Transcript: Gen. Peter Pace on 'FNS'

Written by Chris Wallace / Published February 01, 2005 / Fox News Sunday

Following is a transcribed excerpt from "FOX News Sunday," Dec. 25, 2005, as recorded by The Federal Document Clearing House.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: On this Christmas morning, we are mindful of the thousands of young men and women in uniform who are serving around the world today. To talk about that and the war in Iraq, we welcome for his first Sunday show interview General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And, General, merry Christmas and welcome to "Fox News Sunday".

GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thanks very much, Chris. Merry Christmas to you.

WALLACE: Thank you, sir. How hard is it for our troops to wake up in Iraq on this Christmas morning far from home, far from family, and what is the military doing to try to make it seem a little bit more like Christmas?

PACE: Well, I think any time you wake up away from home on a special holiday, it's difficult. But this year especially, our troops have so much to be proud of. You take a look at what they've done: Tsunami [1] relief, relief in Katrina here in the United States, relief in Pakistan, second election for a parliament in Afghanistan, two elections and a referendum on a constitution in Iraq.

When they wake up this Christmas day, and they're away from home, they also can take enormous pride in being part of a really historical year.

WALLACE: Speaking of morale, I was interested to read this week that contrary or in addition, perhaps, to all the news coverage we read about problems with recruiting levels in the military, that, in fact, that you're doing remarkably well, in fact, exceeding expectations on retention levels, that soldiers in the war theater in Iraq are re-upping to serve another tour of duty.

PACE: It shows their pride in what they're doing and their understanding of how important it is. It is absolutely true that for those units that have served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan [2], that their re-enlistment rates are the highest of all of our armed forces.

WALLACE: How do you explain it?

PACE: Because I think PFC Pace understands the value of what he or she is doing and they know that what they're doing is appreciated by the Iraqis and the Afghan people.

They know that the support here at home for the armed forces is very, very solid and very strong. They're proud of what they're doing and they want to continue to do it.

WALLACE: Let's talk about what you see happening in the war in Iraq [3] over the course of 2006. The president says that as Iraqi forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand down.

How will we, the average American, see that? Will we be turning over battle space to Iraqi forces over the course of the next year? Will we move out of certain cities or certain provinces and turn them over to the Iraqis? How will we see it?

PACE: You'll see it in a couple of ways. Number one, you'll see it in announcements about the numbers of troops that we have and the reasons for being able to adjust those levels.

You'll see it by virtue of turning over more and more territory on the ground so that, in reality, you'll be able to have a map of Iraq. You'll be able to have two colors on it, one that's currently controlled mostly by coalition forces, and the other that's currently controlled mostly by Iraqi forces, and watch the colors change.

WALLACE: And can you give us — obviously, I understand it's condition-based, but can you give us any sense of how that map will change? Will we see cities? Will we see provinces? How are the colors going to change between what's being primarily controlled by Iraqi security and what's being controlled by American forces?

PACE: I think probably the easiest way for us to do it is to go battalion by battalion, individual units that are about 500 troops to 700 troops, and the amount of territory that those battalions control, so that as Iraqi battalions stand up and take over their own territory, that sector will change color.

Got to be careful there, because in a city, a battalion is capable of covering much less territory than out in the open desert, so a battalion-sized change won't be the same depending upon where it is in the country.

WALLACE: Now, of course, the big issue for all of us Americans is how soon can our troops come back home. And Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in Iraq this past few days has started moving us down that direction.

Over the course of the next year, though, let's talk about that. I know the Pentagon has a plan based on conditions for bringing us down under 100,000 troops by the end of next year. How realistic is that? How well do things have to go for us to get under 100,000 by the end of 2006?

PACE: First of all, we do not have a plan that specifically says we'll be down below 100,000 by the end of the year. What we have is a plan that allows us to keep what we have today out for the foreseeable future and then off-ramps and on-ramps based on the conditions on the ground.

So if things go the way we expect them to, as more Iraqi units stand up, we'll be able to bring our troops down and turn over that territory to the Iraqis.

But on the other hand, the enemy has a vote in this, and if they were to cause some kind of problems that required more troops, then we would do exactly what we've done in the past, which is give the commanders on the ground what they need. And in that case, you could see troop level go up a little bit to handle that problem.

WALLACE: Now, I've never heard the expression, and actually I think it's great, of on-ramps and off-ramps. How do you make the decision — here's an off-ramp, we can take a battalion, you know, a number of troops out of Iraq?

PACE: General Casey, as the senior U.S. commander on the ground, works with his commanders there. They do a very, very thorough analysis, literally once a month, in great detail. They then determine how many troops they need to get the job done.

That's then passed up to the secretary of defense through General Abizaid and myself, and we make the recommendation to the secretary, and that's how it happens.

WALLACE: Now, some people have suggested that as Iraqi forces improve, instead of using them to substitute for American forces and pulling the American forces out, you should add them — we should get a bigger force and use that bigger force to crush the insurgency. Why not do that?

PACE: There's a real balance here between having sufficient forces to get the job done and having too many forces. If they're Iraqi forces, they will not be too many. They'll be Iraqi citizens protecting Iraqi citizens.

But understandably, Iraqis themselves would prefer to have coalition forces leave their country as soon as possible. They don't want us to leave tomorrow, but they do want us to leave as soon as possible. And we need to be very careful to be respectful of the Iraqi government, which has just been elected, the Iraqi armed forces' capabilities, and provide enough to ensure that they're successful, but not so much as to prevent them from being able to take over their own responsibilities.

WALLACE: I know one of your big concerns, especially with the Iraqi police, is that these militias are infiltrating them using their official positions as Iraqi security to settle old scores by torturing or abusing, particularly Shiites doing that to Sunni.

This set off an interesting exchange recently between you and the secretary of defense. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PACE: It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it. It's to report it.

PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, they have an obligation to try to stop it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: How was that, having to correct the boss in public?

PACE: Well, he and I were looking at it from two different prisms. First, I was looking at it from the question that I was asked, which was in Iraq, if detainees are being abused, what is your responsibility.

And we have very clearly in writing stated — 22 July of this year, as a matter of fact, General Casey put an order out in writing that said everyone had an absolute responsibility to try to stop it.

The secretary, in subsequent conversations with him, was looking at it from a much larger position, the global position, and thinking about troops in other countries. So his position was if you are walking the streets of Tokyo, what would you do. Mine was very specific to the question I was asked.

The secretary clearly expects me to speak the truth as I know it, and he always wants me to make sure that when he and I are in front of cameras and speaking in public, that when we walk away that we have been very precise and direct about what it was.

So the fact that he asked me the question and I answered him in public is exactly what he would expect me to do.

WALLACE: Let's get to the bigger issue here, though. How do you clean up the Iraqi police so that they're serving the national government and not serving local, ethnic, sectarian, religious interests?

PACE: It's very much an evolutionary process. You have to vet the individuals who the government is hiring, to make sure that they have not had previous known affiliations with the Baathist insurgency groups. Most of the time you get it right. Sometimes you don't.

When you find out where you've gotten it wrong, you get those people out of the ranks and replace them with new individuals. So it takes a period of time to ensure that you're hiring the right individuals, and you're training them properly and they're functioning properly.

WALLACE: There's been a lot of controversy in Washington this week about the Patriot Act, about the announcement of the revelation of the president's program, secret domestic spying without court orders, court warrants.

Has information developed by either of these programs helped you, helped the military, in fighting the war on terror?

PACE: I would not know the source from which I have received intelligence, so I cannot specifically say to you yes or no based on a particular program.

I can tell you that the totality of the intelligence that we have gotten through many means has enormously impacted our ability to track and find those who wish us ill.

WALLACE: So how would you feel about rolling back either of these programs?

PACE: That's outside of my lane. We need to make sure that as a nation that we avail ourselves of the opportunities to get the proper intelligence and to take action. It's a policy decision for our government to determine what we will and will not allow ourselves to do. So I will not take a military uniform and pronounce policy.

I will tell you that as much intelligence as we get, we use, and it's important that we do that respectful of the Constitution.

WALLACE: Finally, on this special day, is there a Christmas message that you would like to send to our troops around the world and also to their families back here at home?

PACE: You bet. And I appreciate you giving me the chance. As I mentioned, this has been an incredible year, and all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Marines have so much to be proud of, and we should all be thankful.

This is a time to count blessings. I count 2.4 million Army, Guard, Reserve, active individuals as blessings. So to each of them, thank you for being willing to serve your country.

Equally important is the families at home. You know, when we're overseas and we are in harm's way, we know when we get in trouble, and we are able to, through our training, do something about it.

Our families here at home don't know when we're in trouble, so they wait and they pray. And when we come home, they stand in the background and pretend that we did it all on our own. But the families that we have supporting our military are serving this country at least as well as those who wear the uniform.

WALLACE: General Pace, we want to thank you. Thank you so much for joining us on this first Sunday talk show. Hope you come back often.

PACE: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: Merry Christmas to you, happy new year to you, and also to those two million-plus soldiers, men and women, serving around the world under your command, sir.

PACE: Thank you, Chris, and merry Christmas to you and everyone watching this program.