Among all the posturing by General Petraeus last week, the testimony of another General (Ret.) William Odom before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee did not receive much attention. That’s unfortunate, because Odom is very close to many of the ground commanders in Iraq. He spoke, in the vernacular, “the ground truth.” Here’s a little of what he said.
On the Sunni Awakening Councils:
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.
As an aside, 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.
Let me emphasize that our new Sunni friends insist on being paid for their loyalty. I have heard, for example, a rough estimate that the cost in one area of about 100 square kilometers is $250,000 per day. And periodically they threaten to defect unless their fees are increased. You might want to find out the total costs for these deals forecasted for the next several years, because they are not small and they do not promise to end. Remember, we do not own these people. We merely rent them. And they can break the lease at any moment. At the same time, this deal protects them to some degree from the government’s troops and police, hardly a sign of political reconciliation.
On the President’s Victory Scenario:
We are being asked by the president to believe that this shift of so much power and finance to so many local chieftains is the road to political centralization. He describes the process as building the state from the bottom up. I challenge you to press the administration’s witnesses this week to explain this absurdity.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. That is the history of feudal Europe’s transformation to the age of absolute monarchy. It is the story of the American colonization of the west and our Civil War. It took England 800 years to subdue clan rule on what is now the English-Scottish border. And it is the source of violence in Bosnia and Kosovo.
How can our leaders celebrate this diffusion of power as effective state building? More accurately described, it has placed the United States astride several civil wars. And it allows all sides to consolidate, rearm, and refill their financial coffers at the US expense.
Odom believes we must withdraw “rapidly, but in good order”. To those who say chaos will follow, he responds.
We heard that argument as the “domino theory” in Vietnam. Even so, the path to political stability will be bloody regardless of whether we withdraw or not. The idea that the United States has a moral responsibility to prevent this ignores that reality. We are certainly to blame for it, but we do not have the physical means to prevent it. American leaders who insist that it is in our power to do so are misleading both the public and themselves if they believe it. 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.
Third, nay sayers insist that our withdrawal will create regional instability. 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. Our ostrich strategy of keeping our heads buried in the sands of Iraq has done nothing but advance our enemies’ interest.