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Defense Secretary Gates Describes Plan for Iraq

The Iraq war has dominated headlines with a report from Gen. David Petraeus and President Bush's announcement of a phased troop withdrawal. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates talks about long-term plans for the country.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And now, how it all looks to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. I talked with him this afternoon at the Pentagon.

    Mr. Secretary, welcome.

    ROBERT GATES, Secretary of Defense: Thank you.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Last night, House Speaker Pelosi said, quote, "The president outlined a status quo strategy that leaves at least 130,000 American soldiers in harm's way as part of a 10-year occupation of Iraq," end quote. Has she got it right?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    No, actually, I don't think she does. The reality is that what we're looking at is a conditions-based drawdown to a long-term presence that would be a stabilizing force in Iraq and in the region. It would be a fraction of the force that we have there right now.

    We are looking at negotiating a long-term strategic agreement with the Iraqis, but the number of troops that would be there would be considerably smaller, have a completely different mission, and, as I say, be a very small fraction of what we have there today.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But how do we get from here to there? The first step is just reducing to 130,000 troops, which was the pre-surge strength, correct?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    That's correct. Well, first of all, as General Petraeus indicated on his testimony on Monday, he expects to continue the drawdowns after July, assuming conditions permit. And all of these decisions have been based on an analysis of what has taken place just over the last three months, in terms of the full surge, as well as the political developments, particularly in Anbar and elsewhere.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So there is a — this December date that the president mentioned in his speech for a transition into a new phase, what is that? What exactly is he talking about?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    Well, it's the beginning of a transition. And right now we're in the lead because of the heavy combat, particularly in the Baghdad area. We will then go to much more of a partnering role, which puts us either just behind them or in a support role, and then what we call an overwatch role, where we'll be over the horizon, if you will, and they will be basically operating on their own.

    And I think what perhaps hasn't come through is that this will happen pretty much on a province-by-province basis. It's not going to happen in the whole country at one time. For example, there are now several provinces where there are no coalition forces at all.

    And so we — for example, Anbar is in really good shape, and that's why we won't need to replace the 2,200 Marines that are coming out this next week. So it will be a bit of a patchwork quilt in the country as the circumstances dictate in each of the provinces, in each of the areas.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But the circumstances you're talking about, you and the president and General Petraeus and others are talking about, you're talking about the military circumstances, right, not the political circumstances within the government, the Iraqi government?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    Well, it's — you know, there are the activities taking place in the provinces. And interestingly enough, where you have — often where you have the absence of coalition forces, you have a strong provincial government, you have local police, and so on.

    Obviously, economic development continues to be an important aspect of this. And when it comes to reconciliation, if you will, you really have what the president has been talking about in terms of the top-down, which is this major legislation that everybody has been paying attention to, including us, but also the developments in the local areas and where — for example, in the absence of a hydrocarbon law, the government is still distributing hydrocarbon or oil revenues to the provinces.

    So you have things happening at the local level, and we just have to keep pushing at the national level to try and get those two to come together.

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