The US Army general who spent the most time in Iraq on Tuesday criticized US President Barack Obama's handling of the chaotic country, warning that the rise of Islamic State (ISIS) has been due to failed American policies.
Speaking to Fox News just weeks before retiring, US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno spoke about his four years of experience in Iraq, the last two spent as top commander, and how the efforts made there have been undermined.
"It's frustrating to watch it," Odierno said. "I go back to the work we did in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and we got it to a place that was really good. Violence was low, the economy was growing, politics looked like it was heading in the right direction."
"If we had stayed a little more engaged, I think maybe it might have been prevented,” he said. “I've always believed the United States played the role of honest broker between all the groups and when we pulled ourselves out, we lost that role.”
Obama, backed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, strongly pressed for the American pullout that was scheduled for 2011.
Asked if the pullout was a mistake, Odierno said, "I think it would have been good for us to stay." His recommendation in 2009 as top commander in Iraq was to keep 30,000-35,000 troops after the pullout – a recommendation that was ignored by the administration.
The criticism joins that of many regarding Obama's policy in Iraq, which has only gained in strength after the president early last month admitted he doesn't have a "complete strategy" to fight ISIS.
Odierno warned that there is a deeper threat to the US, noting on the drastic cuts made to the Army over the past four years, as troop size fell 14% from 570,000 in 2010 to 490,000 today.
"In my mind, we don't have the ability to deter. The reason we have a military is to deter conflict and prevent wars. And if people believe we are not big enough to respond, they miscalculate,” Odierno said.
"With Russia becoming more of a threat, with ISIS becoming more of a threat, in my mind, we are on a dangerous balancing act right now with capability," concluded the chief of staff.