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Transcript: 'FNS War Council' Debates What's Next for Iraq
Written by Chris Wallace / Published June 12, 2006 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the June 11, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: With President Bush set to hold an extraordinary two-day war council at Camp David, we brought together three people who have watched events in Iraq closely. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. Congresswoman Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. And Dan Senor, who helped set up the first post-Saddam authority in Iraq.
Thank you all for coming in.
FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR DAN SENOR: Good morning, Chris.
WALLACE: Let's start with the decision to hold this unusual and highly publicized war council. Does it increase the pressure on President Bush to come out with a bold new plan for Iraq?
Speaker Gingrich, why don't you start?
FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR NEWT GINGRICH: No, I think the president's challenge is to convince the country that he has a way forward that makes sense and that's sustainable, and that's been there politically for months now.
So I think the council is an opportunity, particularly with the filling of the slots in the Iraqi government and the killing of Zarqawi— the council is an opportunity for the president to sort of reset with he's doing and then hopefully communicate it directly to the American people in a convincing way.
WALLACE: Congresswoman Harman, what is it that would say to doubters coming out of the war council, "hey, we're on a new path?"
HARMAN: Well, first of all, I doubt any Democrats will be included, so I appreciate the fact that Fox News included me to your war council.
But what would help with doubters — and there are doubters in both parties all over the country — number one, if the president decided that Rumsfeld should go, and, number two, if he announced that he is going to start now asking the generals to redeploy our troops because going forward the U.S. objectives — and we have at least three of them — can best be achieved politically, not militarily.
WALLACE: Now, when you say redeployed, meaning get them out of Iraq?
REP. JANE HARMAN, D-CALIF.: Start moving them out of Iraq, putting some in Kuwait and Jordan. I mean, we should have an over-the-horizon force. There's no question. But while we're part of the political solution, we're also part of the military problem.
And having us continue to stay there I don't think will achieve our objectives, which are, short-term, three to six months, getting Sunni buy-in — that was just discussed by General Casey, and our ambassador is doing very well with that — helping the government deliver services — three- to six-month window on that — and disarming the militias.
And again, this new democratically-elected government has to do that politically with our support.
WALLACE: Dan, we're going to get to the question of troop levels in just a second, but I want to ask you — make use of your contacts, because I know you still have good contacts, inside the White House.
What's your sense of this war council? How wide-ranging is it?
SENOR: Oh, I think they are very serious about exploring all options. I think that for the first time, there will be serious discussions about troop levels, and I know you want to get to troop levels momentarily, and also recalibrating the strategy, focusing on Baghdad — do we need to redeploy inside Baghdad, effectively turn Baghdad into one big Green Zone?
The understanding that the capital of Baghdad — it's 6 million people out of a population — about a quarter of the population. It's the financial people, the governmental capital, the media capital. If we can't do Baghdad, we cannot win Iraq. And I think there is an understanding within the war council that that needs to be the primary focus.
WALLACE: All right. Let's get to this question — and, Congresswoman Harman, let me start with you — about U.S. troop levels. There are certainly members of your party who looked at Zarqawi's death when we learned about it Thursday morning and said that means we can bring the troops home faster. I'd like you to take a look at what Congresswoman, House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi had to say. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: His death and the naming of the Iraqi defense and interior ministers should hasten the day when Iraqis take responsibility for their security and American troops can come home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Should the events of this week speed up the timetable for withdrawal?
HARMAN: Well, the Zarqawi death is a great achievement, wonderful police work. Our military and our intelligence communities worked together. The Iraqis originally tipped us off, and the event was announced by al-Maliki, which was a very good idea. So you know, kudos to all who worked on that.
It won't reduce the insurgency, I don't believe. You know, he is a charismatic leader, but nonetheless, Al Qaeda in Iraq is a small piece of the insurgency. Al Qaeda worldwide does not depend on one or two leaders. So I don't see that.
In terms of redeployment, my view about redeployment has to do with my sense of what our objectives are in Iraq going forward. I do agree with Dan that if we can't hold Baghdad, we can't hold anything. And surely with the troop strength we have as it's coming down, those troops should be deployed in Baghdad, which is the population center.
WALLACE: Let me bring in Speaker Gingrich.
I mean, if we're talking about this huge new initiative — and as I mentioned with General Casey, we've tried it before — Operation Lightning — it didn't work — to try to secure the six million people of Baghdad, do we need more troops or fewer?
GINGRICH: Well, let me establish a couple of simple principles that will probably be politically uncomfortable. First, we ought to rely on General Abizaid and General Casey, because they get up every day.
They work this problem every day. Abizaid is fluent in Arabic. Casey is now clearly the field commander working for Abizaid. And if the two of them come in and say you know, we need fewer troops, I'm for fewer troops. If the two of them come in and say you know, we need more troops, I'm for more troops.
You have a brand new Iraqi government that's finally coming together, and they ought to be part of sitting at that table. But here's the key psychological point. Iraqis are looking to decide which side is going to win.
They look at the Vietnam experience. They look at American politics. And they say OK, are we three months from the Americans cutting and running, are we a year from the Americans cutting and running, are we going to have a helicopter leaving the American embassy in Baghdad the way we did Saigon.
And any gesture by the president that suggests he's going to move one minute faster than the new Iraqi government and his own field commanders is a signal that says don't bet on the Americans and don't bet on freedom, the bad guys are going to win. I think you've got — that's very important psychologically.
WALLACE: Dan Senor, do you agree with that, that the — I mean, you've been to Iraq more times than the rest of us at this table. Do you believe that that's what the Iraqi mind set is right now?
SENOR: Yes, and actually, I would say over the last few months, particularly in the Sunni towns, the Iraqis have not been betting on us. They viewed the American military as impotent. They viewed the Iraqi government as in this constant state of formation and not terribly serious.
The last few months since the last election, you talk to the local sheiks there, you talk to a lot of the imams and the tribal leaders. They're betting on the insurgency. They say that we come into towns and then we leave. We don't hold them. And the insurgency returns. They insurgency they can bet on.
So I think the significance of the Zarqawi kill is that we sent a message to them that we actually are committed to winning and that they can bet on us. And there are a lot of fence-sitters right now, as the speaker said, who are deciding who to bet on. And I think in that regard, this is a big moment.
HARMAN: I just see this differently. I'm not talking about cutting and running. That's not at all what I'm talking about. I'm talking about how do we win. We win politically. We don't win militarily. Playing whack-a-mole in the Anbar province is not working. We kill one person, 10 arise. That's just not the strategy that can work.
And while I agree that Abizaid and Casey are admirable, I think the commander in chief, our president, and his top-level folks who are going to be in that room the next two days ought to focus on a political strategy. That's much more likely to achieve victory.
GINGRICH: But this is a core difference. If you read John Nagl's brilliant book, "Eating Soup with a Knife", which is probably the best book on counterinsurgency written by an American in modern times, the truth is in the end, two things have to happen simultaneously.
You have to have a political-economic solution where people come together and say I'm on your team and it makes sense, and you've got to be able to kill the bad guys. I mean, really bad people have to be killed.
I once talked to your current mayor of Oakland and probable future attorney general...
HARMAN: Ron Dellums?
GINGRICH: No, Jerry Brown, the current mayor — the current mayor, Jerry Brown, who said to me having dealt with more felons in his town than anybody knows about, with really hard criminals, what you need to do — and he said — is repression.
Now, when you're dealing with really dedicated terrorists who really want to kill us, the correct answer is to kill them first. That's why Zarqawi is...
HARMAN: I don't disagree with that.
GINGRICH: I don't see, though, how pulling American troops out before Abizaid and Casey say they're ready or pulling them out before the Iraqis feel secure is going to do anything except make the war worse and ultimately lead to an American defeat.
SENOR: I think if you look at two of the most successful U.S.- led operations in 2005, putting down an uprising in Sadr City and the operation in Talafar, that western Sunni town on the western side of Iraq, those involved the U.S. forces handling military roles and military, political and economics.
So we went in there. We conducted operations alongside Iraqi military units. And then we handled infrastructure reconstruction. We had close relations with the Iraqi civilians on the ground.
If we start withdrawing our troops, it not only undermines our military capacity, even in small numbers, but our capacity to handle some of these civilian and reconstruction...
HARMAN: Well, I don't think we're succeeding militarily. I think it is a huge achievement that there now is a unity government in Iraq, a democratically elected unity government, and all the cabinet positions are filled out.
I think our ambassador there is the best in class, Zal Khalilzad, and he has done an amazing job to generate Sunni buy-in, to help this government stand up. And our State Department is now involved.
But what I am saying is that continuing the same course, you know, is not getting us anywhere, and that a redeployment strategy led by the generals — I'm not talking about arm chair, you know, congress people telling us what the schedule is.
I'm talking about the generals setting the schedule that is established now — a new head of the defense department, so everybody knows we're changing strategy, a bigger investment in the political side is going to achieve U.S. objectives fastest.
WALLACE: All right.
HARMAN: And we don't have an infinite period of time here.
WALLACE: I want to give you each about 30 seconds and no more than that.
If there's one thing, starting with you, Mr. Speaker, and we'll go down the line here — if there's one thing that you could see come out of this war council when they come back from Camp David Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, what would it be?
GINGRICH: It would be a clear definition that the Iraqi government, working with the American military, has a clear strategy of imposing security and doing what it takes to begin from Baghdad working out to secure the country.
WALLACE: Congresswoman Harman?
HARMAN: That a new secretary of defense will lead a different U.S. strategy which will accomplish three or four clear objectives within the next three to six months.
SENOR: If you look at the successful operation in Talafar that I referenced, the ratio of American troops to Iraqi civilians was about 40 to one. The ratio in Baghdad today of American forces to Baghdad citizens is about 700 to one.
So I think at least there should be serious consideration about ramping up our presence in Baghdad in an effort to secure it.
WALLACE: More troops, not less.
SENOR: That's right.
WALLACE: And, Speaker Gingrich, do you think that that would sustain politically?
GINGRICH: Well, of course, it will sustain politically if the president can communicate to the country. But here's the key question, as Congresswoman Harman said. Khalilzad is as good an ambassador as we're ever going to get. Casey and Abizaid are doing a terrific job.
The three of them aren't calling for a change in strategy. The three of them are calling for effective continued implementation of a new Iraqi government.
WALLACE: And because we can never get enough of American politics, Speaker Gingrich, one last question. A few weeks ago you seemed to indicate that you probably were not going to run for president in 2008.
Then on Friday you made a speech in which you indicated that if the race is wide open in late 2007, you probably would run. So which is it?
GINGRICH: Well, what I said a couple weeks ago was that I was shifting from very unlikely to just unlikely, dropping the very, and I think I'll stick with that for the moment. But if there's a wide-open field in the fall of next year, I probably will be a candidate, to the great joy of Jane's friends, by the way, who will see a target-rich environment immediately.
WALLACE: And how do you side if it's a wide-open field?
GINGRICH: I think you look really at — wide open about ideas more than about anything else, and I think the country is ready for real change, and the country wants dramatically more leadership, I think, in terms of real change.
WALLACE: Speaker Gingrich, Congresswoman Harman, Dan Senor, I want to thank you all very much for joining our own war council.
SENOR: Always a pleasure.
Chris will sit down with Green Party Presidential Nominee Dr Jill Stein, to discuss her controversial push for a presidential election recount in several states.