Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gen. Odom on why we should pull out of Iraq fast

Lately, only retired generals are willing to speak honestly about Iraq in stark contrast to the blind cheerleading of most republicans and the evasion, equivocation, and me-tooism of most Democrats.

He also offers a more realistic and fact-based assessment of Iran compared to drumbeat for war of the administration.

I would only add a couple of things where he didn't go quite far enough:

Our presence in Iraq incites terrorism and gives recruiters for terrorists a recruiting tool. Israel and Saudi studied debriefings of captured foreign fighters in Iraq and found that most were motivated not by radical Islam but outrage at seeing what has been done to the Iraqi people. LINK

His point on the Iraqi troops likewise doesn't go quite far enough. We pretend they aren't standing up because of them being too dense or cowardly to absorb our training, as if Iraqis are apes who just descended from the trees. But the reality is they are hesitant because they are fighting for us against their own people. Many if not most showed up for the paycheck so they can feed their families, but there are limits to what people will do for money.

The biggest element he left out though is that the Iraqis do not believe we are there to look out for their interests or spread democracy however much Americans think or wish that's what we are doing. The Bush administration went in with a plan to privatize and sell off everything possible, and even pumped oil unmetered after we first invaded. Most Americans don't know that, but it's harder to miss when it's right in front of your face.

This war has nothing to do with preventing terrorism--it is creating it by pursuing private gain for oil, defense, and rebuilding corporations on our tax dime (or rather 10 trillion dimes) and with our troops and Iraqis lives.


Cut and Run? You Bet.

By Lt. Gen. William E. Odom

Withdrawal will encourage the terrorists. True, but that is the price we are doomed to pay. Our continued occupation of Iraq also encourages the killers—precisely because our invasion made Iraq safe for them. Our occupation also left the surviving Baathists with one choice: Surrender, or ally with al Qaeda. They chose the latter. Staying the course will not change this fact. Pulling out will most likely result in Sunni groups’ turning against al Qaeda and its sympathizers, driving them out of Iraq entirely.

Before U.S. forces stand down, Iraqi security forces must stand up. The problem in Iraq is not military competency; it is political consolidation. Iraq has a large officer corps with plenty of combat experience from the Iran-Iraq war. Moktada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia fights well today without U.S. advisors, as do Kurdish pesh merga units. The problem is loyalty. To whom can officers and troops afford to give their loyalty? The political camps in Iraq are still shifting. So every Iraqi soldier and officer today risks choosing the wrong side. As a result, most choose to retain as much latitude as possible to switch allegiances. All the U.S. military trainers in the world cannot remove that reality. But political consolidation will. It should by now be clear that political power can only be established via Iraqi guns and civil war, not through elections or U.S. colonialism by ventriloquism.

Setting a withdrawal deadline will damage the morale of U.S. troops.
Hiding behind the argument of troop morale shows no willingness to accept the responsibilities of command. The truth is, most wars would stop early if soldiers had the choice of whether or not to continue. This is certainly true in Iraq, where a withdrawal is likely to raise morale among U.S. forces. A recent Zogby poll suggests that most U.S. troops would welcome an early withdrawal deadline But the strategic question of how to extract the United States from the Iraq disaster is not a matter to be decided by soldiers. Carl von Clausewitz spoke of two kinds of courage: first, bravery in the face of mortal danger; second, the willingness to accept personal responsibility for command decisions. The former is expected of the troops. The latter must be demanded of high-level commanders, including the president.

Two facts, however painful, must be recognized, or we will remain perilously confused in Iraq. First, invading Iraq was not in the interests of the United States. It was in the interests of Iran and al Qaeda. For Iran, it avenged a grudge against Saddam for his invasion of the country in 1980. For al Qaeda, it made it easier to kill Americans. Second, the war has paralyzed the United States in the world diplomatically and strategically. Although relations with Europe show signs of marginal improvement, the trans-Atlantic alliance still may not survive the war. Only with a rapid withdrawal from Iraq will Washington regain diplomatic and military mobility. Tied down like Gulliver in the sands of Mesopotamia, we simply cannot attract the diplomatic and military cooperation necessary to win the real battle against terror. Getting out of Iraq is the precondition for any improvement.

In fact, getting out now may be our only chance to set things right in Iraq. For starters, if we withdraw, European politicians would be more likely to cooperate with us in a strategy for stabilizing the greater Middle East. Following a withdrawal, all the countries bordering Iraq would likely respond favorably to an offer to help stabilize the situation. The most important of these would be Iran. It dislikes al Qaeda as much as we do. It wants regional stability as much as we do. It wants to produce more oil and gas and sell it. If its leaders really want nuclear weapons, we cannot stop them. But we can engage them.

Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.) is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and professor at Yale University. He was director of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988.


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1 comment:

Sgt. Gehlen said...

My name is Sgt. Gehlen with the U.S. Central Command public affairs office. For news, photos, video and more on what is happening in Iraq and other countries in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, check out our website at