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Rapid withdrawal: the Iraq solution

"...it gives me pause to learn that our vice-president and some members of the Senate are aligned with al-Qaeda on spreading the war to Iran."
Lt. Gen William Odom, Ret.

April 22, 2008
by Rob Lafferty

Gen. David Petraeus came to Washington this month and told Congress and the nation that we must continue the occupation in Iraq until – well, he never did say when he thought we might "succeed" at whatever it is we're trying to accomplish with our meddling in Mesopotamia. The general spoke in mostly vague terms but that's not necessarily his fault. Nobody in the current chain of command from President Bush to Ambassador Ryan Crocker seems to have a clear idea of what will constitute "success" in Iraq.

If the invasion of Iraq was about oil, as people like former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan are saying, then gasoline prices of $4 per gallon prove that we've had no "success" there. If "success" means less violence or better living conditions for the people of Iraq, we aren't doing much better today than we were a year ago. And if it means that no U.S. soldiers are dying in the streets of Baghdad or Basra or Fallujah, which seems to be how John McCain defines "success", then the deaths of thirty more Americans so far this month is not the "return on success" that President Bush likes to speak of.

One week prior to Gen. Petraeus' visit, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Iraq heard a very different testimony from another general. It came from retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, who had some strong opinions to offer. Odom's comments went unreported by mainstream media or news sources. Here are a few excerpts from his extensive analysis of the American occupation of Iraq.

Odom opened his statement by referring to an earlier appearance before the same committee:

"The last occasion was in January 2007, when the topic was the troop surge. Today you are asking if it has worked. Last year I rejected the claim that it was a new strategy. I said it is a new tactic used to achieve the same old strategic aim, political stability. And I foresaw no serious prospects for success. I see no reason to change my judgment now. The surge is prolonging instability, not creating the conditions for unity as the president claims.

"Violence has been temporarily reduced but there is credible evidence that the political situation is far more fragmented. Currently we see violence surge in Baghdad and Basra. More disturbing, Prime Minister Maliki has initiated military action and dragged in US forces to help his own troops destroy his Shiite competitors. This is a political setback, not a political solution. Such is the result of the surge tactic.

"No less disturbing has been the steady violence in the Mosul area, and the tensions in Kirkuk between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomen. A showdown over control of the oil fields there surely awaits us. And the idea that some kind of a federal solution can cut this Gordian knot strikes me as a wild fantasy, wholly out of touch with Kurdish realities.

"The apparent success in Anbar province and a few other Sunni areas is not the positive situation it is purported to be. Certainly violence has declined as local Sunni shieks have begun to cooperate with US forces. What are their motives? First, anger at al-Qaeda operatives and second, their financial plight. The concern we hear the president express about a residual base left for al-Qaeda if we withdraw is utter nonsense. The Sunnis will soon destroy al-Qaeda if we leave Iraq. The Kurds do not allow them in their region, and the Shiites, like the Iranians, detest al-Qaeda.

"To understand why, one need only take note of the al-Qaeda public campaign over the past year. They implore the United States to bomb and invade Iran and destroy this apostate Shiite regime. As an aside, it gives me pause to learn that our vice president and some members of the Senate are aligned with al-Qaeda on spreading the war to Iran.

"Let me emphasize that our new Sunni friends insist on being paid for their loyalty. Periodically they threaten to defect unless their fees are increased. Remember, we do not own these people. We merely rent them. And they can break the lease at any moment.

"What we are witnessing is more accurately described as the road to the Balkanization of Iraq, that is, political fragmentation. We are being asked by the president to believe that this shift of so much power and finance to so many local chieftains is the road to political centralization. He describes the process as building the state from the bottom up.

"I challenge you to press the administration's witnesses this week to explain this absurdity. Ask them to name a single historical case where power has been aggregated successfully from local strong men to a central government except through bloody violence leading to a single winner, most often a dictator. That is the history of feudal Europe's transformation to the age of absolute monarchy. It is the story of the American colonization of the west and our Civil War. It took England 800 years to subdue clan rule on what is now the English-Scottish border. And it is the source of violence in Bosnia and Kosovo.

"To sum up, we face a deteriorating political situation with an overextended army. The only sensible strategy is to withdraw rapidly but in good order. Only that step can break the paralysis now gripping US strategy in the region.

"The next step is to choose a new aim – regional stability, not a meaningless victory in Iraq. And progress toward that goal requires revising our policy toward Iran. Iran detests the Taliban and supports them only because they will kill more Americans in Afghanistan as retaliation in event of a US attack on Iran. Iran's policy toward Iraq would also have to change radically as we withdraw. It cannot want instability there. Iraqi Shiites are Arabs, and they know that Persians look down on them. Cooperation between them has its limits.

"No quick reconciliation between the US and Iran is likely, but US steps to make Iran feel more secure make reconciliation far more conceivable than a policy calculated to increase its insecurity.

"Withdrawal from Iraq does not mean withdrawal from the region. It must include a realignment and reassertion of US forces and diplomacy that give us a better chance to achieve our aim. A number of reasons are given for not withdrawing soon and completely. I have refuted them repeatedly before but they have more lives than a cat. Let me try again to explain why they don't make sense.

"First, it is insisted that we must leave behind a military training element with no combat forces to secure them. This makes no sense at all. Iraq is not short on military skills.

"Second, it is insisted that chaos will follow our withdrawal. We heard that argument as the 'domino theory' in Vietnam. Even so, the path to political stability will be bloody regardless of whether we withdraw or not. The idea that the United States has a moral responsibility to prevent this ignores that reality. We are certainly to blame for it, but we do not have the physical means to prevent it. American leaders who insist that it is in our power to do so are misleading both the public and themselves if they believe it.

"The real moral question is whether to risk the lives of more Americans. Unlike preventing chaos, we have the physical means to stop sending more troops where many will be killed or wounded. That is the moral responsibility to our country which no American leaders seem willing to assume.

"Third, nay-sayers insist that our withdrawal will create regional instability. This confuses cause with effect. Our forces in Iraq and our threat to change Iran's regime are making the region unstable. Those who link instability with a US withdrawal have it exactly backwards. Our ostrich strategy of keeping our heads buried in the sands of Iraq has done nothing but advance our enemies' interest.

"I implore you to reject these fallacious excuses for prolonging the commitment of US forces in Iraq. Thanks for this opportunity to testify today."