TERENCE SMITH: Joining us to discuss the current situation in Iraq are four editorial page editors from around the country: John Nichols of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin; Bruce Dold of The Chicago Tribune; John Diaz of The San Francisco Chronicle; and Robert Kittle of The San Diego Union-Tribune. Welcome to you all.
TERENCE SMITH: John Nichols, U.S. casualties continue on an almost daily basis in Iraq some four months after the president declared an end to major combat in Iraq. How do you and people in Wisconsin feel about the U.S. role in Iraq at this point?
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, after the last segment where journalists were criticized for trying to speak for the American people, I'll be a little cautious. But I've been around Wisconsin a lot, and the folks I talk to here tend to be saying things that I would agree with, that this war seems to have spun far out of control.
It seems to be going in directions that we were told it definitely would not go. We see 150,000, roughly, of our American young men and women positioned in a country where increasingly it looks like they are the hunted, they are the targets.
We have bodies coming back here to Wisconsin, it's front-page news here, and what I sense is a real growing skepticism about whether this war was a good idea in the first place, whether we were lied into it by a president who told us there were weapons of mass destruction that don't appear to be there, and whether there's any way out that is easy or rational or I think most people would say quick.
TERENCE SMITH: Bob Kittle in San Diego, same basic question: At this point in the process, how does it look to you?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, I don't think the people in San Diego are looking for an easy way out of this, Terry. I think they're very realistic about it. This is a community that sent literally hundreds of thousands of Marines and other military, navy personnel, to the war, and who have their sons and daughters and husbands and wives there now.
And I think while there is a lot of unhappiness with the continuing casualties, I don't think there's a lot of surprise with it. And I think there's a recognition, at least in this part of the country, that we have to see this through, that there is a price to be paid for it, and we're not going to fight this war and then cut and run and make it all a futile exercise.
I think people here are still committed to seeing this through, to seeing through the process now of nation-building and making sure that the war has the kind of result that it was intended to have, which is to create a stable Iraq with at least a representative, if not a democratic government, and to eliminate the threat of terrorism.
TERENCE SMITH: John Diaz, in those few minutes you're not talking about the California recall around San Francisco, what's the view on the way it's going in Iraq? Do people seem comfortable with it, or concerned about it?
JOHN DIAZ: Well, I think there most definitely is a concern, Terry. I think regardless of one's position about the rationale for this war and in our newspaper we're certainly very skeptical of it, there's no question that at this point the United States not only has a moral obligation but a strategic imperative to see this through. But I think what's missing from the administration really is a coherent, well-articulated plan for where we go from here.
I think some of the issues that Americans are going to want to look at is: How much is this going to cost and where that money is going to come from? Secondly, I think there is a great question about whether we can maintain the peace with the size of the fairly modest force we have there right now.
And third, and probably perhaps most importantly, I think the American people right now are looking for benchmarks that they can measure at what point that the administration can point to and let us know at what point are we going to be in a position to be able to withdraw, start withdrawing some troops and ultimately to leave Iraq?
TERENCE SMITH: Bruce Dold, how does it appear in Chicago? Does it... do you see any of those benchmarks that John Diaz is looking for?
BRUCE DOLD: You know, I think Madison and San Francisco are two of my favorite towns, but they don't often reflect the heartland of the country, and I don't think they do in this case either. Every poll that I've seen over the last few weeks has shown that the American people, a good majority, are strongly supporting this. They still support the war, the reason for the war, and they've been very supportive of our efforts in Iraq even as American soldiers have shed blood.
I haven't seen any analysis after the U.N. bombing, but my gut says that people are looking at that and saying the world was just attacked, the world was attacked in Baghdad, and the world is going to respond to that. And I think people will have patience in America, not infinite patience. I think they do want to see more progress on building this country up, but I think the underlying support for the mission is still there.
TERENCE SMITH: John Nichols, we just heard Secretary Powell talking with Kofi Annan about getting more countries involved, about internationalizing an effort that up to this point certainly has been dominantly a U.S. effort. Is that the way to go?
JOHN NICHOLS: Absolutely. There's no question that the United States should start by apologizing to Canada, our longest and best ally, and say to them, look, we were wrong when we pushed you aside and didn't listen to you, we'd like you to go into coalition with us and ask the United Nations to take genuine control of what's going on in Iraq so that we can relinquish this absurd effort to really make Iraq an extension of the United States, not...and I don't mean physically; I mean with a comic sense that you can do nation-building there.
You know, President Bush was right in the fall of 2000 when he debated Al Gore and he said, the United States should not be about the game of nation-building. It isn't going to work. And really the only question we have now is: How long it will take for the United States to recognize that and to get our young men and women out of the line of fire so that some sort of effort to stabilize the country can actually begin.
TERENCE SMITH: Bob Kittle, that's a really fundamental debate that's going on right now. Should the U.S. largely go it alone? Should they internationalize the effort, share the burden? What's your view?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, Terry, I certainly don't think the United States owes Canada an apology. I think the problem here is that the Security Council was not willing to go along in the beginning here, and the administration, as we all remember, made an effort to win Security Council approval for the war. It's unfortunate, in my view, that the Security Council didn't recognize the importance and the need for the war. But all of that is now history.
I think the United Nations should have been involved from the beginning. I think it is certainly not too late for the United Nations to get involved. I think the administration, perhaps somewhat grudgingly, has come to the view that this is very much in the interests of peace and stability in Iraq for the United Nations and the international community in general to play a role, perhaps providing some form of peacekeeping troops, perhaps providing a lot of other kinds of humanitarian aid, economic assistance.
All of that makes sense. This is a problem that the entire world shares. The United Nations, in my view, had a responsibility, which it shirked in the beginning, to be involved in this operation, and it should get involved now.
TERENCE SMITH: John Diaz, you said earlier that you wanted to see from the Bush administration a plan of where the U.S. goes from here. What is it that you want to see? Do you want to see an actual exit strategy?
JOHN DIAZ: Well, I think, if you look at Colin Powell's own doctrine about the use of military force, which this is certainly an extended military operation, one of the things that he very clearly articulated was the need for an exit strategy, which we don't have right now. The administration has not told us at what point we could pull out.
And I noticed in the previous segment Colin Powell was talking about... describing this as a multilateral... multinational operation with 22,000 troops from other countries. Well, that contrasts with 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
This is still very much a U.S. operation, and bringing in other countries is not just a matter of sharing the risk, but also reducing the risk for the United States. The United States is much less a target for these terrorists who are now flowing into Iraq.
TERENCE SMITH: Bruce Dold, how long can you envision the United States remaining at this level and this level of involvement in Iraq?
BRUCE DOLD: Oh, I think it's going to be a long process. But I think you have to remember too, aside from the violence, what else has been going on. The people are being fed; people were not necessarily being fed before the war, that the basic health services have been restored to the vast majority of the country, and that thousands of Iraqis are being trained to form a militia, to form police forces, to form an army to take over their nation, that, you know, the Iraqis will be entrusted with the oil industry there.
BRUCE DOLD: So it is going to be a long process, but -- and I do think -- I agree with Bob -- it's time to stop arguing about the war and start, you know, defining how you're going to bring stability there and I think an international presence can do that.
I think Afghanistan actually provides a model for that and the international force, which is essentially charged with protecting the government, protecting the institutions and allowing the U.S. military to go after the bad guys. You got to do it on a lot broader scale than we do in Afghanistan, which is essentially in the capital. But I think you can find, you know, a division of duties that way that could keep the U.S. happy and keep the United Nations involved.
TERENCE SMITH: John Nichols, are you getting to the point where you want to see U.S. troops pull out of there? And if so, what about the price of that, that everyone warns in terms of stability in Iraq? Is there a job to be finished there? And do we finish it?
JOHN NICHOLS: No, we should not finish it. We shouldn't have started it. The fact of the matter is that the job in Iraq is a complex one there is no question, and we can't have simple proposals on it. But there is no doubt that the United States should relinquish control of Iraq.
Right now the United States is the government of Iraq. That is not the place where George Washington intended us to be when he warned against entangling alliances; it's not the place where Jefferson or Lincoln or Robert Fowler, our great senator from this state, intended. The fact of the matter is we're where we don't belong.
Now, the best step we can take is to turn over authority in Iraq to the United Nations as quickly as possible. I think that can happen in a matter of months, to move ourselves out of a controlling role and to recognize that by doing that, we will reduce the level of terrorism in Iraq and, frankly, around the world.
And Bruce said something that I can't let go. He suggested that we should get over arguing about the war, forget about the old arguments about the war. The fact of the matter is the arguments about the war before it happened were exactly appropriate.
Opponents of the war, in my state of Wisconsin, which I would suggest is a little closer to the heartland and Chicago in a lot of ways, in my state of Wisconsin, opponents of the war said, look, you're getting yourself into an imbroglio that you will not be able to get out of unless, you know, some sort of crisis finally cause causes us to turn it over. They were exactly right, and we should follow the advice of the anti-war activists before we got in there, rather than continue to follow the advice of the people that got us into this mess.
TERENCE SMITH: Bob Kittle, very briefly, just a final word, if you will, on that issue of U.S. control.
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, I think John Nichols has just articulated the unalloyed isolationism that exists in some parts of this country. We shouldn't be relinquishing control. If we relinquish control in Iraq anarchy will ensue. The bloodshed that we're experiencing now would be magnified many times. We're the only responsible authority there today, and we've got to maintain stability and control unfortunately, for now, with military force. So over time, we have the most responsible role to play in seeing this transition through and this kind of nation-building is measured in years, not in months. It's a long, slow process, but it is a worthwhile process, and it's the reason that we got into this war in the first place.
TERENCE SMITH: And one will no doubt have to revisit. Thank you, all four, very much.