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Retired Military Officers Debate Iraq


In a recent front-page story, "The Washington Post" newspaper reported the White House and Joint Chiefs of Staff are at odds over sending 15-to-30,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq. While the newspaper account is based on anonymous sources, some retired U.S. military officers have been openly voicing their opinions about U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

President Bush says he is considering a temporary increase, or surge, of U.S. troop strength to reverse the deteriorating situation in Iraq. But retired General Colin Powell, who served as President Bush's secretary of state and was previously chairman of the Joint Chiefs, says there needs to be a clear understanding of why additional troops would be sent and for how long. He spoke on the C.B.S. television network program, "Face the Nation."

"I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purpose of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work," said General Powell.

President Bush says he values the advice of his military commanders in Iraq. But Powell notes those commanders have not called for a troop increase, nor have Iraqi leaders. "We hear from the Iraqi leadership that they want to take control of Baghdad, not bring in more American troops. We hear from Prime Minister Maliki standing next to President Bush in Amman, Jordan a couple of weeks ago, that he believes Iraqi forces will be able to take over all security by June," said General Powell.

Iraq's Security

However, retired General Jack Keane, the Army's former Vice Chief of Staff, says Iraqi forces cannot by themselves provide security in areas where U.S. forces have driven away insurgents. Keane argues in favor of a troop increase, saying the United States has yet to apply proven military techniques to defeat the insurgency.

"When you look at what we did on the ground, we didn't do it that way. We cleared out the insurgents and the Shia death squads from the areas, but we never committed ourselves to phase two of the operation, which is significant, and that is to put a 24/7 [24-hours a day, seven days a week] force in the neighborhoods to protect the people, and they do not go back to their bases at night," said General Keane.

But General Colin Powell says round-the-clock protection of citizens should be the responsibility of Iraqi police forces, not the U.S. military. The former secretary of state says now is the time to press the Iraqi government about the political will needed to build such forces. "Show us not only the political will to do that, show us the political means you're going to use. How are we going to go about reconciliation? How are we going to get the parties together and stop fighting one another? How are you going to do that?"

U.S. Army Fatigue

The former secretary of state also cautions that the U.S. Army is nearly broken from repetitive tours of duty in Iraq. Nonetheless, Senator John McCain, a former Navy pilot and the longest held U.S. prisoner of war in Vietnam, says nothing is more stressful than defeat, and Iraqi troops need U.S. assistance. "We all know that the Iraqi military is not capable of doing it by themselves now, period. So, then it requires Americans to be able to do it with them," says Senator McCain.

Senator McCain has long been a leading proponent of increasing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. As he put it in 2003, "the dirty little secret is that we don't have enough troops." During a visit to Baghdad earlier this month, McCain said a troop surge is still needed.

"There's a hundred ways that additional American troops can be of assistance here including Anbar province, including the greater borders, including a greater presence in parts of the city that are necessary to be brought under control, working side by side with Iraqi units," said Senator McCain.

Former Army Vice Chief of Staff, General Jack Keane, says President Bush must make the consequences of failure in Iraq clear to the American people, who now face a fundamental choice. "So our choice is, can we do something about this in the intervening year, and make a difference and buy some time so that a political, diplomatic and economic strategy will work, or do we just cut our losses and walk away from it?"

Damage Control

General William Odom says "yes", cut the losses. Odom, the Army's senior intelligence officer in the mid 1980's says leaving Iraq will prevent further damage to America's strategic positions. "The only way out of this is to admit that we are going to live with these consequences, and that the sooner we leave, the quicker we will be able to regain some diplomatic and strategic mobility and begin to come to terms with countries in the area and with our allies in Europe and East Asia, where they have soured as a result of our unilateralism," says General Odom.

General Odom says additional troops will not establish constitutional order in Iraq, because the country's ethnically and religiously fragmented elites cannot agree on fundamental rules. "Rules to decide who rules. Rules to make new rules. And rights the ruler cannot abridge."

General Odom says rules are enforced by those who have the guns and money to do so. He calls the U.S. invasion of Iraq a "fool's errand" that was doomed from the start by a vaguely defined mission in a hostile land of warring factions. But President Bush insists the United States will win in Iraq. The troop surge he is considering would also add guns to help stabilize the situation.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.