Whats wrong with cutting and running?
- Everything that opponents of a pullout say would happen if the U.S.
left Iraq is happening already, says retired Gen. William E. Odom, the
head of the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration.
So why stay?
What's wrong with cutting and running?
retired Gen. William E. Odom
Friday, November 18, 2005
If I were a journalist, I would list all the arguments that you hear
against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, the horrible things that
people say would happen, and then ask: Aren't they happening already?
Would a pullout really make things worse? Maybe it would make things
Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:
1) We would leave behind a civil war.
2) We would lose credibility on the world stage.
3) It would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy.
4) Iraq would become a haven for terrorists.
5) Iranian influence in Iraq would increase.
6) Unrest might spread in the region and/or draw in Iraq's neighbors.
7) Shiite-Sunni clashes would worsen.
8) We haven't fully trained the Iraqi military and police forces yet.
9) Talk of deadlines would undercut the morale of our troops.
But consider this:
1) On civil war. Iraqis are already fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have
killed far more Iraqis than Americans. That's civil war. We created
the civil war when we invaded; we can't prevent a civil war by staying.
For those who really worry about destabilizing the region, the
sensible policy is not to stay the course in Iraq. It is rapid
withdrawal, re-establishing strong relations with our allies in
Europe, showing confidence in the UN Security Council, and trying to
knit together a large coalition including the major states of Europe,
Japan, South Korea, China, and India to back a strategy for
stabilizing the area from the eastern Mediterranean to Afghanistan and
Pakistan. Until the United States withdraws from Iraq and admits its
strategic error, no such coalition can be formed.
Thus those who fear leaving a mess are actually helping make things
worse while preventing a new strategic approach with some promise of
2) On credibility. If we were Russia or some other insecure nation, we
might have to worry about credibility. A hyperpower need not worry
about credibility. That's one of the great advantages of being a
hyperpower: When we have made a big strategic mistake, we can reverse
it. And it may even enhance our credibility. Staying there damages our
credibility more than leaving.
Ask the president if he really worries about US credibility. Or, what
will happen to our credibility if the course he is pursuing proves to
be a major strategic disaster? Would it not be better for our
long-term credibility to withdraw earlier than later in this event?
3) On the insurgency and democracy. There is no question the
insurgents and other anti-American parties will take over the
government once we leave. But that will happen no matter how long we
stay. Any government capable of holding power in Iraq will be
anti-American, because the Iraqi people are increasingly becoming
Also, the U.S. will not leave behind a liberal, constitutional
democracy in Iraq no matter how long it stays. Holding elections is
easy. It is impossible to make it a constitutional democracy in a hurry.
President Bush's statements about progress in Iraq are increasingly
resembling LBJ's statements during the Vietnam War. For instance,
Johnson's comments about the 1968 election are very similar to what
Bush said in February 2005 after the election of a provisional parliament.
Ask the president: Why should we expect a different outcome in Iraq
than in Vietnam?
Ask the president if he intends to leave a pro-American liberal regime
in place. Because that's just impossible. Postwar Germany and Japan
are not models for Iraq. Each had mature (at least a full generation
old) constitutional orders by the end of the 19th century. They both
endured as constitutional orders until the 1930s. Thus General Clay
and General MacArthur were merely reversing a decade and a half
totalitarianism -- returning to nearly a century of liberal political
change in Japan and a much longer period in Germany.
Imposing a liberal constitutional order in Iraq would be to accomplish
something that has never been done before. Of all the world's
political cultures, an Arab-Muslim one may be the most resistant to
such a change of any in the world. Even the Muslim society in Turkey
(an anti-Arab society) stands out for being the only example of a
constitutional order in an Islamic society, and even it backslides
4) On terrorists. Iraq is already a training ground for terrorists. In
fact, the CIA has pointed out to the administration and congress that
Iraq is spawning so many terrorists that they are returning home to
many other countries to further practice their skills there. The
quicker a new dictator wins the political power in Iraq and imposes
order, the sooner the country will stop producing well-experienced
Why not ask: "Mr. President, since you and the vice president insisted
that Saddam's Iraq supported al Qaeda -- which we now know it did not
-- isn't your policy in Iraq today strengthening al Qaeda's position
in that country?"
5) On Iranian influence. Iranian leaders see US policy in Iraq as
being so much in Teheran's interests that they have been advising
Iraqi Shiite leaders to do exactly what the Americans ask them to do.
Elections will allow the Shiites to take power legally. Once in
charge, they can settle scores with the Baathists and Sunnis. If US
policy in Iraq begins to undercut Iran's interests, then Teheran can
use its growing influence among Iraqi Shiites to stir up trouble,
possibly committing Shiite militias to an insurgency against US forces
there. The US invasion has vastly increased Iran's influence in Iraq,
not sealed it out.
Questions for the administration: "Why do the Iranians support our
presence in Iraq today? Why do they tell the Shiite leaders to avoid a
sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shiites? Given all the money and
weapons they provide Shiite groups, why are they not stirring up more
trouble for the US? Will Iranian policy change once a Shiite majority
has the reins of government? Would it not be better to pull out now
rather than to continue our present course of weakening the Sunnis and
Baathists, opening the way for a Shiite dictatorship?"
6) On Iraq's neighbors. The civil war we leave behind may well draw in
Syria, Turkey and Iran. But already today each of those states is
deeply involved in support for or opposition to factions in the
ongoing Iraqi civil war. The very act of invading Iraq almost insured
that violence would involve the larger region. And so it has and will
continue, with, or without, US forces in Iraq.
7) On Shiite-Sunni conflict. The US presence is not preventing
Shiite-Sunni conflict; it merely delays it. Iran is preventing it
today, and it will probably encourage it once the Shiites dominate the
new government, an outcome US policy virtually ensures.
8) On training the Iraq military and police. The insurgents are
fighting very effectively without US or European military advisors to
train them. Why don't the soldiers and police in the present Iraqi
regime's service do their duty as well? Because they are uncertain
about committing their lives to this regime. They are being asked to
take a political stand, just as the insurgents are. Political
consolidation, not military-technical consolidation, is the issue.
The issue is not military training; it is institutional loyalty. We
trained the Vietnamese military effectively. Its generals took power
and proved to be lousy politicians and poor fighters in the final
showdown. In many battles over a decade or more, South Vietnamese
military units fought very well, defeating VC and NVA units. But South
Vietnam's political leaders lost the war.
Even if we were able to successfully train an Iraqi military and
police force, the likely result, after all that, would be another
military dictatorship. Experience around the world teaches us that
military dictatorships arise when the military's institutional
modernization gets ahead of political consolidation.
9) On not supporting our troops by debating an early pullout. Many US
officers in Iraq, especially at company and field grade levels, know
that while they are winning every tactical battle, they are losing
strategically. And according to the New York Times last week, they are
beginning to voice complaints about Americans at home bearing none of
the pains of the war. One can only guess about the enlisted ranks, but
those on a second tour probably the majority today are probably
anxious for an early pullout. It is also noteworthy that US generals
in Iraq are not bubbling over with optimistic reports they way they
were during the first few years of the war in Vietnam. Their careful
statements and caution probably reflect serious doubts that they do
not, and should not, express publicly. The more important question is
whether or not the repressive and vindictive behavior by the secretary
of defense and his deputy against the senior military -- especially
the Army leadership, which is the critical component in the war -- has
made it impossible for field commanders to make the political leaders
see the facts.
Most surprising to me is that no American political leader today has
tried to unmask the absurdity of the administration's case that to
question the strategic wisdom of the war is unpatriotic and a failure
to support our troops. Most officers and probably most troops don't
see it that way. They are angry at the deficiencies in materiel
support they get from the Department of Defense, and especially about
the irresponsibly long deployments they must now endure because Mr.
Rumsfeld and his staff have refused to enlarge the ground forces to
provide shorter tours. In the meantime, they know that the defense
budget shovels money out the door to maritime forces, SDI, etc., while
refusing to increase dramatically the size of the Army.
As I wrote several years ago, "the Pentagon's post-Cold War force
structure is so maritime heavy and land force weak that it is firmly
in charge of the porpoises and whales while leaving the land to
tyrants." The Army, some of the Air Force, the National Guard, and the
reserves are now the victims of this gross mismatch between military
missions and force structure. Neither the Bush nor the Clinton
administration has properly "supported the troops." The media could
ask the president why he fails to support our troops by not firing his
secretary of defense.
So why is almost nobody advocating a pullout? I can only speculate. We
face a strange situation today where few if any voices among Democrats
in Congress will mention early withdrawal from Iraq, and even the one
or two who do will not make a comprehensive case for withdrawal
now.Why are the Democrats failing the public on this issue today? The
biggest reason is because they weren't willing to raise that issue
during the campaign. Howard Dean alone took a clear and consistent
stand on Iraq, and the rest of the Democratic party trashed him for
it. Most of those in Congress voted for the war and let that vote
shackle them later on. Now they are scared to death that the White
House will smear them with lack of patriotism if they suggest pulling out.
Journalists can ask all the questions they like but none will prompt a
more serious debate as long as no political leaders create the context
and force the issues into the open.
I don't believe anyone will be able to sustain a strong case in the
short run without going back to the fundamental misjudgment of
invading Iraq in the first place. Once the enormity of that error is
grasped, the case for pulling out becomes easy to see.
Look at John Kerry's utterly absurd position during the presidential
campaign. He said "It's the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the
wrong time," but then went on to explain how he expected to win it
anyway. Even the voter with no interest in foreign affairs was able to
recognize it as an absurdity. If it was the wrong war at the wrong
place and time, then it was never in our interest to fight. If that is
true, what has changed to make it in our interest? Nothing, absolutely
The US invasion of Iraq only serves the interest of:
1) Osama bin Laden (it made Iraq safe for al Qaeda, positioned US
military personnel in places where al Qaeda operatives can kill them
occasionally, helps radicalize youth throughout the Arab and Muslim
world, alienates America's most important and strongest allies the
Europeans and squanders US military resources that otherwise might
be finishing off al Qaeda in Pakistan.);
2) The Iranians (who were invaded by Saddam and who suffered massive
casualties in an eight year war with Iraq.);
3) And the extremists in both Palestinian and Israeli political
circles (who don't really want a peace settlement without the utter
destruction of the other side, and probably believe that bogging the
United States down in a war in Iraq that will surely become a war
between the United States and most of the rest of Arab world gives
them the time and cover to wipe out the other side.)
The wisest course for journalists might be to begin sustained
investigations of why leading Democrats have failed so miserably to
challenge the US occupation of Iraq. The first step, of course, is to
establish as conventional wisdom the fact that the war was never in
the US interest and has not become so. It is such an obvious case to
make that I find it difficult to believe many pundits and political
leaders have not already made it repeatedly.
Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.), is a Senior
Fellow with Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University. He
was Director of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988. From
1981 to 1985, he served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence,
the Army's senior intelligence officer. From 1977 to 1981, he was
Military Assistant to the President's Assistant for National Security
Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
E-mail: diane @ hudson.org
WORLD VIEW NEWS SERVICE
To subscribe to this group, send an email to:
NEWS ARCHIVE IS OPEN TO PUBLIC VIEW