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A technician at an Iranian uranium conversion facility in February, 2007. Odom says U.S. steps until now have only increased Iranian incentives to get nuclear weapons faster. (AP photo)

Odom on Iraq, Iran and what it means to be a democracy

SHOWCASE | February 20, 2007

There are few true democracies in the world, William Odom says in a radio interview. ‘If the Iraqis and other Arab countries want to become liberal systems, they can do it. They’re not going to do it the way we’re headed there now.’

By Barry Sussman

Since August 2005 this Web site has run six pieces on Iraq and terrorism by William E. Odom, one of the earliest and strongest advocates of cutting and running. From the outset, Odom has turned every reason for keeping American troops in Iraq on its head, arguing with force that avoiding a civil war, getting Al Qaeda out of Iraq, bringing democracy to the Middle East, regaining respect for America, forming coalitions against terrorists, and so on, may be possible if we leave Iraq but impossible if we stay.

Where Bush says defeat is not an option; Odom, a retired Army Lieutenant General who was director of the National Security Agency under President Reagan, holds that victory is not an option.

On Feb. 15th, a conservative radio talk show host, Hugh Hewitt, tried repeatedly to poke holes in Odom’s positions. The result was a lusty interview. It started with Odom, pinned down to a time frame, saying he’d like to see the troops out in six months. “If it takes nine, fine. I wouldn’t complain if we did it in four.”

Odom was expansive on what countries must achieve before they can be considered democracies, saying, among other things, that “there are only about 24, 25, 26 countries in the world of 191 members at the United Nations that have truly liberal democracies.”

“It takes a lot more than elections for countries to be democracies,” Odom said. Hewitt asked, “And so the purple finger elections of 2005…?”

Odom: “Oh, look. Elections are easy to hold…”

Hewitt asked about the significance of millions of Iraqis having voted, and their aspirations. Odom said the U.S. hasn’t brought Iraqis closer to where freedom can flourish but instead has made things much worse.

“Much worse than Saddam?” Hewitt asked. “Yeah,” Odom replied. “There’s many more people been killed each year we’ve been there than were being killed during Saddam’s period.”

“You dismiss the idea it will get worse if we leave?” Hewitt asked.

“No, replied Odom. “I said it doesn’t matter how bad it gets, it’s not going to get better by us staying there. …I personally think that we might end up finding less of a terrible aftermath than we’ve pumped ourselves up to expect, because the President and a lot of other people have really made a big thing of trying to scare us about that. What I’m saying is even if their scare scenarios turn out to be the case, that is the price we have to pay to get out of this trap, and eventually bring a stability to that region which if the Iraqis and other Arab countries want to become liberal systems, they can do it. They’re not going to do it the way we’re headed there now.”

“We are on a path to suffer every month we stay,” Odom said at one point.

In other parts of the interview, Odom said the United States couldn’t stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, nor should it try; advised against expecting truthfulness in public statements by leaders, including statements in testimony to Congress by the new Army chief in Iraq, General David Petraeus; and said that “if I were an Israeli right now, given [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert’s policies and Bush’s policies, I would fear for my life.”

At one point, responding to his interviewer's skepticism about the consequences of pulling out of Iraq, Odom asked Hewitt: “Are you enthusiastic enough to put on a uniform and go?” “No, I’m a civilian,” Hewitt responded. “Okay,” Odom said, “but we can recruit you…All these war hawks...none of them have been in a war, and they don’t want to go.”

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