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National Security Adviser Outlines Three-step Plan for Iraq

October 26, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Stephen Hadley, welcome. Thanks for coming in.

STEPHEN HADLEY, National Security Adviser: Nice to be here.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Biden said yesterday, after hearing President Bush’s press conference on Iraq, that he didn’t hear anything new. He said it is just more of the same with a request for more time to do it. Other listeners have had heard something new. What do you think the American people should have taken from that news conference?

STEPHEN HADLEY: I think the president gave a very balanced and sober assessment of the situation that we’re in, made it clear that there are real challenges, made it clear that, while our basic objective remains the same, we have adapted and made changes in how to pursue that objectives, would be making more changes in the future, that he was open to any constructive ideas, because obviously one thing we can all agree on — I think Senator Biden would agree — we need to succeed in Iraq. It’s too important for the country.

So I think you saw an openness to be receptive to ideas, but also a steadfastness that we cannot afford to lose in Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: Is the president himself more open to other ideas now than, say, six months ago?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, we would say that we’ve made a lot of changes all the way through. Obviously, there are some things, the Baghdad security plan which we’ve talked about, there was a phase one. It did not achieve all the objectives we had hoped. We moved into a phase two; further adjustments clearly need to be made.

It’s a difficult situation. The president made clear about that. We made changes in the past. It’s pretty clear we’re going to need to make some changes in the future. I think the president recognizes that.

MARGARET WARNER: There was one rhetorical change that I thought was noticeable, and it had to do with how he defined victory. And I just wanted to read this. He said, “It must be a government that can sustain itself, govern itself, and defend itself.” And what was missing was what he used to talk about, a democratic government or a stable democracy. Has that been dropped from the list of definitions of victory?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Absolutely not, and the vehicle for a government that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, of course, is the unity government that is in place, headed by Prime Minister Maliki.

The president was very clear that he supports that government, supports Prime Minister Maliki. And that’s, of course, a government that came out of the democratic process in which over 12 million Iraqis voted. So, clearly, the premise, the way to get the kind of government he’s describing, of course, is to support the Democratic process that’s now under way in Iraq.

Support of Maliki

Stephen Hadley
National security adviser
The Iraqi government wants to take more responsibility. Prime Minister Maliki said he was willing to make the tough decisions, and he's indicated some benchmarks about the kinds of decisions that need to be made. That's a good thing.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about Prime Minister Maliki, because he yesterday denied that he had agreed to any time lines or benchmarks. The American ambassador in Iraq a couple days earlier said, in fact, that he had. Has he or hasn't he?

STEPHEN HADLEY: There was a real confusion that came out of the press reporting of his press conference. If you look at what he said, the prime minister was asked the question about, "Do you accept that there's a 12- or 18-month deadline in order for you to get a variety of series of decisions made or lose American support?"

And the prime minister said, rightly, "Look, we're a sovereign country. You don't impose deadlines on a sovereign country." And then he went on to say that the notion of a deadline by which Americans will begin withdrawing was not the position of what he had heard from President Bush. And, of course, it is not the position of the president or this administration.

So I think there was some real confusion. What he was rejecting was the notion of artificial deadlines for U.S. withdrawal, something President Bush has rejected. What they have done and what the Iraqi government has done is published some milestones of the kinds of what we call benchmarks, which are specific decisions they want to make, legislation they want to have adopted over a six- to nine-month period, which will be the building blocks for a national compact between Sunni, Shia and Kurds for moving forward politically.

That's something that the Iraqi government has done. The presidency council has published them to the world. Prime Minister Maliki supports them, and we support them, because we think that is the right philosophy going forward.

The Iraqi government wants to take more responsibility. Prime Minister Maliki said he was willing to make the tough decisions, and he's indicated some benchmarks about the kinds of decisions that need to be made. That's a good thing. He's taking the lead; we support him.

U.S. responsibility for security

Stephen Hadley
National security adviser
It's a three-part phase: train and equip them; get them in the lead on security; and then give them the kind of support, logistics, transportation they need to operate more independently.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about something else he said just today. He said, "If anyone is responsible" -- and I'm quoting -- "for the poor security situation in Iraq, it is the coalition." And he said the Iraqi police and army just didn't even have adequate weapons. Is that the case?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Certainly, the coalition is responsible for security. And, obviously, while one of the things we are all concerned about -- and you see it in Baghdad -- that the security situation is not what we would want it, it's not what Maliki would want.

MARGARET WARNER: He is saying that the United States is responsible because we haven't essentially furnished them with what they need.

STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, there are two things. He says that we're responsible for security and, in large measure, we have been because of the coalition, but, secondly, as you know...

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, but he said the poor security.

STEPHEN HADLEY: ... we've made a major effort -- we are responsible for security. To the extent that security is not perfect, obviously -- and it is not -- we share responsibility on that.

But, remember, what our objective here and what we've been doing is training Iraqi security forces so that they can take more responsibility for security. It's a three-part phase: train and equip them; get them in the lead on security; and then give them the kind of support, logistics, transportation they need to operate more independently.

They are impatient to get through that process, to get them all the equipment they need. We are impatient with it, as well. The sooner the Iraqi security forces have the proficiency and competence to take up more responsibility, that will be better for the Iraqi people and better for us.

Iraq's impact on midterm elections

Stephen Hadley
National security adviser
We think we have one, but obviously we need to have broader support for the way ahead in Iraq, Republicans, Democrats, Congress and the executive branch. That's what we need to achieve, however the election comes out.

MARGARET WARNER: This election does seem to be shaping up as a referendum on Iraq. And I wonder whether, within the White House, you all have thought about what would be the consequences for Iraq policy if, say, the Democrats were to win either the House or the Senate. Would it make a difference in how the administration approached Iraq?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, the president's been very clear that he does not expect anything other than after the elections for Republicans to be in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. However that election comes out, it is clear that we need to have more national consensus on the way forward in Iraq.

We need to have a way -- it's a challenging situation. It is important for the country that we succeed; I think most Americans recognize that. What we need is to demonstrate to the Americans that there is a plan which will result in success.

We think we have one, but obviously we need to have broader support for the way ahead in Iraq, Republicans, Democrats, Congress and the executive branch. That's what we need to achieve, however the election comes out.

MARGARET WARNER: So are you suggesting -- Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of your predecessors, on this program last night saying that what he heard partly in what the president said yesterday was a willingness to bring in more voices, admit people into the inner circle who haven't been before. Are you saying that would happen?

STEPHEN HADLEY: We are talking to a lot of folks all the time about ideas on Iraq. There's been a lot in the media the last two days; a lot of suggestions or proposals have come forward. Obviously, the Baker-Hamilton commission, which the president supports, we will be working with, and we'll take an independent look at the way forward in Iraq. And the president has made clear that he supports that effort.

So I think we're going to have a lot of opportunity to try and talk about the way ahead. But I think, Margaret, the important thing is it's going to really be talking about how to do better in three areas: how to get a better political understanding between Shia, Sunni and Kurds; how to get the Iraqis in a position to take more responsibility for their security; and how to get the international community and the neighbors to do their part in helping stabilize Iraq.

And that's really the challenge before us, how to do those three things in a more effective way.

Problems with partitioning Iraq

Stephen Hadley
National security adviser
The Iraqis have made clear every time they've gone to the polls in the formation of the unity government that they want a unified Iraq. We believe that's a worthy objective; it's something that we support. We think the Iraqi people support it.

MARGARET WARNER: And in doing that, is the administration open to -- if the commission were to suggest an idea that the president has rejected in the past -- for instance, Baker and Hamilton both said on this program they thought the U.S. should bring Iran and Syria into these discussions in a serious way -- is the administration open to that?

STEPHEN HADLEY: The president made clear that he was looking for some new ideas; he was open to any suggestion. And I think you've heard out of the Baker-Hamilton commission they don't expect to -- that the administration will like everything that they suggest. That's in the nature of these kinds of operations.

But what I think we all seek is a way forward on Iraq. It can be supported by Democrats and Republicans, by this president, and by the Congress. And that's what the Baker-Hamilton commission can contribute to, as one of the actors in this process.

MARGARET WARNER: And one other idea that's been floated by Senator Biden, Les Gelb, and Peter Galbraith on this program, which would be to let Iraq devolve into three, you know, loosely federated but pretty autonomous states. Is that off the table?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, we have talked from the very beginning, from the moment after the Operation Iraqi Freedom was successful, that the formula was going to be a unity government with a fair amount of a federal structure, which would provide a lot of autonomy for individual governance and the like, so that localities and local groups could address their own needs, so that's been a part of it.

I think the problem is, to go beyond that, to talk about effective partition of the country. That's something the president has been very concerned about. Why? Because the Iraqis don't support it.

The Iraqis have made clear every time they've gone to the polls in the formation of the unity government that they want a unified Iraq. We believe that's a worthy objective; it's something that we support. We think the Iraqi people support it. We think the neighbors support it.

So an opportunity for a federalist structure which will provide a lot of autonomy to localities, of course. But separating the country, partitioning the country, that's a different matter. And that's something I think both Iraqis don't want and the region does not want.

MARGARET WARNER: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, thanks.

STEPHEN HADLEY: Thanks very much.