Lt. General Odom's 6 Brutal Truths about Iraq
Six brutal truths about Iraq
by retired Lt. General William Odom
Mythologies about the war in Iraq are endangering our republic, our rights, and our responsibilities before the world. The longer we fail to dispel them, the higher price we will pay. The following six truths, while perhaps not self-evident to the American public, are nevertheless conspicuously obvious to much the rest of the world.
Truth No. 1: No "deal" of any kind can be made among the warring parties in Iraq that will bring stability and order, even temporarily.
Ever since the war began to go badly in the summer of 2003, a mythology has arisen that a deal among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds
could bring peace and stability to Iraq. First, the parliamentary elections were expected to be such a breakthrough. When peace and stability did not follow, the referendum on a constitution was proclaimed the panacea. When that failed, it was asserted that we just had not yet found the proper prime minister. Even today, the Iraq Study Group is searching for this holy grail. It doesn’t exist.
Truth No. 2: There was no way to have "done it right" in Iraq so that U.S. war aims could have been achieved.
Virtually every new book published on the war, especially Cobra II, Fiasco, and State of Denial, reinforce the myth – the illusion – that we could have won the war; we just did not plan properly and fight the war the right way. The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and most other major newspapers have consistently filled their opinion pages with arguments and testimonials to support that myth. (Professor Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University offers the most recent conspicuous reinforcement of this myth in the Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2006.)
The fragmentation of the country, civil war, and the rise of outside influence from Iran, Syria, and other countries – all of these things might have been postponed for a time by different war plans and occupation polices. But failure would have eventually raised its ugly head. Possibly, some of the variables would be a bit different. For example, if the Iraqi military had not been dissolved and if most of the Baathist Party cadres not been disenfranchised, the Sunni factions, instead of the Shiites, probably would have owned the ministry of interior, the police, and several unofficial militias. The Shiites, in that event, would have been the insurgents, abundantly supplied by Iran, indiscriminately killing Sunni civilians, fighting the U.S. military forces, blowing up the power grid, and so on.
A different U.S. occupation plan might have changed the course Iraq has taken to civil war and fragmentation, but it could have not prevented that outcome.
Truth No. 3: The theory that "we broke it and therefore we own it," with all the moral baggage it implies, is simply untrue because it is not within U.S. power to "fix it."
The president’s cheerleaders in the run-up to the war now use this theory to rationalize our continued presence in Iraq, and in that way avoid admitting that they share the guilt for the crime of breaking Iraq in the first place.
Truth No. 4: The demand that the administration engage Iran and Syria directly, asking them to help stabilize Iraq, is patently naïve or cynically irresponsible until American forces begin withdrawing – and rapidly – so that there is no ambiguity about their complete and total departure.
Effective negotiations will be possible, even with Iran, but only after the U.S. withdraws. And such negotiations must be based on a candid recognition that Iran will come out of this war with a much enhanced position in the Middle East. Until these realities are acknowledged, the planning staffs in the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department will not begin addressing the most important tasks awaiting them in confronting the post-Iraq War world.
First among them is how to help the Arab Gulf states cope with a stronger Iran, one that has territorial claims on the Arab side of the Gulf. Second is dealing with the increased threat to Israel that comes from the U.S. defeat in Iraq, its own recent misguided war against Hezbollah, looming instability in Lebanon, and the large number of experienced al Qaeda cadres produced by the war in Iraq. Moreover, as the Sunni-Shiite split in the Arab world spreads from Iraq into neighboring Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, not to mention Lebanon, the United States will be facing a dynamic it has little power to limit.
These new challenges will not be manageable by the United States alone. Europe will have to join with the United States in meeting them. American neocons who have sought to split the United States from Europe, as well as Europeans who tilt excessively in favor the Palestinians, will have to change their tunes if Israel is to survive the upheaval that the U.S. and the Israeli governments so eagerly perpetrated.
The media have not begun to recognize and explain the dramatic changes catalyzed in the Middle East by the war in Iraq. Most editors are not even willing to contemplate them, preferring to pretend they do not exist, probably because they bear some responsibility for creating them.
Truth No. 5: The United States cannot prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The only sure way to stop Iran's program is to invade with ground troops and occupy the country indefinitely. Both Iran and North Korea learned from Israel's bombing of the Iraqi nuclear facilities and have hardened their own to make bombing only marginally effective at best. Having squandered ground force capabilities in Iraq, the U.S. does not have sufficient forces to invade Iran, even if that made sense. And bombing would produce all the undesirable consequences of that action but not the most desirable one. Yet the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers editorialize as if this is not so.
Truth No. 6: It is simply not possible to prevent more tragic Iraqi deaths in Iraq.
Many pundits and politicians – particularly those who howled for the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and 2003 -- posture about human rights abuses that will occur if U.S. troops are withdrawn rapidly. The way to have avoided moral responsibility for these abuses was not to invade in the first place. At present, U. S. military forces in Iraq merely facilitate arrests and executions by Shiite officials in the police and some army units. These, of course, are mainly in reaction to the Baathist-led insurgency. This struggle will continue, with or without U.S. forces present, although the forms and tactics of the struggle will change after U.S. forces withdraw. An earlier withdrawal, one or two years ago, would probably have allowed this struggle to be fought to a conclusion by now. Our well-meaning efforts to prevent blood baths are more likely causing them to be bigger, not smaller.
The Iraq Study Group’s recommendations could be used to dispel these myths and prompt a rapid withdrawal, but it remains to be seen if either the president and his aides or the Congress can or will use them for that purpose. The “one last big try” aspect of the recommendations, if pursued vigorously, will just make the final price the catastrophe higher. The media, by dispelling the foregoing list of myths, could make that less likely.
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
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