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True Wisdom from General Odom--WashPost 2/11/07

*Victory Is Not an Option*
The Mission Can't Be Accomplished -- It's Time for a New Strategy

By William E. Odom
Sunday, February 11, 2007; B01

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the
gulf that separates President Bush's illusions from the realities of the
war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal
democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has
no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE,
the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a
declaration of defeat.
*Victory Is Not an Option*
The Mission Can't Be Accomplished -- It's Time for a New Strategy

By William E. Odom
Sunday, February 11, 2007; B01

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the
gulf that separates President Bush's illusions from the realities of the
war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal
democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has
no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE,
the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a
declaration of defeat.

Its gloomy implications -- hedged, as intelligence agencies prefer, in
rubbery language that cannot soften /it/s impact -- put the intelligence
community and the American public on the same page. The public awakened
to the reality of failure in Iraq last year and turned the Republicans
out of control of Congress to wake it up. But a majority of its members
are still asleep, or only half-awake to their new writ to end the war soon.

Perhaps this is not surprising. Americans do not warm to defeat or
failure, and our politicians are famously reluctant to admit their own
responsibility for anything resembling those un-American outcomes. So
they beat around the bush, wringing hands and debating "nonbinding
resolutions" that oppose the president's plan to increase the number of
U.S. troops in Iraq.

For the moment, the collision of the public's clarity of mind, the
president's relentless pursuit of defeat and Congress's anxiety has
paralyzed us. We may be doomed to two more years of chasing the mirage
of democracy in Iraq and possibly widening the war to Iran. But this is
not inevitable. A Congress, or a president, prepared to quit the game of
"who gets the blame" could begin to alter American strategy in ways that
will vastly improve the prospects of a more stable Middle East.

No task is more important to the well-being of the United States. We
face great peril in that troubled region, and improving our prospects
will be difficult. First of all, it will require, from Congress at
least, public acknowledgment that the president's policy is based on
illusions, not realities. There never has been any right way to invade
and transform Iraq. Most Americans need no further convincing, but two
truths ought to put the matter beyond question:

First, the assumption that the United States could create a liberal,
constitutional democracy in Iraq defies just about everything known by
professional students of the topic. Of the more than 40 democracies
created since World War II, fewer than 10 can be considered truly
"constitutional" -- meaning that their domestic order is protected by a
broadly accepted rule of law, and has survived for at least a
generation. None is a country with Arabic and Muslim political cultures.
None has deep sectarian and ethnic fissures like those in Iraq.

Strangely, American political scientists whose business it is to know
these things have been irresponsibly quiet. In the lead-up to the March
2003 invasion, neoconservative agitators shouted insults at anyone who
dared to mention the many findings of academic research on how
democracies evolve. They also ignored our own struggles over two
centuries to create the democracy Americans enjoy today. Somehow Iraqis
are now expected to create a constitutional order in a country with no
conditions favoring it.

This is not to say that Arabs cannot become liberal democrats. When they
immigrate to the United States, many do so quickly. But it is to say
that Arab countries, as well as a large majority of all countries, find
creating a stable constitutional democracy beyond their capacities.

Second, to expect any Iraqi leader who can hold his country together to
be pro-American, or to share American goals, is to abandon common sense.
It took the United States more than a century to get over its hostility
toward British occupation. (In 1914, a majority of the public favored
supporting Germany against Britain.) Every month of the U.S. occupation,
polls have recorded Iraqis' rising animosity toward the United States.
Even supporters of an American military presence say that it is
acceptable temporarily and only to prevent either of the warring sides
in Iraq from winning. Today the Iraqi government survives only because
its senior members and their families live within the heavily guarded
Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and military command.

As Congress awakens to these realities -- and a few members have bravely
pointed them out -- will it act on them? Not necessarily. Too many
lawmakers have fallen for the myths that are invoked to try to sell the
president's new war aims. Let us consider the most pernicious of them.

/1) We must continue the war to prevent the terrible aftermath that will
occur if our forces are withdrawn soon./ Reflect on the double-think of
this formulation. We are now fighting to prevent what our invasion made
inevitable! Undoubtedly we will leave a mess -- the mess we created,
which has become worse each year we have remained. Lawmakers gravely
proclaim their opposition to the war, but in the next breath express
fear that quitting it will leave a blood bath, a civil war, a terrorist
haven, a "failed state," or some other horror. But this "aftermath" is
already upon us; a prolonged U.S. occupation cannot prevent what already
exists.

/2)/ /We must continue the war to prevent Iran's influence from growing
in Iraq./ This is another absurd notion. One of the president's initial
war aims, the creation of a democracy in Iraq, ensured increased Iranian
influence, both in Iraq and the region. Electoral democracy,
predictably, would put Shiite groups in power -- groups supported by
Iran since Saddam Hussein repressed them in 1991. Why are so many
members of Congress swallowing the claim that prolonging the war is now
supposed to prevent precisely what starting the war inexorably and
predictably caused? Fear that Congress will confront this contradiction
helps explain the administration and neocon drumbeat we now hear for
expanding the war to Iran.

Here we see shades of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy in Vietnam: widen the
war into Cambodia and Laos. Only this time, the adverse consequences
would be far greater. Iran's ability to hurt U.S. forces in Iraq are not
trivial. And the anti-American backlash in the region would be larger,
and have more lasting consequences.

/3) We must prevent the emergence of a new/ /haven for/ /al-Qaeda in
Iraq./ But it was the U.S. invasion that opened Iraq's doors to
al-Qaeda. The longer U.S. forces have remained there, the stronger
al-Qaeda has become. Yet its strength within the Kurdish and Shiite
areas is trivial. After a U.S. withdrawal, it will probably play a
continuing role in helping the Sunni groups against the Shiites and the
Kurds. Whether such foreign elements could remain or thrive in Iraq
after the resolution of civil war is open to question. Meanwhile,
continuing the war will not push al-Qaeda outside Iraq. On the contrary,
the American presence is the glue that holds al-Qaeda there now.

/4) We must continue to fight in order to "support the troops."/ This
argument effectively paralyzes almost all members of Congress. Lawmakers
proclaim in grave tones a litany of problems in Iraq sufficient to
justify a rapid pullout. Then they reject that logical conclusion,
insisting we cannot do so because we must support the troops. Has
anybody asked the troops?

During their first tours, most may well have favored "staying the
course" -- whatever that meant to them -- but now in their second, third
and fourth tours, many are changing their minds. We see evidence of that
in the many news stories about unhappy troops being sent back to Iraq.
Veterans groups are beginning to make public the case for bringing them
home. Soldiers and officers in Iraq are speaking out critically to
reporters on the ground.

But the strangest aspect of this rationale for continuing the war is the
implication that the troops are somehow responsible for deciding to
continue the president's course. That political and moral responsibility
belongs to the president, not the troops. Did not President Harry S.
Truman make it clear that "the buck stops" in the Oval Office? If the
president keeps dodging it, where does it stop? With Congress?

Embracing the four myths gives Congress excuses not to exercise its
power of the purse to end the war and open the way for a strategy that
might actually bear fruit.

The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now
simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting
out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options.
Withdrawal will take away the conditions that allow our enemies in the
region to enjoy our pain. It will awaken those European states reluctant
to collaborate with us in Iraq and the region.

Second, we must recognize that the United States alone cannot stabilize
the Middle East.

Third, we must acknowledge that most of our policies are actually
destabilizing the region. Spreading democracy, using sticks to try to
prevent nuclear proliferation, threatening "regime change," using the
hysterical rhetoric of the "global war on terrorism" -- all undermine
the stability we so desperately need in the Middle East.

Fourth, we must redefine our purpose. It must be a stable region, not
primarily a democratic Iraq. We must redirect our military operations so
they enhance rather than undermine stability. We can write off the war
as a "tactical draw" and make "regional stability" our measure of
"victory." That single step would dramatically realign the opposing
forces in the region, where most states want stability. Even many in the
angry mobs of young Arabs shouting profanities against the United States
want predictable order, albeit on better social and economic terms than
they now have.

Realigning our diplomacy and military capabilities to achieve order will
hugely reduce the numbers of our enemies and gain us new and important
allies. This cannot happen, however, until our forces are moving out of
Iraq. Why should Iran negotiate to relieve our pain as long as we are
increasing its influence in Iraq and beyond? Withdrawal will awaken most
leaders in the region to their own need for U.S.-led diplomacy to
stabilize their neighborhood.

If Bush truly wanted to rescue something of his historical legacy, he
would seize the initiative to implement this kind of strategy. He would
eventually be held up as a leader capable of reversing direction by
turning an imminent, tragic defeat into strategic recovery.

If he stays on his present course, he will leave Congress the
opportunity to earn the credit for such a turnaround. It is already too
late to wait for some presidential candidate for 2008 to retrieve the
situation. If Congress cannot act, it, too, will live in infamy.

diane@hudson.org <mailto:diane@hudson.org>

/William E. Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general, was/

/head of Army intelligence and director of the National Security Agency
under Ronald Reagan. He served on the National Security Council staff
under Jimmy Carter. A West Point graduate with a PhD from Columbia, Odom
teaches at Yale/

/and is a fellow of the Hudson Institute./
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