General Opposes Adding To U.S. Forces In Iraq, Emphasizing International Solutions Fo

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
December 20, 2006
Pg. 12

By Thom Shanker
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 — As the new secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, takes stock of the war in Iraq this week, he will find Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior commander in the Middle East, resistant to increasing the American fighting force there.
General Abizaid, who is completing the final months of a highly decorated military career, acknowledges that additional American forces, favored by some of President Bush’s top advisers, might provide a short-term boost in security. But he argues that foreign troops are a toxin bound to be rejected by Iraqis, and that expanding the number of American troops merely puts off the day when Iraqis are forced to take responsibility for their own security.
While American forces may be repositioned within Iraq to meet growing security challenges, especially in Baghdad, the answer is not solely military, and even the leading role in combat cannot long rest on American forces, General Abizaid says.
“The Baghdad security situation requires more Iraqi troops,” he said in a recent interview as he traveled around Iraq, meeting with American commanders.
His assessment, which includes plans to increase the number of American trainers embedded with Iraqi units, is supported by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, as well as by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who must provide the forces and have resisted an increase without first clearly defining the goals it would try to achieve on the ground.
But the generals are facing a different assessment from a growing number of civilian officials in the Bush administration, who see a sharp increase in troop strength as an effective means to stabilize Baghdad and as a dramatic initiative for the president to announce in January.
General Abizaid argues for a broader approach to Iraq than that of looking solely to putting out the fires in Baghdad.
“You have to internationalize the problem,” General Abizaid said. “You have to attack it diplomatically, geo-strategically. You just can’t apply a microscope on a particular problem in downtown Baghdad and a particular problem in downtown Kabul and say that somehow or another, if you throw enough military forces at it, that you are going to solve the broader issues in the region of extremism.”
His views are out of sync with those of some officials in Washington.
General Abizaid has been pounded by senators of both parties for what they said was status quo advice on force levels in Iraq, and for sharing responsibility over a strategy that the Iraq Study Group said was failing. At the same time, he rankled many of his civilian bosses by not sticking to administration talking points for the war, offering accurate, if blunt, public assessments of the Iraq mission since taking charge of Central Command in July 2003.
General Abizaid was the first to label Iraq a guerrilla war, even when the White House and Pentagon dismissed the description. And he was the first four-star general to warn that the rise of sectarian violence in Iraq, after the mosque bombing in Samarra in February, had replaced terrorism and Sunni insurgents as the greatest security challenges there, telling Congress that Iraq risked sliding toward civil war.
But in a bitter exchange last month during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, told the general, “I’m of course disappointed that basically you’re advocating the status quo here today, which I think the American people in the last election said is not an acceptable condition.”
General Abizaid’s reluctance to endorse a spike in American forces is not born of philosophical differences over questions like whether the United States can rely on fewer troops in combat zones abroad because of advanced technology. General Abizaid, who is of Lebanese descent, served a tour with United Nations forces in Lebanon, attended the University of Jordan and earned a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard.
He emphasizes that the threat to American national security interests ranges far beyond any one country in his area of responsibility.
“When you take a look at the reach of the extremism as exemplified by Al Qaeda, it’s not just in Afghanistan, it’s not just in Iraq — it’s in Pakistan, it’s in Saudi Arabia, it’s in Great Britain, it’s in Spain,” he said. “It attacked the United States. It is organized in the virtual world in a way that is very unique, very modern, very dangerous.”
Ask for a solution to Sunni insurgents in Anbar Province, and he talks about their supporters in Syria and implications should Saudi Arabia overtly take sides against the Shiites of Iraq.
On the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, General Abizaid says the only course includes understanding tribal loyalties in Pakistan. Turn the conversation to Middle Eastern terrorists, and he describes the military’s efforts to preclude their establishing havens in ungoverned corners of Africa.
General Abizaid is credited with coining the phrase, “the long war,” to describe the challenge of combating terrorism, especially radical Islamic terrorism. He still uses, but no longer favors, the label, according to his aides, because too many people focused only on “war” and a military solution.
He says the United States government is inadequately organized for the new type of threat, and that success in the counterterrorism mission, in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond, requires all of the government to go to war, and not just the military.
“I think our structures for 21st-century security challenges need to adapt to this type of an enemy,” he said. “The 21st century really requires that we figure out how to get economic, diplomatic, political and military elements of power synchronized and coordinated against specific problems wherever they exist.”
Long before the Iraqi Study Group advocated a solution for Iraq that included negotiations with Iran and Syria, General Abizaid argued that combating Islamic extremism required a regional approach. The general declined to disclose his private advice to the White House, Pentagon and State Department on direct negotiations with Iran and Syria, or on future force levels for Iraq.