Former Defense Officials Analyze the First Presidential Debate
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
RAY SUAREZ: And we start with two excerpts. First, President Bush responding to Jim Lehrer’s question: “What criteria would you use to determine when to start bringing U.S. troops home?”
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me first tell you that the best way to… for Iraq to be safe and secure is for Iraqi citizens to be trained to do the job. And that’s what we’re doing. We’ve got 100,000 trained now, 125,000 by the end of this year, over 200,000 by the end of next year. That is the best way.
We’ll never succeed in Iraq if the Iraqi citizens do not want to take matters in their own hands to protect themselves. I believe they want to. Prime Minister Allawi believes they want to.
And so the answer to your question is when our generals on the ground and Ambassador Negroponte tells me that Iraq is ready to defend herself from these terrorists, that elections will have been held by then, that there’s stability and that they’re on their way to, you know, a nation of… that’s free, that’s when. And I hope it’s as soon as possible.
But I know putting artificial deadlines won’t work. My opponent at one time said “well, get me elected, I’ll have them out of there in six months.” That’s… you can’t do that and expect to win the war on terror.
RAY SUAREZ: Later, Jim asked Sen. Kerry for specifics on a scenario or a timeline for ending major U.S. military involvement in Iraq.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I didn’t say I would bring troops out in six months, I said “if we do the things that I’ve set out and we are successful, we could begin to draw the troops down in six months.”
What I want to do is change the dynamics on the ground. And you have to do that by beginning to not back off of Fallujahs and other places and send the wrong message to the terrorists. You have to close the borders. You’ve got to show you’re serious in that regard. But you’ve also got to show that you’re prepared to bring the rest of the world in and share the stakes.
I will make a flat statement. The United States of America has no long-term designs on staying in Iraq. And our goal, in my administration, would be to get all of the troops out of there with the minimal amount you need for training and logistics as we do in some other countries in the world after a war to be able to sustain the peace. But that’s how we’re going to win the peace, by rapidly training the Iraqis themselves.
Even the administration has admitted they haven’t done the training, because they came back to Congress a few weeks ago and asked for a complete reprogramming of the money.
RAY SUAREZ: Two views now on how the candidates advanced their ideas on Iraq last night. P.J. Crowley is director of national defense and homeland security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
He was the director of public affairs for the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.
And Kenneth Adelman served in the Pentagon and State Department during the Ford and Reagan administrations. He is now a member of the defense policy board that advises Secretary Rumsfeld.
And P.J. Crowley, the hit on Kerry has been variously that he has no plan or that his plan is not clear and understandable.
Did he help clear that up last night, help himself by clearing it up last night?
P. J. CROWLEY: Certainly. He drew clear distinctions between himself and the president, both in terms of the status of where we are in Iraq right now and where we go. In particular, both the president and Sen. Kerry talked about the critical importance of training Iraqi security forces.
I think Sen. Kerry drew a clear distinction; under the president’s plan you have growing numbers of forces and more or less coming together into a meaningful security force in the early to mid-2006 time frame. Sen. Kerry clearly wants to bring international support, you know, a new dynamic on the ground, as he said.
And in doing so you could accelerate the training programs, expand them with international cooperation. That way you could advance the time where Iraq is able to secure itself.
And at that point you both are able to make clearer progress on reconstruction and also look at the possibility then of starting to draw down the U.S. force presence.
RAY SUAREZ: Ken Adelman, did you leave the television last night feeling like you had a better handle on John Kerry’s plan?
KENNETH ADELMAN: Yes. I thought it was… he delivered it very nicely. He did a nice job. He was succinct in everything.
I thought the whole debate was good. I thought it elevated the whole tenor of the campaign in a very effective way.
RAY SUAREZ: And what about the Kerry repast-that the Bush plan could be summed up in four words “more of the same.” Did the senator make that charge stick?
KENNETH ADELMAN: I thought Kerry was — had a lot of facts and figures, Bush had few facts and figures, Bush had a clear message of stay the course and I’m tough and I’m not going to take it and I don’t need to deal with international summits and all that.
But I found lacking in both of them, to tell you the truth, some kind of overall concept to take away that you’re going to remember in a few days. I think it could have been with Sen. Kerry that there was a question of confidence, especially after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
There is a whole disappointment in the accuracy of the predictions — you know, overall concept that he comes back to and back to and back to. Likewise, with President Bush, there was no overall takeaway concept. He said a lot of things, he said it’s hard work and you have to stay the course and all that, but, you know, they both missed opportunities.
I think, frankly, they were both too cautious, and they have all these advisors and they have 32 rules or something. Jim Lehrer, of course, did a great job.
But it showed that the way he conducted it that you should let the debates rip; that they should ask each other questions, that they’re big boys and they can conduct themselves without 32 pages of rules.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, let’s take that note that they were both too cautious, that Ken Adelman suggests. Last night Jim Lehrer, P.J. Crowley, tried to challenge John Kerry with his statement of 1971 “How do you ask a man to be the last person to die for a mistake” and tried to back him up against that rhetoric in his view of Iraq and he wouldn’t take the bait. A note of caution? Because that left an opening for the president.
P. J. CROWLEY: Well, I thought that within the tight constraints of the debate itself, there were real differences that came forward. I think clearly these are two men that look at the world dramatically differently — not only in terms of drawing international support back into Iraq but in the larger context there was a clear difference of a view on treaties, in particular the exchange regarding the international criminal court.
The president said, you know, this doesn’t make sense. John Kerry has a much different view about the U.S. role in the world. Likewise, going back to the front end, it’s quite interesting. John Kerry spent the evening trying to draw a clear line between Saddam Hussein on the one hand and Osama bin Laden on the other hand, even chiding the president “remember it was bin Laden that attacked us on Sept. 11.”
The president drew an even further line last night in his answer on Russia by saying that this is a much more amorphous threat. It’s not just Saddam, it’s not just bin Laden but it’s Chechen rebels.
So, in a sense, part of this question over what is the central front in the war on terrorism, is it Iraq, is it Afghanistan, and whether Iraq is diversion, you know, stems primarily from a different point of view as to, you know, what we are confronting in terms of this broader war on terrorism. It actually came through last night despite some of the constraints.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ken Adelman since the NYU speech, the Bush campaign has been saying, “well, there’s nothing new there, that’s stuff we’re all doing.” Last night the president said that John Kerry’s plan wouldn’t work. Well, if it’s the same plan, how could it be a plan that won’t work?
KENNETH ADELMAN: I think it is easier for Kerry to attack Bush because Bush had the four years in office and as an opponent he should have just gone after him more, if you ask me.
But I’m glad he didn’t, to tell you the truth. But the fact is that President Bush has accused Kerry of flip-flopping, that’s getting a little tiring by now. But I thought there was a very good point that was raised and that is that Kerry says going into Iraq was a colossal mistake, that going into Iraq was, you know, a diversion from the war on terrorism, all of which you can make a logical point for.
I don’t agree with but you make a logical argument for. But then he says “so let’s internationalize it.” Let’s say that the water is lousy, it’s poisonous, it’s muddy but jump in for everybody in, the allies around the world.
Well, you know, if you say it’s a lousy… the water is lousy, not many people are going to jump in. That’s a good contradiction and there’s no way to really answer that charge.
RAY SUAREZ: And P.J. Crowley, the president tried to make that point in response to Senator Kerry’s ideas about internationalizing the conflict. He was unclear how he was going to do it.
P. J. CROWLEY: Sure. There’s no silver bullet here. Clearly the best opportunity to internationalize Iraq was when we entered 18 months ago. We didn’t do it that way.
I think what the point that John Kerry is making is the world is not going to follow George Bush back into Iraq. And I think, you know, John Kerry is saying that with a new administration, there’s an opportunity to come back to the table and see if you can’t… not necessarily get troops for combat operations, I think that’s beyond the pale. I think that Kerry was very careful about saying you could have additional training opportunities.
You could have regional countries that are able to secure borders so at least you can seal the borders and then be able to deal with the insurgency as you have it. Right now we’re 18 months into this, we have insurgency; we haven’t broken the back of the insurgency.
As the president admitted last night, we’re actually still fighting these guys. It’s far from mission accomplished. It’s far from the cakewalk that some people said. So, you know, is that a guarantee that you can effectively internationalize this? No.
But I think as both candidates mentioned, the fact that NATO now has a toe hold and has agreed to do training in Iraq gives you something that you can possibly expand under a different set of circumstances.
RAY SUAREZ: Ken Adelman. Quickly. Go ahead.
KENNETH ADELMAN: But you just can’t have it both ways and say, you know, it was a colossal mistake, we shouldn’t have done it, it’s a diversion on the war on terrorism and therefore everybody should now join us. Plus, the idea of throwing a summit at the problem is kind of ridiculous.
P. J. CROWLEY: By the same token…
KENNETH ADELMAN: We’ve all had 50 summits a year and we know what summits do. Not much.
P. J. CROWLEY: But the key here is to accelerate this training program. They both agree on the exit strategy -
KENNETH ADELMAN: Right.
P. J. CROWLEY: They both agree on where we have to go. The faster you can get there, it is going to be more effective for Iraq in the long term.
It adds to the legitimacy that allows you to get back to reconstruction quickly. Right now reconstruction is dead. And that is an essential element to creating conditions that turns the corner in Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: P.J. Crowley, Ken Adelman –
KENNETH ADELMAN: Yeah. But there’s no evidence that….
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you both.
KENNETH ADELMAN: ….Kerry can do that quicker.