ASPEN, Colo. – As the world has become more interconnected and information travels faster than ever before, it also has become more unpredictable and dangerous, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said here last night.
“People now understand more about what other people might have, what they might want, how much control they want — they want a say in their government — and so what you’re seeing is people have opinions and rise up through the ranks to challenge long-term hegemony that in many places is going on,” he said.
That interconnectivity is particularly evident in the Middle East, Odierno told the audience at the first day of the Aspen Security Forum.
“One thing I’ve learned over the last 10 to 15 years is that the main thing you’ve got to figure out is why is something happening [in the Middle East], and when you dig into the why, the interconnection is incredible,” the general said. “The second-, third-, fourth- [and] fifth-order effects compound as you go forward.”
A second factor contributing to international instability is a shift away from the bipolarity of the Cold War toward a rise in regional powers, he said.
“I’ve characterized it as clearly the most uncertain time that I can remember in the 38 years that I’ve been [in the Army],” Odierno said. “I won’t say it’s the most dangerous, but it’s certainly the most uncertain and most unpredictable, and that makes it dangerous.”
Both of these factors are on display in Iraq, he told the audience.
The country was going in the right direction when the United States left in 2011, but Iraqi leaders overestimated the progress made by their military and government institutions, said the general, who led the 4th Infantry Division in the first year of the Iraq War and later commanded coalition ground forces there before serving for two years as commander of all coalition forces in Iraq. The lack of a status-of-forces agreement between the United States and Iraq after the war limited the possibilities for military-to-military relationships, Odierno added.
The problem in Iraq was not the training of the Iraqi security forces, he said, although their ability to sustain their own training was “disappointing.” The problem was a lack of confidence, trust and loyalty between troops and their leaders because of politicization of Iraq’s military leadership, the general said.
“Leaders were changed out,” he explained. “Many of them weren’t qualified. There was some sectarian nature to the changes that were made.”
Members of the Iraqi security forces were unwilling to fight for a government that they perceived as not standing up for all the different peoples of Iraq, Odierno said. “So when they were challenged,” he added, “you saw them very quickly fade away.”
But military power isn’t enough to solve the problems in Iraq, or elsewhere in the Middle East for that matter, he said.
“The lesson here is [that] you’ve got to stand up an institution,” Odierno said. And that includes not just a military, but also a functioning government, he noted.
Iraq will continue to disintegrate if the unity government doesn’t re-form, the general said.
“The good thing about this is they are in the process of forming a new government,” he said. “They just had an election, [and] nobody had a majority. … The hope is that the government that would come out would be one that clearly supports a unity government as we go forward.
“Will that solve the problem?” he added. “My guess is not completely. But that’s the first step.”