Abizaid Warns of 50-year U.S. Presence in Middle East

Retired General Says It Could Take 50 Years Before U.S. Can Leave Middle East

ByABC News
October 29, 2007, 6:36 PM

ADELPHI, Md., Oct. 29, 2007— -- Retired Gen. John Abizaid, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in a 27-country region that covers much of the Middle East, said Monday that it might take half a century before the U.S. military could leave the region.

"Over time, we will have to shift the burden of the military fight from our forces directly to regional forces, and we will have to play an indirect role, but we shouldn't assume for even a minute that in the next 25 to 50 years the American military might be able to come home, relax and take it easy, because the strategic situation in the region doesn't seem to show that as being possible," Abizaid said at the Joint Improvised Explosive Devices Defeat Organization technology outreach conference, where he was the keynote speaker.

The three-day conference brings together representatives from the defense industry, technology companies and academia in search of better strategies for the region that produces the greatest number of of U.S. troop casualities.

Abizaid outlined four strategic realities that would keep the United States in the region for a long time to come: "The rise of Sunni Islamic extremism as exemplified by [Osama] Bin Laden … the ideology of revolutionary Shia Iran … the corrosive effect of the Arab-Israeli conflict … [and] the requirement of the U.S. and the industrial world to keep the global economy going by exporting oil from the region."

Abizaid, who left his post at Central Command last March and now serves as a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, faulted the American effort in the Middle East for not matching its strong military work with other initiatives.

"We have failed to really organize ourselves to get the full benefit of our economic, diplomatic and political might, linked with our military capabilities, to deal with the problems in the region," he said.

Although he cautioned that "these problems won't go away tomorrow," Abizaid said he remained "tremendously optimistic" about the chances of U.S. success in the Middle East.