Marc Lynch

Odierno’s spokesman: no conflict with Obama

I’m about to catch a plane, but I wanted to quickly note a few contrarian views that have come through my inbox in the last few days.  First, Iraq.  Col. James Hutton, who I believe to be Gen. Odierno’s spokesman, writes in response to yesterday’s post (reproduced here with his permission):  ….The headline of your ...

I'm about to catch a plane, but I wanted to quickly note a few contrarian views that have come through my inbox in the last few days. 

First, Iraq.  Col. James Hutton, who I believe to be Gen. Odierno's spokesman, writes in response to yesterday's post (reproduced here with his permission): 

....The headline of your latest entry more than suggests an either/or decision is required and that there are two sides vying for a particular fixed position. Gen. Odierno, at President Obama's direction, is developing and reviewing several options. While Gen. Odierno sees the full election cycle as being vital to judging longer-term stability, this view does not preclude reduction options in the interim.

I’m about to catch a plane, but I wanted to quickly note a few contrarian views that have come through my inbox in the last few days. 

First, Iraq.  Col. James Hutton, who I believe to be Gen. Odierno’s spokesman, writes in response to yesterday’s post (reproduced here with his permission): 

….The headline of your latest entry more than suggests an either/or decision is required and that there are two sides vying for a particular fixed position. Gen. Odierno, at President Obama’s direction, is developing and reviewing several options. While Gen. Odierno sees the full election cycle as being vital to judging longer-term stability, this view does not preclude reduction options in the interim.

Inasmuch as no particular decision has been announced as to the date and size of future reductions, or of the President’s ultimate decisions, it is premature to state without equivocation, "(t)his strategy is also a recipe for endless delay." It is clear from each of our actions since the ratification of the Security Agreement that our direction is steadfastly moving toward fulfilling our implementation obligations.

Finally, you state, "I hope that Obama is able to head off a battle with the military — and the military, a battle with Obama — by working together on such a strategy." There is no "battle" to "head off." Gen.Odierno, and other military leaders, will continue to provide their advice to the chain of command and will carry out the decisions rendered by the President.

  My response (in part):

….as I wrote in my post, part of the New York Times story was clearly an attempt by the media to drive a pre-existing "conflict narrative" between Obama and the military.  Such conflict is as unneccessary as it is dangerous — since everyone presumably shares the broader goal of finding the best way to begin drawing down from Iraq responsibly.  General Odierno should correct the New York Times report and make clear that this narrative isn’t going to fly.

That said, I stand by the argument that the Brookings-CFR version, at least, is in fact a recipe for endless delay — regardless of current intentions.  There will always be problems on the horizon that make it appear dangerous to being drawdowns, and at some point the US does need to make a strategic decision to begin.  I do think that there’s a substantive difference between making that decision now — and sending clear signals to Iraqis — and postponing that decision for potentially more than a year. 

This debate will continue, and I of course welcome Col. Hutton and Gen. Odierno’s feedback.

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

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