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Ralph Peters on the ISG report

Thursday, December 7, 2006
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HH: Joined now for the first time by Ralph Peters, a retired United States Army officer, author of many books, including most recently, Never Quit The Fight. And you can read his columns in many places, including the New York Post. Mr. Peters, welcome to the program. Good to have you.

RP: Hey, it’s great to speak with you at last. You’ve got a great reputation.

HH: Well, I hope I don’t ruin it in the first exchange. I look forward to many more. Let’s get right to the Iraq Study Group. You open you column in the Post today, Ralph Peters, by writing, “The difference between the child killers in the Middle East two thousand years ago and those today is that Herod’s men rode into Bethlehem to preserve a threatened political system, while the terrorists we face in Iraq seek to destroy a government in their god’s name. The Iraq Study Group doesn’t get it.” How completely off the mark was the ISG, Ralph Peters?

RP: Well, you’d to work pretty hard to be farther off the mark. This is Jim Baker’s report. Your listeners should not be deceived by the fact that it’s a ten member, supposedly bipartisan panel. Jim Baker selected who went on it. He made sure there were no retired senior military officers, no generals to contest his views, no Middle East experts. He lured good people like Sandra Day O’Connor, great Supreme Court justice, knows nothing about the Middle East, nothing about the military, Vernon Jordan, a lobbyist. But they’re names that resound. And the key points are Baker’s. The key points are wrong. Jim Baker’s view of the world, which was he never met a dictator he didn’t like. He was the guy that supported Saddam. He supported the Shah of Iran. He’s very close with the Saudi Royal Family, and had had a lot of business dealings with him. And what we saw in this report, in the parts that really mattered to Jim Baker, Secretary of State Baker, was the Saudi view of the Middle East. The lunatic notion that the way to solve Iraq is to get Israel to give the Golan Heights back to Syria, and to solve the Palestinian issue, is crazy. I mean, that’s taking a difficult problem in Iraq, terribly difficult, and tying it to an impossible problem. So it’s just…to me, the military side was nonsense, the political side was nonsense. The stuff about talking to Syria and Iran? Hey, Baker will gladly sell out Lebanon, the Kurds, even Israel. He’d like to see Syria strong, because here, God is stability.

HH: Now Ralph Peters, I want to emphasize to our audience, you do not look at this situation through rose-colored glasses. On November 1st, you wrote that the situation is desperate, we need to revamp our strategy. A week earlier, you had talked about Muqtada al-Satr, and you said quite simply, we should have killed him in 2003, and basically that we’ve got to kill him now. So you’re not downplaying the chaos in Iraq right now.

RP: Oh, far from it. I mean, I was optimistic for a long time. I’ve been to Iraq repeatedly. And this is the year it really went bad. We were holding the line, right through April, May, into June. But the Iraqis didn’t step up. They fell for the…after the Sumara Mosque bombing, they fell for the lure of interconcessional violence, Sunni on Shia, Shia on Sunni. And they’re not stepping up to defend their constitutional government. So no, Iraq is it dire straits, to say the least. The only thing holding Iraq together is the quality of dedication of our men and women in uniform. That is it. And I’m not ready to quit, but my feeling is this. The administration has never been serious about fighting a war. I mean, they wanted to go to war, but they didn’t want to fight. And right now, our soldiers and Marines are driving around as pop-up targets for terrorist IED’s, the roadside bombs. If we’re going to continue in Iraq, we should be absolutely serious about taking on America’s enemies, the terrorists, the Sunni insurgents, Muqtada al-Sadr and company, the Iranian agents. If we’re not serious, if we’re not willing to take on our enemies and kill them, and that’s the word, kill them, no nice language. If we’re not willing to do that, bring the troops home, and stop wasting American lives.

HH: A couple of options that I’ve heard out there. When I talked to General Abizaid, because I do talk to generals…

RP: And he’s a good man. He means well. I think he’s not…he’s too close to it now.

HH: He has great confidence in the Iraqi army, and its continued evolution into a fighting force. Do you share that, Ralph Peters?

RP: I saw the Iraqi army in action after the mosque bombing when I was in Iraq late last Winter. And they came out of the barracks, they stood in the street corners, and they looked okay. But what’s happened since is they…some of the units of the Iraqi army are pretty good. Most are mediocre, some are terrible. But they’re not moving forward fast enough, and they’re not…our trainers, and I stay in touch with my friends who are still in uniform, and they just can’t get the Iraqis to be aggressive with the government’s enemies. And by the way, the Malaki government doesn’t want to be aggressive in going after the Shia militias, because Malaki is relying on Muqtada al-Sadr for support. So General Abizaid, good man, he’s got to put a good face on it. He doesn’t want to break morale. But frankly, I think at this point, he’s too optimistic.

HH: If the Pentagon ordered the forces in the country to go after al-Sadr, could they accomplish that?

RP: If we were absolutely ruthless. In 2003, he just had a bodyguard. We could have taken this guy out when he started murdering, assassinating American allies, Shia allies, Shia clerics who were with us. We could have taken him out in 2004, when he launched two uprisings. We literally, literally had him in our sniper sights, and the politicians chickened out. They didn’t want riots. Well, in 2003, we might have had a weekend of riots. Now, you kill Muqtada al-Sadr, and you’ve got a couple of weeks of flaming violence in the streets, and probably a few thousand dead. But hey, look. Are we serious or not? We’ve made mistake after mistake, and I’m not a bloodthirsty warmonger. I’m just telling you the facts. If we’re not willing to kill our enemies, we’re just letting the bad guys use our troops for target practice. So we need to get serious, or get out.

HH: What is the message Iran has to hear from us about their continued proliferation of IED’s, and higher weaponry, higher degrees of weaponry, to the enemies of stability in Iraq?

RP: Well, it’s not what the Baker report, the Iraq Study Group recommended, which is talking to them and begging them for help. I mean, any approach to Iran on Iraq at this point, asking for help, they regard it as America’s weak, America’s ready to run. And it would just strengthen Iranian confidence. And they’ll get even tougher. I mean, the nonsense about Iran wanting order in Iraq, well, of course they do. But they want order on their terms. And so, with Iran, again, when you go to war, if you must go to war, you’ve got to mean it. You’ve got to go to war with everything you’ve got, and do whatever it takes. And we’ve tried to make war according to…with nice table manners, without hurting anybody. Sorry, folks. Wish it worked. It doesn’t.

HH: Now the Robert Gates hearing, especially exchanges between Senator Byrd and Dr. Gates, indicated that he is very averse to force with Iran, and force with Syria. So much so, I can’t imagine a testimony more designed to give comfort to Iran and Syria that they were out of the target. Did you listen to it? What was your reaction?

RP: Yes, I did. Well, I was disappointed that he said that. But you know, I wish Gates well. He can’t be worse than Rumsfeld. Well, I shouldn’t say that. But I don’t think he will be. But you know, he was part of the Baker group. He’s from that older generation of people who have a different worldview. When you read the introduction to that column…

HH: Yup.

RP: And the point was, we are not dealing with political terrorists anymore. This isn’t the old Arafat PLO. We are dealing with religious fanatics and ethnic thugs. And you can persuade somebody to change their politics, maybe. You won’t change a fanatic’s mind about his religion, and you can’t change people’s bloodlines. You can’t make a Kurd an Arab, or an Arab a Persian. So I thought the Baker report, it didn’t understand…The Baker Report showed no understanding of the real situation we face.

HH: When we undertook the bombing of the Serbs, because of their ethnic cleansing, was their level of threat to the United States, and their level of violence greater or lesser than that which the Iranians are now exercising towards us, and towards their ethnic enemies?

RP: The Serbs didn’t even register on the scale. Iran is a true menace.

HH: Ralph Peters, good to make your acquaintance on the radio. Look forward to many more conversations.

End of interview.

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