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Experts Analyze Coalition Progress in the Iraq War

May 10, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Joining me to discuss the military prospects in Iraq are retired Army Lt. General William Odom, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. His latest book is “America’s Inadvertent Empire.” Retired Marine Corps Lt. General Bernard Trainor, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and co-author of “The Generals’ War,” a book about the 1991 Gulf War, and Larry Diamond, a former political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. He left that post last month. He’s a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Welcome to you all, gentlemen. At the Pentagon today, Larry Diamond, I’ll begin with you, the president talked about defeating enemy forces and doing what it takes to gain victory. How would you define military victory at this point, and is it achievable?

LARRY DIAMOND: Well, Margaret, we can’t only talk about military victory. Victory would involve political victory as well. So military victory would involve crushing, I’d say, both insurgencies of Muqtada Sadr’s forces in the Shiite south and of the al-Qaida and Baathist elements in Fallujah. We’ve already essentially given up on victory in Fallujah, and fortunately I think we are pursuing the latter military goal. But we’re not going to succeed without a political strategy as well that involves the Iraqi people and puts them out in front.

MARGARET WARNER: Gen. Trainor, your view of whether this war is winnable — because when the president talked today it was as if the war very much was still going on.

LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (Ret.): Margaret, notwithstanding the war-like rhetoric of the administration and the fact that there probably are pockets of resistance in Iraq that are Jihadists are Baathists, we’re not at war, we’re not over there conducting a war. We entered the war when we knocked out half the Saddam Hussein regime. We are out there right now to free the Iraqis and establish some sort of a viable government. The senior marine officer on the scene out there said we didn’t come over here to kill Iraqis. We can be your best friend or your worst enemy and they showed that they could be your worst enemy in Fallujah. And now they’re trying to be the best friend.

The majority of the Iraqis are very happy that we’ve put Saddam Hussein out of business. And now they want to see us go out of business and leave them alone. And I think we can do that. It’s not going to be a 100 percent solution; I would call it the 70 percent solution. And I think Fallujah becomes kind of the motto for what we should be doing.

We’re dealing with the locals the who are not trying to reinstall Saddam Hussein like regime, but they’re acting in large measure with some exceptions, admittedly, out of a civic, a regional and a national pride. They want us to leave and to see to their own affairs, and I think that should be our goal. And that’s a political goal, not a military goal, and we shouldn’t be using the terms victory or defeat or other war-like rhetoric.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s your sense of this?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM, (Ret): Well, the president set forth there war aims as I remember. One was to get rid of WMD there, the second was to overthrow the Saddam regime and third was to create a constitutional democracy which is pro-America. The first two, can be considered either irrelevant or accomplished and the last one is the issue. And there’s not going to be a constitutional regime that’s pro-American anytime soon, I don’t think in several decades. If that is the measure, that’s the political aim, then why don’t we get there soon?

I have reached the conclusion long ago that we shouldn’t have gone in because we didn’t think we could get that, but I think now it should be clear to those who avoided the test of proposition that we’re not going to get that, therefore staying longer, cost the U.S. without gaining us anything. We need to go to the niceties of approaching the U. N. and let them have a chance to take it over, but we should set some sort of date and begin to move out and leave it to whoever takes over.

MARGARET WARNER: So you’re talking about not just handing over political sovereignty on June 30 but moving quickly to get all U.S. troops out?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM, (Ret): There’s no other good reason to stay. And I don’t think it makes sense to talk about winning or losing now, in a strategic sense we lost when we started the war. The strategic winners in this have been Osama bin Laden, because we diverted our forces from that, bogged ourselves down in Iraq, the Iranians were absolutely pleased because they hate Saddam, and we’ve virtually destroyed our own ground forces, they’re so overextended, our equipment is so rundown and un-repaired right now, that I don’t see any advantages for us for any purpose to stay there much longer.

MARGARET WARNER: But, Larry Diamond, the president made it clear today that even after the handover of sovereignty and we can address the question of whether there will be a peaceful country to has been over on June 30, but that the U.S. would remain to create and maintain a security environment so that a free democratic Iraq, as he said, could take root and could flourish. Do you think that is achievable?

LARRY DIAMOND: Well, I think we have an obligation to try. I sympathize with what Gen. Odom has said. But the problem is if we don’t work on the security side of things to build up the Iraqi armed forces, the civil defense corps and the police, in a very urgent way, what we’re going to do is hand over military power to various militias, and then the country is going to be at very grave risk of descending into civil war. And if you think there is a scandal now over the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, it will be nothing compared to the outrage that the world will feel if we simply walk away from Iraq and let it descend into civil war, what my friend Tom Friedman calls Lebanon on steroids.

MARGARET WARNER: So you would disagree with Gen. Trainor that what happened in Fallujah should be the model where essentially the marines turned over or asked some insurgent forces and former members of the Iraqi army to go in and pacify the city. You disagree with that as a strategy?

LARRY DIAMOND: Margaret, I don’t. I actually think we had no choice in Fallujah. We don’t have enough troops in Iraq to do everything at once. I think it’s been obvious for almost a year now that we haven’t had nearly enough troops there, we probably needed twice as many forces post-war as we’ve had. But we have the number of troop there that we have. And I think we –

MARGARET WARNER: Let me interrupt you then. So what do you mean when you say we can’t legitimize local militias?

LARRY DIAMOND: What I mean is that we have to accelerate the effort to build up an independent Iraqi police force, civil defense corps and army as rapidly as possible. We need to see if by ceding more control to international authorities, we can also bring in some more international forces and buy time to build up the new forces of an Iraqi state. I think that has to be our overriding priority now on the security front.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gen. Trainor, your views on what Gen. Odom said, that the best thing is to get out as quickly as we can, or if not, how do we bring security there?

LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (Ret.): Well, on Gen. Odom’s point, if we precipitously leave the area, we’re going to have civil war, and that is an impact not only on Iraq but also regionally. On the other point, we originally planned to keep the Iraqi army in place to provide the sort of stability and security that was necessary to prevent the looting, to prevent the insurgencies and so forth. And for some reason or other, somebody made the decision up to line to dissolve that army. So what you’re seeing in Fallujah is basically going back to the original game plan. Now the CDC that we established, the Civil Defense Corps, was a terrible failure. Why? Because it was an instrument of the United States.

But what you’ve seen in Fallujah is an instrument of the Iraqi people and that’s why it’s succeeding and that’s why I feel Fallujah becomes a model for the 70 percent solution. By the same token, we have to operate very adroitly politically. There’s concern on the part of the Shias that we are backing the restoration of a Sunni military which will dominate the country.

And by the same token there’s a value to that because all of a sudden we have found some of the Shias who are the majority in the country, being a little more cooperative before the United States, to wit, 150 clerics this past week, trying to convince Sadr to eliminate his militia, and get out of Najaf. They’re a little bit concerned and we should be able to exploit that and we should be able to exploit the advantages and leverage with the Sunnis dealing with the Shias, so that we can come to some sort of solution which will not be perfect but will allow some sort of a national entity to emerge both in terms politically and economically, and also militarily. The majority of the Iraqi people are still sitting on the fence wondering which way this thing is going to go and we so far have blundered very, very badly. But they want a balanced nation within Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, a double-barreled question to you, General Odom. First of all, respond to your two fellow panelists here that your idea would lead to civil war, and secondly, though, is the Fallujah model the model to go with if we want to avoid that?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM, (Ret): I guess I’m puzzled as to why they don’t think we’re having civil war there right now. I think there’s a never-never world with my two colleagues here are living in, we’re in a war there. Once we destroyed the Saddam regime, we knew there was going to be a civil war. There was no way to stop it. About the majority of the population, majorities don’t make policies, intense minorities are going to make, are going to decide what kind of regime emerges in this. Second, recent polls over there show that the majority of Iraqis want us to leave precipitously.

Now, Fallujah and that being the model, if that’s going to be the model, what we’ve created is a little enclave where they could continue to use IED, improvised explosive devices, which are being used to kill Americans, now that’s been made safe for this deal down there, and this will also allow them to strengthen themselves to fight the Shiites when they get around to that. So the talk about any kind of authority that you could turn this over to is, I just don’t see what the authority is.

MARGARET WARNER: I’d like to get all three of you finally to respond to something that was in a big front page story of the “Washington Post” this weekend by Tom Ricks in which he spoke to some commanders, including several who were quoted by name, saying Larry Diamond, beginning with you, saying that we may be winning tactically, winning battles there, the United States may be, but the U.S. is in danger of losing strategically. Do you agree with that sort of fundamental tension or concept?

LARRY DIAMOND: Yes, I do. And I think the key to avoiding defeat strategically, let’s put it that way, is political. And it’s to get Iraqis out in front, to complete the transition to an Iraqi interim government that we’re going to regard as having real political authority, not talk about limited sovereignty. And to move the, get the country to look forward to elections early next year to Iraqis taking responsibility for their own security, to building up the new Iraqi police force and armed forces as rapidly as possible. It has to be political.

MARGARET WARNER: Okay, let me get Gen. Trainor. Gen. Trainor, are we in danger of winning battles but losing this war?

LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (Ret.): Margaret, I know that there’s discussions like that going on amongst the military in the Pentagon. But that’s going in the wrong direction. We should not be talking about tactical victories or strategic losses. We should be talking about what we’re trying to do in Iraq. They are out of the proper venue, if they’re talking in those terms. They’re looking at it too narrowly.

MARGARET WARNER: A brief final world from you.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM, (Ret): Clearly, I think they’re right. What’s been said, we’ve had a whole year, if you try to look at these little tactical things today and you compare what was going on a year ago, things are getting worse, and clearly those observations are right and the issue is when we’re going to face this reality squarely and stop talking about getting some sort of authority that will take over, a mythical authority that we haven’t been able to find for a year, seems to be further away today than it was a year ago.

MARGARET WARNER: Gen. Odom, Gen. Trainor, Larry Diamond, thank you all three.