General John Abiziad, decorated veteran of the U.S. Army and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, delivered the Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Memorial Lecture on Tuesday, March 11, in the heart of Berkeley.
Speaking to students, faculty, staff, and community members, Abizaid discussed the problems facing America in the Middle East. They include AQAM (Al Qaeda & Associated Movements), largely Sunni radicals engaged in “the first battle of globalization”; Shiite radicalism embodied by theocratic Iran; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and oil, which funds terrorism.
Abizaid, whose audience included dozens of Army cadets and Naval midshipmen enrolled in Berkeley’s ROTC programs (Stanford’s remain officially banned), explained that the combination of huge inflows of capital and a civil war within Islam between the extremists and traditionalists ensures that the Middle East “will remain tumultuous.”
Speaking on the Israeli situation, he said: “As long as this corrosive conflict goes on in the region, it creates a fertile recruiting ground.”
Reiterating a point he raised at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last year, the former CENTCOM commander argued that there is no reason to invade or attack Iran, which is “most likely containable.” He acknowledged that the Iranians “have had a very robust program” in the nuclear arena.
From a strategic viewpoint, he argued that the problems of the Middle East transcend domestic partisan loyalties. Repeating a line of reasoning often heard from President Bush, he asserted that by fighting terrorists abroad, it makes us safer here at home. He called for reducing our dependence on oil, lessening our military’s footprint in the region, supporting peace talks in the Holy Land, and engaging in institutional capacity-building and counterterrorism support and training in Middle Eastern countries.
The annual Nimitz Lectureship has featured national security experts like Victor Davis Hanson, Thomas P.M. Barnett, Mark Steyn, and Max Boot.
Normally, each lecturer delivers two speeches, but this year Abizaid was followed on Thursday March 11 by Michael Scheuer. Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit, disagreed strongly with Abizaid’s analysis. He called for a reevaluation of our alliance with Israel and for stronger border controls. He also praised Ron Paul as a presidential candidate and asserted that the only Islamofascists in the Middle East are those who run Arab governments supported by the United States.