NY Times quoted only retired generals and experts critical of Iraq pull-out plans, ignored those who support redeployment


In an article reporting that a number of former military officers and foreign policy experts are opposed to near-term phased withdrawal from Iraq, New York Times reporter Michael R. Gordon did not mention the numerous retired U.S. generals, former diplomats, and foreign policy experts who have also called for some form of withdrawal.

In a November 15 front-page article, New York Times reporter Michael R. Gordon noted that "a number of military officers, experts and former generals, including some who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policies," have recently challenged the argument put forth by many Democrats "that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq should begin within four to six months." Gordon went on to quote retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, retired Army Gen. John Batiste, and Brookings Institute senior fellow Kenneth M. Pollack, each of whom opposed the idea of a near-term phased withdrawal. In support of such a plan, Gordon quoted only Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) who in June 2006, along with Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), introduced an amendment calling for the United States to begin redeploying troops out of Iraq by the end of the year. But Gordon failed to mention the numerous retired U.S. generals, former diplomats, and foreign policy experts who, in the past year, have also called for some form of withdrawal.

From Gordon's November 15 article, headlined "Get Out Now? Not So Fast, Some Experts Say":

One of the most resonant arguments in the debate over Iraq holds that the United States can move forward by pulling its troops back, as part of a phased withdrawal. If American troops begin to leave and the remaining forces assume a more limited role, the argument holds, it will galvanize the Iraqi government to assume more responsibility for securing and rebuilding Iraq.

This is the case now being argued by many Democrats, most notably Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who asserts that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq should begin within four to six months.

But this argument is being challenged by a number of military officers, experts and former generals, including some who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policies.

Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the United States Central Command and one of the retired generals who called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, argued that any substantial reduction of American forces over the next several months would be more likely to accelerate the slide to civil war than stop it.


John Batiste, a retired Army major general who also joined in the call for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation, described the Congressional proposals for troop withdrawals as "terribly naïve."

"There are lots of things that have to happen to set them up for success," General Batiste, who commanded a division in Iraq, said in an interview, describing the Iraqi government. "Until they happen, it does not matter what we tell [Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-] Maliki."

In the article, Gordon made clear that Zinni and Batiste's stance on the issue represented only the view of "some current and retired military officers." Nonetheless, he failed to inform readers that numerous members of the military community more closely align themselves with Levin's position. Indeed, in the past year a number of retired U.S. generals have called for some form of withdrawal from Iraq:

  • Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark said in May 2006, "I think that the United States should soon begin its process of redeployment."
  • Former National Security Agency director and retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom wrote in the May/June 2006 issue of Foreign Policy, "America must withdraw now."
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard Jr. and retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns wrote in November 2005, "There may well be some negative consequences as a result of withdrawing of U.S. troops, but fewer, we believe, than if we continue on the present course. Ultimately, the United States will be stronger if we leave the quagmire that is Iraq to resolution by its own citizens."
  • In a November 2005 interview, retired Army general William Nash said, "This is not a situation of figuring out the perfect solution. So I am one who believes strongly that our presence is now a detriment to our achieving our goals. As a consequence, I would say we need to be looking for excuses to withdraw, not for reasons to stay."

Beyond the former generals listed above, numerous active members of the U.S. military have recently expressed their support for withdrawal. Since October, at least 700 service members have reportedly signed an Appeal for Redress asking their representatives in Congress to "to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq."

Furthermore, in an October 9 interview, British army commander Gen. Richard Dannatt said British troops should "get ourselves out [of Iraq] sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems." He added, "We are in a Muslim country, and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. ... As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren't invited -- certainly by those in Iraq at the time."

In the November 15 article, Gordon also noted that some foreign policy experts oppose proposals for withdrawal. As a single example, he included a quote from Pollack, who strongly supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003:

Kenneth M. Pollack, an expert at the Brookings Institution who served on the staff of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, also argued that a push for troop reductions would backfire by contributing to the disorder in Iraq.

"If we start pulling out troops and the violence gets worse and the control of the militias increases and people become confirmed in their suspicion that the United States is not going to be there to prevent civil war, they are to going to start making decisions today to prepare for the eventuality of civil war tomorrow," he said. "That is how civil wars start."

But as with the generals, Gordon failed to note the numerous other foreign policy experts -- including some who previously worked in the Bush administration -- who have recently advocated U.S. redeployment out of Iraq. Following are several examples:

  • On October 18, Richard L. Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state from 2001 until 2005, expressed his support for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops. Speaking at DeSales University, Armitage said, "We notify the Iraqis that we're going to be drawing down a reasonable but careful percentage of our troops over a reasonable interval of months -- just for example, 5 percent of troops every three months. ...This will show seriousness of purpose, I think. It will give our population some hope and enthusiasm that this is not a never-ending affair. And also it will put the heat on the Iraqis, because ladies and gentlemen, we can't win this militarily."
  • In a September 6 International Herald Tribune op-ed, Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt (1997-2001) and Israel (2001-2005), wrote, "I support withdrawing American forces as soon as possible, if possible within the context of a regional and international accord, but unilaterally if such an accord proves to be impossible to attain."
  • In an article in the October 2006 issue of Harper's, William R. Polk, the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago, wrote: "We must acknowledge the Iraqis' right to ask us to leave, and we should set a firm date by which to do so." The article -- co-authored by former Democratic presidential candidate George S. McGovern -- went on to assert that "phased withdrawal should begin on or before December 31, 2006, with the promise to make every effort to complete it by June 30, 2007."

Other foreign policy experts who, in the past year, have proposed a phased withdrawal from Iraq include: Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute; Barry R. Posen, director of the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and former senior counterterrorism official Richard A. Clarke.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
The New York Times
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