The Greatest Strategic Disaster in American History by Mike Whitney
A few months ago, retired Army Lt. General William Odom called the war in Iraq, “the greatest strategic disaster in American history”. Since then, he’s added to his criticism saying that, “The army is broken” and “we need a basic strategic change of direction” or “we’re going to pay a higher and higher price over a longer period of time.”
Odom’s sober analysis of Iraq is a stark contrast to the optimistic braying of the Bush administration. Just this week, Bush said that America will prevail in Iraq and that we will persist until “victory” is achieved. Vice President Dick Cheney is equally confident of success, although he has backed off his earlier predictions that the “insurgency is in its last throes”.
Odom’s recent appearance on The Jim Lehrer News hour puts him at the heart of a growing debate between rival factions of the war party. Odom is a charter member of the “reality-based” foreign policy team and a staunch opponent of the ongoing occupation. His opinion is only slightly different from that of John Murtha, the hawkish congressman who called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Odom belongs to the “old school” of American militarists; along with Brent Scowcroft, Lawrence Eagleburger and Bush 1, who believe that running an empire is serious business and shouldn’t be left to ideologues and fanatics.
“People are becoming more and more aware that it is not in our interest to be (in Iraq)”, Odom opined. “There’s a refusal to look back and see whose interests were really served best. It is clear that Iran’s interests were served by our invasion and Al Qaeda’s interests because it could not break in until we broke in.”
But, what about training Iraqi security forces before American troop withdrawal?
Odom: “If that’s a move for earlier withdrawal I will support it…The problem is not training security forces; it is political consolidation and that is not taking place…We have a civil war now. The only thing the US withdrawal will change is the configuration of that war to some degree.”
“There will be a lot of bloodshed no matter how long we stay” because of old “scores that will be settled” between Shiites and Sunnis.
Odom’s prescription for success in the Middle East requires removing American troops from Iraq:
“We can’t really manage a strategic stabilization of the region unless we get out first. We’re trying to stabilize the region, more or less by ourselves. The Europeans will not join us unless we move out.”
What about civil war?
Odom: “This IS a civil war, and just like…in South Vietnam, and it won’t be stable until one side has prevailed. The longer we stay in there, the longer it will be before that is determined.”
“The only prudent speed is the safety of our forces.”
“The (consequences) of this war were eminently foreseeable and the longer we put it off, the bigger the price we will pay, and the longer it will take us to restore some kind of alliance effort for the larger region.”
”Those people who want to ‘stay the course’ now are just…feeding the forces of Al Qaida and other radical movements in the region.”
What about rebuilding the Iraqi military?
Odom: “It is an illusion to think you could leave a stable military there. What you are leaving is more a set of militias, which are training under the illusion that they are the Iraqi security force. (The) police are essentially a front for the militias…”
“There’s no way we’re going to leave a regime that’s going to be pro-American. So, this notion that we stay longer to reach something that couldn’t be reached earlier is simply an unwillingness to face the realities…Staying there for three more years won’t change.”
Odom still supports America’s imperial role in the region, he’s simply shrewd enough to see that the war has failed in its primary objectives and will not further US interests in the region. His strategy provides the only solution whereby the US will be able to maintain a presence in the Middle East and oversee the distribution of vital oil supplies while evacuating Iraq.
Odom: “We should not leave the region; we should get together with allies after we pull out and begin to discuss how we balance this region in the chaotic state in which we are leaving it. And that’s the way to approach it. It might involve the use of military forces.”
“But, don’t let the military forces (get involved) before the strategic political decisions are made.”
As the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, the hostility between the warring elements in the Republican Party is bound to intensify. Odom’s views are characteristic of a generation who understood the subtleties of running an empire and using all the tools available; including diplomacy, negotiation, moral authority and, at times, military power. He would prefer to see the administration employ America’s considerable powers of persuasion rather than futile saber-rattling and preemptive war. And, like his contemporaries, he fully grasps the value of discretion in executing unpopular policies.
The Bush administration stubbornly refuses to use the “soft power” of diplomacy or negotiation; preferring to rule by force and deception alone. They have flaunted international law and created the modern icons of human barbarity at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Their merciless destruction of Falluja, which involved the use of white phosphorous and other banned weapons, has put them in a category of monsters that brings to mind the tyrants of the 20th century. Their failed occupation strategy has so alienated the Iraqi public that the only possibility of success is subjugation of the entire population. This is neither a desirable nor realistic solution.
All of these have contributed to a steady erosion of American power and prestige.
Things can be expected to worsen as the ruling party becomes more splintered and acrimonious. Eventually, Bush will have to give in to some variant of Odom’s plan. The rising probability of social upheaval at home, after five years of economic mismanagement, will push the fantasists and ideologues in the administration towards the Machiavellian strategies of realists like Odom. By then, the empire will be in serious decline; savaged by an exorbitant war, ballooning deficits, a falling greenback, rising interest rates, and the looming prospect of hyper-inflation.
Bush has paved the way for “the greatest strategic disaster in American history”; a massive economic downturn accompanied by a seismic-shift in the global power structure.