Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is on his way out the door and heading for retirement after a long, highly decorated career. We certainly wish him all the best and thank him for the service he has provided. Before leaving, though, he sat down for a wide ranging “exit interview” with Fox News and it sounds like he wasn’t pulling any punches. (While still maintaining the requisite levels of professionalism.) Odierno is widely viewed as being instrumental in the success of “the surge” in Iraq back in the day and spent more time on the ground there than any other general during the engagement. Looking at the state of affairs there today he has a few regrets.
The Army’s top officer told Fox News Tuesday it’s “frustrating” to watch the gains he helped achieve in Iraq disintegrate at the hands of the Islamic State, saying in an exit interview that the chaos now unfolding “might have been prevented” had the U.S. stayed more engaged…
“It’s frustrating to watch it,” Odierno said. “I go back to the work we did in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and we got it to a place that was really good. Violence was low, the economy was growing, politics looked like it was heading in the right direction.”
Odierno said the fall of large parts of Iraq was not inevitable, reiterating concerns about the pace of the U.S. troop withdrawal there.
“If we had stayed a little more engaged, I think maybe it might have been prevented,” he said. “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.”
Apparently the General was asked for his input on decisions made after his tenure in country and he provided it. But as we all know now, his suggestion that we leave a standing force – at least in the tens of thousands – to maintain stability and be prepared for unforeseen contingencies, were ignored. And he clearly ties that to the ability of ISIS to rise and spread out of Syria and into Iraq so quickly and thoroughly.
Would the ascent of ISIS have been stymied if there had been a substantial American and allied force in the region up to the present day? I don’t know that it would have stopped it entirely. (Let’s face it… Syria has been a mess for a long time and was ripe for that sort of thing.) But it’s tough to argue that such an American presence wouldn’t have given them pause in terms of spreading into Iraq. And even if they had tried, we would have been in a much better position to beat them back without our troops abandoning their weapons and equipment and fleeing the field the way the Iraqis did.
Odierno is also concerned about recent cuts to the Army and the additional coming reductions which will take us to 450K soldiers. On this score he feels some measure of responsibility because he cautiously approved such measures a few years ago. But now that’s changed.
“I believed at the time we could do that,” said Odierno. “But I said we were on the razor’s edge that we could actually do our mission at 450.”
He added: “Two years ago, we didn’t think we had a problem in Europe. … [Now] Russia is reasserting themselves. We didn’t think we’d have a problem again in Iraq and ISIS has emerged.
“So, with Russia becoming more of a threat, with ISIS becoming more of a threat, in my mind, we are on a dangerous balancing act right now with capability.”
“When we go to 450, we are going to have to stop doing something,” said Odierno.
Given how “well” things have worked out with our withdrawl from Iraq in terms of the spread of ISIS, maybe it’s time to listen to the general once more and reconsider the upcoming cuts. I understand the budget concerns involved here, but can we really afford to be penny wise and pound foolish? Things are getting worse rather than better on the international scene and this is probably just about the worst time to be moving to shrink our armed forces even further.