Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney ended his distinguished career with the U.S. Air Force as assistant vice chief of staff after combat in Vietnam and long service overseas in various capacities. He now regularly appears on “Fox News Channel” as the cable network’s senior military analyst. He recently spoke at the Headliner Luncheon Series in Raleigh, hosted by the John Locke Foundation. While in North Carolina he sat down for an interview with John Hood, publisher of Carolina Journal and host of “Carolina Journal Radio”. The following are exceprts of the interview.
Hood: We have all been watching, probably with equal parts interest and dismay and concern to operations going on right now in Iraq. The resurgence of violent activity there, the activities of which appear to be both Shiite militias and Sunni extremists in Iraq, and the U.S. and coalition response. How do you see this campaign developing? What implications should we be drawing from it?
McInerney: I think it is a last-gasp effort by the radical Islamists to ensure that we do not get a successful turnover in Iraq, and for Iraq to become a growing democracy.
It is kind of like the Battle of the Bulge or even like the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. It is an extremely important battle to us, but it really just revolves around what our important mission in that region is and why it is so critical.
Hood: Let me ask you about those two historical mentions. They might be helpful in illustrating what we are talking about. In the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans break out, somewhat surprisingly, I think, to the Americans. They showed more strength than probably was expected.
Do you think that the current activity by these extremists in Iraq is surprising to the American military? Is it surprising to you that they’ve been able to pull this off in multiple cities?
McInerney: It is not surprising to me because I have been saying all along as we lead up to this that we should expect increased fighting.
Now, what is coming out of it is, is that the fighting in the South with al-Sadr is being led and channeled by the Iranians. They are funding al-Sadr. He has admitted it, that they fund him. He talks about Hezbollah, Hamas, and so there is no question about that.
Hood: Hezbollah being the predominant the Shiite group that has been doing terrorism in Israel and elsewhere? It is basically an arm of the Iranians and the Syrians?
McInerney: That is correct. And in Falluja where the fighting is going on, that is being led, and we believe fed by former regime loyalists as well as foreigners and foreigners are Syrians. They captured Syrians yesterday.
We must understand that terrorism thrives, John, if it is being enabled by nation-states.
Hood: This clashes with much of what we hear. The rhetoric of some of the critics of the Bush administration policy on terrorism argues that it really is a law enforcement problem. It is a problem of apprehending miscreants and criminals and fugitives and bringing them to justice. This is the language that has been used. You are suggesting that that is not really the right way to think about this problem.
McInerney: Exactly. I’m releasing a new book called End Games: A Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror. What this lays out is — it says on September 10, 2001, there were eight enabling nations that were providing an umbrella for the terrorists. Those eight were Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and North Korea. We call them a web of terror. If these web of terror nations do not support terrorism, terrorism withers.
The significance of those eight is they were supporting terrorists, plus they are involved with weapons of mass destruction — either funding, building, or moving them around. That is a very critical web of terror that we must either get the regimes to comply and coordinate with us, or, if they are defiant, then we must change them.
Two of them we have changed: Libya has decided to cooperate. That is extremely important that people realize what the whole threat is and how we intend to handle it.
Hood: As we tick down the list, obviously, Afghanistan and Iraq are in a different place. Libya has, for whatever reason gone to a different place. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are countries that appear to be, at perhaps varying levels, cooperating with the United States against the terror masters.
Do you think that those countries really come out of the column of the web of terror or are they in sort of a precarious position between the two poles?
McInerney: They are in the gray zone. They have got a lot more to do. They are still part of the web of terror.
But President Musharraf made some major political decisions when he decided to move — let us help in Afghanistan. And then, two [months] ago, when he went into South Waziristan in the Western Territories, that was a major step forward. Saudi Arabia has already started to go after them, but neither one are doing enough.
The Saudis have got to stop funding these — the madrassa schools that are doing nothing but teaching hate. The Pakistanis have got to be more aggressive in the Western Territories in helping us go after these terrorists. They know where they are.
Hood: That is an important point to bring up. It kind of takes us back to your other analogy of the Tet Offensive. In the Pakistani case, people may have been led to believe that something different was going to happen due to media reports about the potential that al Qaeda’s number two might be captured in that tribal area where Pakistani troops have actually had very little presence or control for a very long time.
Hood: Never. Even the previous imperial forces never did. And in fact, I’m also concerned about the media coverage of the activity in Pakistan, which people may have thought was a failure, but appears to have been a significant beachhead in that region, and what is going on in Iraq with the deaths of American service men and women, or servicemen in this case recently.
The media coverage may clash with what is really going on militarily, strategically, and tactically. That could lead us into a situation like the Tet Offensive where the military outcome is one thing, but the political outcome is another.
McInerney: That is what they are trying to do.
Their objectives are clearly, number one, they want to give the appearance that this is a nationwide uprising. Number two, they want to get a lot of American casualties, and number three, they want to play the political part and the media part in the United States and the Western world to give the appearance that they are winning and being more defiant and that we can’t be successful there.
Those are their objectives. If you understand those three objectives, then it is easier to understand what is going on over there and what we must do to counter them.
Hood: You predicate your statement on the idea of, “If we understand their objectives.” In the Tet Offensive case, it was basically a colossal failure from a military standpoint. The Viet Cong lost a lot of their ability to operate for a long time afterwards. The North Vietnamese were bloodied.
But that is not the way that the event was perceived, portrayed — that was not its impact in American politics in the late ‘60s. It was a somewhat different message. Are you convinced that Americans consuming the media that is coming out on this are able — that most of them will be able — to follow what is going on here and not consider a victory as a defeat?
McInerney: I think a lot of Americans are being challenged. If you don’t have a firm foundation and understand what this global web of terror is, and what we have to do, then you are going to take an off ramp.
Let’s remember, they are coming after us, they are coming after our cities with weapons of mass destruction. Why are they fighting so hard over there? Again, because if we are successful, democracy will sweep through that region.
Iraq was the center of gravity of that region. If you look at Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia — all those nations border Iraq. Iraq was defiant daily — firing at us.
And so when we took them down in 21 days, the strongest nation in the Middle East, Arab nation I mean, all of a sudden Qaddafi says, “Look, if it takes them 21 days to do it there, it is going to be four days to take me down.”
And so the presence of those forces over there, for what they are trying to do, again, we are going against radical Islam. Radical Islam, Americans must understand, is just like Nazism and it is like Communism. They’ve got to know the fight is better to be over there than in New York City and Washington DC as it was on 9/11.
Hood: Are you confident this is where the American public will go in their thinking about it?
McInerney: That is why I spend so much time talking about it on Fox News and talking to people like you and getting the opportunity. I think education is crucial.