John Philip Abizaid (born April 1, 1951) is a General in the United States Army and the Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), overseeing American military operations in a 27-country region, from the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, to South and Central Asia, covering much of the Middle East. CENTCOM oversees 250,000 US troops. Abizaid succeeded General Tommy Franks as Commander, USCENTCOM, on July 7, 2003, and was also elevated to the rank of 4-star general the same week. Previously, he was one of two deputy commanders of CENTCOM during the major combat phase of the Iraq war.
Personal and family background
Abizaid was born in Coleville, California, to a Christian Lebanese-American family, is fluent in Arabic, and is the most senior military officer of direct Arab descent. He was raised mostly by his widowed father. He is married and has three children. He studied Arabic in Jordan, where he received special forces training. He started a program to put Arabic speakers on a fast track for promotions.
Abizaid’s military education includes the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point (Class of 1973); Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced courses, Armed Forces Staff College, and a U.S. Army War College Senior Fellowship at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
In his civilian studies, he earned a MA degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, and was an Olmsted Scholar at the University of Jordan in Amman, Jordan. Abizaid greatly impressed his teachers at Harvard University. Nadav Safran, the director of the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies kept Abizaid's 100-page paper on defense policy for Saudi Arabia, the only paper of a masters student he has kept, saying, "It was absolutely the best seminar paper I ever got in my 30-plus years at Harvard."
Abizaid was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry upon graduation from the USMA, Class of June 1973. He started his career with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he served as a rifle and scout platoon leader. He commanded companies in the 2nd and 1st Ranger Battalions, leading a Ranger Rifle Company during the invasion of Grenada. In 1983, he jumped from a helicopter onto a landing strip in Grenada and ordered one of his Rangers to drive a bulldozer like a tank toward Cuban troops as he advanced behind it—a move highlighted in the 1986 Clint Eastwood film, Heartbreak Ridge.
Abizaid commanded the [3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Regiment combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, during the Gulf crisis and deployed with the battalion in Northern Iraq to provide a safe haven for the Kurds.
His brigade command was the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. He served as the Assistant Division Commander, 1st Armored Division, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Following that tour, he served as the 66th Commandant at the USMA at West Point. At West Point, he reined in hazing rituals and revamped the curriculum. Later, he commanded 1st Infantry Division, the “Big Red One,” in Würzburg, Germany, which provided the first U.S. ground forces into Kosovo. He served as the Deputy Commander (Forward), Combined Forces Command, US Central Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Staff assignments include a tour with the United Nations as Operations Officer (G-3) for Observer Group Lebanon and a tour in theOffice of the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. European staff tours include assignments in both the Southern European Task Force and Headquarters, U.S. Army Europe. Abizaid also served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director of Strategic Plans and Policy (J-5) on the Joint Staff and Director of the Joint Staff.
Speech on the War on Terror
In November, 2005 Abizaid gave a speech on the war on terrorism at the Naval War College that was not broadcast. However, a student who attended wrote down notes. The notes were forwarded via e-mail by General Peter Schoomaker, Chief of Staff of the Army, among others, and the notes are considered credible. What follows is a short summary of Abizaid’s comments. The Notes can be read in full at the CSPAN website Speech Notes
Abizaid expressed surprise that so many Americans, including most members of Congress, do not know or understand what or how we are doing in Iraq. The questions he gets from some in Congress convince him that they believe we are about to be pushed out of Iraq and Afghanistan, even though this has no relationship to the reality on the ground.
In Abizaid's view the morale of the troops and junior officers is very good. He believes the military needs to do a better job of communicating to the nation all of the positive achievements in Iraq, because the media focuses on the negative. The insurgency is only in four of 18 provinces in Iraq; the public does not hear about the other 14 provinces where things are going well.
Abizaid predicted that the insurgencies in the four Sunni provinces in northern/central Iraq will be there for the foreseeable future, but they will be stabilized and become small enough so the moderate governments will be able to keep them under control. He predicted that 2006 would be a transition year that will see the Iraqi forces take much more of the mission from the US forces. This is necessary to bring stability to Iraq. US forces need to be fewer and less visible in order for the moderate Iraqi government to succeed.
Abizaid believes that our primary enemy is not the insurgency in Iraq, but Al-Qaida and their ideology, which is present but has not yet taken hold in any country in the middle east. We need to make sure that it does not, and we are doing that, but it will be a long-term problem requiring a long-term commitment.
According to Abizaid, Al Qaida can not defeat the US militarily. Their plan is keep casualties in the media until the American public become convinced that we can not win and leave the region. When we focus on the things that Americans have done wrong, like Abu Ghraib, instead of focusing on the enemy, we are playing into the enemy's hands. Their goal is to get the US out of the region and come to power in the Islamic countries of the region. From there their goal is to establish a Caliphate that goes from the Atlantic in North Africa to Indonesia in the Pacific. Fifty years after this happens their goal is to rule the rest of the world. This would be tragic for America according to Abizaid.
2006 comments on Iraq
On August 3, 2006 Abizaid, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, seemed to have become more pessimistic about the situation on the ground in Iraq. He said: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war." This was widely regarded as a significant change in his previous estimation of the threat of Civil War in Iraq. However, he also testified "I’m optimistic that that slide [toward Civil War] can be prevented".
Bob Woodward on Abizaid and Murtha
In State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III (as excerpted in Newsweek magazine), journalist Bob Woodward of the Washington Post wrote that on March 16, 2006 Abizaid was in Washington to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He painted a careful but upbeat picture of the situation in Iraq." Subsequently "he went over to see Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa), the 73-year old former Marine who had introduced a resolution the previous November calling for the redeployment of troops from Iraq as soon as practicable." Abizaid said he wanted to speak frankly, and "according to Murtha, Abizaid raised his hand for emphasis and held his thumb and forefinger a quarter of an inch from each other and said, “We’re that far apart."
On October 1, 2006, an interview of Woodward by CBS reporter Mike Wallace was broadcast on the television show 60 Minutes. The interview was about Woodward's book State of Denial and Wallace mentioned the Murtha-Abizaid conversation. Wallace asked Woodward to confirm that Murtha had told him of this tale of meeting with Abizaid; Woodward nodded his head in assent and said yes.
2007 Stepping Down
On December 20, 2006, it was announced that Gen. Abizaid will step down from his position and retire in March 2007. He had planned to retire earlier but decided to stay at the urging of Donald Rumsfeld.
- This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "John Abizaid"
- Newsmaker: General John Abizaid, PBS, March 4, 2004.
- Centcom's Renaissance Man, The Washington Post
- "In Search of Ground Truth: CentCom chief Gen. John Abizaid crisscrosses the front lines to get intel on the war on terror...."by Paul de la Garza, St. Petersburg Times, September 3, 2006
- Abizaid plans to leave post in March Boston Globe, December 20, 2006
- General Abizaid Stepping Down Military.com, December 20, 2006