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Retired Generals Analyze President’s Iraq Plan

January 10, 2007 at 11:55 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: We turn to retired army Lieutenant General William Odom, he worked on the pacification program during the Vietnam War and then wrote a book on counter insurgency. He is a former director of the National Security Agency and now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

And retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor. He had two combat tours in Vietnam and one in Korea. He is the coauthor of books about the 1991 Gulf War and the current Iraq War.

General Trainor, did the president lay out the military essentials for a successful plan?

LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR, USMC (Ret): Ray, I was disappointed in it.

There was – we were looking forward to some sort of a new strategic direction that’s going to change the equation and it appears that we’re just getting more of the same.

I’ll tell you what bothered me. First of all, if we’re going to change the equation out there, the numbers are not that large. Twenty-thousand, 21,000 troops out there are not substantial. Now I understand the military has trouble making those figures but if you’re going to talk about a surge you really have to be talking about more forces.

But more importantly, from what the president said, we are in large measure mortgaging the outcome of this affair to the Iraqis. We are talking about the Iraqis being the leaders and doing the job but we have seen that the Iraqi armed forces have not been up to the job, either because of lack of training or because lack of commitment, and lack of commitment is very serious because it is a Shia army and a Shia dominated government and if they are going to control the violence in Baghdad, one of the elements of the violence is the Shia militia, the Sadr militia.

Now, are they going into Sadr City? Is there U.S. forces going into Sadr City? All of this remains very, very vague and very similar to what we have done, espoused in the past, which is we will support the Iraqis but they must do it themselves and they have proven themselves incapable of doing it so I am rather pessimistic about the outcome of this particular decision that the president has made.

More troops won't make a difference

RAY SUAREZ: General Odom, did you hear more specifics than General Trainor did? The president talked about checkpoints, patrols, door to door, clearing and holding areas, assisting Iraqi forces on specific tasks.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM, U.S. Military, (Ret): Yes, I heard that and I share his concern and I agree that it is more of the same. If there is going to be a strategic vision here, the first thing that I would have expected to hear from the president is a clearer view of what enemy we're fighting.

Implicit and explicit throughout the speech is it is we and the Iraqi government against the insurgents who are smeared in with al-Qaida as the primary enemy when in fact there are several wars going on here.

There is the U.S. against many forces in Iraq, there are the Sunnis against the Shiites, the Shiites against the Sunnis, there are the Kurds trying to stay out of the fight by getting into it. There is al-Qaida as an ally of the Sunnis and the Sunnis will not put up with them after they won or lost.

If the Shiites win, al-Qaida will not turn it into a country that's a haven for al-Qaida terrorists. You'll have Iranian-trained terrorists is what you'll really have.

So I don't see that he understands the nature of the war. Additionally, it is very true that the military operations right there, you cannot assess the order of battle, what you're up against without assessing outside sources and activities from Iran, from Syria, maybe from various Persian Gulf oil-producing states who have an interest in supporting the Sunnis and others.

So until you take all that into the equation, or if you do take that into the equation, I don't see that 20,000 more troops or 25,000 more troops, some new tactics with the way you clear parts of the town, parts of the city, can make any difference.

Utilizing the troops

RAY SUAREZ: Well, General Trainor talked about 21,000 troops not being a significant number but the lion's share of that, some 17,000, will be going to Baghdad, which is a fairly contained area. It's a metropolitan area.

GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: Well, 17,000 against four or five or six million people is not much of a match for - the 17,000, what are they going to do? Begin to annihilate all the Iraqis? I think this is a formula to make it worse for the U.S., not better.

Another thing I expected to hear out of the president, and he may be doing this in the sense that he put the onus on Maliki, the regime there, and says if he doesn't perform, we're not with him. This may be an opening for really reframing this issue and saying that our aim is no longer kind of liberal democracy victory in Iraq, you should go back and look at what originally even he was for and the U.S. government has pursued this strategy since at least the 1950s, that is regional stability.

It is regional stability that you want. We did that in the past by balancing between Arabs and Persians on one side of that region and Israelis and Arabs on the other. We lost our footing in Iran, we had to compensate with military power.

Now, we have a policy that further destabilizes the region when we try to build a liberal democracy in Iraq. Until we understand that, we can't set for ourselves war aims that have any promise of victory.

Therefore, I think we should stop talking about victory in Iraq and start talking about victory in terms of re-achieving stability there that once existed.

RAY SUAREZ: Can the forces and the way they're currently structured sustain having 21,500 more active duty personnel in Iraq?

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, that's really an administrative problem. Can we keep the forces out there regardless of whether they are winning or losing? Yes we can. Obviously the military can make all sorts of manpower adjustments to sustain the force out there but of course when you pay Peter you've got to rob Paul and we're probably degrading our capability to do other things in the worldwide scene.

But that's really not the issue. I mean, that's an administrative issue, a personnel issue. But the thing is, what are we doing with the forces that were out there? Are they going to be able to achieve something? I don't see that they have been given a specific mission, like go into Sadr City and within zone destroy the militia forces.

They don't have a mission, it is more of the same which is business of securing an area. Well, with 17,000 troops out there, I'm not so sure you can secure, hold and build, which is what the idea is. So as I see - but the president came up with a lot of rhetoric out there which once again puts the onus on the Iraqis and maybe this was kind of his way of saying, well, this is a backdoor way. If we don't succeed, we'll say, well, we put the onus on the Iraqis and they didn't perform so therefore we did the best we can.

A purely military solution?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, let me stop you right there. Isn't - when the president said, and he said as much, only Iraqis can end sectarian violence, is there a military solution apart from the political -- the time he spent during this speech laying out the political dimensions?

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, there's never a purely military solution but there is a composite solution which I think he took into account with building up the security in the area for the people and establishing a decent way of life, but you're not going to have anything along those lines unless you get the security which can only be brought to you by the military and I don't see that they've come up with a strategy that's going to guarantee that so that the other elements can flourish.

RAY SUAREZ: General Odom?

GEN. WILLIAM ODOM: Let me make his case another way. I agree with him, I'll just add another way to look at it. If you - there will be security someday, probably, in Iraq. And it will be when the civil war is over and someone has won it.

We are just observers playing here and there within this big game. The issue in Iraq, once we went in, we assured that the country would fragment and you would have Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds struggling to get what there is to be got in Iraq. And that is oil money.

And somebody is going to rule or it is just going to remain chaotic and I don't think the regional powers will turn us down if we pull out and they start seeing that happen, that we will be able to get cooperation, they'll be begging us to come back.

I personally think that until we really start moving out they won't take us seriously and that an orderly withdrawal will catalyze all sorts of outside support we can't get right now.

But the quote "military" solution is going to be who wins this civil war. Who wins this internal war? An internal war is essentially about who is going to rule and who is going to rule will be determined by who can tax effectively. Either they tax us or they tax themselves and they do better if they tax themselves because they build administrative structures.

Right now by giving them money we're assuring that they don't do that and that they remain a weak regime without the administrative capacity to all these pacification things that are described in the program in the speech.

RAY SUAREZ: General Odom. General Trainor. Thank you both.