Friday, April 30, 2004



Despite its somewhat to the right of Stalin editorial pages, Dow Jones media properties -- most notably the WSJ and Barrons -- has been publishing some of the most cogent and damning critical reporting on the war. Meanwhile, the rest of the Press (at least much of it) has been AWOL.

Of all the things I've read about Iraq, the most disturbing by far came in (yet another) WSJ article this week: Former General Sees 'Staying the Course' In Iraq as Untenable.

Its one of those reads that makes the hair on your neck stand up. It was written by John Harwood, the Journal's political editor. Harwood discusses the perspective of retired Gen. William E. Odom, who is the author of "Fixing Intelligence: For a More Secure America."

Here's the money quote:

Maybe it's time, in other words, to listen to retired Gen. William E. Odom. It is delusional, asserts the Army veteran, college professor and longtime Washington hand, to believe that "staying the course" can achieve President Bush's goal of reordering the Middle East by building a friendly democracy in Iraq. For the sake of American security and economic power alike, he argues, the U.S. should remove its forces from that shattered country as rapidly as possible.

"We have failed," Mr. Odom declares bluntly. "The issue is how high a price we're going to pay. ... Less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later?"

His is not the voice of an isolationist, or a peacenik, or Republican-hater. He is talking from the conservative Hudson Institute, where he was hired years ago by Mitch Daniels, later Mr. Bush's budget director. His office displays photos of Ronald Reagan, under whom Mr. Odom directed the National Security Agency, and Jimmy Carter, on whose National Security Council staff he served.

Rather, his unsettling view reflects a broader reassessment of America's predicament as Iraq looks ever-uglier. It can be seen as well in U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer's tacit admission of error in disbanding the Iraqi Army and Mr. Bush's new reliance on United Nations help.

Mr. Odom opposed the Iraq war before it happened. An expert in comparative politics who teaches at Georgetown and Yale, he warned that there was no reason to expect that Iraq could soon develop the ingredients for constitutional democracy: individual rights, property rights and a tax-collection system supporting a government to enforce them. The violence of recent months, he concludes, has exposed Mr. Bush's vision of doing so as a dream.

That is brutal criticism from a person who is one of the nation's leading experts on strategic warfare and comparative politics. And, he's a guy who has actually donned a uniform and fought in wars. His perspective, his view of strategic planning, comes from a place with more gritty realism and experience than the administration's current war planners -- much of whom avoided military service.

Odom has started to do the circuit: He appeared on NBC's today show yesterday morning (I missed it). When people with these sort of credentials start speaking out against the war, it raises very serious issues -- not of the politics of the war, but rather, of the execution and administration of it. As the rest of the interview makes clear, he is gravely concerned about the unintended -- but not unexpected -- consequences of the Iraq war:

"Following the planned June 30 handover of nominal sovereignty, Iraqis may go to the polls and vote. But the result, Mr. Odom explains, will resemble theocracy more than liberal democracy. As televised images of Iraqis cheering attacks on U.S. troops suggest, it's not likely to be anything Americans would consider worth the war's cost in blood and treasure.

"Anybody that's pro-American cannot gain legitimacy," he says. "It will be a highly illiberal democracy, inspired by Islamic culture, extremely hostile to the West and probably quite willing ... to fund terrorist organizations." The ability of Islamic militants to use Iraq as a beachhead for attacks elsewhere may increase.

But can't U.S. troops there tamp down such hostile activity? Well, yes, he says -- at a cost of rising hostility to the U.S. throughout the region.

"It probably will radicalize Saudi Arabia, [and] it could easily radicalize Egypt," Mr. Odom says. Violence yesterday between security forces and terrorists in Syria hinted at what may come, heightening dangers for Israel and the U.S. Iran might agree not to stir trouble among fellow Shiites who are 60% of Iraq's population -- provided the U.S. eases its hostile stance toward Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Yet the stakes, in Mr. Odom's view, are much bigger. The longer U.S. troops hang tough, he reasons, the more isolated America will become. That in turn will place increasing strain on international economic and security institutions that have undergirded the emergence of "America's Inadvertent Empire," as Mr. Odom's latest book calls it. "I don't know that the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, [or] NATO can survive this," he says.

Jeez. How's that for thinking something through?

Harwood also notes that General Odom's proposed solution sounds a lot like Mr. Kerry's: a call for the U.N. and European allies to take charge of political and security arrangements. Where he differs is in the tactic that along with our request we make a "unilateral declaration that U.S. forces would leave even if no one else agrees to come in."

Such a move, he concludes, might even provoke an unexpected result a year after Mr. Bush brushed off opposition from France, Germany and many others to oust Saddam Hussein. "The Europeans might get scared [of chaos] and go in," Mr. Odom says. "There'd probably be a big effort to try to rescue" Mr. Bush. But U.S. troops would be gone within six months in any event.

It is a jarring prescription. But ask yourself, as bullets fly in Najaf and Fallujah, which sounds more credible: Mr. Odom's gloomy forecast, or Mr. Bush's prediction of success?

Um, sure. Not likely to happen under either candidate.

The real problem that lay at the heart of this misadventure is the utterly miserable and often missing strategic planning done -- or not done -- before the war.

I was not rabidly anti-invasion 1 year ago. In fact, we published a Pre-War Analysis on March 19, 2003: Not-So-Hidden Agenda: Strategic and Economic Assessments of U.S. led Invasion in the Middle East.

This was in response to an enormous demand from our European clients -- who all thought the United States had lost its collective mind. I tried to evaluate what credible reasons existed for invading Iraq, so they would have a better sense of the political situation here.

And it turns out, there actually were justifiable strategic reasons to "reshuffle the deck" in the Middle East. The problem is, Team NeoCon dropped the ball.

Like all wars, this one also required forethought, extensive planning, intelligent strategies, and superb execution to result in a positive outcome. As General Odom makes all to clear, those elements are notably missing in the current misadventure in Iraq.

What's worse than bad policy? Bad policy poorly executed . . .

UPDATE: May 15, 2004 6:33am
There is a May 12 interview with the General posted at Democracy Now: Ex-National Security Agency Head Calls For U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Iraq

Former General Sees 'Staying the Course' In Iraq as Untenable
WSJ, Page A4, April 28, 2004,,SB108310695176695357,00.html

Not-So-Hidden Agenda: Strategic and Economic Assessments of U.S. led Invasion in the Middle East
Pre-War Analysis
March 19, 2003

17 April 2002
by William E. Odom, LT GEN, USA, Retired
Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute

Fixing Intelligence: For a More Secure America
Gen. William E. Odom
Yale University Press, March 2003

Posted at 06:48 AM in Media, War/Defense | Permalink


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» ON LOSING from MaxSpeak, You Listen!
Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture discusses the thinking of General William Odom, whose last name with transposed letters tells the tale. Of course, he's no Steven den Beste. To paraphrase a certain anti-war vet, what do you say to... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 30, 2004 4:30:28 PM

» ON LOSING from MaxSpeak, You Listen!
Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture discusses the thinking of General William Odom, whose last name with transposed letters tells the tale. (Also, DeLong links to an interview with Zinni.) Odom is also an authority on comparative politics. Of course,... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 30, 2004 4:35:15 PM


Now "Anybody that's pro-American cannot gain legitimacy" anywhere in the whole arab world! This poorly executed policy will backfire.

I had an Iraki friend here in Paris. He was about to finish his Phd when the war began. He returned to Irak. He was a baathist. a real one. I told him that it could be a good thing if the american could overthrow Saddam. He agreed but then said: "Imagine, you're in a plane with your familly. The pilot is crazy. He doesn't want to land. he says he'd prefer to crah. Then come some people whith their F16 and they order him to land. and he refuse. they say that they're going to fire, but he still refuse. You can't do anything. you're just scared to death. Those who pretend to save you may kill you. But the pilot may kill you too. they all want to hijack this plane. what can you do? Saddam will die but american will never win. And Irak is lost"

What the néocon killed is the very dream of a laic arab world. Now islamists are the only legitimate groups every where. this is the begining of a very long term struggle. At the end all the arab gov will be overthrown, by islamists. a sad thing. I went to morroco the gov is trying to find a democratic way to run the land but Islamists are the most powerfull parties. same in algeria, and Tunisia where Ben ali won't stay for ever. Egypt is on the run. and in arabia saoudia the reforms they are trying to run will backfire too. I visited Iran 2 years ago. The mollah seemed about to loose their grip on power. Now they have retaked it all.

Frankly i really don't know where all this will lead us...



Posted by: jean | Apr 30, 2004 11:03:54 PM

I'm not sure the Europeans will want to cop the carnage so richly deserved by the US. What they'll prefer I think is a formal peacekeeping role for the Arab League, funded by Europe, the UN and especially the US. I don't think trying to save face for the US is a good idea for anyone, least of all the US which needs a serious comeuppance before sense can prevail. This is starting to happen already, and saving Bush's bacon at the last minute doesn't strike me as helpful in this process. There must be no way he and his court, the media in particular, can get away with pretending all's well, even in red states, extra chromosome territory. They should be seen as the failures they are.

In a wider sense, this Europe/UN counterpole to the US in Iraq points the way for the rest of the world in coping with the American threat in the future. We must harness the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), powerhouses of growth featuring the bulk of humanity, in not just one-off alliances to deal with crises only; but in a more formal, organised federation of nations committed to a multilateral world, which opposes where necessary the punitive or unjust US exercise of military or economic dominance for narrow pursuit of self-interest. The UN may well be fairly useless now, but the US is more responsible for this than any combination of other nations you like... and if a single nation can peremptorily decide it's interests override everyone else's, a group of likeminded nations can surely do the same. Vitally interested spectators like us Australians would often, I'm sure, go with the US bloc, particularly down the track a bit when this course of events and the disaster in Iraq has taken the heat out of the hubris, bringing your country back down to earth, but the point is that balance, and choice would be returned to the great game. A bit of air and light and space for civilised disagreement.. a place for compromise.

Bring it on.

Posted by: Glenn Condell | May 1, 2004 12:35:42 AM

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