General Abizaid puts candidates to shame with intelligent views on war

By Karen Woodmansee

With the Iraq war usually landing in the top three national issues, most of what we hear from the political candidates - of both parties - is sound bites and accusations.

They talk about "I'll bring them home" or "I won't accept surrender" and accuse their opponents of being pro-war or soft on terrorism.

Listening to that gets tiresome, since any thoughtful person can figure out that the situation is far too complex for an easy answer, one way or the other.

With the above being what passes for discourse on the war these days, it was refreshing on Monday to hear from a man who had been there, led the fight, and had more than a few sound bites to say about it.

My husband, Carl, and I ventured to Reno to attend the Association of the United States Army's annual Veterans Day Dinner (not held on Veterans Day because of a scheduling snafu) to hear from retired four-star Gen. John Abizaid, former leader of the U.S. Army's Central Command.

We went to see and hear a man who spent his life in service to his country and took a lot of incoming rounds, verbal as well as explosive. The last time I had a chance to listen to the general was when he was grilled by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he calmly answered some pretty loaded questions.

He was just as calm and confident at the dinner, and offered something none of the presidential candidates seem to be able to, an in-depth and intelligent perspective on the challenges our nation faces in Iraq.

The candidates seem to say either pull them out, we shouldn't have gone in there in the first place, or we did the right thing, send in more troops and fight harder.

Abizaid said the best way to deal with the current situation, now that the surge has provided an increased (if not perfect) level of security, is to bring in diplomats to help the Iraqi government deal with one another and other nations. Bring in intelligence agents to gather information so we don't get behind the curve again. Provide aid workers to help the poor and struggling and include private enterprise to build the Iraqi economy and get people working so they lose interest in blowing themselves and others up.

He also said we need to end our reliance on foreign oil, something politicians have been saying for more than 30 years, but have not done anything to make it a reality.

He said other nations, some of which have caveats that prevent them from engaging in combat, should be able to fight side by side with the U.S.

I never heard a candidate mention that.

You can argue whether or not we should have gone into Iraq until the cow chips turn gold, but the fact is we are there and we have to find a way to accomplish something out of the situation so that the future is bright for both the U.S. and Iraq.

Abizaid said most of the people in that region want us to succeed, and I believe our nation owes it to them to try harder, not just with the military but, as the general said, with all our power.

I'm not a military or foreign affairs expert, but it seems to me it would be cruel to, after removing that nation's government however evil it was, to leave those people to the mercy of death squads and militias.

Two final things that impressed me about the general: One, that he took the time to recognize and thank the veterans in attendance and their spouses, and gave a special thank-you to Vietnam vets.

He said it was our responsibility as a nation to never again make returning troops feel unwelcome, and we should care for those who come back, especially the ones that aren't part of the veterans community. He is right there, too.

The other thing that impressed me was that he refused to demean the discussion by engaging in partisan politics. He spoke respectfully of both the president and Congress, despite some leading questions from the audience, and responded with grace and class.

You won't find much of that in the presidential campaign either.

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 881-7351


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