Crossposted from To Us. Permission to use noncommercially with attribution. For faster response to questions please email me at aek2013 at columbia dot edu.
Northeastern University hosted retired Central Command General John Abizaid to speak to its Middle East Center for Peace, Culture, and Development students about the U.S. and the Middle East this morning. The public was also invited, and I think I may have been the sole representative of that element of the audience.
General Abizaid, a Colorado Rockies fan, apologized for competing with the Red Sox homecoming parade.
Northeastern’s President Joseph Aoun, a professor of linguistics, introduced General Abizaid with this intriguing proposition: America is unique in being “hyphenated”. People can be Arab-Americans, Latino-Americans, African-Americans, etc., and in America, this enrichment thrives and cultural and ethnic heritage celebrated and valued, instead of the enforced assimilation that occurs in other countries policies toward their immigrants.
Were that it was so. President Ayoub has not perhaps lived in homogeneous communities in the South or Midwest, for example, where immigrants are not only not rewarded for cultural pride and immersion, but are discriminated for it. However, I digress, and this optimism is not a bad thing.
General Abizaid had spent time introducing himself to the students beforehand, and he opened by acknowledging them, ROTC members, active military and Northeastern community audience members in attendance. He was comfortable in front of this audience, and he was at home and in command of his message at all times.
General Abizaid used a few maps of the Middle East to highlight the major points of his presentation. The first was a plain geographical map of the countries and nation/states of the broader Middle East and adjoining regions.
He gave himself away when he produced this anecdote:
“A few years ago The Secretary of Defense called me to ask a question. You can’t say that he didn’t consult the military. At that time I had 25 areas under my command in the Middle East. I didn’t have Lebanon and Syria. The Secretary asked me if I would take them on. I replied that I would rather not. After a period of reflection and consideration – about 5 or 6 seconds – he replied, ‘you’ve got them.'” (The audience dutifully laughed.) “I replied, ‘why don’t you give me North Korea, too?'”
But in that little funny is contained Rumsfeld’s contempt, hubris and stupidity, and Abizaid’s acknowledgment of it.
Back to the presentation. Gen. Abizaid proposed that the current conflicts are representative of what he views as the first battle of globalization, where there are elements of the population that are trying to remain local and separate from the world, while other elements are trying to engage in world trade, politics and the economy.
With that as his meta Middle East view of extant conflicts, he repeatedly asserted, “You can criticize how we got where we are, but we are where we are, and now we have to move forward.”
He then produced the map but with US military perceived conflicts superimposed on the region.
The four major meta problems he perceives include:
- A rise in extremist organizations which include religious indoctrinated extremist views
- Al Qaida – stateless and centerless, a complex and dynamic network including infrastructure, economies and cyberstructure relationships – difficult to infiltrate, understand and contain/minimize
- A rise in Shi’a extremism – nationstates – Iran
- seeks to dominate the region/Persian Gulf
- Arab/Israeli conflict where he perceives a “sense of hopelessness in the region”
- Oil – the Middle East fuels the global economy
Next up is the map with US military goals and objectives superimposed:
- Containment of Iranian aggression
- Control of the Afhan/Pakistani border with an emphasis on the Pakistani side with the aim of reducing the strategic leadership presence of Al Qaida
- Notably, the Taliban was not mentioned throughout this presentation, and no questioner mentioned it, either
- Stabilize Afghanistan
- Work to stabilize Arab/Palestinian/Israeli relationships
- Monitor extremist groups flowing into North Africa to ungoverned areas
- Monitor Darfur
Interestingly, there are three operations locations generally superimposed in Iran, but Abizaid didn’t refer to them specifically. Does that mean that military operations are officially underway there? Or does it refer to covert intelligence operations? (Hello, Valerie Plame) Or does it refer to special ops units? Something else? Again, no questioner asked about it.
Then Abizaid, who answered one question with the preface, “I may be a retired general, but I still uphold my oath. I won’t criticize this president, the vice president or the secretary of defense,” flashed his model of Al Qaida which portrayed a complex network of relationships, information and material and human resources. This was titled simply, “The Network of Al Qaeda.” And after this was Abizaid’s policy recommendations and philosophy hidden in plain sight with the US response to that titled, “It Takes A Network To Defeat A Network.”
In this representation was diplomatic efforts, international aid, regional policy development and participation (sort of a neighborhood watch model), economic aid, nation building, global relationship building and the engagement of Iraq’s government in driving its national security and thus providing the means of egress for US military presence and involvement.
Abizaid repeated this nugget: “The Iraqis don’t want us there, and the military doesn’t want to be there.” Ahem, Washington.
He also referenced every single remark about the presidential role relative to the Middle East as “what the next president will have to do….” Digby has so presciently remarked that the Repubs are disappearing George W. Bush, and this is evident as well with retired military who would like to criticize by speaking to everything which should be done (and should be happening now) by fast forwarding to January of 09. Essentially, if you want to know what Abizaid thinks about Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush, just pay attention to what he recommends for the “Next” administration and fill in the gap between that and what this administration is doing. The criticisms will reveal themselves quite clearly.
Abizaid also spoke to concerns about Bush’s remark about WW III. His take?
“I don’t think we’re heading for war in Iran. It would be terrible for Iran. I don’t think we’re headed for WW III.”
He emphasized the need to actively discourage Iran from becoming a nuclear state, but he also stated that the US could live with Iran as a nuclear state, saying, “We lived with Russia and Korea having nuclear states, didn’t we? Don’t underestimate out power. We tend to forget how powerful the US is.”
The Northeastern students, many of whom are from areas in or near the Middle East, asked intelligent, thoughtful and informed questions which were answered, for the most part, in optimistic tones.
One NU professor of comparative religion asked about the US role and responsibility for creating the extant problems. Abizaid skirted the issue and emphasized the need to understand that Iraqis are for the most part, not extremists, are trying to get along with the same concerns that citiznes have around the world: work, live, and support their families in their communities.
Overall, there was a lack of depth of substantive information in the General’s presentation, which was remarked upon after the presentation by a faculty member to the university president.
However, I think that if one understands the message delivered was in the model of the “network to defeat a network” as Abizaid’s policy stance toward containing and addressing terrorism, then the lack of the US diplomatic, economic and infrastructure/humanitarian aid and development efforts and policies to do just that are ample criticism of Bush/Cheney and the Depts of State and Defense.
Abizaid also spoke to the need to draw down the Army presence in Iraq. he used a five year time table, and he didn’t address the 20% broken soldier rate, the 10% exodus of junior and mid-level officers, nor the 19% recruitment waiver rate as parts of the Army sustainability picture, but he did in passing, reference the Army’s overstretched situation, and he expressed his opinion that presidential candidates should be asked about this.
Except for his overly optimistic stance about POTUS and Iran, his presentation was helpful to understand the complexity of the situation, its timeframe, and the meta-military role of the US – extant and optimal. With regard to Iran, all I will say is consider the Balad CSH which has been made enormous and permanent and which is fully staffed jointly by the USAF and the Army. it’s situated ideally to receive Iran airstrike and ground forces casualties and to fly them out of theatre. Where air evac, triage, and treatment facilities are robust and ready, the action isn’t too likely to be too far behind or too far away.