Retired Generals Robert Gard and John Johns Advocate Disengagement from Iraq

Washington, D.C. – Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (USA, ret.), Senior Military Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and Brig. Gen. John Johns (USA, ret.), Board Member at Council for a Livable World, laid out their vision for disengagement from Iraq in a recent op-ed in New Hampshire’s Keene Sentinel titled “Iraq: Where do we go from here?�

The Generals conclude with their assessment of the surge: “We believe that Gen. David Petraeus and his brain trust of colonels are the best and brightest we have, but the strategy of surging the force to provide stability by implementing classic counterinsurgency doctrine four years after the invasion is far too little, too late.�

Gen. Gard is a combat veteran of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and served as former assistant to two secretaries of defense and former president of National Defense University. Gen. Johns specialized in counterinsurgency operations for 12 years during the Vietnam War and taught national security strategy for 14 years at National Defense University.

The full text of the op-ed is provided below.

Iraq: Where do we go from here?
By Robert Gard and John Johns – Keene Sentinel – July 1, 2007

The 9/11 attack signaled the most serious threat to the security of this nation since World War II. There was an urgent need to clearly define the nature of the threat and take appropriate action; we did neither.

The threat we face is a group, or groups, of radical insurgents who are attempting to topple international law and order. These insurgents use terrorism as their principal weapon. The well-established doctrine for countering insurgencies, whether intra-national or inter-national, is to isolate the radicals from the rest of the population and use precise force to eliminate the radicals. In this case, the world's population was the target population and al-Qaida the initial radical group.

Isolating radicals from the general population requires protection of the population; but more importantly, their support. This is a war of ideas, in which the insurgents and the established order compete for the allegiance of the population. Success requires capturing the moral high ground. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we had the sympathy and support of the vast majority of the world. There were mass demonstrations around the world, including in Iran. Le Monde, the liberal French newspaper, ran the headline, "We are All Americans." The insurgents were isolated.

The initial use of force was appropriate; it focused on the al-Qaida network and the Taliban, which harbored it. With the support of the United Nations and the major powers, we invaded Afghanistan. Unfortunately, we conducted this operation with too few resources; and when it appeared we had the al-Qaida leadership cornered at Tora Bora, we failed to furnish the necessary force to block their escape and eradicate that group.

Instead, we prematurely began to shift those resources to Iraq. It is generally acknowledged that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or the worldwide counterinsurgency effort. Unfortunately, influential members of the Bush administration, who had favored attacking Iraq long before George W. Bush's election, used the 9/11 attack as a pretext for war.

The decision to invade Iraq was one of the greatest blunders – if not the greatest blunder – in U.S. foreign policy history. It is the major reason we have lost the support of the world community, and it has diverted our attention from the legitimate target of our military force – al-Qaida and other jihadists.

Even if we grant the proponents of the Iraq war legitimate motives, the way the war was conducted was inexcusable. Despite warnings from foreign policy experts, the administration embarked on the venture without international support, sacrificing the goodwill that 9/11 had generated.

Militarily, the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam was catastrophic. Gen. Anthony Zinni, the 1997-2000 commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, had concluded the occupation would need 400,000 troops. Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, gave similar advice. Both were ignored and Shinseki was publicly ridiculed and marginalized.

Not only did we go into Iraq with inadequate forces, but we then dismantled all institutions that could provide stability – the army, the police force and the civil service. When chaos followed, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the situation with, "Stuff happens." When the insurgency began, the term was prohibited by the administration. We have steadily spiraled into a quagmire. Now there are no good options; rather, we are looking for the least damaging outcome. All options entail risks.

Staying the course is the least desirable option. It is possible that if we had gone into the war with sufficient forces properly trained in counterinsurgency operations, left the major Iraqi institutions in place and gained international support, there might have been a favorable outcome – but that is hindsight. We believe that Gen. David Petraeus and his brain trust of colonels are the best and brightest we have, but the strategy of surging the force to provide stability by implementing classic counterinsurgency doctrine four years after the invasion is far too little, too late.

"Winning hearts and minds" in the current climate in Iraq is a "mission impossible" even with the best leadership. A recent survey showed 97 percent of Sunnis and 83 percent of Shias oppose the presence of U.S. troops. A vast majority of Iraqis believe our military presence is part of the problem. Almost two thirds believe it is appropriate to kill coalition forces.

Where do we go from here? The first requirement is bipartisan domestic support. The best opportunity is adopting the broad recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. We need to disengage combat forces, enlist international involvement, especially the major regional powers, and work to manage the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The administration is paying lip service to these major recommendations, although the recent bipartisan move in Congress to reconvene the Iraqi Study Group is promising.

Congress has given the president until September to show that his strategy is working. If the Iraq Study Group is reconvened and provides an assessment that the strategy is not working, the American people cannot allow the president to pass to the next president a decision to change strategy. Bush must stop stubbornly sacrificing the future of this country to his ideological rigidity: Time has run out. If the Republican members of Congress support the president in this path, the American people must speak at the voting booths.

Council for a Livable World works tirelessly to reduce the danger of nuclear weapons and increase national security. Founded by nuclear scientist Leo Szilard in 1962, the Council provides Members of Congress with technical information and operates a Candidate Fund that helps elect candidates who support sensible national security policies.

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