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July 1, 2005

Transcript



BRIEFING AND OPINION

PAUL GIGOT: The Bush administration is engaged in a full-scale effort to build public support for President Bush's policies in Iraq. The president led the campaign with a speech to the nation on Tuesday, and what happened that same day in Iraq shows how complicated it all is.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Our strategy can be summed up this way...

PAUL GIGOT: Tuesday, June 28.

PRESIDENT BUSH: As the Iraqis stand up ...

PAUL GIGOT: The day the president addressed the nation.

PRESIDENT BUSH: ... we will stand down.

PAUL GIGOT: Here are some of the things that happened in Iraq on the day the president spoke: Iraq marked its first anniversary as a sovereign nation; an Iraqi parliament member, his son and three others were killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad; reconstruction work continued on 950 schools; south of Baghdad three Iraqis were killed and 17 were wounded in a hospital by a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman; a remote control bomb killed two and wounded six in an assassination attempt against a police chief in Kirkuk; work continued on about 100 water treatments and 140 new primary health care facilities; a car bomb killed four and wounded 33 in a market in Baghdad; 17 thousand Iraqi security force volunteers neared completion of their training; three policemen were killed and five were wounded when gunmen attacked their headquarters in Samarra; a U.S. soldier was killed by a suicide bomber near Balad; 161 thousand Iraqis went to work rebuilding schools, clinics, roads and other projects; a 20 year old U.S. army specialist was killed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb that exploded near his humvee; three Iraqi employees of an oil company were killed when a bomb went off near their car in Kirkuk; 27 thousand new businesses opened for another day of business; five people were killed and nine wounded in three car bomb explosions in Bakuba, an Iraqi news executive was killed by U.S. troops when he failed to pull over for an American convoy.

There are 80 insurgent attacks in Iraq on an average day.

PRESIDENT BUSH: They respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras.

PAUL GIGOT: Since the war began in March of 2003, nearly 1,750 U.S. troops have been killed, more than half of them since the start of Iraqi sovereignty one year ago. Another 13 thousand have been wounded.

Quagmire is synonymous with Viet Nam. The specter of another Viet Nam now influences public opinion ...

MAN: We don't have any way to get out.

PAUL GIGOT: ... and encouraged the president to speak out this week.

PRESIDENT BUSH: They are trying to shake our will in Iraq.

PAUL GIGOT: Polls by the major news organizations had all indicated a loss of public support for the Iraq war, with numbers beginning to approach the negatives for Viet Nam in the early 1970s. There is disagreement in both parties about the strength of the insurgency.

MAN: I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgencies.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years.

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY: You know, we are in serious trouble in Iraq and this war has been consistently and grossly mismanaged, and we are now in a seemingly intractable quagmire.

MAN: We have an insurgency with no vision, no base, limited popular support, an elected government committed to Iraqis, to the democratic process, and you have Iraqi security forces that are fighting and dying for their country ever day. Senator, that is not a quagmire.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible. So do I. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.

PAUL GIGOT: With me to discuss how we're doing in Iraq are Rob Pollock, a senior writer for the editorial page who has made several trips to Iraq, and Fouad Ajami, the director of the Middle East Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University. He is a contributor to the editorial pages of the WALL STREET JOURNAL and recently returned from another trip to Iraq and the Middle East. Welcome, Fouad, great to have you here again. You heard the back and forth, the good news with the bad. How do you see it?

FOUAD AJAMI: Well Paul, I think your own narrative at the top in fact summed up the story, because there is light in Iraq and there is darkness. There is the steady bleeding that we see, there are the car bombs, and we know that the month of May was a particularly vicious month -- 150 car bombs, seven American soldiers were killed, 700 Iraqis were killed -- so it was inevitable that we would come to this somber moment and this somber discussion of Iraq.

But we should keep our eye on what's happening in Iraq, and that really is the positive things that you see: the building of a new political system, the constitutional drafting committee. I spent a day at the Iraqi national assembly in the Parliament, and I wrote it in your column -- nothing was nobler than that. So I think you see both. You see the light in Iraq, and you see the darkness in Iraq. And I think if we consider the broader Middle East as a whole and what Iraq is giving us in Syria and Lebanon and Egypt and Kuwait, I think the Iraq war will redeem itself. But the difficulties are there.

PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, I want to get to that point a little later on the broader Middle East. But when it comes to the security, Rob, security is particularly bad in Baghdad and then in the Sunni triangle. But in 14 of the 18 provinces, in the south and up in the Kurdish north, they say that the attacks are now limited to three a day, according to General Casey. So it's a mixed picture even with the security situation, is it not?

ROB POLLOCK: I wouldn't say that's a mixed picture. That's actually a pretty good picture. And Casey's testimony to the Senate was really interesting. He cited polls showing that 80 percent of Iraqis -- 80 percent -- say they're eager to vote in the referendum on the Constitution, and also to vote in the elections following that. He also pointed out, he said look, even by the worst estimates, the worst estimates, the insurgency is less than one-tenth of one percent of the Iraqi population.

DAN HENNINGER: And considering the nature of the insurgency, their weapon is car bombs, is a discreet, identifiable weapon. All of this violence is being set off by car bombs. Secondly, the insurgency is not spreading, enlarging in the population. They are not drawing larger numbers of people, as perhaps happened in Viet Nam. It's a discrete, identifiable group of people who are very intractable and hard to find, but it is not expanding.

PAUL GIGOT: If you look at the insurgencies in history that have succeeded -- Fidel Castro in Cuba, or Mao Tse-tung in China against Chiang Kai-shek, or the Algerians, for example -- they did have some really large base of popular support. That doesn't seem, Fouad, at least from our vantage point, to be happening in this case. How do you see it?

FOUAD AJAMI: Well I think the insurgency does have a swamp, if you will. And the swamp is in fact, it remains the Sunni triangle and major elements of the Sunni Arab population. But even they are coming around. They have come to accept that they can't wage indefinite war.

I spent some time with members of the Association of Muslim Scholars. I mean, that's the most militant of the Sunni Arab movement.

PAUL GIGOT: Who boycotted the election.

FOUAD AJAMI: Exactly. And now they will tell you, not so much for public attribution -- they don't want to be named -- that it was a bad idea that they boycotted the elections. So I think even they are coming around to this recognition that car bombs and truculence are not going to defeat this new order of things.

PAUL GIGOT: On the political side, do you think they're going to be able to meet the -- we've got some deadlines here. The August 15th Constitution has to be written, and then we have an October referendum followed by a December election for a new, permanent government. Are they going to be able to meet that six, seven week deadline?

FOUAD AJAMI: Well, I have tremendous patience with this. As you know, I am a professor. Late papers are things I can live with. I can tell you one thing. I know and like very much the chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Committee, Sheik Humum Hamudi, who is a Shiite cleric and one of the most enlightened people that you could meet in Iraq. They are committed to writing a good Constitution, and they are committed to bringing the Sunni Arabs into the process. No one wants to exclude them. They held out an olive branch for them. The Constitutional Drafting Committee will be done, and whether it's going to be done by August or not, I think that's a different issue.

PAUL GIGOT: Rob?

ROB POLLOCK: If you want to see proof of the fact that the so-called Shiite parties are committed to bringing the Sunnis in, just look at who was actually on the Shiite list that won the election, and they had I think something like one-sixth or one-seventh of the candidates on that list -- the so-called Shiite list -- were Sunnis. So I think absolutely, we've got a very good, very enlightened group of people now running the country in Iraq, and there's no reason not to be optimistic about progress on the political front.

PAUL GIGOT: On the security side, I want to raise one issue and that is the issue of the number of troops. John McCain has said we need more of them. John McCain wants this to succeed very badly, so he wants to help. But let's listen to the president as he addresses the issue of whether or not we have enough troops in Iraq.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Some Americans asked me if completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are in fact working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.

PAUL GIGOT: Dan, in contradiction to the argument for more troops, some people -- Michael Hanlon of the Brookings Institution -- says we've got to draw them down because we need to show Iraqis they can do it on their own. What do you make of this debate?

DAN HENNINGER: They do have to do it on their own. And secondly, our troops over there are fighting. They're a fighting force, and they commit violence against the Iraqi people in the population. And there is a sense in which that presence is indeed resented by some Iraqis. To increase the number, I think, mainly increases targets for the Iraqis and arguably increases the resentment. I don't know whether it would be your impression, Fouad.

FOUAD AJAMI: Well, I don't know if the Commander-in-Chief says to the commanders, you have to say that there are enough troops, and we understand -- we don't know whether there are enough troops or not. But I want to read you something. Now this is the mantra of General Patreas, Lieutenant General Patreas, who is training the Iraqi forces. He's been away from home now, this is his third year in Iraq, and he is an amazing officer. He loves all PowerPoint presentations. All our ministry loves PowerPoint. And here's one PowerPoint, one slide, which has a quotation from T.E. Lawrence, which General Patreas shows. This says, "Don't try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it horribly than you do it perfectly. It's their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them." That's his slogan. That's his mantra, and that's ours. Eventually, unlike what Senator Biden will say, we should talk to the French, talk to the Egyptians. Forget it. We have to train the Iraqis. It's their war, it's their country, and they will come to it.

PAUL GIGOT: You also visited several other countries on your trip, Fouad. What do you see as the impact through the region of the vote in January in Iraq, and the insurgent struggle now?

FOUAD AJAMI: Well, I didn't endear myself in the professoriate, but I think a piece [UNINTEL] called Bush Country. Naming the release as Bush Country is very interesting, but I think there is amazing, amazing changes, underpinned by the war in Iraq and paid for by our sacrifice in Iraq. We can't ...

PAUL GIGOT: Can't bring up those.

FOUAD AJAMI: Exactly.

PAUL GIGOT: They're very real and painful.

FOUAD AJAMI: Absolutely, absolutely. Our losses are concrete, our gains are abstract and hard to pin down. And that's why the President has such a difficult time telling us what we're doing in the Middle East. Look at Kuwait. For two decades they have tried to give women the right to vote. They gave it to them. Now, look at Egypt, the challenge to Hosni Mubarak. Look at the creation of a democratic country in Lebanon. Look at even that fragile Damascus spring, that there are now Syrian intellectuals and activists, Kurds and Arabs alike, who are beginning to challenge the regime. None of this would have happened without these gains in Iraq.

PAUL GIGOT: That's fascinating. Dan, all of that true, at least from my vantage point, yet in Washington there's been so much pessimism about Iraq. Did the president rally support, do you think, from the country with his speech? Begin to turn the corner a bit in terms of public support?

DAN HENNINGER: Rally might be too strong a word. I think it helped. I think they should do much more of that. They've been very dismissive of the home front.

PAUL GIGOT: You mean the administration?

DAN HENNINGER: The administration. And General John Abizaid, head of the central command, was in Washington last week, and he said something that I really think needs to be paid attention to. He said he has never seen confidence around the Beltway lower. And when he goes to Afghanistan or around the Middle East, they all say, are you going to stay with this? And General Abizaid said this is a question about which we should have a frank conversation in Washington. Are we going to stay with it? Because if we're not, let's say so, so we don't commit ourselves under those circumstances.

PAUL GIGOT: Rob?

ROB POLLOCK: I agree with Dan. Good speech. I hope the next time he does it, he does it in Baghdad to the Iraqi parliament.

PAUL GIGOT: Fouad?

FOUAD AJAMI: Nothing is better than something that Bernard Lewis recently said, and he said he's cautiously optimistic about the Middle East. The optimism is about the Middle East, the caution is about Washington. And that really is, Dan is right, it's about being able to withstand the fury of the insurgency, and to be able to tell Americans what is really being done. It's hard, but we have to do it.

PAUL GIGOT: You have to distinguish, I think, between opponents, Democrats in Washington, because you have some Democrats -- and I would call these frankly the quagmire Democrats, Ted Kennedy, some others. They want to pull out right away, or they want to put an immediate timetable to pull out. And they really do, I think, having grown up with Viet Nam, they think this is a replay. And they don't want us to be over there. And then you have others -- Senator Biden and certainly Joe Lieberman, who has been spectacular throughout this, who really do understand the stakes in Iraq. They want the administration to succeed. And some of them are more critical than others, but I think the president's got to find a way to deal with them and bring them on board some way to make this a bipartisan policy going ahead.

How long, Dan, do you think the president has here to be able to convince the American people that we're on the path to success in Iraq, before we really start to look at erosion of public support?

DAN HENNINGER: I would say a year. I would say that he has got to -- and I think it depends a lot on the president interacting with the American people much more than he has on this subject, informing them, giving them details about the progress. Otherwise, you default to the television images.

PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, I think he made a mistake thinking that, you know what, we can talk about Social Security for four or five months. Iraq is the central drama of this administration, and of his presidency. Next subject.