Iraqi Government Criticized, Republican Senator Calls for Troop Withdrawal
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JIM LEHRER: But for now, we’re going to go to the analysis of Shields and Lowry, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, National Review editor Rich Lowry. David Brooks is off tonight.
I will not ask you to ask each other side’s on this, but we are — we’re sorry about the technical problems. We’ll come back to that.
Mark, how important a development was Senator Warner’s 5,000 troops out by Christmas announcement yesterday?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Perhaps less important for what was said than for who said it. I mean, John Warner, his resume is history. It’s a man who was an enlisted man in World War II in the Navy, an officer in the Marine Corps in Korea, a secretary of the Navy, most recent chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a strong supporter of the president.
And his, while not a dramatic challenge, or I should say a threat to the White House, it was a direct challenge to the White House, and I think, in that sense, it cannot be dismissed lightly.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree it was a direct challenge, Rich?
RICH LOWRY, Editor, National Review: Well, I’m going to dismiss it lightly, Mark. I hope you’re not offended. I don’t think it was particularly important. One, he’s already shown he’s uncomfortable with the president’s direction on this war. He cosponsored legislation with Dick Lugar back just in June or July, you know, advocating a change of course.
And I think the real key thing here, the thing to keep — the ball that we need to keep our eyes on is the only thing that’s going to force President Bush’s hand is if Congress passes a law mandating a date for withdrawal or cuts off funds. And that’s not going to happen unless 10 or 12 Republican senators go there.
And what was most significant about Warner’s comments to me, he didn’t go there. And earlier this year, it seemed as though it was quite possible a bunch of Republicans would be going there. And if you looked at Warner’s interview on your air last night with Judy Woodruff, he kept on saying, “It’s up to the president in consultation with the generals.” And as long as that’s what Republican moderates who are wavering on the war are saying, President Bush is going to be able to continue to wage the war the way he likes.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: What John Warner is talking about — which is understood by virtually everybody in the military and who cares about the military — and that is that, by early 2008, we are going to be forced to withdraw from Iraq, cut back our troops, for the two following reasons: the strain on the Army itself, which is reaching the breaking point, acknowledged by just about everybody in a position of authority; and, secondly, the troop rotation schedule that the Army itself has laid down.
We don’t have the troops to stay there, so we’re going to withdraw. And the question — Rick puts his finger right on it. I think this whole debate, Jim, is a question of who passes legislation or if there is legislation passed.
This is a fight and a debate, and it’s going to be for the next three months between the two parties, over who lost Iraq. That’s what the debate is. And the predicate being laid down by the president and his supporters is, “We were just on the cusp of victory. We were just there.”
And nobody I know in a rational condition believes the United States is going to have any kind of a military victory in Iraq. There’s not going to be any surrender, capitulation by the other side saying, “You were right, we were wrong. You were strong, we were weak.” That’s not going to happen.
And so the idea is going to be, “We were on the cusp of victory and the rug was pulled out from under us by these willy-nilly, weak-kneed, nervous Nellies back home, namely Democrats, who let down our troops.”
Political and military benchmarks
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it that way?
RICH LOWRY: No, I don't. I think the president's very sincere in trying to achieve a kind of success. It's obviously going to be a stripped-down success if he does succeed in Iraq, but that's what it looked like the debate was going to be six months ago.
And the fact is that the surge has achieved military success on the ground, and I would also argue an important element of political success, because we haven't seen this turnaround in Anbar province that even Hillary Clinton and others are acknowledging because we killed all our enemies. A significant element of the insurgency came our way. That is a political development.
And you've seen in Anbar and other parts of Iraq the political and military elements interacting. It's not purely a military solution; it's not purely a political solution. It has to be both.
And why, when we're seeing progress -- I can understand a counsel of despair if we sent 30,000 more troops there for a new strategy and nothing happened. Well, the fact that we have seen progress, even the NIE says we've seen progress, and if we went to the Democrats' strategy of pulling down, all of that military progress would go away.
JIM LEHRER: The NIE is the national intelligence estimate, but it also said that there had been military success, but very little political success. Don't you have to have both in order for this to be a success?
RICH LOWRY: You do have to have both, but let's remember, when we talk about political success in those terms, we're talking about these benchmarks that President Bush endorsed in January, legislation to be passed at the federal level on Iraq.
And why was that legislation so important? It was oil laws and other things. Because we care so much about the distribution of oil revenues in Iraq? No. Because the theory was, if you pass that kind of legislation, it would promote reconciliation between the sects, and you would pull the Sunnis away from the insurgency. That was the ultimate political effect you were hoping to have.
Against all expectations and predictions, you didn't pass legislation, but you've had the Sunnis pull away from the insurgency anyway. That is a major development and that Democrats are having to acknowledge it is a big change in this debate.