Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf tells his war story



H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

with Peter Petre.

Linda Grey/Bantam Books.

530 pages. $25. Two months before he would launch the greatest U.S. military offensive since the Vietnam War, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf had, by his own recollection, worked himself up "into a ferocious state" while meeting with the 22 American generals and admirals under his command.

Standing before a huge map of Kuwait and Iraq, the bearish commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command outlined the battle plan for a U.S.-led attack against Iraqi forces and handed out combat assignments. "I needed every man in the room to embrace his mission and be breathing fire by the time he went out the door," he writes in his autobiography, "It Doesn't Take a Hero."

The battlefield objectives were simple: Attack the enemy's command and control system, seize control of the skies, cut off his supply lines and destroy his chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities.

"And finally, all you tankers, listen to this," General Schwarzkopf told the heads of armored units. "We need to destroy -- not attack, not damage, not surround -- I want you to destroy the Republican Guard. When you're done with them, I don't want them to be an effective fighting force anymore. I don't want them to exist as a military organization."

Any interested reader of this book -- an eagerly awaited, but ultimately disappointing work by one of the most remarkable commanders in U.S. military history -- will know the outcome. While superbly trained and well-equipped U.S. and allied forces achieved an important political goal by bringing Iraqi occupation of Kuwait to a decisive and violent end, they clearly fell short of their expressed military objectives.

Iraq's ruling elite survived a bombing campaign designed to "decapitate" the nation's command structure, even though Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was never a specific target. Scud missiles and other weapons of mass destruction were not discovered and destroyed until United Nations inspections got under way after the war. Elite Republican Guard units lived to fight another day, namely to crush a Shiite insurrection in southern Iraq and a Kurdish revolt in the north.

As hard as he tries to voice support for President Bush's decision to end the ground war after 100 hours, the general leaves open the question of what another 24 hours or more might have accomplished. He makes a persuasive case for not (( taking the war to Baghdad and expresses concern about threatening more U.S. casualties by fighting Mr. Hussein's army after "we'd kicked this guy's butt" in Kuwait.

Not a word of protest is uttered by the general to Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who tells him of Mr. Bush's desire to end the war ahead of schedule. General Schwarzkopf, who already had dispensed advice to his superiors in Washington before the war and spoken frankly to General Powell about problems in the field, responds obediently: "I don't have any problem with it."

What comes through elsewhere in this book is General Schwarzkopf's convincing self-portrayal as a skilled military tactician, a caring leader of troops and a sensitive diplomat, not only in the Persian Gulf war but also during two harrowing tours in Vietnam. But what undercuts this image are the instances when this self-confident military officer is unwilling to use his expert knowledge to challenge others when it really counts.

After becoming deputy commander of U.S. forces that invaded Grenada in 1983, he had "misgivings about whether we should be sending troops" to a country he couldn't even find on a map, General Schwarzkopf recalls. Mindful of bitter public divisions over the Vietnam War, he worried that the military might be entering another unpopular conflict, but "my job now was not to question the judgment of our leaders or the wisdom of our mission." He said a prayer instead.

When the commander of the operation suggested bombing the apparent headquarters of rebel forces on Grenada, he asked General Schwarzkopf for advice. Although privately worried about the target's proximity to civilians, the general recalls, "I was pleased he'd asked me -- he'd realized I was there to offer expertise. 'Bomb it,' I seconded him."

The bombing "wrecked a mental hospital next door that we hadn't known was there," he says, making no further mention of the incident or the civilian death toll.

Yet General Schwarzkopf also recalls how he broke protocol and corrected CIA Director William Webster at a Cabinet meeting before the gulf war. In 1970, as a battalion commander in Vietnam, he infuriated a commanding general by disputing an order that would unnecessarily risk the lives of his troops.

Why is this professional soldier compelled to speak out in some instances but not others? General Schwarzkopf, who generally steers clear of self-criticism in this book, doesn't offer a coherent explanation.

The book does deliver plenty of personal recollections about the general's childhood and his early years in the Army that help explain how he acquired a strong sense of adventure and an admirable respect for foreign cultures and customs. His portrait of his parents, an alcoholic mother and an often-absentee father whom young Norm revered, is moving but not overwrought.

There are vivid accounts of his tours in Vietnam, including a mission to locate Viet Cong missiles and launchers in the "Rocket Pocket" near Chu Lai that brings to mind the great "Scud hunt" of the gulf war.

Although he rails against body counts and U.S. arrogance in the context of both the Vietnam and gulf conflicts, General Schwarzkopf and his co-writer, Peter Petre, miss several chances to draw stronger, more compelling parallels between the two wars, including the general's anguish over friendly-fire lTC incidents and deadly mine-clearing operations.

Anyone looking for historical evidence about the gulf war will find much to complain about. Despite his behind-the-scenes look at battle planning and his command's sometimes strained relationship with policy-makers at the Pentagon, White House and National Security Council, the general teases the reader by withholding names of key players and more detailed accounts of important meetings and conversations.

He sheds no light on reported interservice rivalries -- especially between senior Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aviators -- inadequate intelligence on such key events as the bombing of the Baghdad command-post bomb shelter that sent U.S. military officials scrambling for credible explanations.

General Schwarzkopf also discloses fascinating excerpts of a personal log that he ordered his executive officer to compile every day, suggesting there's much he is holding back. Although he swears to interviewers he won't write about Operation Desert Storm again, a more comprehensive memoir about the gulf war and his history-making role waging it would be welcome.

Mr. Sia is defense correspondent of The Sun. He covered the gulf war from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

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