Thursday, November 16, 2006

Abizaid: Praying the Course

I tried to watch the entire CSPAN coverage of General John Abizaid's testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, but I could only take it in short bursts. What I heard from the head of Central Command live was the same menu of happy horse feathers he's been spreading around the beltway and the airways with a straight face for the last couple of years.

The Iraqi army is performing well. The Iraqi government is confident that things will work out. We should stick by Nuri al Malaki's government until it proves it can't get the job done. Boo talk about how if we don't fight "them" in Iraq and Afghanistan we'll be fighting them here. We have to be patient. After all, it took America over a decade to sort out its own democracy.

A USA Today blurb says Abizaid told the committee that "force caps" or "timetables" imposed on U.S. presence in Iraq will limit the military's "flexibility." Retired General Eric Shinseki was right, Abizaid told the committee, when he said the military would need "several hundred thousand troops" to secure Iraq after the major combat operations phase, but no more troops are needed in Iraq right now. Conversely, any significant reduction in U.S. troop strength over the next six months will lead to increased sectarian violence and weaken the Iraqi government's ability to get the country under control. Overall, Abizaid is optimistic about the way things are going.

What was the point of getting rid of Donald Rumsfeld just to keep his uniformed echo chamberlains like Abizaid around?

The Iraqi army is not performing well. It's individual members don't show up to fight if they don't want to, and nobody wants to force them to fight because then they'd just desert. The Iraqi police are infested with gangsters and militiamen. Iraqi civilians don't trust them and neither do U.S. troops.

How much longer do we need to trust in the Iraqi government's confidence? How much longer do we let Maliki continue to prove that he can't get the job done?

"They" can't get here from there, whether we're there or not. "They" don't have a navy or an air force that can bring them here, and it's too far to swim or jump. You'd think a four-star general like Abizaid would be aware of that.

Eleven years elapsed between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution. America was not torn with civil war or sectarian violence or at the mercy of rogue militias during that time, nor did we ask the British to stick around and help us with our internal security until we could get our act together.

If we needed more troops in Iraq before it went to hell in a bucket, and security situation is worse there now than it was then, why is it we don't need more troops now?

In the House

I caught most of Abizaid's testimony to the House in the afternoon. His uniform still looked sharp. No doubt his aids had plenty of spares available for him to change into throughout the course of the congressional hearings. That's the sort of a thing a four-star's aids do, especially when their boss has to talk to Congress all day on national television. But General Abizaid's aids couldn't hand him a fresh laundered face or physique, and over the course of the afternoon House hearings, Abizaid started to sag under the fa├žade of his starched exterior. The bags under his eyes, the droop of the flap under his chin, and even the swell of his fingers reflected the effects of stress on a 50-something career Army officer who dreamed in his West Point days of being another George Patton, not another William Westmoreland.

The questions the House Armed Services Committee threw at him seemed less volatile than those he faced at the Senate hearing. Maybe that was because lower house members consider themselves B list celebrities and figure they don't have the cachet to pitch fastballs at a four star general the way senators do. Maybe the representatives felt sorry for Abizaid because they understood what a drubbing he'd taken all morning from the A list superstars in the upper house. From the sound of things, John McCain took a cheese grater to his face.

I can almost feel sorry for Abizaid too. Now that Rumsfeld is gone, he's become the head whipping boy for everybody in Congress who Rumsfeld torqued off.

But then I consider: this is the four-star general in charge of two failing wars in two failing states, and here he is telling both houses of Congress that things are going well, the troop levels are fine.

Brother. All this sound and fury about changing the course, we'll continue to keep doing what we've been doing and pray for a miracle. We'll have four to six more months of faith based strategy and then take another look at how things are going.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Abizaid's a good guy. I worked for him in the J5. He's being forced into a position where, yes, Rumsfeld is gone, but the NSA and VP are not. He's still under orders to "stay the course." What you ought to be worried about is whether Gen George Casey will be rewarded for operations in Iraq with the CSA job. He's the guy you ought to be berating.

  2. J.,

    I'll take you at your word that Abizaid's a good guy. And I have a very strong sense that he's a good guy stuck between Sergeant Rock and a hard place.

    But you know, when you decide to play "Who Wants to be a Four-Star?" you take out a big honking mortgage on your integrity and your soul. However good a guy Abizaid may be, he's blowing smoke up the pant legs of Congress and the American people, and I'm not one to sit by and say, "Well, but he's a good egg anyway."

    I'll have plenty to say about Casey in the coming weeks. But if he's so culpable for the Iraq fiasco, why hasn't Abizaid done something about him? Yeah, I know, it's a complex situation politically (in the military careerist sense), but please explain to me how, in a culture where I was taught that command comes with responsibility, Abizaid isn't responsible for Casey?

    If a Navy skipper lets an ensign run his destroyer aground, the skipper generally pays the price for it. If one Army four-star who commands another four-star lets that other four-star put America's ship of state bow down in a sand dune, and then appears before Congress and tries to spin his way out of the situation, we're supposed to let the head four-star off the hook because he's a "good guy?"

    Sorry. Don't buy it.



  3. Anonymous1:51 AM

    Just to add to the snark, here it is (almost) Thanksgiving; our Dearly Beloved Leader is calling for 20,000 more troops as the whole thing is turning into a mess in the sand. (Wasn't that once upon a time, in a war in no way similar to this called "escalation"?)

    So, when do we start "Linebacker III" and the Christmas bombing of Syria to bring al Sadr to the table?

    No, really. It makes as much sense as anything else, and according to Woodward in "State of Denial" Kissinger is involved, I wouldn't put anything past him at this point.

  4. Mike and Jo,

    Speaking of star wars, did you catch Sanchez when he started crying about having to retire with three stars? Man, that guy's lucky he got to keep them.

  5. Mike,
    Private Lindie England is in military prison. When she gets out, she'll be lucky to get her job at a fast food joint back. Sanchez has his three-star retirement and, as you said, has years and years of lucrative dope deals with the MI complex to look forward to.

    So I guess you know where my sympathies lie.