September 30, 2005

Retiring top general warns against Iraq pullout

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Air Force Gen. Richard Myers ended
four years as the top U.S. military officer on Friday with a
warning that pulling out of Iraq would only make the United
States more vulnerable.

Myers also said there was great progress in Iraq -- an
assessment at odds with growing unease among Americans with the
2-1/2-year war and a surge of violence in Iraq that has killed
110 people in two days.

Myers swore in Gen. Peter Pace as his successor as chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during an outdoor ceremony at Fort
Myer, Virginia, not far from the Pentagon. Pace became the
first Marine Corps officer to hold the post.

Myers, 63, became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
three weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks on America
carried out by the al Qaeda Islamic extremist network, and was
given a second two-year term in 2003.

The former Vietnam War fighter pilot was principal military
adviser to President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and the White House National Security Council during
the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that have marked Washington's
declared war on terrorism.

"The stakes in this war on terrorism simply couldn't be
higher," Myers told an audience that included Bush, Vice
President Dick Cheney and Cabinet members including Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice.

Opinion polls show U.S. public support for the Iraq war
slipping. More than 100,000 people last weekend attended an
anti-war protest in Washington. There have been 1,925 U.S.
military deaths in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

But Myers, a plain-spoken Kansan who is retiring after more
than 40 years in uniform, cited "great progress in Iraq," which
he acknowledged as a difficult task.

"If we were, for instance, to say, 'OK, Iraq is not worth
the cost,' if we were to make that my judgment, that terrible
mistake ... the next 9/11 in my view would be right around the
corner," Myers said in an interview with CNN.

"This network called al Qaeda is at war with us. It is
virtually a worldwide network. They are counting on beating us
not through military force, but through defeating our patience,
our resolve and our will," he said.


Bush praised Myers for a "calm and reassuring presence,
coupled with sound judgment and fresh thinking and unflinching

But a day before retiring, Myers was lectured during a
Senate hearing by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a former Vietnam
War prisoner of war.

Myers strenuously disagreed with McCain that more U.S.
troops might have made for a better situation in Iraq, and
defended planning for a possible troop cut next year despite
unabated rebel insurgent violence and unsteady progress by
Iraqi security forces.

"General Myers seems to assume that things have gone well
in Iraq. General Myers seems to assume that the American people
or the support for our conflict there is not eroding," McCain
told the general at Thursday's hearing.

"General Myers seems to assume that everything has gone
fine, and our declarations of victory, of which there have been
many, have not had an impact on American public opinion. Things
have not gone as we had planned or expected, nor as we were
told by you, General Myers," McCain added.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff consists of a chairman and vice
chairman as well as the top officers of the Army, Navy, Air
Force and Marines.

(Additional reporting by Charles Aldinger)