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Pick for Iraq Commander Faces Senate Questioning

January 23, 2007 at 5:50 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: Lieutenant General David Petraeus went before a mostly skeptical Senate Armed Service Committee this morning and acknowledged that the plan to send more American troops to Iraq may not bring quick success.

LT. GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. Army: None of this will be rapid. In fact, the way ahead will be neither quick nor easy, and there undoubtedly will be tough days. We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy. He will try to wait us out; in fact, any such endeavor is a test of wills, and there are no guarantees.

KWAME HOLMAN: Once confirmed by the Senate, Petraeus would begin serving his third tour in Iraq since 2003. He led the 101st Airborne Division and won praise in Congress and the media for the occupation of Mosul and for his efforts to train Iraqi security forces. In 2005, he returned to the U.S. and helped author the Army’s counterinsurgency manual.

Today, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin repeated concern the Iraqis won’t live up to their end of the bargain in the president’s plan.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), Michigan: It’s critically important that that pressure be felt by the Iraqi government. They have not complied with previous commitments that they’ve made. I’m very doubtful, as one senator, that it’s likely they’re going to carry out the other commitments that they have made.

I just think history should make us very dubious about the likelihood that they’re going to carry out these critically important commitments in the political area, as well as the military and economic area.

KWAME HOLMAN: Several senators voiced worries about who would be in charge of the joint U.S.-Iraqi patrols and whether the addition of 21,500 troops would be enough.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: Your numbers, by any estimate or formula that you use, that you’re receiving, are either inadequate or bare minimum. Does that concern you?

DAVID PETRAEUS: It does, sir. If you look at the counterinsurgency manual, for example, and you have the 1 to 50 ratio of counterinsurgents to citizens, you’d say that, well, for Baghdad’s population you should have somewhere around 120,000 security forces.

If you add all of the U.S. forces that will be on the ground when we have the full increase in forces, including special operations forces, all the Iraqi forces, military and police, you get to about 85,000. Not all of those are as effective as we might want them to be, particularly on the police side, as you know.

However, there are tens of thousands of contract security forces and ministerial security forces that do, in fact, guard facilities and secure institutions and so forth, that our forces, or coalition or Iraqi forces, would otherwise have to guard and secure. And so that does give me the reason to believe that we can accomplish the mission in Baghdad with the additional forces.

Resolutions of disapproval

KWAME HOLMAN: Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman said impending congressional resolutions opposing the president's plan could be a setback for the American troops fighting on the front lines.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), Connecticut: I want to make a plea to my colleagues in the Senate. I understand that the trains are on the legislative track, and they're heading toward a collision. But I want to urge my colleagues to consider your testimony this morning and to put the brakes on.

You will, in my opinion, receive unanimous or near unanimous support -- and you should, you deserve it -- from this committee and from the Senate. But I fear that a resolution of this approval will send you over there with us saying you're a good and great general, but we don't agree with what you believe we need to do in Iraq.

And so I want to appeal to my colleagues to consider, with regard to resolutions of disapproval, or the caps on troops, or the cutoff of funds, to step back for a moment and give you a chance and the 160,000 American soldiers you will be commanding a chance, perhaps a last chance, to succeed in Iraq.

If, God forbid, you are unable to succeed, then there will be plenty of time for the resolutions of disapproval or the other alternatives that have been contemplated.

KWAME HOLMAN: Maine Republican Susan Collins is a cosponsor of one such resolution filed yesterday with Republican John Warner of Virginia and Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), Maine: General, the American people are not divided in support of our troops. The American people are not divided in wishing you all the success in the world, despite our disagreement with the strategy.

And I must say that the resolution that I've been working on with Senator Ben Nelson and Senator Warner is very clear in expressing support for our troops. And I don't think it's going to come as any surprise to the enemy that the American people are, in fact, deeply divided over this strategy.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pressed on whether the Iraqis were ready, Petraeus offered a cautious response.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), Georgia: Do you have confidence that the Iraqi military can step up and do finally what we've been anticipating and hoping that they would do for the entire period of time that we have been inside of Iraq?

DAVID PETRAEUS: Sir, in response to those questions, having not been in Iraq for some 16 months, and although I do know and have worked with a number of the Iraqi leaders in this government, I do not know Prime Minister Maliki personally, and I will have to determine for myself.

We will obviously have to have a number of close meetings and develop a relationship, and that support from the Iraqi government is absolutely critical. As you mentioned, military force is necessary but not sufficient. The sufficient piece is the additional political component. And, again, that is something that I'll have to determine the presence of as I get on the ground.

The same, frankly, with the Iraqi security forces. Again, having been out of Iraq for 16 months, one of the tasks I will have to undertake is, in fact, to assess their state at this point in time. The fact is that they have received reasonable training and they have received reasonably equipping. Both of those can always be improved, and the equipment does need to get more robust over time, although they have received thousands of Humvees, to my understanding, as an example.

But what I will have to do, again, is to determine the will component of this. Military forces, as you know, to be effective have skill and will, and what we will have to determine is that presence of both, but the will component will be the most important.

KWAME HOLMAN: Petraeus' promotion to the Iraq job and the rank of four-star general is expected to get quick confirmation by the full Senate. The general said he will head to Iraq promptly afterward.

Petraeus' Iraq experience

JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner has more.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on General Petraeus, the man, the soldier, and the mission he confronts, we hear now from two Army officers who have known and worked with him.

Retired Army Major General William Nash, he's now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. And retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, author of two books on Army transformation, he's now an independent businessman.

Welcome to you both.

General Nash, is General Petraeus the right man for this incredibly tough job?

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM NASH (Ret.), U.S. Army: Well, I don't think we, on paper anyway, can come up with anybody any better. He's well-qualified, in terms of experience and education. Both in terms of operations in Iraq and the opportunities he had in the last 16 months to think through all the issues, especially evolving around the writing of this manual that so many people have talked about.

MARGARET WARNER: Can't think of anyone better?

COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (Ret.), U.S. Army: Well, General Petraeus is the latest in a series of officers selected by the retired four stars and presented to the administration as the ideal candidate.

A couple of years ago, Senator McCain made the statement that Generals Sanchez and Abizaid were probably the two best generals we've ever had. I don't think Senator McCain would make that assertion today. They presided over a disaster. General Casey, who's now left, and Senator McCain has actually talked about blocking his nomination to be chief of staff in the Army.

This leaves us with General Petraeus. What do we know about him? Well, I would say he comes to this job with three strikes against him. And let's set the effusive praise aside that we've heard before with General Abizaid.

Number one, he commanded the 101st Air Mobile Division on the way to Baghdad. It was a singularly undistinguished command. His assistant division commander at the end of the operation was so disappointed in the failure of the 101st to contribute much to the outcome that he said the Fifth Corps had fought the war essentially with one hand tied behind its back. The Third Infantry Division had carried the fight.

Secondly, he goes to Mosul, and he worked very hard to demonstrate his sensitivity to the cultural differences, to work on a whole range of issues, but we also know that some people would say, within hours of the 101st departure, the area reverted to insurgent control. Actually speaking, the insurgents simply took it over.

And then, finally, you have the training of the Iraqi army. The Iraqi army today is, by anyone's definition, a disaster, and it is substantially his creation.

MARGARET WARNER: That's quite a litany -- that sounds like litany of failure. How do you see his experience in Iraq?

WILLIAM NASH: Well, I think, if we just take them in order, the fighting of the war, if you look at the operations of the 101st Airborne Division, it complied with the orders it was given. And the Corps fought the battle. His bosses fought the battle they wanted to fight.

And I know they were somewhat frustrated -- the 101st, that is -- that they didn't get into more of a scrap. But I don't think you lay that on General Petraeus. That's other folks that need to account for the operations that took place in the war.

My view of Mosul is considerably different. When General Petraeus was up there -- and I visited with him in September of 2003 and saw his operations -- I thought they were very mindful of many of the things that he has since written in the manual.

He was working the politics; he was working the economics; and he was working it without a lot of help from above, because he had his piece of territory and he was doing his thing. And I think he was extremely successful.

There is no doubt that, as he departed, the insurgency, which was growing in the south, moved north. And his 20,000-man division was replaced by a brigade-sized organization of about 6,000 to 7,000 folks, so a considerable change in American strength. And I would attribute that -- and it certainly didn't happen the next morning after he left.

The charges about the training of the Iraqi army are of deep concern. But to lay that on the shoulders of one man, I think, would be to not understand much larger issues, a lack of resourcing from the United States government, and a lack of a political environment or the conditions within Iraq that would allow a soldier to build an army.

He shares in the difficulties there, but, then again, it has been 16 months since he left.

Fighting the insurgency

Col. Douglas MacGregor (Ret.)
U.S. Army
Sending men with rifles in small numbers to go into these neighborhoods, to stay in these neighborhoods, is a very, very dangerous thing to do, in my estimation. We could end up taking very serious casualties.

MARGARET WARNER: Let's look at Mosul more deeply here, because there he really -- he had his men going into the neighborhoods, did he not, tried to use less force, more persuasion. He had, as I understand it, little precinct bases, much like -- it sounds like what they're hoping to do in Baghdad.

One, do you think, at least that the -- I think your point that, after it ended, Colonel Macgregor, it didn't last -- but do you think that the strategy and the approach itself worked? And can it be applied in Baghdad?

DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: No. First of all, in Mosul when he arrived with the 101st, there was no insurgency. That area was fairly pacific. I spoke with some soldiers in the 101st who'd been on patrol, and they talked about patrolling there over 30 days without any incident, until finally they were approached.

And someone at marketplace walked up and, in perfect English, said, "Do you see a problem here?" And they said, "No." And they said, "Well, then, why are you here?" The next day, they had their first RPG attack on the patrol. Soldiers said, "We were not attacked -- we did not patrol because we were attacked. We were attacked because we patrolled."

MARGARET WARNER: Take that to Baghdad now, because that's what we're looking at here.

DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Well, if you go to Baghdad, and now you have an absolutely hardened population against you. We are hated in that country. The Sunni Muslim population has good reason to hate us, based upon how we've treated them over the last couple of years.

But the Shiite population has joined that particular throng. We have no friends, if you will.

Sending men with rifles in small numbers to go into these neighborhoods, to stay in these neighborhoods, is a very, very dangerous thing to do, in my estimation. We could end up taking very serious casualties. We don't know. We can't predict the future. But this is not the environment that General Petraeus found when he got to Mosul.

MARGARET WARNER: How applicable do you think it is, General?

WILLIAM NASH: Well, I think doctrinally it is very applicable. Now, the story of Mosul changed over time. When I was there, it was after the bombing of the U.N. headquarters. The insurgency had begun. And there was, in fact, security issues in the area.

But, frankly, the best way to defeat an insurgency is not to allow it to start. And that was the process that General Petraeus was going through.

But Colonel Macgregor's points on the challenges in Baghdad are certainly true. This is going to be much more difficult, because the insurgency has begun. The civil war is going on, and it's going to be a terribly difficult task.

MARGARET WARNER: He also mentioned that, even according to his own doctrine, he would have -- it would have required a lot more forces than he's going to have.

WILLIAM NASH: Oh, absolutely. And this is a high-risk operation. There is no doubt about that. And it is problematic whether any person, General Petraeus or anyone, could be successful or will be successful in these circumstances.

Working with Iraqi government

Maj. Gen. William Nash (Ret.)
U.S. Army
The fact that he was able to stand back and allow that political dialogue to take place in front of him and not engage in it was a sign of wisdom that will be very useful in Baghdad.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you both about the political component, because a big part of this will obviously be getting Prime Minister Maliki to commit the forces necessary and so forth. How good is he at that?

DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Well, you know, first of all, let's be frank. What is the situation that we're in today? We are a political football for the Sunni Muslims and the Shiites. We were welcome as long as we helped to establish a Shiite dictatorship.

MARGARET WARNER: But do you think he...

DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: If we don't do that now, we're going to find ourselves in conflict with the Shiites.

MARGARET WARNER: But do you think that he has the skills to do, if it can be done, to be persuasive with the Iraqi leadership to get them to do what needs to be done?

DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: Well, he's very charming, but I don't think that's going to make much difference at this point, because there are other more profound interests at stake in that country.

WILLIAM NASH: Well, I think Doug brings up the key point. You know, no matter how good he is -- and to answer your question, Margaret, he has great political skills. We saw a lot of it today: The fact that he was able to stand back and allow that political dialogue to take place in front of him and not engage in it was a sign of wisdom that will be very useful in Baghdad.

And he does know a lot of the players. He said he doesn't know Maliki, but he knows a lot of the soldiers. He comes back with a reputation, I think, mostly positive.

One of my Iraqi students at Georgetown today was going through the Web site for me looking at what the Sunni groups and the Shia groups were saying about it. Overall, they're very interested and a little bit apprehensive on what he will bring here.

But that's not to lessen the challenge. And the United States is in a strategic position that is most difficult, and no one man with a mere 21,000 more soldiers is necessarily going to make the plan a success.

MARGARET WARNER: Very quick question. He was asked repeatedly today, if you think it's not working, if you think you don't have what you need, will you have the courage or will you have the honesty to come and tell us? Do you think he will?

DOUGLAS MACGREGOR: If runs through to course, I think he will probably, once he encounters serious resistance, ask for more troops.

WILLIAM NASH: I think he'll speak up; there will be no doubt about it. He will stay focused on the mission in trying to work the problem, but he'll speak up.

MARGARET WARNER: General Nash, Colonel Macgregor, thank you.