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Listen to the General on Iraq (No, not Petraeus!)

by Dave Lindorff

“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. (Ret.) William Odom testimony in Congress
General Odom said America was buying Sunni backing in just one region for $250,000 a day, and he warned, “we don’t own these people, we rent them.”
Sat, 04/05/2008—In a couple days, Americans will be deluged with effusive, praise-filled stories in what passes for news organizations, print and electronic, in the US, quoting Gen. David Petraeus on the glories of his and President Bush’s brilliant so-called "surge" strategy in Iraq.

There will be little critical comment on his report, which will claim that the surge is working but that Iraqi’s “need to do more” to take advantage of the surge in stability to create a stable government in Baghdad.

He will claim, and the media will help him here, that the collapse of President Nouri al-Maliki’s “defining moment” attack on the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr in Basra, with 1000 of his crack troops and two leading officers defecting to the other side, and Maliki himself having to be rescued by American troops, was a minor event. He will claim that the rise in violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq back to pre-surge levels is of no significance—a statistical aberration.

And President Bush will ask for another $102 billion from Congress to continue funding his catastrophic war in Iraq.

Just to keep our sanity and clarity, it would be good to listen to another general, Lt. General (ret.) William E. Odom, who on April 2 testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Gen. Odom told the committee that the last time he had testified about Iraq was in January of 2007. He had been asked about the “surge”. He said, “Today you are asking if it has worked. Last year I rejected the claim that it was a new strategy. Rather, 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.”

Gen. Odom said, “Violence has been temporarily reduced but today there is credible evidence that the political situation is far more fragmented. And currently we see violence surge in Baghdad and Basra. In fact, it has also remained sporadic and significant in several other parts of Iraq over the past year, notwithstanding the notable drop in Baghdad and Anbar Province. More disturbing, Prime Minister Maliki has initiated military action and then 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."

Odom went on to say, “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.”

As for the Bush claim that Sunni Muslims in western Iraq and Fallujah were now siding with the US (the government never mentions that they are being handsomely paid to do so), Odom said,

“Their break with al Qaeda should give us little comfort. The Sunnis welcomed anyone who would help them kill Americans, including al Qaeda. The concern we hear the president and his aides 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 diplomacy campaign over the past year or so on internet blogs. They implore the United States to bomb and invade Iran and destroy this apostate Shiite regime.”

Odom said America was buying Sunni backing in just one region for $250,000 a day, and he warned, “we don’t own these people, we rent them.”

Then Odom let fly a real bomb. “As an aside,” he told the committee, in a statement that you won’t read in your daily paper or hear on the TV news, “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.”

Saying the Bush administration’s argument that it could build a stable democratic government by working with local strongmen in Iraq, he challenged the senators to “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. “

The general’s conclusion: “We face a deteriorating political situation with an over-extended army. When the administration's witnesses appear before you, you should make them clarify how long the army and marines can sustain this band-aid strategy.”

Odom instead called for immediate withdrawal, “rapidly but in good order.” He said, “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.”

He said if Bush and Cheney would simply stop threatening “regime change” by force as a policy, and in specific if it stopped threatening Iran, it would lead Iran to reduce its support of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and to change its policy toward Iraq, too. The US “needs to make Iran feel more secure,” he said.

Odom took the occasion to debunk arguments against early and rapid withdrawal. To those who say the US needs to continue to train Iraqi forces, he said, “Training foreign forces before they have a consolidated political authority to command their loyalty is a windmill tilt. Finally, Iraq is not short on military skills.

To those who warn of chaos following a US withdrawal, he recalled the warnings of a “domino” effect if the US left Vietnam, he said, “the path to political stability will be bloody regardless of whether we withdraw or not.” He added, “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 seems willing to assume.”

Finally to those oppose withdrawal warning it would create regional instability, he countered, “ 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."

Odom concluded, “I implore you to reject these fallacious excuses for prolonging the commitment of US forces to war in Iraq.”

Congress--and the two candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, both of whom are hedging their way towards a continued military presence for years in Iraq--should listen to this general, and not to the one whom the recently resigned (or sacked) Central Commander, Admiral William Fallon, called an “ass-licking little chickenshit,” Gen. Petraeus.

Lindorff speakingAbout the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at

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This story was published on April 7, 2008.