General William Odom (US Army, ret.) is a vocal critic of the Iraq deployment and wants it ended asap. He put his arguments in the Washington Post last Sunday in an op ed which was essentially an encore of an op-ed he wrote in 2005.
General Odom is a distinguished public servant but his arguments are to me wholly unpersuasive and border on indifference to many obvious issues.
I have just taped an interview with him which will play in the program’s third hour today. The transcript is here.
HH: But how much worse could it get if we weren’t there?
WO: I don’t know. I don’t think it…look, it will eventually get as bad it can get if we stay there long enough.
HH: But if we precipitously withdraw, do you expect genocide?
WO: I would call some of the things…I mean, you know, that’s a definitional term.
HH: Do the numbers…
WO: I mean, it depends on what you define as genocide.
HH: Do the numbers matter at all to your analysis? If someone came to you and said 100,000 people will die…
WO: Yes, they matter, and what I’m telling you is that we can’t affect, we cannot improve the numbers of survivors by staying longer.
HH: Well here…do you follow the work of John Burns, New York Times correspondent?
HH: Here’s John Burns on that subject from last week.
JB: If the United Nations is correct in saying that 3,700 Iraqi civilians died in October, and that’s a morgue’s count. It may be an underestimate, we don’t know. But he said if it’s correct that 3,700 people died in October across Iraq, think about this. You take the American troops away in this situation, leaving Shiite death squads to move into Adamiya in force, without any kind of protection, he said it won’t be 3,700 dead in the month, it will be 3,700 dead in the night in Adamiya. Now that may be an exaggeration, but it reflects the kind of fears that are quite widespread, amongst Sunnis in particular, but also to some extent amongst Shiites in Iraq about the consequences of an American troop withdrawal.
HH: So General, should we be indifferent to that?
WO: Because we can’t affect it. He’s assuming we can make it different, and we are the cause that that situation exists today. John Burns, he’s forgot that we invaded the country, and they weren’t having those deaths that rate when Saddam was there.
HH: But it was a nation of…
WO: You insist, you are arguing that they…you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that there were more deaths when Saddam was there, and say that we’re improving things by staying there, and seeing them get worse every year.
HH: Actually, I believe that we have some significant numbers of the number of killed under Saddam over the course of his lifetime, and that those are much higher than have died in the four years under the American occupation.
WO: Well, I’d be very surprised to discover that, because he’s not…he was not that efficient at killing people. Now Stalin was.
WO: And following…let me ask you. Are you enthusiastic enough to put on a uniform and go?
HH: No. I’m a civilian.
WO: Okay, but we can recruit you.
HH: I’m 51, General.
WO: And I don’t see all these war hawks that want to…none of them have been in a war, and they don’t want to go.
HH: Well, General, are you advocating that only uniformed military should have opinions on this?
WO: No, you can have an opinion, but if you…you can’t start telling me that you’re going to just pay no attention to what people like myself say.
HH: No, I am paying…that’s why you’re on this program.
HH: I want to hear it, and I want…but I want to know what you think it’s going to look like, because I’m not indifferent to the aftermath.
WO: I don’t know. I’m prepared to accept whatever it looks like, if it’s not killing Americans, and we’re not losing U.S. resources, because eventually, it will settle out out there, and our capacity to help it settle out earlier with allies will be greatly improved. I think actually, that it will come out much better than these scare pictures you’re describing, and I include John Burns as somewhat of a scaremonger in this regard.
HH: Are the statements of President Ahmadinejad alarming to you?
HH: Why not?
WO: Because I’ve done a study on Iranian foreign policy back from the fall of the Shah’s time up to about 1995. And not withstanding all the rhetoric, and which I believe some of, that we would find the Iranians pursuing a very radical foreign policy in Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were not. They were pursuing…they did not try to steal nuclear weapons up there. They did not spend money into the hands of Islamic radicals. The money that came in for Islamic radicals was brought by Pakistani bagmen from Saudi Arabia. The Iranians pursued a very conservative policy. They’ve had two radical policies. One was toward Hezbollah and Israel, and the other’s been toward us.
HH: Do you believe that they were responsible for the massacre of the Jews at the synagogue in South America?
WO: They might well have been.
HH: Do you believe that they have armed Hezbollah with the rockets that rain down on Israel?
HH: Do you believe they would use a nuke against Israel?
WO: Not unless Israel uses one against them.
HH: Could you be wrong about that?
WO: Of course you can be wrong about the future.
HH: Are you gambling with Israel’s future, then, to allow a radical regime…
WO: No, Israel’s gambling with its future by encouraging us to pursue this policy.
HH: Are you familiar with Mullah Yazdi?
HH: Or 12th Imam theology?
WO: No, I’m not.
HH: Would that matter to you if those…
HH: It doesn’t matter if they’re Millennialists who want to bring in…
WO: No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t.
HH: So what they think and what their intentions are don’t matter, General?
WO: You don’t know what their intentions are. You’re just listening to their rhetoric.
HH: Well, should we ever pay attention to what people say?
WO: Yes, we should pay attention sometimes, but I can…I’d pay attention to that, and when I do, I see that it’s very much really the way Kim Jung Il uses his rhetoric. He knows how to cause us to jump up in the air and get all excited, and cause people of your frame of mind, and particularly the neocons’ frame of mind, to start doing things that are not in the U.S. interests. And then as you hit the ground, we’d pay him off and bribe him.
HH: And why do you believe we haven’t been attacked since 9/11, General?
WO: I don’t think…we’ve been attacked in Iraq. They’ve been killing us left and right over there. It’s over 3,000.
HH: Why have we not been attacked in the United States since 9/11?
WO: You don’t know and I don’t know. Mr. John Miller’s done a very good study saying they don’t have the capabilities. There’s a very lot of intelligence evidence that suggests they don’t have the capabilities to do it.
HH: And did we…
WO: All these so-called cells that the last administration, or this administration seems to have discovered here turned out to be mythical.
HH: Would Libya have disarmed its nukes and chemical weaponry, General, if we…
WO: It’s not analogous. If you are trying to pay a general rule to cause something to happen in all countries, that is…you know, I’d flunk you on a sophomore international relations course.
HH: I’m asking whether or not you thought the Libyan disarmament had anything to do with our invasion of Iraq?
HH: And do you believe that the Oil For Food scandal would have been detected if we’d left Saddam in power?
WO: Look, we would have been less worse off, much better off, had the food scandal gone on, and Saddam were still there.
Read the whole thing.