An interview with the general

Posted: Aug 24, 2006 12:11 AM
An interview with the general

When did you last see or hear Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, or Commander of Central Command, General John Abizaid, appear on one of the big three networks in prime time for a conversation on the war?
Mike Wallace was eager to bring us Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's worldview to American living rooms, but have any of the networks been as busy setting out before the public our military's view of the stakes of the conflict and the nature of the enemy?
On Tuesday, August 22, I spent 25 minutes interviewing General Abizaid, and played the entire interview twice on my radio program. The transcript is here. It is not a "gotcha" interview. I didn't ask about Haditha, or Abu Ghraib or any other subject designed to create a headline. Rather, my questions are straightforward inquiries about the conduct of the war and the stakes involved. General Abizaid is a widely admired military leader, and his responses are candid as well as focused. Here is one of the crucial exchanges:

HH: General Abizaid, is the American media, and I understand fully your commitment to 1st Amendment freedom, as every member of the American military is always quick to say. But is the American media making your job easier or harder in securing stability, and in ending extremism in the region?

JA: Well, I don't know that I want to characterize what the American media is doing or not doing, other than to say it would be a huge help for everybody if we started talking about our enemies out here, what they stand for, what they want, what their vision of the world is, why they're dangerous, and how this is a worthy fight to fight at this level now, rather than letting it wait to get worse. And I think that's the unspoken story, it's the enemy.

The evening after the interview I was honored to have a meal with a young Marine lieutenant who has completed two tours in Iraq, and is currently based at Camp Pendleton. Ronnie's a Naval Academy graduate and is everything Americans hope our young officers are, including absolutely committed to victory and yet very concerned for their troops and for the future of Iraq.

We spent a lot of time talking about the enemy he and his Marines had faced and the conditions under which these Marines operated. He told me that upon return from his second tour he had taken every opportunity offered him from every group no matter how large or small to explain the war with an emphasis on the enemy and their inhuman cruelty and barbarian practices. He described the first beheading video he had seen and how it was important to watch even though it was so deeply repulsive. And he talked about their tactics.

Every once and awhile, we civilians catch a glimpse of the barbarians at the gate, as when the details of the London bombing plot leak out, or when the carnage of Mumbai is recalled.

But then Reuters gets to doctoring its photos, and Mike Wallace hauls off to Tehran and doesn't bother to ask President Ahmadinejad about the torture and the disappeared, the use of indiscriminate weapons by Hezbollah against civilians or the routine declaration of intent in jihadist websites, we begin to forget the reality of the war.

It isn't as though these are hard stories to find, or the intentions of the enemy difficult to discern. The MSM could in fact be doing its job of informing the public of the key facts of their lives. More from General Abizaid:

HH: General, I'm aware of your time, so I don't want to abuse it. I'll do two more questions, unless you want to go longer. I'll go as long as you want, but I know you're busy. Is the issue of pre-invasion WMD in Iraq closed in your mind, General?

JA: Well, I always hesitate, Hugh, to get involved in this issue that's become so highly politicized. Let me just say the issue of WMD is probably the single most important issue in the region. And every day, I deal with the intelligence of looking over what al Qaeda talks about. And as a matter of fact, all you have to do is go to their websites. They are looking for safe havens so they can gain time to develop WMD of some sort, whether it's chemical, biological or nuclear. They have the intent to use it, they have stated it openly, over and over again, and were it not for the fact that these people are trying to acquire WMD and intend to use it against us, and the technological capability in the world today might allow that to happen, I'm not so sure that the effort out here would need to be as big as it is. But we've got to keep these guys on the defensive. We can't let them get a safe haven, and we absolutely can't let them get WMD in their hands.

Have you ever seen a MSM story in prime time on the ongoing efforts of jihadists to obtain WMD? The sort of story that makes the threat real, and not some speculation about unnamed bad guys hoping to do unspecified bad things?

Which brings me to the last exchange with the General Abizaid:

HH: And General, that leads me to my last question. World Trade Center is in theaters now in the United States. It reminds people of five years ago. How great is the threat to the home front from those WMD that you've discussed just now? And do the American people fully appreciate that threat?

JA: I can only say that as I...when I go home and spend time where my headquarters is in Tampa, or when I spend time where I'm from on the West Coast, it's hard to really notice that there's much of a war going on, thinking that there's a World War II level of effort going on in the middle of the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa, is hard for most people to appreciate. I think it's important that people understand the dangers of not contesting this area. If we let the extremists get embedded, if we let the extremists gain ground, if we let the extremists have time and resources, then I believe they'll eventually insinuate their way into the mainstream. They could then gain territory, gain time, gain weapons of mass destruction. And over time, they'd move us to the war that we're all, the big war that we're all trying to avoid. So I can only tell you that what we're doing out here is very, very important for our security. We were actually fighting these people well before 9/11, and it takes a little bit of time and effort, but people need to educate themselves about why we're fighting who we're fighting, and what it means if we back away from them. I think our young troops that are out here fighting are doing a wonderful job, and an absolutely necessary job. And I'd also like to say, just to kind of close up, Hugh, is that I don't believe it's necessary to stay out here in this huge force size forever. We can, over time, get our own forces down as long as the moderates in the region are willing to stand up, take responsibility, and move against these extremists on their own. So helping them help themselves is really the key to our success. I believe we're doing that in a lot of places. It's a hard fight, it's a long fight, but with patience and perseverence, we can do it. We certainly have got the courage of our troops to rely upon, and they won't let us down.

Blogger Charles Glenn thought General Abizaid was delivering a gentle rebuke to conservative writers urging realism as to the limits of American power. I think it was a much more general appeal for focus. General Abizaid didn't criticize critics of the war, or demands for withdrawal, or the assigners of blame. He did urge attention to the specifics of what the United States faces in the years ahead. It was a sober, specific and deeply sincere set of comments that I wish had a prime time audience, and one on television, not just syndicated radio.

When MSM got head faked on Tet, its biggest names didn't know any better. In 2006 the enemy knows it is an information war, and that America's greatest vulnerability lies in its attention span and its distaste for sad but not tragic news. But so does every senior member of the MSM. E-mails like this one from a Battalion Commander in Afghanistan need wide dissemination but receive only sporadic attention. General Abizaid and other key figures in the center of the fight deserve the opportunity to speak directly with the American people about the war and its progress, and not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan, Somalia, India and everywhere around the world where the enemy nests as it plans to strike.

Every day that goes by with many network minutes devoted to a nutter claiming connection to a decade old murder contrasted with silence or near silence on the enemy is another day of negligence, and of the worst sort. How is it that the military attracts such great young people and senior leadership, and the MSM is captained by those indifferent to the most serious conflict of their lives?