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  Global Viewpoint



Gen. Richard B. Myers was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Oct. 1, 2001, until Sept. 30, 2005. In that role, he was the top U.S. military official from the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan through the invasion of Iraq until six weeks ago. He sat down for Global Viewpoint with Lee Cullum, columnist for the Dallas Morning News, at the annual conference of the Pacific Council on International Policy, on Friday, Nov. 18, in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Below are excerpts of that conversation.

By Gen. Richard B. Myers

Global Viewpoint: Should the U.S. withdraw its forces from Iraq as a mounting number in the U.S. Congress are demanding? Or should it “stay the course”?

Gen. Richard B. Myers: Al-qaida and its allies have made Iraq the heart of what I call “the global insurgency.” It wasn’t that way before we went to Iraq, but the hard fact today is that they have made it their central battleground. If we were to leave, it would embolden those who perpetrated 9/11.

The President Bush I’ve known over these past years — I became chairman of the Joint Chiefs just after 9/11 — will do what he thinks is right. He won’t do anything just because of political pressure.

GV: What is the course that must be stayed? What has to be achieved before the U.S. leaves?

Myers: The course is to have an Iraqi force in place to effectively provide enough security for the political process toward an elected constitutional government to take place, which in turn will allow economic reconstruction. All the ingredients for economic progress exist: Iraq is oil rich, water rich and has lots of skilled human capital.

By any measure, we are much further along than a year ago. Iraqi forces in the field are engaging the enemy daily in the field. And, obviously, 10 million Iraqis voted in the constitutional referendum — which was not disrupted by acts of terrorism in any serious way. Even many Sunnis voted. And I’m sure we will see new Sunni, Shia and Kurd alliances when they vote for the new leadership under this new constitution in December.

Importantly, the new government that will be elected next month will be the first with a four-year timeline to govern. All the others have had unclear mandates for short periods. This will make a big difference in continuity and effectiveness, both on the security and economic fronts.

GV: Some suggest that the U.S. will need to stay in Iraq five more years to reach this objective of security. Others argue that the very presence of U.S. forces is what is triggering the insurgency. Which is it?

Myers: Certainly, the U.S. presence in Iraq incites some of the violence. The rules of engagement U.S. forces need to do the job contributes to this reaction. Some of it is a genuine reaction to foreigners in their backyard; some of it is the result of terrorist fighters from elsewhere.

So we have to balance the reduction of U.S. forces with the need to get the job done before we leave. Not including support personnel, we have committed 17 combat brigades, or about 140,000 troops in Iraq. That number is up a bit right now to 160,000 because of the recent constitutional vote, and will stay that high till after the December elections.

Next year, that will begin to come down once the political authorities are in place and Iraqi forces are more effective. They are already responsible for two-thirds of Baghdad today.

There is often criticism of Iraqi forces not yet being able to stand on their own “independently” of the U.S. military. One of the things that is not understood is that with such short-term governments, the ministries and bureaucracies needed to make the Iraqi police and military security effective have not been in place. The logistical support and consistent policy direction just have not been there at the national level.

When that happens in the coming year, it will enable the U.S. forces to get out of there faster, perhaps. We could be there in a logistical capacity or an advisory capacity for some time to come — but that is up to the Iraqis. If they don’t want us, we’re gone.

The U.S. might have “over the horizon” forces to respond to a crisis in the region. But will there be 17 brigades in five years? That is not a high probability.

GV: Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam war hero and likely presidential candidate, has argued that the only way to get out is to win this war against the insurgency by increasing the U.S. forces by 10,000 troops. What is your view on that?

Myers: If this were conventional warfare like World War II, then sending more troops might help. But overwhelming force won’t help defeat an insurgency like the one we face in Iraq.

There are several elements to the insurgency: the foreign fighters, the Sunni extremists and the Baathist holdouts. You have to deal with that in a more sophisticated way. More troops in this context will only mean more targets.

GV: How do you respond to the criticism about the U.S. failure to plan ahead for the post-Saddam period after the actual military invasion?

Myers: War planning has usually been based on the presumption of being attacked. What would happen, for example, if North Korea attacked South Korea? Or if the Warsaw Pact had attacked Western Europe? In your planning, you are reacting to something that has happened.

When you come to the point where you think your military forces are needed to act first, it changes the whole planning paradigm around — particularly if you don’t want to telegraph your move. You’ve got to do your Phase Four (after war — ed.) planning in a way that doesn’t make it appear you are preparing to invade another country.

You want it to be an orderly transition, but you just can’t say, “Hey, everybody, come help us for the post-war planning.” This restrained us a bit when we were trying at the same time to work with the United Nations and the international community to get Saddam to change so we wouldn’t need to go to war.

In addition, I think we underestimated the devastation of the human spirit under Saddam. People didn’t get paid in the police or military or bureaucracy to do a good job; they got paid to go along with the program or else. This mindset has hurt the postwar recovery. After 30 years of oppression, people are not about to raise their hands and say, “Hey, I think this will help things work better.”

GV: The CIA has issued a report recently that said a whole new generation of terrorists has been trained in Iraq, just as they had been in Afghanistan, eager to operate beyond its borders. As a result, are we going to face a new front in the war on terror?

Myers: I think of it as the old front being reinvigorated. In 1998, Osama bin Laden said he wanted to bring down the power of the West and establish a global caliphate over the next 100 years dominated by their extremist interpretations of Islam. He called for a jihad and launched this global insurgency.

Some say that if it weren’t for the U.S. action in Iraq, this would have all gone away. My view is that if that Iraq hadn’t become the central battleground, it would have been somewhere else. In fact, if we are successful in Iraq, al-Qaida’s insurgency will shift somewhere else. And it is probably true that there are jihadists being trained in Iraq who will migrate elsewhere.

Since this is a global insurgency, the fight from our end must involve defense, offense and a long-term strategy. The defense part is homeland security. The offense, as we’ve seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, is obvious. The long-term strategy is not well articulated and less well developed, but it involves the broader issue of figuring out why people sign up for the jihad and trying to change that. This is not an issue of military force, but is economic and diplomatic, including public diplomacy. It has to be an international strategy.

GV: Were you surprised that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq?

Myers: Absolutely. If Saddam didn’t have any WMD, why did he go to such great lengths to look like he did?

GV: The 2002 National Security Strategy said preemptive war was warranted if the U.S. faced the threat of “imminent danger of attack.” In your view as a military man, was the U.S. in “imminent danger” of being attacked by Iraq?

Myers: There is the inherent right — either in the UN charter or international law — of “anticipatory self-defense.” You don’t need to wait to be struck before you strike. In that sense, the idea of preemption was not particularly new.

Before 9/11 our mindset — and I think it showed what dullards we were in the military — was that the U.S was pretty well protected by two oceans. What could surprise us on the security front? If they could use civilian planes to attack the heart of New York City, why not add biological weapons to the mix?

We are not as secure as we think. In Mosul, in Iraq, a terrorist walked into the dining hall for U.S. troops with a suicide belt and a bomb full of ball bearings and shrapnel. He killed more than 20 people. What is to prevent someone from doing that in one of our shopping malls? How do you defend against that? Can we put barbwire around everything and change our way of life? You can’t build barriers higher enough.

If the magnitude of the event is so large that it can kill thousands of your citizens, and you have knowledge that is about to happen or could happen, then you have the right to stop that.

GV: Sir, my question was whether Iraq was an “imminent threat,” not terrorism in general.

Myers: The nexus of terrorism and WMD was the worry. That was the threat. If they had WMD, and they fell into the hands of al-Qaida, it threatened us. Al-Qaida was not associated with Iraq, though they were in Iraq from time to time. There were a lot of unknowns there.