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General discusses threat of extremism in Middle East

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the former head of U.S. Central Command, gave a talk Wednesday at the Wexner Center for the Arts and said increased diplomatic and economic development efforts in the Middle East would help the U.S. achieve its goals in the region.

“I think Iraq can be stabilized, but it’s not a certain thing,” Abizaid said, responding to questions after the talk.

Iraq was just one of the topics Abizaid covered at the event hosted by the Mershon Center for International Security Studies.

From July 2003 until his retirement in March 2007, Abizaid commanded a quarter million American troops across the 27 countries that make up the U.S. Central Command, which stretches across the Middle East and Central Asia.

At the top of Abizaid’s list of topics was the threat of “Sunni Islamic extremism,” in the form of terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. This “stateless group of people,” Abizaid said, use the lawless territory of the Internet to organize, fundraise and recruit.

In addressing Iraq, Abizaid expressed cautious optimism. He said the U.S. needs to rebalance its forces by increasing diplomatic and economic development efforts while scaling back the involvement of the American military. From his experience in Afghanistan, Abizaid said that economic development efforts that build infrastructures and civil institutions prove more effective than military campaigns in defeating the enemy.

“Where the road ends is where the Taliban begins,” he said.

In response to a question after the talk about whether building democracy still remained the primary goal in American policy in Iraq, Abizaid said that although democracy remains important, “accountability” of regimes toward their citizenry was the first step.

Fluent in Arabic, Abizaid is an alumnus of both the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Harvard University, where he graduated with a degree in middle eastern studies. In addition to his four-year post as U.S. Central Command commander, Abizaid served in American military missions in Lebanon, Grenada and the first Gulf War.

Will Dizard can be reached at dizard.3@osu.edu.

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