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September 17, 2004

Transcript

PAUL GIGOT: Other than hurricanes, we think the big story of the week was Iraq, where every act of violence had tragic results on the ground, and potential impact on our presidential election. The map of Iraq this week was dotted with places where the insurgents were on the attack, and American officials conceded there are areas of the country where neither American forces nor Iraqi security forces were in control, or likely to be very soon.

FOOTAGE OF IRAQ: On one day alone, at least 47 people were killed in Baghdad when a bomb ripped through a crowd of Iraqi men lined up to join the police force. In another attack on the same day, gunmen killed 11 police officers and a civilian when they opened fire on a van carrying the officers home from work. And a bomb blew up an oil pipeline in the north, causing widespread blackouts.

PAUL GIGOT: In response to the growing violence, the Bush administration formally announced that it was shifting about three billion dollars from reconstruction to programs aimed at improving security and providing jobs. Dan, on the face of it, not a good week for American policy in Iraq. What explains this spike in violence, and does this mean that we're losing the battle with the insurgency?

DAN HENNINGER: Well, I think one thing to keep in mind is, just looking at that tape, every single person wounded there was an Iraqi citizen, not an American soldier. What is essentially going on here, it's not really a widespread popular uprising against the American presence, it's an organized resistance led by a Jordanian terrorist named Al Zarkawi, who had collected all of the Saddam remnants and pointed them at the Iraqi people. And what they have proven they can do is create car bombs, create assassins, and create beheadings. That is in no way the same thing as suggesting that the people of Iraq, all 25 million of them, are opposing the American presence.

What the people of Iraq, by and large, have been attempting to do is recreate their society. And absent these sorts of terrorist attacks, that is precisely what they'd be doing.

PAUL GIGOT: Susan how do you see it?

SUSAN LEE: Yeah, I slightly disagree. I think that there's an escalation of violence and increasing coordination among these groups. It's time to say, mistakes were made. And to me one of the big mistakes was Fallujah. And I don't think it was a strategic mistake, that the United States misunderstood what would happen if they permitted, if we permitted terrorists a safe haven. I think it was a tactical mistake of optimism. Remember the Fallujah brigade? One thousand former Iraqi army people who were supposed to, when we pulled out, who were supposed to control and patrol the city? They either disappeared or they joined the insurgents.

PAUL GIGOT: You're talking about these no-go zones west of Baghdad?

SUSAN LEE: Right.

PAUL GIGOT: I think even the administration is coming to the view that that was a mistake. Lieutenant General, Marine General James Conway, who had been running that operation and is now leaving Iraq, was very critical this week of the Bush administration for starting and stopping. He said when you get an operation like that, you send the Marines in. You don't stop them. And I think that that was a strategic mistake. And they're beginning to fight back, are they not? In Tallafar there was that operation this week that seems to be a military success. There's some movement in Samara. But Dan, isn't Susan right that this is the big strategic problem in Iraq right now, that part of west of Baghdad -- the Baathists remnants?





DAN HENNINGER: Yeah, that's exactly it. I mean, these are the people who were left over after the quick victory. And then now they've organized themselves, and some think that this may have been the plan all along. But let's bear in mind that in those instances where they choose to stand and have a pitched battle, like the Sadr militia did, in Najaf they have lost. I mean, that was a big story. That fighting ended on August 28th, three weeks ago. Do you know what's been going on on the job since? The U.S. military there has been rebuilding the schools that are scheduled to open in Iraq on October 1st. There was just this Tuesday, that big bomb that went out that knocked out the power grid in Iraq. The whole place went black Tuesday morning. By Tuesday evening 85 percent of the electricity was back up and running.

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ: They're trying, but of course that's exactly what we don't hear. I know it's an old, old story. But the media are simply not focusing on things like this. If you took every war that we've been involved in and created this intense media scrutiny on every catastrophe, it would all seem like this. The best laid plans. You talk about the lack of planning in Iraq. Name a war in which planning has not gone awry. I can read you a long list of glorious battles, which produce these catastrophes. So I think that you have to say the reporting is not even.

DAN HENNINGER: Well, I think Dorothy's put her finger on something, which is that in this day and age you have to ask yourself whether it's possible any more to conduct a war like this when it is inevitable that those sorts of images are going to be on television screens all over the world every night. In other words, we see that. We don't see the larger context of what's going on in the entire country of Iraq.

PAUL GIGOT: Isn't it also true that the terrorists can tell the American calendar, that is, the American political calendar, as well as we can. And they know that they have a window here between now and November 2nd where they want to ratchet up the violence as much as possible in order to have an impact on the presidential race.

SUSAN LEE: Yes, and I think even a little more cynical than that, which is, probably the Bush administration doesn't want to see a lot of American casualties in the run-up to the election. Now, if you were a terrorist, right, you would say, all right, they don't want a lot of casualties. All right, open field. Now the terrorists have a window till November 2nd to do as much damage as they possibly can without fear of a very aggressive American counter-attack.

DAN HENNINGER: It's a little hard for me to see that we're going to simply manipulate what's going on there purely for the purposes of the election on November 2nd. Too much has been committed. And I think the American people are either against this thing or they're going to continue to support it. And at this point, at least the people I talk to understand that we've made a commitment to the people of Iraq, and that we have to see it through and finish the job. And if it means engaging in an assault that starts before the election, so be it.



PAUL GIGOT: Susan, let's turn it to politics. John Kerry gave a speech on Thursday in Las Vegas to the National Guard Association where he came down as clearly as I've heard him against the Iraq war and against the way it's being prosecuted. Do you think this is going to be the campaign between now and November?

SUSAN LEE: Well, I don't think he came out against the war. I think he came out against Bush's management of the war. And I think he was really strong, and very powerful.

PAUL GIGOT: Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.

SUSAN LEE: Well, he said the war's okay, but Bush is incompetent. Now what he's doing, essentially I think the Kerry camp has ceded the leadership questions to Bush. Bush dominates that. Bush is a strong leader. Kerry won't be. But Kerry added to the mix is competency. So he's in a sense saying, let's have an incompetent strong leader, or a competent weak one.

PAUL GIGOT: Which candidate is going to have the advantage on Iraq, do you think, Bush or Kerry?

DAN HENNINGER: I think it'll be Bush, because he's got the momentum of the support for the war behind him. And I think it will carry through.

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ: I think it will be Bush because he has the clear leadership capacity.

PAUL GIGOT: All right, we'll leave it --

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ: We know what side he's on. It's on the side of prosecuting the war.