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2005-10-04

Ret. Army General William Odom: U.S. Should "Cut and Run" From Iraq

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What’s wrong with cutting and running? That’s the question asked by retired Army general William Odom about the continued US military presence in Iraq. Odom says, "I’m trying to think like a strategist, and in war, as well as in politics and diplomacy, one has to know when to withdraw and when to attack. This was a misguided act and it requires a strategic division and moral confidence to turn it around." [includes rush transcript]

What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running? That’s the question asked by retired Army general William Odom about the continued US military presence in Iraq.

Odom served as director of the National Security Agency under President Reagan. Prior to that, he served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the Army’s senior intelligence officer. He is now a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

He recently said, "The invasion of Iraq I believe will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history."

In his article Odom writes, "The wisest course for journalists might be to begin sustained investigations of why leading Democrats have failed so miserably to challenge the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The first step, of course, is to establish as conventional wisdom the fact that the war was never in the U.S." interests and has not become so."

  • Lt. Gen. William Odom, served as director of the National Security Agency under President Reagan from 1985 to 1988. From 1981 to 1985, he served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the Army’s senior intelligence officer. He is now a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Iraq, what’s wrong with cutting and running? That’s the question asked by a retired army general, William Odom, about the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. Odom served as Director of the National Security Agency, the top secret agency, well larger than the C.I.A., under President Reagan. He served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the Army’s senior intelligence officer, now Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

He recently wrote, quote, "The invasion of Iraq will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history." In his article, Odom says, "The wisest course for journalists might be to begin sustained investigations of why leading Democrats have failed so miserably to challenge the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The first step, of course, is to establish as conventional wisdom the fact that the war was never in the U.S. interests and has not become so," he writes. Lieutenant General William Odom joins us on the line from Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you lay out your argument? A general calling for cutting and running?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: Well, I’m trying to think like a strategist. And in war, as well as in politics and diplomacy, one has to know when to withdraw and when to attack. And this was a misguided attack, and it requires a strategic vision and moral confidence to turn it around, the earlier the better. But as the evidence piles up, I think my judgment is being borne out.

I said before the war in February that if we invade Iraq, this will serve primarily the interests of two people: Osama bin Laden, because it will make Iraq safe for al Qaeda, and it will allow him to have access to kill Americans, which he cannot do in the U.S. very effectively; the second party that would benefit greatly would be the Iranians. Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, and they fought for eight years, and Iranians hated that regime as much more than we did. Therefore it was very much in their interest, and it is clearer now that a Shiite majority will probably end up in control in Iraq, and it will not be pro-American, and it probably will be an Islamic religious republic.

So that’s — those kind of outcomes were foreseeable, and then I didn’t say anything about it for a year, and pointed out that exactly these things were happening. And I was asked about in August why — whether I thought that journalists were doing a good job in pressing this issue with the President. And the answers you’ve just read are the ones I gave.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you wrote this piece. It’s appearing a bit on the internet and some local papers. But you offered it to The New York Times as an op-ed piece?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: I didn’t offer this exact version. I offered a draft op-ed. This is considerably longer than would be accepted as an op-ed.

AMY GOODMAN: But the idea was to call for cutting and running?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: Yeah. I said exactly [inaudible] the earlier the better. The idea of staying the course makes no sense at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you gotten other op-ed pieces printed in Times?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: Maybe 15 or 20, maybe 30 in the past ten years.

AMY GOODMAN: What did they say about this one?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: Well, they didn’t say. They just didn’t take it.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think that is?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: I really don’t know. Maybe they just overlooked it. Maybe they didn’t think my writing style was up to previous ventures. But I think the message would have been worth the — if they didn’t like the structure of the piece, ask me to trim it or edit it. But I really don’t know.

There is a tendency, it seems to me, among both Democrats and Republicans, to really get nervous about doing anything. They know that we’re in trouble, and they’re just not willing to face up to the reality that we are going to have to one day pick up and leave and that you’re almost — as I said in the piece, the structure of this piece, essentially saying that all of the things that the administration says will happen if we leave are already happening or they’re irrelevant.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you say the arguments against pulling out, we’d leave behind a civil war, we’d lose credibility on the world stage, it would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy, Iraq would become a haven for terrorists, Iranian influence in Iraq would increase, unrest might spread in the region and/or draw in Iraq’s neighbors, Shiite-Sunni clashes would worsen, we haven’t fully trained the Iraqi military and police forces yet and talk of deadlines would undercut the morale of our troops. You say all of this has already happened.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: Sure. Just take the last one. You can see from the exchanges over the training of troops that went up to the Congress the other day, when General Abizaid and General Casey both gave a rather dismal picture of progress in training up units that can fight on their own in Iraqi’s forces. They said only one, Rumsfeld, previously had, within [inaudible] before, had told Congress that three, and the number was surging, and, you know, he gave her a rosy picture. And they were much more cautious.

Now, they’ve been turned around, and they’re up on the Sunday morning news shows this week saying, 'Well, things are rosier.' It’s clear that they themselves are how dubious about this. They cannot afford to stand up and contradict the regime — rather the administration — too forcefully. I think they can say some of the facts fairly clearly and without [inaudible], if they can avoid it. But — so the judgments out there are not good, and I have heard from many junior officers the view that, yes, we’re winning tactically. Our unit wins every tactical battle. But the big picture, the strategic picture, we’re losing. If they kill one of us for every thousand we kill — they have over 20 million people, we have 123,000. You know, the numbers are just against us. And once one begins to look at it objectively like that, it — you’ve got to ask what this is worth, what you gain by doing this.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think ultimately this is what will happen? It’ll just be a matter of years?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: Oh, yeah. Look, that’s what happened in Vietnam. I mean, I, for different reasons, I had a similar view in Vietnam. By the way the troops don’t mind you debating the issue back here. I mean, I was in Vietnam. We — a lot of us wondered why there wasn’t more debate. We wondered why mainstream people were not debating it. And they let the fringe left anti-war movement blame us, blame people in uniform. I went over and spoke the other day — you know, I don’t have politics, right or left. I’ve never been a Republican or Democrat. And I have worked in the Carter White House, and I’ve worked in the Reagan White House.

So partisan — this is not a partisan politics issue. Congressman Walter Jones, who can hardly be called a conservative is a very — I mean, a liberal, is a very conservative Republican from North Carolina, who invented the term "freedom fries" to replace the "French fries" label, has now enrolled a resolution to Congress, calling for a withdrawal. And I was surprised to get calls from him, asking me to come over and attend a small press conference that he had, where he has a small group of Republicans and an equal number of Democrats behind this. And the point I made — the only reason I went and joined them was that I would rather see people on Bush’s side and responsible mainline Democrats carry this issue than let it go out to the fringes. And that’s where it’s headed.

AMY GOODMAN: Lieutenant General William Odom, I want to thank you for being with us, and I hope to continue to talk about this in the coming weeks. This is Democracy Now! DemocracyNow.org. Lieutenant General William Odom served as Director of the National Security Agency under President Reagan. He’s now with the Hudson Institute in Washington.

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