Former U.S. Air Force chief sees 'no positive outcome' as escalating violence engulfs Middle East


When the army of the ultra-radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatened to smash its way into Baghdad this week, many Americans were shocked. After a decade of financial sacrifice and the loss of thousands of lives, the worst possible outcome seemed to be playing out in the Middle East.

But Gen. Merrill Anthony “Tony” McPeak wasn’t surprised at all.

“It was pretty predictable,” said the Lake Oswego resident and former chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. “It took no special genius to tell what was going to happen. Invading Iraq was a costly mistake. It cost us at least a trillion dollars and 5,000 lives.”

Militants have seized a number of cities and small towns in recent days in a lightning assault south toward Baghdad, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. It’s the most sgnificant threat to Iraq’s security since the American withdrawal in 2011, but McPeak said this outcome was predictable from the time the U.S. invaded.

“The premise in 2003 was thoroughly invalid,” McPeak said. “There were two highly questionable beliefs. One was that there were weapons of mass destruction. The other was that we would be welcomed with open arms and that the Iraqi people would throw roses at us.”

But instead of roses, McPeak said, they threw bombs as U.S. involvement in a bitter and bloody sectarian war deepened. McPeak was one of the first to predict disaster — a position, he says with a wry laugh, that caused him to be ejected from the Republican Party.

“I was angry about what happened, and now we’re living with the consequences,” McPeak said. “I don’t think what has happened could have been unexpected in any case.”

But even if the administration of President George W. Bush had heeded his warnings, McPeak isn’t sure a major conflict could have been avoided in Iraq because of the sharp rift between the country’s Shiite and Sunni sects.

The question, then, is “What next?”

“I don’t see any positive outcome,” McPeak said. “But we ought to mitigate the consequences and try to make things less bad.”

That could lead to the U.S. doing something that was previously unthinkable, he said: cooperating with Iran, America’s enemy for more than 30 years.

“We need to cooperate with the regional power on this problem,” McPeak said. “If we do, we might be able to work with Iran on other major problems, like their nuclear weapons program. We missed a great opportunity to work with Iran in Afghanistan, but we went out of our way to be nasty. Now, I hope we can find common interest.”

McPeak says the Iraq crisis is just part of a pattern of frustration for the U.S. in the Middle East. He ticks of a list of countries - Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Israel - where the U.S. has had no overriding plan of action.

“If we have a strategy, I don’t know what it is,” McPeak said. “In Egypt, we don’t know whether to welcome the new president (Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi) or throw rotten eggs at him.”

McPeak says that forming an effective strategy is extremely difficult, but as someone who has devoted his life and career to defending the U.S., he wants a stronger effort in that direction.

“We need to have a better idea of what we should do in the Middle East,” McPeak said.

For more about McPeak go to

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