Adulation, oversimplifications, omissions mar biography of Schwarzkopf

September 08, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia




Roger Cohen and Claudio Gatti.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

342 pages. $19.95.

If the authors of this new biography of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf are to be believed, the battle-hardened U.S. military commander was convinced by last Oct. 1 that economic sanctions against Iraq would not loosen its grip on neighboring Kuwait. He was anxious to go to war against Iraq, whose forces had invaded Kuwait two months earlier. He had a tailor-made battle plan -- described by the authors as "astonishing in its audacity" -- and needed to get enough troops and hardware in place quickly to launch an attack in January. But people at the Pentagon, Congress and the State Department were holding things up, persisting in thinking that sanctions might work if given a bit more time.

In "In The Eye of The Storm: the Life of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf," this brief MacArthuresque portrait of a brilliant, confident military leader at odds with civilian policy makers in Washington suggests that there were few doubts in the general's mind about the necessity of war and the failure of diplomacy. There seems to have been little concern about American public opinion, which military officers of General Schwarzkopf's generation believe must be overwhelmingly on their side before any battle begins.

But this doesn't square with the public record during this prewar period in which the U.S. military establishment, senior leaders in particular, approached the idea of attacking Iraq with extreme caution. For his part, General Schwarzkopf told the Atlanta Journal & Constitution in late October that patience was "everything."

"Right now, we have people saying, 'OK, enough of this business; let's get on with it,' " the general said. "Golly, the sanctions have only been in effect about a couple of months. . . . And now we are starting to see evidence that the sanctions are pinching. So why should we say, 'OK, gave 'em two months,

didn't work. Let's get on with it and kill a whole bunch of people'? That's crazy. That's crazy."

Other interviewers heard similar words during this period, and aides to the general confided later to the media, including The Sun, that he went public with words of caution every time President Bush or other top officials rattled the sabers in Washington.

Authors Roger Cohen, a reporter for the New York Times, and Claudio Gatti, U.S. bureau chief for Europeo, purport to tell the story of the celebrated hero of Operation Desert Storm against ++ the backdrop of dramatic changes in the U.S. military since its demoralizing defeat in Vietnam. Despite their extensive research into details of the Schwarzkopf family history and the general's military career, they engage in unabashed hero worship and fall short of their ambitious goal. The reader gets an uncritical view of General Schwarzkopf in an unexciting, often repetitious narrative that oversimplifies and sometimes omits key events and issues that are essential to gaining greater insight into the man and the military.

As they describe the military buildup in the gulf, the authors fail to explore the general's views about the role of war as an instrument of foreign policy. They overlook the question of why he and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seemed more reluctant than U.S. political leaders to send young Americans to their deaths.

Had they examined these complex issues, they might have discovered that the trauma of Vietnam for the current generation of senior military officers had little to do with the absence of welcome-home parades. It changed the way they looked at war. The best generals today prefer peace to war, deterrence to fighting. But in their coverage of the Persian Gulf crisis, the authors mistakenly depict the modern military's unwavering confidence in its war-fighting ability, its willingness to fight for clearly articulated objectives and General Schwarzkopf's press-conference bluster, as evidence of a new, belligerent fighting spirit.

They also overlook General Schwarzkopf's political skills, including his attempt to influence public opinion in the debate over war and economic sanctions. His resume suggests some masterly moves up the chain of command and a valuable connection with Gen. Carl Vuono, the recently retired Army chief staff. His recent miscues -- noticeably his admission to being "suckered" by Iraqis into allowing them to fly helicopters to suppress rebellious Shiite Muslims -- say something about how postwar euphoria can overwhelm sound judgment.

Glaring omissions include the obvious connection between the tragic friendly fire incidents in Vietnam and the gulf war, especially

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