National Security

Odierno's Parting Shot on the Islamic State

The general who spent more time in Iraq than any other weighs in on its decline.

Michael Swartz · Jul. 23, 2015

For four years, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno was in Iraq, spending more time in the theater than any other military leader. He was a key architect of the successful “surge” that gave Iraq a short-lived bout of stability and relative prosperity. And then Barack Obama came along.

Now weeks away from retirement after a nearly four-decade career, Odierno barely hides his disgust at the decline in Iraq since Obama withdrew American forces. In the debate before the 2011 withdrawal, Odierno requested a force of 30-35,000 troops be maintained in Iraq. Unfortunately, he was overruled by Obama’s narcissistic quest for political expediency in the 2012 campaign. He had promised to “end” (note: not win) the war, and Americans were generally war-weary. Never mind that Iraq was always envisioned as part of a Long War against Islamic extremism.

“It’s frustrating to watch” the rise of the Islamic State, lamented Odierno in his interview with Fox. “I go back to the work we did in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and we got [Iraq] to a place that was really good. Violence was low, the economy was growing, [and] politics looked like it was heading in the right direction.” He added, “If we had stayed a little more engaged, I think maybe [the Islamic State’s rise] might have been prevented. I’ve always believed the United States played the role of honest broker between all the groups and when we pulled ourselves out we lost that role. … I think it would have been good for us to stay.”

Odierno didn’t explicitly say so, but he strongly implied that Obama’s foolish withdrawal from Iraq is directly responsible for the rise of the Islamic State.

Aside from very occasional airstrikes against a handful of Islamic State-controlled targets and ground forays conducted by Iraqi troops under U.S. advisement (and with the assistance of Iranian-backed militia groups), Obama has largely abandoned the Iraqis to the wolves of the al-Baghdadi caliphate. In fact, some foreign-policy pundits are becoming convinced that life under the Islamic State may not be so bad if you keep your nose clean and don’t make the regime mad. They may not yet make the trains run on time, but they argue there’s far less corruption than you’d find under the Iraqi and Syrian governments.

It appears that Obama is trying to walk the thin line between not becoming too involved in the Middle East but not completely ceding to the Islamic State. It’s a set of actions reminiscent of his negotiations with Iran, where State Department negotiators managed to let Iran get away with rhetorical nuclear murder by their insistence that even a horrendous deal was better than no deal at all. Odierno supported the Iranian nuclear pact, but added in the Fox interview that Iran will continue to be an aggressor and instigator.

Meanwhile, Obama is reducing the size of the military, which Odierno warns means the U.S. will be unable to “deter conflict and prevent wars.” Shrinking the Army from 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers, for example, is a problem. “In my mind, we don’t have the ability to deter,” Odierno explained. “The reason we have a military is to deter conflict and prevent wars. And if people believe we are not big enough to respond, they miscalculate.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but as close as we can figure this is the Obama Doctrine toward Islamic terrorists: Put off the day of reckoning until the next administration and hope the collateral damage is kept largely in that region. But when a U.S. city or Jerusalem become a smoking ruin from either an Iranian nuke or an Islamic State terror attack — never mind the increasing “lone wolf” attacks like the one in Chattanooga — we’ll see the bitter harvest of what Obama has sown by not seeing through the Long War.

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