Following Richard’s recommendation in comments below, I got myself a copy of Thomas E. Ricks’s Fiasco, and am now halfway through. It’s alright, though it’s a bit heavy-handed, and I still prefer the reporter George Packer’s book (The Assassins’ Gate) to the stay-at-home-and-swap-emails-with-the-troops approach of Ricks.
Anyway: my favourite detail so far concerns the role of PowerPoint in the run-up to the war:
[Army Lt Gen David] McKiernan had another, smaller but nagging, issue. He couldn’t get [Tommy] Franks to issue clear orders that stated explicitly what he wanted done, how he wanted to do it, and why. Rather, Franks passed along PowerPoint briefing slides that he had shown to Rumsfeld. “It’s quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in Washington to OSD [Office of Strategic Defense] and Secretary of Defense… In lieu of an order, or a frag [fragmentary] order, or plan, you get a set of PowerPoint slides… [T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint slides.”
That reliance on slides rather than formal written orders seemed to some military professionals to capture the essence of Rumsfeld’s amateurish approach to war planning. “Here may be the clearest manifestation of OSD’s contempt for the accumulated wisdom of the military profession and of the assumption among forward thinkers that technology – above all information technology – has rendered obsolete the conventions traditionally governing the preparation and conduct of war,” commented retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, a former commander of an armored cavalry regiment. “To imagine that PowerPoint slides can substitute for such means is really the height of recklessness.” It was like telling an automobile mechanic to use a manufacturer’s glossy sales brochure to figure out how to repair an engine.
[Thomas E Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Allen Lane, 2006, pp.75-6.]