Blogs > HNN > On Getting Out of Iraq IX: General Odom and "Reverse Dominoes"

Aug 31, 2007 9:00 pm

On Getting Out of Iraq IX: General Odom and "Reverse Dominoes"

[Mr. Kimball is a professor of history at Miami University and the author of To Reason Why, Nixon's Vietnam War, and The Vietnam War Files.]

The exit strategies that civilian critics of the Iraq War—let's call them"doves"—have proposed ever since the first year of the war have consisted of several elements. These include: some combination of phased U.S. troop withdrawals within six to twelve months; good-faith negotiations with interested parties in and out of Iraq (including Iran and Syria); parallel negotiations aimed at solving broader Middle East issues (such as Iran's nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict); U.S. renunciation of permanent military bases and control of Iraq's oil; and economic measures to assist in Iraq's recovery.

President Bush, his administration, and his staunchest supporters—let me call them"hawks"—have rejected these proposals, labeling withdrawal"timetables" as nothing less than" cut and run" strategies.

Middle-of-the-roaders or fence-sitters—who would probably like to be called"owls"—have been deeply bothered about the folly, cost-ineffectiveness, and immorality of the war but have also been stuck in a quandary, worried as they are about the dire domino effects that might result from phased U.S. troop withdrawals: expanded civil war in Iraq, the spread of Sunni-Shiite conflict, the loss of U.S. credibility, rising oil prices, and instability throughout the Middle East.

In his October 31, 2006 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Lt. General William E. Odom took the bull by the horns as only a general can—and get away with it in certain circles. First, he criticized the hawks' stubborn adherence to the doctrine of credibility and their illusions about creating democracy in Iraq, defending Israel, containing terrorism, and"not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain." Second, he proposed a dovish" cut-and-run" exit strategy calling for U.S. troop withdrawals in six months, multilateral inclusion of U.S. friends and allies in solution-seeking negotiations with Iran, and the pursuit of a settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The strongest part of his argument had to do with his rejection of adverse consequences from this exit strategy; that is, adverse domino effects—although he did not use the phrase. I agree with him, and I am reminded of an argument made in July 1975, not long after the fall of Saigon, by W.R. Smyser, a hawkish adviser to Henry Kissinger. Ever since President Truman, one American president after another had warned that dominoes would fall if the United States failed to preserve a non-communist government in Vietnam. In pursuit of that highly abstract purpose, American troops and forces had been sent into the quagmire. After the fall of South Vietnam, Smyser, who had been tasked by Kissinger to examine the impact of this American defeat on "the dominoes" of Southeast Asia, found that they were adjusting well to the new situation. Instead of distancing themselves from the United States, they were pulling closer. In other words, there had been a “reverse domino” effect, essentially because they saw “little other option.” There were additional “complex” reasons for the reverse domino effect, he said, which were unique to each country (Memo, Smyser to Kissinger, July 15, 1975, subj: The Situation in Asia, folder: Southeast Asia (3), box 1, Country File, National Security Advisor: Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, 1974-1977, G. R. Ford Library).

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