Excerpts from a Monitor breakfast on the long-term impact of the Iraq war.
Barry McCaffrey is the Olin-Bradley distinguished professor of international security studies at West Point. He also heads his own consulting firm and is a national security analyst for NBC News.
Gen. McCaffrey's military career included 13 years overseas, 4 combat tours, and three Purple Hearts. He was twice awarded the nation's second highest medal for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross.
His final military assignment was as commander in chief of the US Armed Forces Southern Command. He led the 24th Infantry Division in Operation Desert Storm during the 24th's famous left hook maneuver into Iraq.
"One thing I strongly believe is that the operation in Iraq made us immensely safer from terrorism than more unsafe. I think this had huge impact. I do not believe it creates 1000 Osama bin Ladens. I think that is nonsense.
"I think all over the world there is a calculus going on - Muammar Kadhafi, Fidel Castro, the Iranians, [Syrian leader Bashir] Assad, and they are saying there were seven states that sponsored terrorism.... So Afghanistan and Iraq have been done and we are going to move on to confront the sanctuaries one by one, hopefully with a sophisticated, multi-variant strategy.
"I think most of these people - the North Koreans are an exception - are rational. They may be murderous, they may be oppressive, despotic but they are rational. So I think Iraq made us much safer from terrorism. It is another sanctuary, it is another intelligence service that won't be out there with safe houses, bucks, reconnaissance of the targets. I think it is a contribution to our security that 10 years from now we will never know the thing that didn't happen.
"That is not to say the Islamic male, unemployed in Jordan, isn't still angry about the effrontery of American women being on his television set with their wrists showing. I don't want to be naïve, but I think it was a huge contribution to our safety."
"I think anyone who doesn't understand that [Saddam Hussein's regime] had substantial stockpiles of chemical and biological [weapons] with an ongoing robust nuclear weapon capability, thinks King Tut is dozing. We had it on TV, we had defectors, there is no question that it is there. ...It is almost impossible to find biological production facilities [even] when they are working."
"With Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, the fact he may or may not be in Afghanistan in a cave right now - if he can't communicate, if he can't have couriers, who cares?
"But Saddam is different. I think the reason he is different is [that] his regime murdered 200,000 people. And he had 23 years of torture. So until they see him dead [or] if you put him in the Hague to stand trial and put him behind bars ... I don't think those people, many of them, will ever say, 'I am going to go out in public and argue for my viewpoint.'
"The main challenge facing the United States in the coming 25 years is to reduce the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among the states that still have them, to achieve new strategic deterrence concepts, which we don't have. We had good ones for the Russians.
"We so far lack the intellectual construct to deal with nonproliferation in the new world. We have to sort it out. How do we get the North Koreans to not go nuclear between now and Christmas? They are going to go nuclear. The Iranians are going nuclear. That is it. We are going to face that issue. So, now we better construct new treaties, new deterrents and all of it."
"One of the challenges of the national security process is what we actually want are the 300 political appointees to create the army of 10 years from now and the generals to run the wars. There is a temptation to reverse it.
"Therefore I think it is good, not bad, that the Army leadership gets challenged by the likes of [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld, [Depute Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz. These are ferociously bright people, they know they are going to get measured by history in how well they did. I don't mind that at all."