The Abizaid Interview
The transcript of my interview with general Abizaid is posted here. The audio is here. Either may be used with attribution. Some key excerpts:
Abizaid on Iranian sponsored terrorism:
HH: We have seen in the Hezbollah-Israeli battle obvious signs of Iranian support for Hezbollah. Do you see Iran supplying surrogates inside of Iraq, General?
JA: I see Iran supplying expertise, equipment, and training to Shiia extremist militia groups. Although they hide their hand very, very well, there’s no doubt that on the one side, you’ll get Iranian government officials talking about how they want to stabilize, and help stabilize Iraq. And on the other hand, you get their intelligence forces, the MOIS, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds force people, actively participating, again, it’s hard to say what the numbers are, but there’s no doubt that the IRGC, Quds force in particlar, is playing a very unhelpful role with some of the Shiia groups.
HH: I don’t know what that is, General. Can you explain a little bit what that force is?
JA: Well, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds force is a terrorists training, paramilitary and terrorist organization group, sponsored by the Iranian government. They would have a different way of describing it than that.
HH: Is it active in other places besides Iraq?
JA: Yeah, you certainly see the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds force people training people in Lebanon’s Hezbollah. You see some presence of them in passing weapons back and forth, and money back and forth to Lebanese Hezbollah. And they certainly trained some Lebanese Hezbollah fighters inside Iran. They also train other groups, especially what they would consider groups that are interested in Iranian Revolutionary thinking, and you see this in groups such as some of the Hamas paramilitary people that are operating inside Palestine and Israel.
On Iran’s nuclear ambitions:
HH: What would it do to the strategic posture of the situation, General, if in fact Iran became nuclear capable?
JA: I think a nuclear armed Iran in the region is very, very unstabilizing for the region. It would create a regional problem with all of the other major countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It would certainly create a problem for the Turks, it would create a problem for any country that’s within range. And certainly, it creates a problem for Israel, as you couple what Ahmadinejead has said about the survival of Israel in the long run. And as long as revolutionary Iran continues to have what I would call extremist tendencies, it’s hard to envision how you could believe that they would keep their weapons to themselves.
On how the media could help the war effort by focusing on the nature of the enemy:
HH: General Abizad, is the American media, and I understand fully your commitment to 1st Amendment freedom, as every member of the American military is always quick to say. But is the American media making your job easier or harder in securing stability, and in ending extremism in the region?
JA: Well, I don’t know that I want to characterize what the American media is doing or not doing, other than to say it would be a huge help for everybody if we started talking about our enemies out here, what they stand for, what they want, what their vision of the world is, why they’re dangerous, and how this is a worthy fight to fight at this level now, rather than letting it wait to get worse.
HH: What is their vision of the world, the enemy, General?
JA: And I think that’s the unspoken story, it’s the enemy.
JA: I’m sorry, Hugh. I didn’t understand…
HH: What is their vision, the enemy’s vision of the world?
JA: Well certainly, if you look at al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, all you have to do is go on to one of their website. But you see it is to drive out the United States from the region, overthrow the regional powers, take over the Sunni Arab world first, and then the Muslim world, and install a Sharia type of government that would look very much like the government that they installed under the Taliban, when the Taliban ran Afghanistan. And if you want to know what that looks like, it’s executions in the soccer stadium, no rights for women anywhere, Sharia law strictly enforced, no music, you name it. And the people in the region really don’t want that kind of a future for themselves, or for their kids.
HH: And the vision of the Iranian revolutionary regime?
JA: Well, the Iranian revolutionary regime has a different sort of a notion, but it’s one that’s primarily a world in which Iranian influence and power call the shots in the Middle East, and done so under the current Shiia revolutionary precepts that you see played out in Tehran, which again, is very, very restrictive. Not as restrictive as what Osama bin Laden brings, but certainly more restrictive than the people like. When you ask Iranians whether or not they approve of this government, they’d just as soon get onto some other kind of government that’s more liberal.
HH: General, I’m aware of your time, so I don’t want to abuse it. I’ll do two more questions, unless you want to go longer. I’ll go as long as you want, but I know you’re busy. Is the issue of pre-invasion WMD in Iraq closed in your mind, General?
JA: Well, I always hesitate, Hugh, to get involved in this issue that’s become so highly politicized. Let me just say the issue of WMD is probably the single most important issue in the region. And every day, I deal with the intelligence of looking over what al Qaeda talks about. And as a matter of fact, all you have to do is go to their websites. They are looking for safe havens so they can gain time to develop WMD of some sort, whether it’s chemical, biological or nuclear. They have the intent to use it, they have stated it openly, over and over again, and were it not for the fact that these people are trying to acquire WMD and intend to use it against us, and the technological capability in the world today might allow that to happen, I’m not so sure that the effort out here would need to be as big as it is. But we’ve got to keep these guys on the defensive. We can’t let them get a safe haven, and we absolutely can’t let them get WMD in their hands.
On the public’s understanding of the war:
HH: And General, that leads me to my last question. World Trade Center is in theaters now in the United States. It reminds people of five years ago. How great is the threat to the home front from those WMD that you’ve discussed just now? And do the American people fully appreciate that threat?
JA: I can only say that as I…when I go home and spend time where my headquarters is in Tampa, or when I spend time where I’m from on the West Coast, it’s hard to really notice that there’s much of a war going on, thinking that there’s a World War II level of effort going on in the middle of the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa, is hard for most people to appreciate. I think it’s important that people understand the dangers of not contesting this area. If we let the extremists get embedded, if we let the extremists gain ground, if we let the extremists have time and resources, then I believe they’ll eventually insinuate their way into the mainstream. They could then gain territory, gain time, gain weapons of mass destruction. And over time, they’d move us to the war that we’re all, the big war that we’re all trying to avoid. So I can only tell you that what we’re doing out here is very, very important for our security. We were actually fighting these people well before 9/11, and it takes a little bit of time and effort, but people need to educate themselves about why we’re fighting who we’re fighting, and what it means if we back away from them. I think our young troops that are out here fighting are doing a wonderful job, and an absolutely necessary job. And I’d also like to say, just to kind of close up, Hugh, is that I don’t believe it’s necessary to stay out here in this huge force size forever. We can, over time, get our own forces down as long as the moderates in the region are willing to stand up, take responsbility, and move against these extremists on their own. So helping them help themselves is really the key to our success. I believe we’re doing that in a lot of places. It’s a hard fight, it’s a long fight, but with patience and perseverence, we can do it. We certainly have got the courage of our troops to rely upon, and they won’t let us down.
General Abizaid’s focus on the nature of the enemy and the seriousness of the problem is a complete refutation of the argument for a mandated withdrawal of forces from Iraq. Unless and until the regime in Iraq is stable, and unless and until Iran is deterred from gaining nukes, the U.S. simply cannot afford the costs of another false peace.