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Gen. Batiste: Withdraw from civil war
Chicago Tribune Blog
Mark Silva
April 12, 2007

A year ago, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who had commanded the First Infantry Division in Iraq, was among the retired generals calling for the retirement of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Today, as the White House seeks a replacement for a National Security Council adviser who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and extends the service of soldiers deployed to Iraq, Batiste again questions the leadership of a flailing military campaign in Iraq which he calls an "ill-conceived mission" that has become a fruitless deployment mired in an Iraqi Civil War – "with a capital C and a capital W."

The Army's extended deployments of soldiers to 15 months and difficulty in finding new leadership "should cause all Americans to stand up and take notice," Batiste said. "The current surge is insufficient, more of the same, and the results are predictable… The current Army and Marines are at a breaking point, with little to show for it."

U.S. forces should re-deploy and prepare for "the next phase of a protracted challenge," he said, suggesting that "the current strategy in Iraq is catapulting the Middle East into further chaos…We need to get on this, take it seriously, and understand that Iraq and Afghanistan are but the first chapters in a long book.

"We still are playing a game of whack-a-mole," Batiste said. "It's the Myth of Sisyphus playing out over and over again… This country isn't mobilized. We don't have our heart into this… and the strategy is no more unified today than it was in March of 2003… It's time for this great country to accept the cold hard facts that we are right in the middle of an Iraqi civil war, and it is an absolute mess."

Calling the government of Iraq "fractured," Batiste maintains the U.S. military alone cannot establish democracy in Iraq and that sectarian strife will only continue in the absence of the rule of law.

"Yes, I favor a draw-down," one of the administration's former "generals on the ground" said about congressional calls for a withdrawal of forces from Iraq… "We've got to pace ourselves and stop the Bush administration from driving us to a global culminating point.

"Here is the bottom line," he said. "Americans must come to grips with the fact that our military alone cannot establish a democracy…We cannot sustain the current operational tempo without seriously damaging the Army and Marine Corps… our troops have been asked to carry the burden of an ill-conceived mission.

"What we see in Iraq is more of the same," Batiste said in a conference call with reporters arranged by the National Security Network, a research institute that includes former members of the Clinton administration now critical of the Bush administration, and VoteVets.org, an organization of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans critical of the war in Iraq -- Batiste is a board member of VoteVets.

"If I were a soldier on the ground today in Iraq, I'd feel much better about my extended 15-month tour of duty if I knew my nation was mobilized behind the effort," the retired general said, calling the White House's search for a new war coordinator misguided. "Standing up a war czar is just throwing up another layer of bureaucracy," he said. "Excuse me, we have a chain of command.

"What we have is a failure in leadership," Batiste said today, as he had one year ago.

The president had this to say today about the latest signal that the security which U.S. and Iraqi forces are seeking in Baghdad remains an elusive goal, the suicide-bombing inside the Iraqi Parliament building: "It reminds us… that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people in a symbol of democracy.

"There is a type of person that would walk in that building and kill innocent life -- and that is the same type of person that is willing to come and kill innocent Americans," Bush said.

"It is in our interest to help this young democracy be in a position so it can sustain itself and govern itself and defend itself against these extremists and radicals," the president said in an appearance inside the White House. "My message to the Iraqi government is we stand with you as you take the steps necessary to not only reconcile politically, but also put a security force in place that is able to deal with these kinds of people."

Batiste, who led the Army's First Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, also was among the first retired generals to call for Rumsfeld's resignation a year ago. He had joined retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold in calling for a replacement that did not occur until after President Bush's party lost control of Congress in November.

"Whether we agree or not with the war in Iraq, we are where we are and we must succeed in this endeavor," Batiste said in an interview with CNN on April 13 of last year. "Failure is, frankly, not an option.

"Success to me is setting the Iraqi people up for self-reliance with their form of representative government that takes into account tribal, ethnic and religious differences that have always defined Iraqi society," he said then. "Iraqis, frankly, in my experience, do not understand democracy.

"When my family and I returned from Germany after three years with the [Army's First Infantry Division], we were struck by the fact that there's a lack of sacrifice and commitment on the part of the American people -- the exception [is] those families with soldiers committed into this fight," he said. "And certainly, too many of these families truly understand the meaning of sacrifice. Most Americans only confront this issue by deciding what color of magnet on the back end of their SUV.

"Finally," Batiste said last year, "I believe we need a fresh part in the Pentagon. We need a leader who understands teamwork, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation… I think we need senior military leaders who understand the principles of war and apply them ruthlessly, and when the time comes, they need to call it like it is… new leadership in the Pentagon, a fresh start."

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