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U.S.: Myers' Term As Top General Nears End

General Myers testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June General Richard Myers, as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, is America's top uniformed officer and the main military adviser to President George W. Bush. He has played a key role during his four years in the post, which have seen major military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Myers, who is retiring on 30 September, gave what may be his farewell address this week.

Washington, 26 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Myers' speech on 25 July was typical of his style -- terse and direct. He spoke only briefly, and took only a few questions.

Myers said he believes the United States and its allies are on the right course in Iraq, and are making progress in establishing a secure democracy there.

But he said Iraq is only part of a wider conflict against Islamic extremism. He reminded Americans that they are engaged in a global war.

"This is a battle of wills, clearly," Myers said. "The people that understand this the best are our troops and the enemy. And if we lose our will, if we decided that this fight isn't worth it, then I think we'll rue the day and we will not like the world that will be left for us. It'll be a world where what happened in London, what happened in New York and Washington, what happens in Iraq every day could happen anywhere in this world."

Myers has had an unusual tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was the first to face an amorphous, non-state militant army in the war on terror that followed the attacks of 11 September 2001. He has also presided over two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Myers evidently was up to the job, according to Bill Frenzel, a former Congressman who now works as an analyst with the Brookings Institution, a private policy-research center.

Frenzel told RFE/RL that Myers has had a particularly difficult job. He is fighting a war in Iraq that is growing more and more unpopular with the American public. And his immediate superior -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- is making radical changes in how the Pentagon works.

"By and large, he's (Myers) done a good job under exceedingly difficult conditions," Frenzel said. "Because not only is he trying to fight two wars, he's trying to do it at the time the secretary of defense is trying to instigate a transforming kind of budget, in which they [at the Pentagon] go out a few years and look at really different kinds of weaponry, rather than at the things you need to fight a war right now."

Leon Fuerth, who served as national security adviser to Vice President Al Gore during the 1990s, agrees that Myers is a man of integrity.
Myers was the first to face a non-state militant army in the war on terror that followed the attacks of 11 September 2001, and has presided over two wars.

Fuerth said the traditional role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is to execute military policy -- not to be a spokesman for it. But he told RFE/RL that Myers has occasionally crossed that line.

This month, for example, Myers publicly accused Russia and China of "trying to bully" Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan into evicting the United States from its military bases there.

Keeping the Central Asian bases may be crucial to U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. But Fuerth said such comments should come from the U.S. secretary of state, whose job has traditionally been to comment on foreign policy.

"That's an imperative, as far as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is concerned: that we (the United States) keep our position there and that we retain access," Fuerth said. "But what is surprising here is that it's coming from him (Myers) rather than from some other part of the U.S. government. In any other government, it would be the secretary of state. In this administration, it's no longer surprising to see foreign policy statements come from the secretary of defense. But it is surprising to see something like that coming from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs."

In another example, in 2004, Congress suspended $18 million in aid to the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov after the U.S. State Department criticized its human rights record.

Later that year, however, Myers went to Tashkent to announce that the Pentagon was independently granting $21 million to Uzbekistan -- and he called the Congressional suspension "shortsighted."

Despite these departures from protocol, Fuerth said that his view of Myers remains that of "an exceptionally fine officer."