Former four-star general, John P. Abizaid, spoke to a group at the Athenaeum on April 22 about his experiences as a leader, also sharing his concerns on current hot spots in the world. Here is a summary of some key points from his talk.
Abizaid discussed some of the challenges of communicating with political leadership on military matters:
“The vocabulary, the communication, the lack of clarity of strategic goals and opportunities are not clearly stated at these (high) levels. And they create a dynamic where sometimes you are making sausage as opposed to conducting foreign policy according to the manuals you read in various international relations books.”
On his priorities as a top military leader:
“Even while (part of your responsibility) is giving advice to the President of the United States, the most important thing you have to do is provide the tools for the young people in the armed forces to be able to get the job done in a way that allows them to be effective.”
On the Post-Cold War strategy:
“Since the fall of the Soviet Union we’ve had a hard time describing strategically what we as a nation are trying to accomplish. And this lack of strategic clarity of thought creates a dynamic where we seem to be frequently adrift in various places around the world.”
On conflict in the Middle East:
“I coined the term ‘long war’ to describe the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East… It doesn’t mean that we are the lead protagonist in that war but we are certainly a part of it, as the people of that region work their way through an internal revolutionary period of unprecedented proportions.”
On Islamic terror groups based in the Middle East:
“Despite massive amounts of American military power being used against them, it is concerning to me that the ideology, the number of groups, the breadth, the scope of the movement and the amount of violence, has continued to spread… I’m shocked that the secular nodes that were so strong in places like Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere are starting to show weakness to extremist groups.”
“(There is) a dynamic that can produce escalating violence in the region. The fight is joined between extremists and secular and moderate nodes of influence, Sunni and Shia factions, (who are fighting against the Assad regime). There are a lot of influences at play in the region making it more uncertain than I’ve ever seen. I think there’s a long period of uncertainty ahead.”
“Pakistan is probably the single most unstable nation in the region. As a nuclear armed country, if it becomes even more unstable, there is concern about those nukes going loose and getting into the hands of extremists.”
John P. Abizaid retired from the United States Army in May, 2007, after thirty-four years of active service. After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, he rose from second lieutenant of infantry to four-star general in the Army. At the time of his retirement Abizaid was the longest-serving commander of United States Central Command, with responsibility for an area spanning 27 countries in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Horn of Africa. During a distinguished career he commanded units at every level, serving in the combat zones of Grenada, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Units under Abizaid’s command have included the 1st Infantry Division, a brigade in the 82nd Airborne Division, and two Ranger companies.
Abizaid worked on the Joint Staff three times, the last as director. He studied at the University of Jordan in Amman, holds a master¹s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University, and is widely considered to be an expert in the field of Middle Eastern affairs. As such, Abizaid was one of the first to recognize the protracted nature of the ongoing conflict against religious-inspired extremists, which he once termed "The Long War."
Abizaid serves as the Distinguished Chair of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and works closely with several charity and non-profit organizations. Through his consulting company, JPA Partners LLC, Abizaid advises small businesses through Fortune 500 companies nationally and internationally, and serves as a board member for both USAA and RPM, Inc.