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Exclusive: Former Head of U.S. Central Command Blasts Administration Over Iraq

American Progress hosted a press roundtable with retired Marine Corps General Joseph Hoar on September 13. Hoar headed U.S. Central Command following Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, overseeing U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf after the first Iraq war.

Gen. Hoar was blistering in his assessment of the current conflict, and the failure of the Bush administration’s civilian leadership to grasp the dynamics on the ground in Iraq. Excerpts follow (or read the full transcript here):

Iraq is like our Revolutionary War, except now we’re the British:

Well, it’s true [that the two conflicts are alike], but we’re on the wrong side. We’re the Brits. This is part of the hubris of this crowd that would think that in a country where 95 percent of the population was tribal, where it had been under various colonial rules for however long — since the Caliphate I guess — that all of a sudden this thing was going to turn around overnight. By the way, I just finished reading [David] McCullough’s book, 1776. We’re in there. (Laughter.) … Yeah, but we have red coats.

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Iraq’s political development is essential; the war cannot be won simply by killing more Iraqis:

I’m not at all optimistic about the outcome [in Iraq]. I think part of the reason is that our leadership — civilian leadership has got it wrong. Once the government was overthrown, the requirement from there on in was for political leadership; for the politics to take the lead, rather than the military side. … We’ve had three successive civilian leaders out there, all of whom in my judgment have been ineffective; one bordering on criminal, but the other two relatively ineffective as well. And as a result, the object out there is to kill more Iraqis. I want to tell you that you cannot win this war by killing Iraqis. Now, that ought to be self-evident, but it apparently is not.

As long as Iraq’s insurgents don’t lose, they win:

Ho Chi Minh won as long as he didn’t lose, and these guys [Iraqi insurgents] are in the same category. They are on an entirely different track than we are. This is the George Washington plan: don’t get decisively engaged, hang in there, sooner or later events are going to change and the foreign invaders are going to lose.

Specific steps to improve the security situation in Iraq:

In the list of security things, first of all you have to protect this electoral process that’s ongoing. And then the second priority would be to continue to train Iraqis, but to redouble our efforts and to make sure that they have the appropriate equipment and so forth. Stop conducting search-and-destroy missions out over territory that you’re not going to occupy after you’ve carried out these sweeps, and concentrate on the population centers and the political side of things.

Iraq will be a terrorist breeding ground in the region for years to come:

I want to leave you with something that I think is really important. I was in the Middle East on a trip of five countries this past winter, and in Saudi Arabia there seemed to me to be agreement that, regardless of what happens in Iraq, these jihadis that are now there…, these people are going to be well trained and be out of a job, and they’re going to disperse into the local countries and continue their work. And so it seems to me that the Defense Department not only needs to think about disengaging in Iraq, but to develop the contingency plans if you wind up with a full-scale insurgency in, say, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or if these people redouble the efforts of Hezbollah and Hamas in Israel.

Read the full transcript here.