Monday, March 21, 2005

General Odom dissents

William Odom, lt gen, U.S. Army, retired, is a man whose point of view on international military affairs I have long respected.

I briefly encountered him in graduate school a decade and a half ago and found him so personable and approachable as to belie his stature as a serious scholar and practitioner of international diplomacy. I can recall a piece he wrote in the early 1990s making a compelling case for what has now become conventional wisdom--that President Reagan was responsible for the downfall of the Soviet Union.

Yet throughout 2004 Odom was a repeated and harsh critic of the invasion of Iraq. Following are some representative excerpts from Odom's work last year:
  • A May 2004 interview with the Council on Foreign Relations:
    It was not in our interest to enter Iraq in the first place. It was, however, in the interest of Osama bin Laden for us to destroy a secular Arab leader; it was very much in the interest of the Iranians...
  • A piece in the summer 2004 National Interest starts with this:
    The United States should begin a strategic withdrawal from Iraq now because it was never in the interest of the United States to invade that country in the first place. The mood in the United States before the war, created by the Bush Administration and supported by both parties in Congress, made a serious public discussion of the prudence of the invasion impossible. One year later, however, such an examination is difficult to avoid because the president and his aides assured us that the Iraqis themselves would greet U.S. forces as liberators and form a liberal democratic regime friendly to the United States in a very short time—months, not years. Clearly that has not happened and will not happen soon not in years or even decades.
    And it ends with this:
    Our military investment in Iraq is what economists call a “sunk cost.” We cannot retrieve it by investing more there, no matter how much. Thus, to say that we cannot afford to fail is a costly illusion. We ensured failure when we decided to invade. Our choices now are to get out of Iraq early, regroup with our allies, and try to stabilize the region, or to continue down the present path in Iraq and risk the dissolution of the American-led international order.
  • A fall 2004 Constitutional Democracy Colloquium in Dissent ends thusly:
    How do we escape this awful predicament? Useful first steps would be to remove the barriers in front of the White House and the Capitol, encourage public confidence instead of hysteria about terrorism, rescind the Patriot Act, and withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq so more effort can be directed against al Qaeda.
He was consistent and firm in his criticism of US policy.

I have not read anything Odom has written on the topic since the elections in Iraq. I would like to see whether his thinking has changed.