Words of Power #8: Gen. Odom and Col. Wilkerson Bear Witness
The invasion of Iraq may well turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history. In any event, the longer we stay, the worse it will be. Until that is understood, we will make no progress with our allies or in devising a promising alternative strategy.
"Staying the course" may make a good sound bite, but it can be disastrous for strategy. Several of Hitler's generals told him that "staying the course" at Stalingrad in 1942 was a strategic mistake…He refused, lost the Sixth Army entirely, and left his commanders with fewer forces to defend a wider front…the Middle East is not a pottery store. It is the site of major military conflict with several different forces that the United States is galvanizing into an alliance against America. To hang on to an untenable position is the height of irresponsibility. Beware of anyone, including the president, who insists that this is "responsible" or "the patriotic" thing to do. (Lieutenant General William Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.), Want stability in the Middle East? Get out of Iraq!,Neiman Watchdog, 11-11-05)
They are not neo-cons. They are not new conservatives. They're Jacobins. Their predecessor is French Revolution leader Maximilien Robespierre. And to say that these people are dead, dormant or lying quiescent is not encouraging because there are enough of them left. And it's going to be incumbent on the rest of us, in this country at least, to watch these trends and make sure that their ugly head doesn't rise up and cause more problems in the future…(Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, U.S. Army (Ret.), “A Leaderless, Directional Superpower,” SPIEGEL ONLINE. 12-6-05)
The United States of America is in great peril of not only losing its strategic edge in the world, but also of losing its own soul.
Some recent news items highlight our spiritual, political and geopolitical predicament:
- According to USA Today, there are still 6,600 people missing in the aftermath of Katrina According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1,300 of them are children. (How Many Are Missing and Dead After Katrina? Three Months After the Hurricane, the Numbers are Still Unknown, Democracy Now, 12-9-05)
- Death of An American City: We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum. (Death of an American City, New York Times Editorial, 12-11-05)
- The United States said Friday that it would continue to deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to "a very small, limited number" of prisoners who are held in secret around the world, saying they are terrorists being kept incommunicado for reasons of national security and are not guaranteed any rights under the Geneva Conventions. (US Rebuffs Red Cross Request for Access to Detainees Held in Secret, New York Times, 12-10-05)
- Instead of leading the UN’s Montreal summit on global warming, U.S. government representatives even walked out on the proceedings at one point, because they were unwilling to sign an agreement that simply committed all the countries to meet again for further discussion. (US isolated after climate talks walkout, Guardian, 12-10-05)
- Columnist Bob Novak, who first published the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, says he is confident that President Bush knows who leaked Plame's name. Novak said, "I'd be amazed" if the president didn't know the source's identity and that the public should "bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is." ( Novak says he's confident the president knows the columnist's source on Valerie Plame, Newsday, 12-14-05)
Odom and Wilkerson Dissent on National Security
Over the past several weeks, in interviews, op-ed pieces and speeches, two men, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, U.S. Army (Retired), Colin Powell’s close aide for sixteen years, and Lieutenant General William Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.), former Director of the National Security Agency for U.S. President Ronald Reagan, have spoken out with extraordinary, candor, courage and conscience.
Odom and Wilkerson bear witness to the most immediate concern in regard to the U.S.A.’s spiritual, political and geopolitical peril: i.e., the ongoing occupation of Iraq, and the related issues of torture, etc.
In his remarks for Neiman Watchdog, Gen. Odom opined that the war in Iraq could turn out to be the “greatest strategic disaster in American history,” and invoked Hitler’s blunder on Stalingrad to provide some context for the magnitude of the problem.
In a recent interview, Der Spiegel asked Col. Wilkerson: “Isn't the loss of America's moral authority the biggest problem?” Wilkerson: “Yes. Recently I had occasion to be on a panel with a former prime minister of Canada who said, 'It's not so much that we Canadians are anti-American, it's that we are very, very worried about a headless giant.' And that stuck with me because that is an apt metaphor in some cases for this superpower right now. It seems leaderless. It seems directionless…”
You certainly cannot dismiss the views of Wilkerson or Odom as partisan, uninformed or unpatriotic. They are, like Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), are speaking for many others still inside of the U.S. government and military.
Full Disclosure: I have been opposed to this foolish military adventure since a time when it was little more than a glint in the dreamy eyes of Bush, Cheney and the others who signed the PNAC document, not because it is immoral or illegal, but because it is stupid, strategically stupid, and such stupidity is very dangerous.
To restore U.S. prestige and credibility, shore up its strategic edge and renew its spiritual life, serious and independent investigations need to be conducted, both by U.S. Justice Dept. prosecutors fully empowered and free of political influence, as well as congressional hearings with full subpoena power, in order to determine if any high officials of the U.S. government should be prosecuted and/or impeached for treason and war crimes related to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and for criminal negligence and cover-up in regard to failures of federal disaster relief in response to Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps it is too late to get hard answers on the pre- and post-911 blunders of White House officials, but it is not too late for accountability on Iraq and Katrina. And if we start digging who knows what will be unearthed?
Our friends and allies, and especially our adversaries and enemies, must see that there is a clean break with the failed national security policies of the past five years, that something abnormal and aberrant has occurred in the U.S., and that it will not occur again.
And, for the sake of our own souls, and the soul of the nation itself, we must reaffirm that the oath is to serve and defend the Constitution of the United States – against all enemies foreign and domestic.
There is still hope. As I write this post, revelations concerning unconstitutional domestic spying on U.S. citizens has made it into the mainstream news media, and in defiance of the Bush administration, the U.S. Senate, at least for today, has blocked an extension of those particularly odious aspects of the PATRIOT ACT due to sunset.
NOTE: These are my conclusions, I am not ascribing them, even indirectly to Gen. Odom or Col. Wilkerson. Their words speak for themselves. For archival purposes, I have posted excerpts from two pieces below, with bios and links to the full texts. One is an analysis written by Gen. Odom for Nieman Watchdog, and the other is a Der Spiegel interview with Col. Wilkerson.
Odom bears witness
BIO: Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.), is a Senior Fellow with Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University. He was Director of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988. From 1981 to 1985, he served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the Army's senior intelligence officer. From 1977 to 1981, he was Military Assistant to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The ‘Global Balkans: Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has called this region the "global Balkans," a name that recalls the role of the European Balkans during two or three decades leading up to the outbreak of World War I. By themselves the Balkan countries were not all that important. Yet several great powers, especially Russia and Austria, were jockeying for strategic advantages there as they anticipated the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and competition for control of the straits leading from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. Britain and France wanted neither Russia nor Austria to dominate; and Germany, although uninterested in the Balkans, was allied to Austria. From a strategic viewpoint, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 was unimportant, but it set in motion actions that soon brought all of the major powers in Europe to war. Four empires collapsed, and the doors were opened to the Communists in Russia and the Nazis in Germany as a result. Brzezinski's point today is that the Middle East and Southwest Asia have precisely that kind of potential for catalyzing wars among the major powers of the world today, although nothing in the region objectively merits such wars.
Thus Brzezinski calls for the United States to lead the states of Europe plus Russia, Japan, and China in a cooperative approach to stabilizing this region so that it cannot spark conflicts among them. As he rightly argues, the task of stabilization is beyond the power of the United States alone. With allies, however, it can manage the challenge.
A Missed Opportunity: After al Qaeda's attacks in the United States, the European members of NATO invoked Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty, meaning that they considered the attack on the United States as an attack on them all. Article Five had never been invoked before. Moreover, over 90 countries worldwide joined one or more of five separate coalitions to support the U.S. war against al Qaeda. Seldom has the United States had so much international support. It was a most propitious time, therefore, for dealing with "the Global Balkans" in precisely the way Brzezinski suggested.
Over the next year and a half, however, in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, many neoconservatives, both inside and outside the administration, disparaged NATO and other US allies as unnecessary for "transforming the Middle East." Because the United States is a superpower, they insisted, it could handle this task alone. Accordingly, we witnessed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s team and some officials in the State Department and the White House (especially in the Vice President's office) gratuitously and repeatedly insult the Europeans, dismissing them as irrelevant. The climax of this sustained campaign to discard our allies came in the UN Security Council struggle for a resolution to legitimize the invasion of Iraq in February-March 2003.
From that time on, we have seen most of our allies stand aside and engage in Schadenfreude over our painful bog-down in Iraq. Winston Churchill's glib observation, "the only thing worse that having allies is having none," was once again vindicated.
Withdrawal is the Precondition to Progress: Once the invasion began in March 2003, all of the ensuing unhappy results became inevitable. The invasion of Iraq may well turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history. In any event, the longer we stay, the worse it will be. Until that is understood, we will make no progress with our allies or in devising a promising alternative strategy.
"Staying the course" may make a good sound bite, but it can be disastrous for strategy. Several of Hitler's generals told him that "staying the course" at Stalingrad in 1942 was a strategic mistake, that he should allow the Sixth Army to be withdrawn, saving it to fight defensive actions on reduced frontage against the growing Red Army. He refused, lost the Sixth Army entirely, and left his commanders with fewer forces to defend a wider front. Thus he made the subsequent Soviet offensives westward easier.
To argue, as some do, that we cannot leave Iraq because "we broke it and therefore we own it" is to reason precisely the way Hitler did with his commanders. Of course we broke it! But the Middle East is not a pottery store. It is the site of major military conflict with several different forces that the United States is galvanizing into an alliance against America. To hang on to an untenable position is the height of irresponsibility. Beware of anyone, including the president, who insists that this is "responsible" or "the patriotic" thing to do.
(Want stability in the Middle East? Get out of Iraq!, Neiman Watchdog, 11-11-05)
Wilkseron bears witness
BIO: Lawrence Wilkerson, 60, was for 16 years one of former Secretary of State Colin Powell's closest aides and was Powell's chief of staff from 2002 to 2005. The retired US Army colonel served in the Vietnam War and later was the head of the Marine War College in Quantico, Virginia. He retired with Colin Powell in January 2005.
SPIEGEL: Colonel Wilkerson, hardly an insider of the Bush Administration has ever criticized it as sharply as you are now. Why?
Wilkerson: The straw that broke the camel's back, what made me finally decide to go public, was the issue of departure from the Geneva Conventions. It was the departure from international law and treaty with regard to what I perceive to be a policy that permeated the leadership from the Vice President through the Defense Department and out to the military forces in the field. In my view, it was not only damaging to the armed forces -- and I was a member of the Army for 31 years -- but also damaging ultimately to America's image and credibility in the world and damaging to our capability to win this conflict against Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al Zarqawi and others like them. You can't win what essentially is a war of ideas by departing from your own ideas….
SPIEGEL: Shouldn't then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have ensured that President Bush was better advised than he proved to be?
Wilkerson: There was a single word used by countless people in the government to describe the National Security Council under Dr. Rice and that is "dysfunctional." And if you think about it for a moment, this dysfunctionality of the statutory process was a nice camouflage for the alternative decision-making process that revolved around the vice president….
SPIEGEL: The Pentagon always claimed that a stable government could be installed in Iraq within a matter of months. Was there a climate of arrogance?
Wilkerson: Yes there was. Incredible arrogance. I call it the administration of hubris. How could anyone look at that region and believe it? As opposed to the Pentagon, we in the state department never signed up to that idea that our troops would be greeted with flowers. There were so many mistakes from the very outset of the administration -- beginning with sticking our finger in the world's eyes with our rejection of Kyoto without offering an explanation. The gracelessness, the ineptitude of how we confronted the world made foreign policy and international relations in general very difficult in the first Bush term….
SPIEGEL: Isn't the loss of America's moral authority the biggest problem?
Wilkerson: Yes. Recently I had occasion to be on a panel with a former prime minister of Canada who said, 'It's not so much that we Canadians are anti-American, it's that we are very, very worried about a headless giant.' And that stuck with me because that is an apt metaphor in some cases for this superpower right now. It seems leaderless. It seems directionless…
SPIEGEL: Haven't the neo-conservatives and their policies failed?
Wilkerson: They are not neo-cons. They are not new conservatives. They're Jacobins. Their predecessor is French Revolution leader Maximilien Robespierre. And to say that these people are dead, dormant or lying quiescent is not encouraging because there are enough of them left. And it's going to be incumbent on the rest of us, in this country at least, to watch these trends and make sure that their ugly head doesn't rise up and cause more problems in the future…
(“A Leaderless, Directional Superpower,” SPIEGEL ONLINE. 12-6-05)
Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and www.wordsofpower.net. His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc.
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