by David Cloud and Greg Jaffe
New York: Crown Publishers, 2009. Pp. 330.
Illus., notes, index. $28.00. ISBN: 978-0-3074-0906-5
On the surface, The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army, by Pentagon correspondents David Cloud and Greg Jaffe, is a straightforward collective biography of four of the most prominent recent senior officers in the U.S. Army. To this end, the book provides interesting information on the lives and service of generals John Abizaid, George Casey Jr., Peter Chiarelli, and David Petraeus, and does so in an enjoyable manner. The true merit of this work, however, is that it uses the experiences of these men as a way of telling a much broader story about the evolution of the U.S. Army in the post-Vietnam era. While that story is familiar to informed observers, the different experiences of these four leaders provide personal examples of how the Army reformed itself in the years following Vietnam by focusing on the Soviet threat and embracing the Powell Doctrine, only to find itself frustrated by the new challenges of peacekeeping and counter-insurgency operations in Haiti, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
While the book is enjoyable to read, it should not be viewed as a definitive biography on any of these four generals. In fact, it often appears to caricature these men as a means of telling a broader cohesive story. In this overly-simplified narrative, Abizaid is a uniquely enlightened figure who benefited from his Lebanese-American roots and his studies in Jordan, Casey is a dutiful servant who lives in the shadow of his father who died in Vietnam and is frequently hamstrung by his superiors in Washington, Chiarelli is an unlikely academic who regularly believes that his career has been derailed but manages unlikely comebacks through his ability to win an armor competition in Germany and his contacts in the West Point "Sosh" Department, and Petraeus is a brilliant but often overbearing leader with an ability to produce results that is matched only by his ambition. While there may be an element of truth to each of these claims, one wonders if they accurately capture the complexity of these men.
Despite this seemingly overly simplistic approach, this work is well worth the time to read. By examining the personal struggles and triumphs of these four generals, Cloud and Jaffe effectively weave a much broader narrative about the internal politics of the United States Army and its institutional response to evolving strategic challenges. By providing numerous personal examples the struggles to transform the US Army, this work succeeds in adding a much needed human perspective. This work is recommended for military personnel (especially junior and mid-level officers) and civilians alike because of its clear and enjoyable prose as well as its unique personal approach to exploring the doctrinal evolution of the US Army.