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Odom: Want stability in the Middle East? Get out of Iraq!

COMMENTARY | November 11, 2005

In his last piece for NiemanWatchdog.org, retired Gen. William Odom argued that all the terrible things the Bush administration says would happen if we pulled our troops out of Iraq are happening already. In a new postscript, Odom writes that the converse is true as well: Bush says he wants to bring democracy and stability to the greater Middle East -- but in fact the only way to achieve that goal is to get out of Iraq now.

By William E. Odom



As I have watched the reactions to my earlier piece on NiemanWatchdog.org, "What’s wrong with cutting and running?”, I recognize that one critical point does not come through to many readers. The problem may stem from the words "cut and run" in the title. In the minds of some, that seems to imply leaving the region for good.  My argument is fundamentally different.


I believe that stabilizing the region from the Eastern Mediterranean to Afghanistan is very much an American interest, one we share with all our allies as well as with several other countries, especially, China, Russia, and India.


The ‘Global Balkans’


Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has called this region the "global Balkans," a name that recalls the role of the European Balkans during two or three decades leading up to the outbreak of World War I.  By themselves the Balkan countries were not all that important. Yet several great powers, especially Russia and Austria, were jockeying for strategic advantages there as they anticipated the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and competition for control of the straits leading from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. Britain and France wanted neither Russia nor Austria to dominate; and Germany, although uninterested in the Balkans, was allied to Austria. From a strategic viewpoint, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 was unimportant, but it set in motion actions that soon brought all of the major powers in Europe to war. Four empires collapsed, and the doors were opened to the Communists in Russia and the Nazis in Germany as a result. Brzezinski's point today is that the Middle East and Southwest Asia have precisely that kind of potential for catalyzing wars among the major powers of the world today, although nothing in the region objectively merits such wars. 


Thus Brzezinski calls for the United States to lead the states of Europe plus Russia, Japan, and China in a cooperative approach to stabilizing this region so that it cannot spark conflicts among them. As he rightly argues, the task of stabilization is beyond the power of the United States alone. With allies, however, it can manage the challenge.


A Missed Opportunity


After al Qaeda's attacks in the United States, the European members of NATO invoked Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty, meaning that they considered the attack on the United States as an attack on them all. Article Five had never been invoked before. Moreover, over 90 countries worldwide joined one or more of five separate coalitions to support the U.S. war against al Qaeda.  Seldom has the United States had so much international support.  It was a most propitious time, therefore, for dealing with "the Global Balkans" in precisely the way Brzezinski suggested. 


Over the next year and a half, however, in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, many neoconservatives, both inside and outside the administration, disparaged NATO and other US allies as unnecessary for "transforming the Middle East."  Because the United States is a superpower, they insisted, it could handle this task alone.  Accordingly, we witnessed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s team and some officials in the State Department and the White House (especially in the Vice President's office) gratuitously and repeatedly  insult the Europeans, dismissing them as irrelevant.  The climax of this sustained campaign to discard our allies came in the UN Security Council struggle for a resolution to legitimize the invasion of Iraq in February-March 2003.


From that time on, we have seen most of our allies stand aside and engage in Schadenfreude over our painful bog-down in Iraq.  Winston Churchill's glib observation, "the only thing worse that having allies is having none," was once again vindicated. 


Iraq as a Dead End Street


Two areas of inquiry follow naturally from this background:


First, how could we induce our allies to join us in Iraq now?  Why should they now put troops in Iraq and suffer the pain with us? Could we seriously expect them to do so?


Second, is remaining in Iraq the best strategy for a coalition of major states to stabilize the region?  Would a large NATO coalition of forces plus some from India, Japanese, and China enjoy more success?


On the first point, there is no chance that our allies will join us in Iraq. How could the leaders of Germany, France, and other states in Europe convince their publics to support such a course of action? They could not, and their publics would not be wise to agree if their leaders pleaded for them to do so.


And on the second point, Iraq is the worst place to fight a battle for regional stability. Whose interests were best served by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first place? It turns out that Iran and al Qaeda benefited the most, and that continues to be true every day U.S. forces remain there. A serious review of our regional interests is required. Until that is accomplished and new and compelling aims for managing the region are clarified, continuing the campaign in Iraq makes no sense.


Withdrawal is the Precondition to Progress


Once we recognize these two realities, it becomes clear that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is the precondition to winning the support of our allies and a few others for a joint approach to the region. Until that has been completed, they will not join such a coalition. And until that has happened, even we in the United States cannot think clearly about what constitutes our interests there, much let gain agreement about common interests for a coalition.


By contrast, any argument for "staying course," or seeking more stability before we withdraw -- or pointing out tragic consequences that withdrawal will cause -- is bound to be wrong, or at least unpersuasive. Putting it bluntly, those who insist on staying in Iraq longer make the consequences of withdrawal more terrible and make it harder to find an alternative strategy for achieving regional stability.


Once the invasion began in March 2003, all of the ensuing unhappy results became inevitable. The invasion of Iraq may well turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history. In any event, the longer we stay, the worse it will be. Until that is understood, we will make no progress with our allies or in devising a promising alternative strategy.


"Staying the course" may make a good sound bite, but it can be disastrous for strategy. Several of Hitler's generals told him that "staying the course" at Stalingrad in 1942 was a strategic mistake, that he should allow the Sixth Army to be withdrawn, saving it to fight defensive actions on reduced frontage against the growing Red Army. He refused, lost the Sixth Army entirely, and left his commanders with fewer forces to defend a wider front. Thus he made the subsequent Soviet offensives westward easier.


To argue, as some do, that we cannot leave Iraq because "we broke it and therefore we own it" is to reason precisely the way Hitler did with his commanders. Of course we broke it!  But the Middle East is not a pottery store.  It is the site of major military conflict with several different forces that the United States is galvanizing into an alliance against America. To hang on to an untenable position is the height of irresponsibility.  Beware of anyone, including the president, who insists that this is "responsible" or "the patriotic" thing to do.


Bush apologist
Posted by Tony Foresta - Human being
12/15/2005, 11:14 AM

Anytime anyone starts flinging slime and scurrilous, unfounded, and unsubtantiated patently FALSE assertions of anti-Americanism - the individuals rabid partisanship is revealed. You cannot defend or argue the points, so you simply hurl scurrilous and unsubtantiated slime on the questioner and the questions.

You obviously have the comprehension problem, because I never said, or implied, or ever suggested supporting or defending a "fascist police state". I vehemently oppose fascism in all its' unholy flavors which is exactly why I will continue to point out that America is now rapidly devolving into a fascist police state. I also contend and the Diebold case unfolding presently shines a hot light on this issue that ours is not a "freely elected" government, and that in fact the corruption and destruction of the elections process is a glaring example of one element of the Bush government fasicst totalitarian dicatorships usurping and commandeering America.

Look up warmonger and profiteer and examine the business relations, policies and resume' of the Bush government high priests and get back to me, because these terms - though you may not like the sting - are accurate and appropriate in describing the current panjandrum.

You might want to look up the definition of fascism as well, and post it here, and it will be clear for all to see, that it is exactly what the Bush government warmongers and profiteers are erecting here in America.

You, like the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government run from, evade, ignore, and excuse factbaserealities, and simply close your ears and eyes to the terrible truths - and offer instead only hollow partisan promises, rosy meaningless utopian prognostications, unsubstantiated scurrilous slime, obfuscation, distortion, deception, disinformation, and patent lies.

You must be from the Zell Miller, Joseph Lieberman republican lite camp of the democratic party, because your craven support and lockstep defense of the Bush governments plunder and profiteering in Iraq is not aplomb with the majority of democrats tens of milions of Americans today and most of the world for that matter.

Also you do not speak for me, nor do you have any right or the ability to imagine what I think or to put your distortions into my mouth.

What specific "whacky" things are you refering to? Your childish insults attempting to slime me personaly evades the points and occludes both your logic and reason, and reveals your true intent. Dismiss evade and run from facts and the core issue and exalt the Bush government as perfect altruistic, sanctioned by the babyjesus to conquer and dominate the world.

You may want to review your reading, because history is strewn with the rubble of fallen empire. You should also revisit the late 1990's history because though "regime change" was a Clinton idea, and the Iraq Liberation Act got through congress in 1998, no one in the Clinton government was advocating an invasion and occupation of Iraq. Clinton and democrats were not calling for an not call for invasion and occupation of Iraq, and were by the way far more focused on al Quaida and stateless terrorist threats than the chickenhawk posers, warmongers, and profiteers in the Bush government.

You might want to review the fine print in the Liberation of Iraq Act.

In the context of the post 9/11 world, - all muslim dictatorships (with the curious exception of the Bush government "good friends" in Saudi Arabia who were actually complicit in the horrors of 9/11) were suspect - and there was great pressure internationally to see 'regime change" in Iraq and a few other nations become a reality, for all the reasons relentlessly repeated over the years.

While you may align with the UN-bad-Bush-government-good-Bolton school of thinking, - you should be able to recall that the rest of the world joined in unified support of America after 9/11. There was little resistance to the war in Afghanistan. It was the Bush governments pathological obsession with, and deceptive manipulative patently false justifications for invading and occupying Iraq that divided the world, and turned most of our former allies and many Americans against the Bush government.

You might want to alse look more carefully, and work on your comprehension of the striking difference between individuals who are anti-Bush government, and the entirely different, separate, and largely unrelated group of individuals who are anti-American.

You might want to review your reading here, as to why and how it happened that the worlds impassioned support for America after 9/11 was sqandered and turned to a rejection of US policy within two years?

Richard Clarke described the Bush governments' rabid determination to attack, invade, and occupy Iraq after 9/11 to Colin Powell - as being like America attacking Mexico after Pearl Harbor.

You may slime and dismiss the links I provided, but you cannot dismiss, evade, or ignore the facts in those links, which are well documented.

Where is our money in Iraq. $9bn is simply missing from, or unaccounted for in the CPA expedenditures. The acts of financial malfeasance, perfidy, book cooking, cronyism, wanton profiteering, obscene overchages, mismanagement, and dereliction of duty in the contracts of cronies and oligarchs in or beholden to the Bush government war mongers and profiteers in the Bush government is also well documented, though under scrutinized, reviewed, or remedied, - for obvious reasons.

Your willingness to robopathically dismiss anything and anyone who dares to question, challenge, or oppose the radical deceptions, obscene abuses, catastrophic failures, grotesque mismanagement, acts of malfeasance and perfidy, - and wanton profiteering of the facists in the Bush government without even bothering to address the issues, or recognizing the factbasedrealities proves you are the counterproductive partisan with a comprehension deficit, and who has failed "..to produced one iota of new and/or relevant information."

All you offer is lockstep support and pliant submission to the all mighty Bush government warmongers and profiteers.

There are no good options in Iraq now. The Bush government warmongers and profiteers have forced Americans to burden and hazard a long hard slog in Iraq. The fasicst in the Bush government have no intention of ever leaving Iraq, and your pathetic pretension of altruism and faux concern for vulnerable Iraqi

Our military, as General Odom points out has achieved it's primary objectives. The only reason for staying the course in Iraq now involves engorging the off sheet accounts of cronies and oligarchs in or beholden to fascist Bush government totalitarian dictatorship.

Lastly, I never suggested anywhere dong nothing in Iraq or in the socalled waronterror. All the horrors you hold to justify the debacle in Iraq are equally applicable in North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kazakstan and more than a few other nations through-out this violent and turbulent world controlled by tyrants and despots who the fascist Bush government and you blithely ignores.

I contend Iraq is a catastophic disaster that is preventing and undermining America's and the worlds ability to confront and defeat the real threats to American and the world's security. The jihadist mass murder gangs abundantly funded and nurtured by Saudi Arabia and Iran who the Bush government do nothing to confront, fail to redress and in the case of Saudi Arabia actually shield constitute the real immenent threats to America and the worlds security and prosperity.

The costly, bloody, noendinsight horrorshow in Iraq is helping, not hurting our jihadist enemies, and hurting, not helping America or the rest of the world

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