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William E. Odom, 75; Military Adviser to 2 Administrations

Lt. Gen. William E. Odom was a critic of the Iraq war and opponent of compromise with the Soviet Union.
Lt. Gen. William E. Odom was a critic of the Iraq war and opponent of compromise with the Soviet Union. (Brendan Smialowski - Bloomberg News)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 1, 2008

William E. Odom, 75, a retired Army lieutenant general who was a senior military and intelligence official in the Carter and Reagan administrations and who, in recent years, became a forceful critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died May 30 at his vacation home in Lincoln, Vt. An autopsy will be performed, but his wife said he had an apparent heart attack.

Gen. Odom was a career Army officer who was also a serious scholar of international relations and a leading authority on the Soviet Union. He was the military assistant to Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser and director of the National Security Agency during President Ronald Reagan's second term.

He had a reputation as a military hard-liner who opposed any compromise with the Soviet Union, which made his vocal opposition to the current involvement in Iraq all the more cogent and surprising.

"Among senior military people, he was probably the first to consider the war in Iraq a misbegotten adventure," Brzezinski said yesterday. "He believed that we're just stoking hostility to the United States in that region and developing an opposition that cannot be defeated by military means. He was very outspoken."

Well before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Gen. Odom warned that military action in Iraq would be foolhardy and futile. He outlined his positions in The Washington Post's Outlook section Feb. 11, 2007, in the essay "Victory Is Not an Option."

"The president's policy is based on illusions, not realities," he wrote. "There never has been any right way to invade and transform Iraq."

Gen. Odom became a fixture on news programs and never altered his critical stance toward the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and Iran. On Tuesday, he and Brzezinski wrote an op-ed article for The Post in which they stated that the White House's "heavy-handed" approach toward Iran would backfire and "almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons."

Earlier in his career, as an Army officer in Vietnam, Gen. Odom had privately come to oppose U.S. involvement in foreign wars that brought, in his view, little benefit to the United States. He drew parallels between Vietnam and Iraq and believed that the only sensible path for the United States was a complete and immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

He was neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but in 2007 he delivered a stinging radio address on behalf of the Democratic Party.

"Most Americans suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the president's management of the conflict in Iraq, and they are right," he said. "The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq, it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place."

Gen. Odom was born June 23, 1932, in Cookeville, Tenn., and was a 1954 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. His interest in Russia began when he studied the 18th-century reign of Peter the Great.

After serving as an infantry and armor officer, he took a more strategic path. He learned Russian, received a master's degree in 1962 from Columbia University and was posted to East Germany in the mid-1960s.


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