Remembering General William E. Odom

Lt. Gen. William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency under President Reagan, passed away on Friday in Lincoln, Vermont. A West Point graduate, Gen. Odom served for 34 years until retiring in 1988. Specializing in Russian and Soviet affairs, Gen. Odom earned a Ph.D from Columbia University in 1970 and taught at West Point before becoming National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski’s military assistant in 1977. In 1985, Odom took over the National Security Agency and led it until his retirement. Following retirement, he taught at Yale University and authored seven books.

In recent years, Gen. Odom was a fierce critic of the war in Iraq and our policy toward Iran. He directly confronted the most pernicious arguments for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, pointing out that they often contradicted themselves and President Bush’s stated war aims. As Gen. Odom put it in a February 2007 article, “the president’s policy is based on illusions, not realities. There never has been any right way to invade and transform Iraq.” Gen. Odom’s clear-eyed assessment of the war in Iraq led him to the conclusion that a timely phased withdrawal was the only way to salvage American interests and credibility in the Middle East and the world.

Some of his more trenchant thoughts can be found in an article co-authored with Brzezinski three days before his untimely death. Gen. Odom made it clear that the current heavy-handed sticks-and-carrots policy toward Iran being pursued by the Bush administration will almost certainly result in an Iranian nuclear weapon. This policy, he noted, “may work with donkeys but not with serious countries.” Gen. Odom’s perspicacity and directness will be missed in the debate over Iraq, Iran, and the future of American foreign policy.

A Sensible Path on Iran,” by Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Odom, The Washington Post, May 27, 2008.

Cut and Run? You Bet,” by Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, Foreign Policy, May/June 2006.

Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Iraq, by Ret. Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, April 2, 2008.

Training Local Forces Is No Way to Secure Iraq,” by William E. Odom and Lawrence Korb, Financial Times, July 19, 2007.

Victory Is Not an Option: The Mission Can’t Be Accomplished—It’s Time for a New Strategy,” by William E. Odom, The Washington Post, February 11, 2007.

The Future of U.S. Involvement in Iraq,” with Lt. Gen. William Odom, “The Diane Rehm Show,” NPR, May 19, 2008.