October 23, 2004 | New York Post

Review of Inside Centcom: The Unvarnished Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

By: Andrew Apostolou.

Michael DeLong's memoir of his three years as deputy commander of Central Command (CentCom) is fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating, because CentCom ran the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, putting DeLong in the thick of events. Frustrating, because this memoir is too brief.

Unlike Bob Woodward, who fires vast, ill-focused barrages, DeLong writes briskly and pointedly.

DeLong firmly rejects that the Iraq war jeopardized the War on Terror. No resources were taken away from counterterrorism. Indeed, the United States began a major operation in Afghanistan on the same day it launched the liberation of Iraq. DeLong's argument is all the more compelling because of his hard work forming the Afghanistan and Iraq coalitions.

There was never a dull moment working for CentCom commander Gen. Tommy Franks. While his Marine predecessor, Gen. Tony Zinni, was a charmer but a lone decision-maker (and wrote the introduction to this book), Franks was a solitary character. Though slow to trust others, Franks was able to delegate, encourage teamwork and share decision-making.

DeLong offers interesting, if understated, revelations. He denies Woodward's claim that Franks was taken aback when asked about Iraq war plans in late 2001. DeLong argues that CentCom had long viewed Saddam as a threat. The Iraq plan, an outdated defensive scheme, was updated.

An odd problem in Afghanistan was the saddle soreness that afflicted U.S. troops accompanying Afghans on horseback. An army may march on its stomach, but the cavalry rides on its rear. After Vaseline failed, what saved the soldiers' hinds and the campaign was an emergency issue of long johns.

DeLong has no patience for those who second-guess the conduct of the war. He briefly discusses intelligence problems, arguing that many reports are uselessly vague. DeLong laments that there will always be somebody — he names former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke — who will claim after the fact that intelligence was overlooked. 

Interestingly, President Bush's May 1, 2003 statement on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, that major combat operations were at an end, was done for the benefit of foreign ears: DeLong and Franks successfully argued that many countries would only send troops to Iraq for peacekeeping if the major conventional war was declared over.

While foreign assistance was critical to DeLong's mission, some foreign partners hardly lacked for self-interest:

* The Russians, advising CentCom after 9/11, unhelpfully commented that the United States should have let them win in Afghanistan.

* Pakistan asked the United States for intelligence on Indian troop dispositions — DeLong wisely refused.

* The French helpfully financed the new Afghan army when the United States was unable to do so, but then repeatedly reminded DeLong of their contribution.

Nor does DeLong care for the exiles who wanted positions of responsibility in post-war Iraq but would not join the liberation war.

DeLong describes his meeting in an Iraqi prison with Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam's cousin known as “Chemical Ali” for his role in gassing Kurdish civilians. The mass murderer sucked up to DeLong in a vain attempt to chisel a deal. Looking at this villain, DeLong comments, “I was staring at the very reason we went to war.”

– Andrew Apostolou is director of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.