President’s Top Advisers Meet with House and Senate About Iraq, Syria
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KWAME HOLMAN: The president’s top advisors on diplomacy, intelligence and defense went to Capitol Hill this morning to brief members of Congress on administration actions in response to developing international concerns.
Secretary of State Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and CIA Director Porter Goss appeared simultaneously before committees of the House and Senate. Testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Rice faced several questions on yesterday’s decision to recall the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, in response to the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister. Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel:
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: What is your sense of what happened? What are we doing in regard to consultation with allies? How are we trying to head off any further attacks, whatever we can find out — who was behind it, what are we doing, is this going to shape relationships now in the future differently with Syria? Obviously, the president has recalled our ambassador? Tell us what you can about that situation.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: First, to say that the most important call is for an investigation of what happened there. We don’t know what the responsibility is. Nonetheless, the Syrian presence and the Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs has, of course, created a destabilized environment in Lebanon.
And that’s why there has been a call for the Syrians to stop that interference and to remove their forces, because it is a destabilizing environment in what is a developing Democratic process in Lebanon.
LEE HOCHBERG: Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee pressed Rice on the decision to recall the ambassador.
LINCOLN CHAFEE: On the surface, it seems prior to any proof. What’s the symbolism of that action?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Given their position in Lebanon, given their interference in Lebanese affairs, given the fact that their forces are there, given the terrorists that operate in southern Lebanon with Syrian forces in close proximity to them, does put on the Syrians a special responsibility for the kind of destabilization that happened there and that this sort of thing could happen.
That’s why recalling the Syrian ambassador made sense. It also — it’s a culmination of a long series of problems with the Syrians, including ineffective or incomplete efforts to deal with the fact that Syrian territory is contributing to the insurgency in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: Questions about the Iraq insurgency were posed to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. He and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers appeared before the House Armed Services Committee. Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton:
REP. IKE SKELTON: What is our strategy for ensuring that the Iraqi government can provide for its own security, that we consolidate our political gains, that economic reconstruction steps be brought together? And what are the metrics for success? In other words, what is the strategy to win?
DONALD RUMSFELD: With respect to the Iraq situation, the answer to your question is that it will be the Iraqi people that defeat that insurgency. It will be the Iraqi people that provide for their country reconstruction. They’ve got great wealth, with water and oil. They have intelligent people, well-educated people. And they have every opportunity to make a success of it. And it will be their task to do that.
I expect to see the coalition countries begin paring down their forces as they complete their contributions. And depending on the nature of the insurgency, the Iraqi forces obviously will become increasingly capable of managing the security for the Iraqi people.
I think that you will see over the coming weeks and months a modest refocusing of U.S. efforts towards increasing the mentoring and training and assisting of the Iraqi forces as the Iraqi forces take over more and more responsibility for the security in the country.
REP. IKE SKELTON: As we all know, of course, American troops are still paying a deadly price. I hate to turn the radio on in the morning and listen to those reports. So may I ask: what is our current estimate of the size of the insurgent force, and how much uncertainty is connected with that estimate?
DONALD RUMSFELD: The intelligence community looks at that — CIA does, DIA does, others do– and they have differing assessments over — at different times. And as you know, they’re made up of former regime elements, Baathists, and they’re made up of Zarqawi-type Jihadists and terrorists.
And they also include a varying number of criminals who are paid to do these things. And it’s that aggregation that constitutes the insurgents. I am not going to give you a number for it because it’s not my business to do intelligent work.
KWAME HOLMAN: Intelligence work is the responsibility of CIA Director Porter Goss. And this morning, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Goss warned the insurgency movement in Iraq could spread throughout the region.
PORTER GOSS: Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. Jihadists. Those Jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in, and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups, networks, in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh questioned the reliability of the CIA’s intelligence.
SEN. EVAN BAYH: Have our collection capabilities improved significantly? Have our analytical capabilities improved significantly? Why should people place, you know, credibility behind what we’re saying here today, given the history with regard to WMD in Iraq?
PORTER GOSS: I think I can report back that we have more collectors, better technology being properly applied, more focus in the application, more analysts who understand the language and the pitfalls of group-think, more systems that put this together to make the information come out more timely, more flexibility in our systems to deal with problems as they pop up. And the nature of our enemy is pop-up, quite often. And a greater understanding of each other’s problems.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s hearing marked Goss’ first appearance before Congress since he was confirmed as CIA Director last fall. But as he sat with officials from other intelligence agencies, Democrat Jay Rockefeller pointed out the absence of a national intelligence director.
Last year’s intelligence reform law created that position, giving it authority over all 15 intelligence gathering agencies. Rockefeller called it unacceptable that the president had yet to fill the post. Chairman Pat Roberts expressed the hope the president would act soon, but noted the legislation gave the president until June to do so.