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January 17, 2005

Alan Richards briefs top brass at Pentagon's Central Command

By Jennifer McNulty

At the invitation of high-level military intelligence officers, UCSC professor Alan Richards briefed top Pentagon officials last month about the sources of instability throughout the Middle East and beyond.

Photo: Alan Richards

Alan Richards was invited to talk about "Long-term Sources of Instability in the Centcom Region." Photo: Victor Schiffrin, UCSC Photo Services

Richards, a professor of environmental studies and a critic of Bush administration policy in the Middle East, flew to U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, to deliver two briefings and meet with top brass during a whirlwind 24-hour trip.

Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Central Command (Centcom) controls U.S. combat forces in the Middle East. Centcom Commander Gen. John Abizaid reports directly to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Richards was invited by the Commander's Advisory Group, which consists primarily of intelligence officers, to discuss "Long-term Sources of Instability in the Centcom Region," which extends from the Horn of Africa to central Asia.

"They understand what a quagmire we're in and are bringing in outsiders to articulate what they find it hard to say in the current climate," said Richards, referring to "rampant group think and the rigidity of military hierarchy."

With Abizaid in Iraq, Richards met with Deputy Commander Air Force Lt. General Lance Smith, as well as members of his staff.

"Group think is always a problem, but I told them what I thought, as best I could, in a way that I hoped they could hear," said Richards, who summed up his analysis this way: "It is not in our national interest to enrage the largest generation of young Arabs and Muslims in history, which is what we are now doing."

Two-thirds of the world's 300 million Muslims are under the age of 30, according to Richards. High unemployment, coupled with poor living conditions and corrupt leadership, has contributed to widespread despair and anger that is being inflamed by Bush administration policies, he said.

With little to lose, a generation of young Middle Eastern men is embracing Islamic fundamentalism and its anti-American message, said Richards.

Since before the war, Richards has taken every opportunity to share his expertise with military and government officials, briefing officers at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island, members of the intelligence community in Washington, D.C., and many others.

In Tampa, officers from several other countries attended both of Richards's briefings and asked pointed questions, he said. "The most vocal were a Pakistani, a Saudi, and a Qatari," said Richards, noting that Australians, Italians, Canadians, and Dutch also asked questions. "The Arabs were delighted and relieved that I wasn't peddling the usual neoconservative line."

Richards also dined with members of the Commander's Advisory Group and referred to the trip as "a pretty intense 24 hours."

"The problem, of course, is that when the president has it fundamentally wrong, and won't listen, what can you do?" said Richards. "Still, it seemed like something worth doing."


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