The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq. By Bing J. West. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8129-7866-7. Maps. Photographs. Afterword. Appendices. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 464. $17.00.
In response to the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City by al Qaeda and incorrect intelligence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, or WMDs, being held in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, U.S. military and other coalition forces began their mad dash for Baghdad in March of 2003. One month later the iconic image of Saddam’s statue in Firdos Square in Baghdad was torn down, followed by looting and lawlessness. Bing West, author of The Strongest Tribe, was a marine infantry officer in Vietnam that worked with Combined Action Platoons (infantry units that patrolled, fought, and lived directly with Vietnamese Popular Forces platoons) in various villages. West served as Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan and has written eight books on national security.1 West has made fourteen trips to the battlefield in Iraq in six years and has embedded himself in numerous frontline units.2
In The Strongest Tribe, author Bing West points out many mistakes made by the President and the President’s senior staff, specifically Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer (Director of the Coalition Provisional Authority or CPA in Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004).3 West scolds Iraq’s elected government for being corrupt and ruling discriminately based on sects and faults the President’s inability to properly control the corrupt Iraqi government for the glacially slow development of change in Iraqi politics. Finally, West claims that the surge of 30,000 more American troops to Iraq in 2007 and General Petraeus’ (Commanding General of Multi-National Forces Iraq from February 2007 to September 2008) implementation of an appropriate Counter Insurgency strategy made victory in Iraq a reality.4
The Pentagon’s lack of a post-war plan in Iraq resulted in chaos in the streets. American field commanders were left standing to the side while Iraqi’s looted and Iraq’s government collapsed. West states that most Iraqi workers stayed at home, electricity was sporadic, and no progress in implementing a new Iraqi government was being made. With the appointment of Paul Bremer as head of the CPA, Bremer was tasked with rebuilding a new Iraqi government. Bremer’s first mistake came in May of 2003 with the Baathist Party purge. Bremer banned all Baathists with the military rank of Colonel and above including the civilian equivalent. With this purge, Bremer unemployed over 100,000 Sunni Iraqi’s while disenfranchising millions of Sunnis. 5 Bremer placed in charge of de-Baathification Ahmed Chalabi, “a wily Shiite expatriate with chameleon political adroitness and overarching ambition”. 6 Bremer on May 21, 2003 disbanded the Iraqi Army without consulting the Division commanders in Iraq but with the full support of the disconnected White House, Pentagon, and senior military officials. 7 The dissolving of the Iraqi Army resulted in a fierce Sunni insurgency comprising of unemployed Iraqi soldiers and civilians that had lost their position of long enduring dominance over the Shiite community. Bremer with the support of the White House stoked the flame that was a Sunni-Shiite civil war. Bremer failed to work cooperatively with the U.S. military’s Joint Task Force that wanted to begin the process of holding elections and putting the power back into the hands of Iraqis. Bremer insisted on control of when, where, and how elections would be held completely gaffing on the U.S. commanders. The CPA refused to allow local Sheiks to organize their communities into a system of policing themselves. Resulting from this was an inadequate number of trained police forces and even fewer trainers. “By December of 2003, the Presidents approval rating for handling Iraq had dropped to…