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Rocky Transition

June 25, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz came to Capitol Hill for a second time this week to talk about the unstable security situation in Iraq and next week’s transfer of power. He was joined by the State Department’s Richard Armitage and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Arizona’s John McCain said he was worried, citing yesterday’s deadly coordinated attacks.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: What went wrong?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: We’ve spoken to this. One, I think we underestimated the enemy and we didn’t destroy him in our initial attack, and he melted away and we’re seeing him again. That’s number one. I think number two, we didn’t reckon correctly with the extent to which Iraq had become a criminal society under the attempts to evade sanctions and everything else that had happened, particularly in the last 12 years. And number three, I think we underestimated the degree to which this enemy had a central nervous system, and I think the attacks the other day show that it does have a central nervous system.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, I may have to leave some of this to the historians, but it’s interesting that very little mistakes were made, and yet we find over a hundred people killed and wounded and coordinated attacks all over Iraq, and clearly some of this is being orchestrated out of Fallujah. As Secretary Armitage said, this is a central nervous system. But we didn’t make any mistakes.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kansas Republican Pat Roberts wanted to know exactly who was responsible for the violence.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: What level of coordination among these divergent groups are you seeing? Who are these guys now?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Look, I don’t think anyone in this administration can tell you with a great deal of accuracy who they are and how many they are. I may…

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, I have some concerns about that, because as chairman of the intelligence committee…

RICHARD ARMITAGE: …You understand what I’m saying. I said one of our mistakes was that we didn’t understand there was a central nervous system. Well, clearly there is. And how many are former regime elements and how many are Zarqawi and his evildoers, I can’t say. I don’t think any of my colleagues can say. We don’t know.

KWAME HOLMAN: Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy asked how to gauge progress in Iraq.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Are we going to know success when there are elections? Are we going to know that there’s a success when we… reconstruction… have construction? How much security is going to be success? Who is going to… how are the American people going to know when there’s success?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: The biggest problem here is that the war hasn’t ended; the enemy hasn’t given up. Part of success is going to be when that enemy is either defeated, or some of them may just decide actually, in a formal or semiformal way, to come in and join the new Iraq. I think the most important milestone here is going to be, particularly with respect to those families of servicemen and women, when the Iraqis are on the front line and the Iraqis, if casualties still have to be taken, are taking the bulk of the casualties. That will be a huge milestone.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed wondered when that time will come.

SEN. JACK REED: The strategy seems to be, let the Iraqis do it, that we have to put an Iraqi face on this, yet they don’t have the capability to do it alone. The suggestion that they can carve out pieces of the country, put their security forces in, even if we disapprove, I think is not reflective of the situation on the ground.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Senator Reed, I think the strategy is clear, which is to… not to change things overnight– because you can’t change situations like this overnight– but to build their capacity over time and as rapidly as possible. We have incredibly courageous Iraqi leaders who are determined to succeed here, who have indicated in all manner of ways that they are committed to a free Iraq, a democratic Iraq, but also understand the nature of the enemy that they’re confronting. And their own lives are on the line in doing this.

KWAME HOLMAN: Wolfowitz added that the U.S. is working on getting NATO countries to train Iraqi forces. Armed Services Chairman John Warner told the State Department’s Richard Armitage he has doubts about NATO’s capacity to help.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: How can we expect NATO to perform this mission given the current status of its inability to live up to commitments in Afghanistan? How can they take on this additional mission in Iraq?

RICAHRD ARMITAGE: They’ve taken the political step of working out of area. What they haven’t done is taken the funding step of bulking up their defense boat in such a way that allows them to have the capabilities to continually do that. Having said that, I believe that if NATO as an organization, at Istanbul or after, can take on the general mission, then this will give a lot of political cover to countries that do participate.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Thank you very much –

KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush will appeal to NATO countries for help in Iraq during meetings at a summit in Istanbul this weekend.