RENO - Careful not to criticize either the commander-in-chief or Congress, retired Gen. John Abizaid said it will take a combination of military, diplomatic, private enterprise and patience to succeed in Iraq.
"We're winning over there, very slowly but very surely," he said. "This is not a political issue. It is about the security of the U.S."
Abizaid spoke to the Westmoreland Chapter of the Association of the United States Army on Monday at the Sands Regency in Reno, and emphasized there is no easy solution to the Iraq war; that leaving will not end the problems in the region.
"Beware of the notion there is a simple solution to what we're doing. That if we leave Iraq or Afghanistan, or leave some region, it will get better or worse," he said. "It's not a matter of staying or leaving, it's a matter of dealing with important problems that this nation must deal with for a long time to come.
"That will require more sacrifice and more treasure from our people to deal with the difficulties endemic to the region and the opportunities this region presents."
He anticipated American presence in Iraq should continue through 2012, or possibly later, so that the people there don't think the U.S. will abandon them to the terrorists.
"But we don't have to be there 150,000 strong," he said, adding that he supported troop reductions only if the security situation permitted it.
Abizaid, former commander of the U.S. Central Command covering the Middle East, called Sunni extremism the top problem in the region, with Shia extremism as supported by Iran the second biggest problem.
"The rise of Sunni Islamism under Osama Bin Laden and al Qaida is not a small problem," he said. "They believe they can bring their ideology to the region. Push us out and take on the world."
Abizaid encouraged doubters to view some of the Web sites associated with the terrorist group.
He said to ensure peace and stability in the region, the Arab-Israeli conflict must be resolved; both Sunni and Shiite extremism must be defeated; and the U.S. must end its reliance on foreign oil.
He also said America must change its mindset.
"It's not a battle between Islam and Christianity or West versus East," he said.
He called it a battle of globalization that could not be fought merely by the military.
"It takes a network to defeat a network," he said. We must demonstrate from our government that we put all of our power there. We should not be afraid to use all our power."
That power includes the diplomatic corps, intelligence services, foreign aid workers, Drug Enforcement Agency operatives and even representatives from the Department of Agriculture, to stabilize Iraq, build its economic bases back up and give the people hope. If we do that, Abizaid said, we can bring the level of forces down, a necessity to ease an overstretched military.
"We need to bring forces down in the Middle East, and we can do that if we bring the rest of our power to bear," he said. "How can we have debates in the State Department over whether they will serve in Iraq?"
He also called for private business to come to Iraq's aid.
"We can't depend on military to solve the problem," he said. "Private enterprise has to take some risks and help and show the people a better future."
He also supported ending caveats that keep other nation's forces, such as Germany, from fighting alongside U.S. troops.
Abizaid confirmed the U.S. Army is stretched too thin.
"We can't keep this many in the field without full mobilization," he said.
He supported increasing the size of the military, including the National Guard and reserves, and spending more on people and equipment.
"We need to reconsider how we'll use the guard and reserves, so we will be able to meet the challenges," he said. "Over time, we can reduce the forces we commit."
He said the vast number of people in the region want to be on our side and compared the situation to Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
"It's not if we leave or stay," he said. "It's how we build for the 21st Century."
Abizaid grew up in Coleville, Calif., and now resides in Gardnerville.
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