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Top US General Says Enemies Could Misunderstand Iraq Debate

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The top U.S. military officer says there is a danger the congressional debate about Iraq war policy could be misunderstood by America's enemies.  VOA's Al Pessin reports on the comments General Peter Pace made in a meeting with U.S. troops in Honolulu on Friday.

In a town hall-style meeting with about a hundred troops, one member of the Air Force expressed concern that the opposition to President Bush's new Iraq strategy could hurt the effort for which more than 3,000 American service-members have lost their lives.  General Pace told the airman the debate is a healthy part of American democracy, and that U.S. adversaries should not mistake debate and discord for weakness.

"The problem is that our enemies, who have no clue what democracy is all about, don't understand that debate, and look to that debate as a sign of weakness, as opposed to a sign of strength," he said.  "The trash heap of history has got a lot of corpses on it of nations that have misunderstood the will of the American people."

General Pace also noted that in spite of the growing opposition to the war policy, the congress has consistently provided the funding needed to support the troops who have been ordered to carry out the policy. 

Earlier this week, General Pace and Defense Secretary Robert Gates told congress the debate over the Iraq plan would not hurt morale among the troops.  Some members of congress disagreed with that assessment, which undercut efforts to block a resolution opposing President Bush's troop surge plan. 

The airman's questions indicated that, at least, some U.S. troops are feeling the impact of the congressional debate, and are concerned that Democrats, who took control of congress in January, might force a troop withdrawal before the Iraqi military and government are ready to provide security and stability in their country.

The general said a premature U.S. withdrawal would increase sectarian violence and, in his words, "tear that nation apart." He also said it would embolden U.S. enemies elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as in Afghanistan.  And the general said the ideology of militant Islam would then try to directly threaten the United States.  He used a sports analogy to make his point.

"We want to keep this an away game," he added.  "But if we give up on the away game, it's going to be a home game."

General Pace spoke during a stopover at the headquarters of U.S. Pacific Command, where he received a classified briefing to prepare him for meetings in Australia and Indonesia in the coming days.  Fighting terrorism will be high on his agenda in both countries.  Australia has troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. officials say Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, is becoming a significant antiterrorism force in the region and beyond.

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