Lt. Gen. William Odom has added yet another senior officer’s voice to the call for sanity regarding U.S. policy in Iraq. Hard to call a Lieutenant General and Reagan-era national security advisor a “cut and run” liberal or whatever twaddle Fox News and Ann Coulter are spewing about those who favor immediate withdrawal. In addition to his other credentials, he is a fellow at the Hudson Institute, not exactly a bellwether of the liberal elite.
What’s especially useful in Odom’s Foreign Policy essay (also published in edited form in the Los Angeles Times–hat tip to The Opinionator for the original links) is his enumeration and evisceration of every right-wing talking point for “staying the course” in Iraq.
1. To the contention that if we leave there will be civil war, Odom states the obvious–there already is civil war and it started right after we toppled Saddam.
2. To the claim–“Before U.S. forces stand down, Iraqi security forces must stand up”–Odom notes that the issue isn’t military competency. There are plenty of fighting forces within Iraq that are militarily competent. Rather, the real problem is that none of these fighting forces answers to a national political leadership. Without a fully functioning government there can never be a fully functioning Iraqi and police force.
3. To the argument that a U.S. withdrawal would undermine our credibility and power in the rest of the word, Odom sniffs:
Were the United States a middling power, this case might hold some water. But for the world’s only superpower, it’s patently phony. A rapid reversal of our present course in Iraq would improve U.S. credibility around the world. The same argument was made against withdrawal from Vietnam. It was proved wrong then and it would be proved wrong today. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the world’s opinion of the United States has plummeted, with the largest short-term drop in American history. The United States now garners as much international esteem as Russia. Withdrawing and admitting our mistake would reverse this trend. Very few countries have that kind of corrective capacity.
And to those who argue that Iraq was a war that should have been fought, Odom has this to say:
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.
Odom also has some strong and surprising words regarding current U.S. policy toward Iran:
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.
Add Odom to the list of senior U.S. officers who dispute Bush-Cheney’s willingness to attack Iran for the sake of its nukes. When we progressives say stuff like this it’s so easily parried by the right. That’s why I love it when a general makes such sense. How can you tell a general he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to how U.S. power should be exercised? You’d be a fool for trying.