‘Stay the Course?’ What Course?

This roundtable discussion from Think Progress is way too long to post in full, so I’m only going to post a few excerpts, but I encourage anyone interested to read the discussion in full.

Press Roundtable Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Gen. Joseph Hoar, USMC (Ret.) and Philip J. “P.J.” Crowley, senior fellow and director of National Defense and Homeland Security, Center for American Progress
SNIP

MR. CROWLEY: Right, right. But obviously Iraq has been out of the news for the last couple of weeks. I’m sure someone in the White House believes that is also the media’s fault for whatever good news has happened there over the past – since we’ve focused on the hurricanes, so we’re coming up on obviously a very significant milestone, October 15, notwithstanding the president’s language of “stay the course.”

I’ve no doubt that Field Marshall Karl Rove has a map leading out into 2006 with a number of exit ramps, because I don’t think they want to go into the midterm elections with 138,000 troops in Iraq, so I think they’re lighting candles between – every day between now and October 15 that they get the outcome that actually all of us do need. Certainly, if October 15 comes and somehow they’re able to avoid having three provinces in the Kurdish area – the Sunni area reject the constitution, then that is a significant step forward. Obviously, if that does not happen, it’s a vacuum that the extremists will be happy to exploit.

But either way, there are some very difficult decisions to be made about what our troops can still accomplish in Iraq and how the prospect of bringing out some, and eventually all of them, affects our standing in the region. And with that, General Hoar, from his background as the former commander of U.S. Central Command, was kind enough to agree to come by and share some of his thoughts.

So, General, I think you’re going to start off with –

GENERAL HOAR: Just a couple of thoughts to kind of get things going. I can’t begin without once more saying that this was the wrong war at the wrong time fought with incredible incompetence on the part of the civilian leadership. And despite this, that our armed forces continue to serve with courage and determination and in many cases great personal sacrifice. One data point is just the increase in divorces among Army and Marines that have gone back for repeat tours – not unlike the Vietnam experience, by the way – that a woman will stand for this one time, but two, three times is –

MR. CROWLEY: Or men.

GENERAL HOAR: I beg your pardon?

MR. CROWLEY: Or men.

GENERAL HOAR: Or men. Yeah, okay. Thanks, P. J. You’re so good.

Anyway, I think for me it’s important to say that, up front, this thing was wrong from the beginning, and so as is often the case, it’s very hard to make it right once you start down the wrong road. I’m not at all optimistic about the outcome. I think part of the reason is that our leadership – civilian leadership has got it wrong. Once the government was overthrown, the requirement from there on in was for political leadership; for the politics to take the lead, rather than the military side.

There needed to be somebody there that had special envoy status with access to the president, somebody that could call up the president and say, “What do you think?” P. J. and I were just talking about a few minutes ago about George Mitchell and Mr. Clinton during the Northern Ireland issues where there was a constant set of discussions in how we ought to do it – gaming it, questioning it – and the president was deeply involved in the issues and understood the issues, and traveled and talked. We don’t have that. By default, we’ve had three successive civilian leaders out there, all of whom in my judgment have been ineffective; one bordering on criminal, but the other two relatively ineffective as well.

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