June 6, 2008

Gen. William Odom, RIP

Evan Thomas of Newsweek writes about General William Odom, who recently died at age 75:

Washington has its share of retired generals who go on TV and blather the administration line fed them, we have recently learned, at private Pentagon briefings. And then there was Bill Odom.

A retired three-star general who was once a senior officer on President Carter's national-security staff and later chief of the supersecret National Security Agency during the Reagan administration, Odom was one of the first Washington insiders to publicly predict disaster in Iraq. In February 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, when most of the Washington military establishment and much of the mainstream media (including me) were in a hawkish mode, Odom had this to say in The Washington Post: "The issue is not whether the Iraqi people will greet U.S. soldiers as their liberators, but what will they do six months after that. I find it naive and disingenuous to claim that you can create democracy in Iraq any time soon. The administration has already assured us that the U.S. will not stay there for very long, and, if that is the case, then the goal of establishing a constitutional system in Iraq is a joke."

I had dinner with General Odom a couple of times. After one meal, Margaret Thatcher gave a speech. During the question and answer period that followed, General Odom stood up from our table and grilled her on her skepticism about German reunification in 1989, a decade before. (Odom was very pro-German.) Afterwards, the Baroness came over to our table and resumed the argument with Gen. Odom. They went at it hard for ten minutes, like a baseball umpire and manager arguing over a play at the plate. I sat there wide-eyed. Finally, Odom said something like, "My ancestors hid behind trees and shot your ancestors wearing those stupid redcoats during the Revolutionary War!" Mrs. Thatcher laughed, and they went off to the bar together and shot the breeze amiably for two hours.

Most people who are successful in Washington don't have that kind of character.

Also, a few recollections of a presentation I heard him give at this 1999 Hudson Institute event:

- He forcefully quantified America's overwhelming post-Cold War military dominance against any conceivable alliance of challengers, which is something I hadn't realized before. (Sure, I was pretty dumb back then, but how many people don't realize that today?)

- Odom's worldview was that there were only two places in the world that really mattered in terms of the industrial might to support a Really Big War -- Northwest Europe and Northeast Asia. And, sure, the Persian Gulf was kind of important, but the countries that could really cause trouble were just about the same ones as in 1914-1953: Germany, France, and Britain and Japan, South Korea, and China.

- Most radically, Odom believed that America's garrison troops in Britain and Germany, and in Japan and South Korea prevented major wars from breaking out. His logic was that with America garrisoning two of the three Great Powers in each of the two Major Regions, any theoretical war among the three powers in each region would logically have to involve at least one country with an American garrison, and, hence, was inconceivable. But if America pulled out of Germany and Britain, say, then war between one of them and France or between each other would eventually ensue. (And the same for Japan, South Korea, and/or China.) This sounds nuts, but it's impossible to disprove. (By the way, as of late 2007, we still had 44,000 troops in Europe, 17 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I haven't been able to find more recent numbers -- the number of American troops in Europe is not a topic that comes up much in the news. Nobody seems very interested in the subject.)

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

11 comments:

dearieme said...

Fascinating and Pajama-free, Mr Sailer. Hurray.

Christopher said...

What if we can't afford those NW Euro or NE Asia garrisons anymore? Does the deterrent still work if our guys are mercenaries, i.e. if the Euro's and Asia's pay a tax to support them, or is it one of those only-works-if-we're-honest-about-it things?

Anonymous said...

"...but the countries that could really cause trouble were just about the same ones as in 1914-1953: Germany, France, and Britain and Japan, South Korea, and China."

Not Russia?

Mark said...

Steve:

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ZTU4NTY5NDU1NzkzMTdjNGM5NjRkOTMzNTllMmU1MDk=

William said...

By the way, as of late 2007, we still had 44,000 troops in Europe, 17 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Aside from the (dubious) direct military advantages of having these garrisons, isn't there an indirect advantage in letting our servicemen and their families live in these countries? I have to think it'd be a little tougher to recruit quality officers if we pulled back most of our troops to the US and only stationed the rest in a few undesireable hotspots.

William said...

I had dinner with General Odom a couple of times. After one meal, Margaret Thatcher gave a speech. During the question and answer period that followed, General Odom stood up from our table and grilled her on her skepticism about German reunification in 1989, a decade before...Afterwards, the Baroness came over to our table and resumed the argument with Gen. Odom. They went at it hard for ten minutes, like a baseball umpire and manager arguing over a play at the plate. I sat there wide-eyed.

An amazing moment to witness. I'm incredibly jealous.

Also, I think it's interesting to note how a truly great mind like Thatcher's welcomed the intellectual engagement and the alternate point of view. Our current leader would've said something along the lines of, oh, "never darken my door again."

testing99 said...

Odom was likely right on the troop garrison idea (which was btw, standard thinking among the Military of the time). The view post WWII was that stability required two big garrisons in Europe (Us and the USSR) keeping things manageable. Ike held the same views so that was not very out-of-the-box thinking.

HOWEVER, Odom was all wrong about the most important thing of the Twentieth Century and early Twentyfirst. Nuclear proliferation among weak powers. And the lack of WILL to use power.

America has power, but lacks the will to use it. Who here thinks that if the US lost one to three American cities the President could do anything to retaliate? Particularly if we did not know immediately where the bomb came from and there was either no claim of responsibility or one from AQ which has no state? AQ can borrow a nuke or three from Pakistan, and maybe soon Iran. Or buy one from North Korea. It doesn't have to be perfect to kill millions of Americans, and the act of killing millions of Americans is the whole point for AQ (like counting coup among 19th Century Plains Indians). Just like 9/11 was the whole point of 9/11.

That's the whole point of nuclear proliferation and WHY China and Russia have helped it along: now even dirt-poor nations can help kill millions of Americans. Pakistan can't keep their Capital City's streets from being open sewers, and have about 100 nukes, same as Israel. North Koreans are starving and that nation has nukes.

Without a clear demonstration of will, one constantly on display, deterrence of tribal, distributed, and non-hierarchical actors breaks down. Something Odom could never comprehend.

Odom ran the effort against the Soviets. Something like AQ-Pakistan-Iran and the constant, tribal, fluctuating politics there was beyond his ken. Something he could never understand.

None of America's strengths matter against an enemy who doesn't think it will be ever used against HIM.

Muswell Hillbilly said...

BRAC is pulling those troops out of Europe. All of the First Armored Division is scheduled to be at Fort Bliss, TX no later than 2010. That's about 20K soldiers right there.

I'm not sure how many of the other units are moving.

(El Paso, by the way, has no idea what's going to hit it when 1AD gets there)

William said...

BRAC is pulling those troops out of Europe. All of the First Armored Division is scheduled to be at Fort Bliss, TX no later than 2010. That's about 20K soldiers right there.

Bad idea, as I mentioned above. I think it will make it more difficult for the military to attract good men. The chance to live overseas is a big draw for a lot of potential recruits.

If Europe responds by rebuilding its own military then it'd be more than worth it. Then maybe they can use those troops to expel the Muslims when the time comes - because the US sure isn't going to help them with that.

But that whole outcome seems unlikely.

Martin said...

"testing99 said...

Who here thinks that if the US lost one to three American cities the President could do anything to retaliate? Particularly if we did not know immediately where the bomb came from and there was either no claim of responsibility or one from AQ which has no state?"

So an american president might not immediately retalliate if he did not know against whom he should retalliate? And you're complaining about that? You surpass yourself, Evil Neocon.

Why don't we issue a standing policy that, if attacked, we will always immediately retaliate against Iceland. Just in case. At least we always know where Iceland is. So if you care about the Icelanders, don't mess with us. We mean it. We'll do it.

anony-mouse said...

Walt and Mearsheimer mentioned Odom as a person who couldn't be published because of the power of the Israel lobby. They further identified the Hudson Institute as part of the Israel Lobby.

Odom was part of the Hudson Institute.

He will be missed, at least by his illogical fans.