S. use of firepower implemented later in Afghanistan even to defend our own forces will make your blood boil. If as a nation you ever find yourself fighting a war under these type of restrictions (literally 14 questions to be asked before, during and after a 'use of force') then you know it is game over and you might as well go home. American politicians and generals who acceded to such restrictions have a lot to answer for to the families of servicemen who died as a result. Force protection may not be the #1 goal but it is still a moral responsibility. The Taliban became complete experts at using our own restraint to improve their chances of winning, because they actually want to win and we could barely define 'winning'. At the end of the long day I suppose the Afghans must decide: 7th century Islam or something different. I was pleased he recognized T.R. Fehrenbach's master work on Korea: 'This Kind of War' in the acknowledgements, one of the best military histories I have read. This fine book is a worthy entry in that tradition.

  22. 4 out of 5

    E.

    At first I was a bit hesitant about picking up this book, essentially an inside baseball account of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from a retired three-star general, LTG Daniel Bolger. I was concerned that I would either get one of two opinions: 1) a retired general that got passed over for his fourth-star and therefore angry, or 2) an apologist for his caste/military. After reading it through, I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how even keel he was, and the amount of depth and At first I was a bit hesitant about picking up this book, essentially an inside baseball account of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from a retired three-star general, LTG Daniel Bolger. I was concerned that I would either get one of two opinions: 1) a retired general that got passed over for his fourth-star and therefore angry, or 2) an apologist for his caste/military. After reading it through, I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how even keel he was, and the amount of depth and insight he conveyed in the book. The book spent all but one chapter recounting not just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also 9/11, the USS Cole attack, and others, and throughout the chapters LTG Bolger sprinkled in his thoughts and commentaries about the events as they transpired. The last chapter of the book essentially draws together all the anecdotes throughout the book and represented his case for why we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan: that the civilian and military leadership had essentially bungled the whole sordid affair. Diving deeper into the book, I definitely enjoyed the superb mix of stories at the strategic level as well as the tactical level. It seems like for every one section about how a general officer or the President decided on the war, LTG Bolger was able to connect those decisions to the boots on the ground. Fascinating accounts through and through. In short, this is a well thought out, measured analysis of the two wars, and one I believe many people will enjoy and learn much about. If there is one thing I wish this book had included, it would have been the rise of ISIS and the events past 2014. But as a contemporary account of the wars, this one is well worth your time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    W Lewis

    A very interesting account of the United States' wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001-2014. General Bolger does a good job of juxtaposing ground-level accounts of small unit actions with more big picture discussions of the generals and the strategies. General Bolger does not pull any punches. He gives his fellow generals the credit, and the blame, they deserve for their decisions (both good and bad). The question he repeatedly asks, and the question for which we still have no definitive answer A very interesting account of the United States' wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001-2014. General Bolger does a good job of juxtaposing ground-level accounts of small unit actions with more big picture discussions of the generals and the strategies. General Bolger does not pull any punches. He gives his fellow generals the credit, and the blame, they deserve for their decisions (both good and bad). The question he repeatedly asks, and the question for which we still have no definitive answer, is "Who is the enemy?" I have two minor criticisms. First, General Bolger focuses on the decisions made by the military leaders. This is totally understandable, since that is the land where he lived and breathed. This comes, however, at the expense of the political side of the equation. Ultimately, the responsibility for the outcomes of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan through the period covered by the book lies with Presidents Bush and Obama. The book provides only passing references to the political side. Again, this is totally understandable. Second, the final two chapters of the book seem a bit rushed. There seemed to be less focus on the big-[icture strategic decisions, and more on "boots on the ground" anecdotes. It seemed to me that General Bolger ran out of time and needed to get the manuscript to the publixher. Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of how the U.S. got entangled in these two conflicts, or wants to begin to understand how difficult is has been to get out of them. It would be interesting to see a companion piece detailing what has happened since 2014.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Danny Reid

    Both sobering and a bit of a disappointment, Bolger spends most of the book drawing attention to firefights and battles that were often shunted to the back pages of the newspaper in the US. While this is illustrative of what kind of wars America faced, it shows the author as being kind of clumsy in switching between the macro and the micro views of the two wars he passes judgement on. What the book does do, besides providing sobering judgements of systemic issues in both wars, is to reveal some Both sobering and a bit of a disappointment, Bolger spends most of the book drawing attention to firefights and battles that were often shunted to the back pages of the newspaper in the US. While this is illustrative of what kind of wars America faced, it shows the author as being kind of clumsy in switching between the macro and the micro views of the two wars he passes judgement on. What the book does do, besides providing sobering judgements of systemic issues in both wars, is to reveal some of the inside ball that consumes the upper military hierarchy. The book serves as a great comment on the profession, while striving to codify the mostly-disastrous wars into their narratives-- failures, yes, but from a lack of imagination and courage rather than bravery or idealism. We didn't expect the wars, we adjusted to their needs, and what we got in both may still be best case scenarios for results. Hopefully these wars trigger more introspection among Americans and hahahaha sorry couldn't keep a straight face there. Next time, wherever it is, it's going to be just as ugly if not worse.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Richard Croner

    I really can't add anything to the comments previously published. The book is well researched and well written. General Bolgers' perspective regarding the war(s) is insightful due to the first hand observations and his research but, definitely, influenced by personal opinion. It is definitely worth reading. I really can't add anything to the comments previously published. The book is well researched and well written. General Bolgers' perspective regarding the war(s) is insightful due to the first hand observations and his research but, definitely, influenced by personal opinion. It is definitely worth reading.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Cavanaugh

    A piercing look at the US campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that argues that the US failure in both countries was largely due to the reticence of senior uniformed officers to plainly tell the political leadership what was required to win a long-term insurgency or how to avoid getting sucked into one in the first place.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Hunter

    this book made me interesting in the ME, and its working, it has led me to believe that since Vietnam we havent had a very good policy in place to make goals or an overall strategy for our military ventures. We go in, kill some people, and our military gets plagued by mission creep, and a commander in chief who doesn't quite know what to do. this book made me interesting in the ME, and its working, it has led me to believe that since Vietnam we havent had a very good policy in place to make goals or an overall strategy for our military ventures. We go in, kill some people, and our military gets plagued by mission creep, and a commander in chief who doesn't quite know what to do.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Feng Ouyang

    The topic is very interesting. I wanted to know what we can learn from the longest wars in US history. However, I stopped reading after the first chapter, because I don’t think this book provides an unbiased account. It reads more like a personal vent, which I am not interested in.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Lynn

    A candid insight into operational level successes and failings in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The chest beating US military ‘hero narrative’ the author used to describe some of the tactical level engagements irked me and detracted from an otherwise insightful and enjoyable read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Maziar Minovi

    Action scene should be left to the ghost of tom Clancy but insightful descriptions of the generals. Let's just say Petreaus will not be coming over for a beer... Action scene should be left to the ghost of tom Clancy but insightful descriptions of the generals. Let's just say Petreaus will not be coming over for a beer...

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