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General Peter Pace

November 7, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And to our Newsmaker interview with Gen. Peter Pace. He became the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the end of September after serving as vice chairman for four years. He’s the first Marine to be chairman, who is the principal military advisor to the president and the secretary of defense.

Gen. Pace, welcome. And congratulations to you, sir.

GENERAL PETER PACE: Thank you very much, Jim. Great to be you with you tonight.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you.

Today’s major offensive or the ongoing major offensive up near the Syrian border, it’s still underway, right?

GENERAL PETER PACE: It is. That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: What is its mission?

GENERAL PETER PACE: Twofold. Number one is to clear out that area of insurgents — part of an ongoing campaign across Iraq to seek these pockets of resisters and deal with them militarily; also to then establish under Iraqi military control in that area, so that as we prosecute these kinds of campaigns, you have an opportunity for the Iraqi people to see their own armed forces taking over responsibility for their own areas.

JIM LEHRER: Now, that’s a new thing, isn’t it — to go into these areas that were heavily insurgent and stay there?

GENERAL PETER PACE: It is a growing opportunity for the Iraqi army. Right now, there are, in the field, Iraqi armed forces, one division headquarters, fifteen thousand men; four Iraqi brigade headquarters, each of about three thousand; twenty-four Iraqi battalions, each of about five to six hundred men that are taking over responsibility for various sectors of the country.

So it is new from the standpoint of the Iraqi army. It has been what the coalition has done and now we are turning over, handing over to the Iraqi armed forces.

JIM LEHRER: What I meant more was the strategy. You know, the Fallujah thing, Tal Afar, both of those places had to be taken more than once. In the case of Fallujah, the Marines went in, took the place and then left and then insurgents came right back. The same thing happened in Tal Afar more than once and this time, is the new idea that forces either U.S. forces or Iraqi forces are going to keep that from happening again if this place does actually fall? What is it — I wrote it, Husaybah, if it actually falls to coalition and Iraqi forces, we’re not going to pull out this time?

GENERAL PETER PACE: It will certainly fall to coalition and Iraqi forces and Iraqi forces will stay.

JIM LEHRER: That’s a new thing, right?

GENERAL PETER PACE: I understand how you say “new thing.” It was not the intent in the past to walk away from those kinds of victories. As it turned out we thought that once we had turned the town over to the local people that they would be able to defend their own territory and take care of themselves. As it turns out, the insurgents would come back in.

So now the Iraqi armed forces that have been trained up will do that for their own people.

JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to say the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Mr. Khalilzad, who has been pushing for this new approach and has been instrumental in getting this done?

GENERAL PETER PACE: Ambassador Khalilzad is a very, very strong, capable leader, and he works very closely with the U.S. military and with the Iraqi leadership, so, yes, he is an integral part of the decision process over there and very influential in assisting all of us in seeking ways to better use the opportunities that are available to us to take care of the Iraqi people.

JIM LEHRER: What do you say to those, General, some experts in counterinsurgency who said that the U.S. and the coalition went about this the wrong way to begin with, that that should have been part and parcel of the original strategy, go in and take a place, and then if you don’t stay there, and then the people just come back and they just have to keep not only costing a lot of energy and time, it costs a lot of lives, U.S. lives as well as Iraqi lives?

GENERAL PETER PACE: Well, I think what we thought would happen as I mentioned –

JIM LEHRER: Yeah.

GENERAL PETER PACE: — once we were successful in an area that the people would take hold of their own city and have their own police and be able to lead their own lives in freedom.

What turns out is that the insurgents had to come back into those — came back into some of those locations and had to be booted back out. But when we went back in the second time in some of those cases then we stayed either with coalition forces or with the new Iraqi armed forces.

JIM LEHRER: Is it correct, then, to put a little spotlight on Husaybah that this may be different, that we should watch this more carefully, because this is — if this works, then this will be the way to do it from now on out?

GENERAL PETER PACE: I think this is another in a continuing of series of events like this. We have cleared out Mosul; we have cleared out Fallujah; we have cleared out other areas and have, in fact, installed the Iraqi armed forces and Iraqi police, so it is a continuing series of these type of events and we will continue to do that.

JIM LEHRER: The stories I have read today, General, indicate that there has been very little resistance in this, that this town of 30,000 was pretty much vacated by the time the U.S., there were 2,500 Marines and 1,000 Iraqi troops involved in this. Is that roughly -

GENERAL PETER PACE: That’s about right, yes.

JIM LEHRER: It is a U.S. operation that is controlled by the U.S., right?

GENERAL PETER PACE: It is a coalition operation. The commander of the forces is a U.S. officer but is very much in collaboration with the Iraqi forces, who are working as part of his force, and it will be left for Iraqi security to maintain the freedom that’s gained in that area.

JIM LEHRER: But the coalition forces, the 2,500 Marines, once the place falls are going to will leave, right?

GENERAL PETER PACE: They will most likely leave. But the timetable would be dependent on the situation, but preferably the Iraqi forces would be able to stay behind and take care of it themselves. But the coalition commander on the ground will make that decision as far as how soon the Marines can leave — how many Iraqis need to stay behind.

JIM LEHRER: Now the — how would you — how should it be measured in terms of success? I read today if you can confirm this, that thirty-six to forty insurgents have been killed, is that correct?

GENERAL PETER PACE: I know the answer to that question. But, if you don’t mind, I’m not going to tell you because I truly believe that we do not want the American public or anybody else watching this broadcast to start counting bodies.

This is not the way we count success. We count success and we measure success by the security that we provide in these towns for the Iraqi people. This is not about killing of people. It is about providing security for people.

And if we inadvertently, mistakenly start counting how many of the enemy are killed, we will be sending the wrong messages to our own troops and to the Iraqi people. We want to provide security for them.

JIM LEHRER: And now, General, isn’t that a change — what you just expressed a change? Because up till this point in time, every time there’s been one of these sweeps, every time there’s been one of these, the U.S. military in Iraq is quick to say how many insurgents have been captured, how many insurgents have been killed and the whole point of the exercise is to destroy the insurgency. You are saying no more?

GENERAL PETER PACE: No. I am saying that anyone who, in the past, has been counting bodies has been presenting the wrong measure of success; that the correct measure of success is how much of this country, how much of Iraq is being controlled by coalition forces to include, and most importantly to include the Iraqi armed forces themselves, how much security is being provided, and it’s not about death counts. It’s about defining security so that the Iraqi people can live in freedom.

JIM LEHRER: So how do we measure success of this operation?

GENERAL PETER PACE: We measure success of this operation by how quickly we are able to establish Iraqi government control of the area and we measure success by watching as time goes on the ability of the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi police to continue to provide that security.

JIM LEHRER: Is it fair to say as we speak tonight, General, that the insurgency is still very strong and getting stronger?

GENERAL PETER PACE: No. It’s not fair to say that. I would think what is fair to say is that the — there are insurgents in the country who do not see that they have an alternative, who have not had the opportunity to have an alternative to their lifestyle.

And that’s why it is so important that the Iraqi government have the chance to have their police, their armed forces to provide security so that the Iraqi government can then provide schools, roads, power, jobs, all the things that allow an individual who is young and looking for a job, or looking for an opportunity to support his family, to be able to pick the peaceful way, to be able to pick the job instead of having to pick either nothing to do at all, or taking money from the insurgents who will at least pay him some money potentially to feed his family.

JIM LEHRER: Are these insurgents that are involved in this operation that’s going on now, are they foreigners? You are used to guessing they are locals, right; they’re local Iraqis who are part of the insurgency?

GENERAL PETER PACE: Jim, probably too soon to tell right now — certainly too soon for me to tell. I have not yet seen the reports as far as what they found. We’ll know within a couple of days primarily, whether it’s foreigners or local.

JIM LEHRER: So when you say the insurgency is not stronger, what do you mean? I mean, I looked at all the — excuse me, the body counts which you object to. It is averaging, for instance, on American terms, certainly on average, 17 Americans are dying every week and have been for months now. There’s been no reduction of that.

The number of Iraqis is continuing to remain about the same level. Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi policemen are being killed on a daily basis and several more today as there is almost every day. So what measurement, then, do you use to say insurgency is not getting stronger or not remaining strong?

GENERAL PETER PACE: I would say to you that first of all, the numbers of attacks that have taken place during the October elections and as we get ready for the December elections are indicative of the fact that the insurgency understands that every time an Iraqi goes to the poll and votes that is a strike against the insurgency.

The insurgents fear the fact the Iraqis will be able to pick their own future. So when I say that, no, to your question about how they are getting stronger, I believe they are not because of the elections — because the 64 percent of the Iraqi populous went and voted; because 210,000 Iraqis now serve in their armed forces and their police.

Everything that is good and measurable about the stability of the country now and its potential for future stability is working in the new government’s favor. That then works against insurgents and therefore, inside that environment I do not see the insurgency growing.

JIM LEHRER: So it is a matter of time and you think they will eventually start diminishing in ways that we can see here as well?

GENERAL PETER PACE: I absolutely believe that, yes.

JIM LEHRER: There was a — the U.S. military announced today that five Army Rangers are charged with abusing some captured Iraqis. What did they do? What’s the allegation?

GENERAL PETER PACE: I do not know the specifics of that allegation. I do know they were charged. That is under investigation right now. It would be inappropriate for me to voice an opinion especially as chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff -

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

GENERAL PETER PACE: I can tell you categorically that any mal- treatment of any detainees by U.S. forces or coalition forces is totally unacceptable — that our orders have and will continue to be that we will treat everyone in our charge with — humanely and with respect.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. McCain has been – the Senate has passed – it has yet to be approved by the House, a legislation that would use the Army manual as the rules for how to treat prisoners, detainees. And he said that it was necessary because we have changed the rules so often that the average U.S. troop over there doesn’t know what he is, he or she is allowed to do at any given time. And he said this: He said that, let me find his quote here. He said, “U.S. personnel don’t know what’s permitted or forbidden.” And he said and “when something goes wrong we blame them and we punish them and we have to do better than that.”

Do you support what he is doing? Do you support the legislation to make the Army manual the rules and so everybody knows you don’t beat up on people, you don’t torture them, et cetera?

GENERAL PETER PACE: I would say that the members of the U.S. armed forces understand clearly what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do with regard to treatment of prisoners and detainees and they understand that they are to treat them humanely.

Having said that, it is perfectly fine to have the Army field manual for the detention of individuals, as the bible, so to speak, of how we are supposed to be doing business. That’s exactly what it is. And for the senator to say that we should be following our own rules certainly makes sense.

JIM LEHRER: Again, I would not try to get you to comment on this case of the five rangers, but just generally speaking, for a U.S. soldier, Marine, sailor, whatever, to claim that he or she didn’t know the rules about how to treat a captured Iraqi, you just wouldn’t buy as a general premise, right?

GENERAL PETER PACE: I would not buy that as a person in uniform and I would not buy that as an American citizen.

JIM LEHRER: You are the first Marine to be commandant of the Marine Corps, General Pace. All Marines, former Marines think this is a really big deal. It is a significant thing. In a more general framework, what does it mean? What does it mean generally speaking to the military to have a Marine for the first time as chairman of the joint chiefs?

GENERAL PETER PACE: First, not to correct you but you said commandant of the Marine Corps.

JIM LEHRER: I’m sorry – chairman.

GENERAL PETER PACE: I know you meant chairman. We have a great commandant whose name is Mike Hagy and -

JIM LEHRER: And the commandant is always a Marine.

GENERAL PETER PACE: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: Chairman of the joint chiefs, my apologies.

GENERAL PETER PACE: First of all, it is a great honor for me to have the president and Secretary Rumsfeld’s confidence. Second, this has been an evolutionary thing. As you know, not that long ago, the commandant of the Marine Corps was not a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then during General Wilson’s time as commandant, the commandant became a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then for a while Marines were not able to serve around the four combatant areas around the world – that would be all of our troops – and then during Goldwater-Nichols legislation Marines became eligible to be assigned as four-star commanders.

So over the last ensuing fifteen, twenty years, we have had a number of Marine four-star generals who have commanded our joint commands around the globe. And it’s been their performance of duty. It has been all that they have done to show that Marines are capable of commanding at the four-star level, are capable of being joint, are capable of doing the things that the nation would expect of any senior leader that has enabled me to be in a position to compete and to be selected.

But if I am chairman now, it is because I am standing on the shoulders of giants in the Marine Corps who worked hard to serve this country the best they could.

JIM LEHRER: General Pace. Again, thank you and congratulations.

GENERAL PETER PACE: Thank you very much, Jim.