This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," March 24, 2007.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," a veto threat from President Bush as Democrats tie emergency war funding to a timetable for troop withdrawal. As we mark the fourth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, is there progress being made on the ground? We'll have a firsthand account. Plus, a high school prank goes to the Supreme Court in a case that has the ACLU teaming up with Christian conservatives. We'll have the details after these headlines.
GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. President Bush marked the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq this week, calling the fight difficult, but insisting it can still be won, with a surge of more than 21,000 troops still in its early stages, and a Democratic Congress calling for a pull out deadline, the president asked for more time to let the new plan work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The new strategy will need more time to take effect. And there will be good days and there will be bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Former assistant secretary of defense, Bing West, is a correspondent for the "Atlantic Monthly." He recently returned from a trip to Baghdad and al Anbar Province. Bing West, welcome to the program. Good to have you here.
BING WEST, ATLANTIC MONTHLY CORRESPONDENT & FMR ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR DEFENSE: Thank you.
GIGOT: General Petraeus' surge plan is still unfolding, in its early stages. But based on what you have you have seen in Baghdad and heard, can we see signs of progress yet?
WEST: Yes, we can. And I think for a basic reason. If you have a problem with crime, and you send more policemen onto the streets, we know crime is going to go down. The same thing is happening in Baghdad. Because our soldiers are getting out in the neighborhoods, the amount of violence is going down.
GIGOT: What do you make of reports the Shiite militia, those who working with or associated with Muqtada al Sadr, that they are, in fact, laying low or heading out of town. Is this good news?
WEST: I think it is good news. The Shiite militia are not the enemy of the United States. The Al Qaeda in Iraq, Sunni insurgents, are the enemy. They are the ones that would bomb us any place if they could. The Shiite militias are engaged in their own, if you will, pushing out the ethnic cleansing of some of the Sunnis. But the Shiite militias see us as being an impediment, not something they want to take on. The fact that they have left, the fact that leaders have fled the battlefield, changes things dramatically.
GIGOT: That is something the surge is seeming to make progress against, is stopping ethnic cleansing that was going on Shiite against Sunni?
WEST: That's correct. It has definitely slowed down that ethnic cleansing. The other side of the equation though, is that the Sunni insurgents, especially Al Qaeda in Iraq, use those murderous car bombs just to kill anyone, men, women, children in markets. That's much tougher because you have a million cars and you are trying to find that one car that has a suicide bomber, who is told by some off-shoot of his religion, that he is going to go for heaven for murder.
GIGOT: How do you get that problem under control? General Odierno, who is number two to Petraeus over there, has said it may not be enough, if you're going to stop that car bomb problem, just to have the surge in Baghdad, but may have to go into the collar communities of Baghdad where some of these truck bombs originate. What's the plan for that?
WEST: That's really tough. And it is tough because you are dealing with an area about the size of Utah. And it is all small farms along the banks of the river, the Euphrates River. As a consequence, there are maybe 100,000 hiding places. I think what you are going to see, after this surge, is that we are going to be reducing our troops and it is going to be up to the Iraqi soldiers to, for years, go from farm to farm to farm just tracking down these extremists.
GIGOT: We have also heard reports that in al Anbar Province, where you visited, some of the tribal sheiks have been turning against extremists and have a growing, improving relationship with the Marines. Is that true? That sign of progress?
WEST: In four years—I have been back to Fallujah about ten times and Ramadi about a dozen times—this is the first time I really saw a change in terms of the attitude of the sheiks. There are 26 tribes in Anbar. Anbar is like the old west in about 1880. There's no central government. It is individual towns, like Tombstone. And you have to take control tribe by tribe. And now of 26 tribes, 16 are working against al-Qaeda, because al-Qaeda has been killing all of them. It is like you now have some Apaches. But the Comanche have come and said they said we're going to get the Apaches. So it's making a huge difference.
GIGOT: That's fascinating. When you were over there, you talked to the battalion commanders. You talked to the company commanders. What is their morale like? And what do think they expect from their political leaders back home, say, from the new Congress?