Deep Reality About Iraq

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, October 30, that has been edited for clarity.

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DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: Progress has been so swift that Iraqi is already the second largest of the security forces in the coalition. It will not be long before they will be the largest and outnumber the U.S. forces.


BRIT HUME, HOST: The administration, as you heard there, is trying to make the argument that the death and destruction that dominates the news from Iraq (search) obscures a deeper reality, that things are improving, and fast. Critics say the violence and destruction are the reality, and are clear evidence of failure.

So who's right? For answers, we ask Karl Zinsmeister, the editor in chief of The American Enterprise and the author of a new book, Boots On The Ground: A Month In The 82 Airborne In The Battle For Iraq. Karl Zinsmeister was an embedded reporter during the war.

And it's nice to have you Karl, nice to see you.


HUME: Talk to me about the security problem. It looks persistent and it seems to be worsening. Why should we believe that this is not -- we are not getting gradually deeper into a bog here?

ZINSMEISTER: Well, we're definitely in the middle of a guerrilla war and I think it's important for the American public to understand that. But this is a guerrilla war that we're very, well positioned to win. We know a lot, Brit, about what the Iraqi extremists believe. What we don't hear much about is what the ordinary Iraqi believes. So that's what I've tried...concentrated on my research since I've gotten back in Iraq. We've done some polls ourselves.

HUME: Over there?

ZINSMEISTER: Over there. We did it in four cities in Iraq in concert with Zogby International. We have very good data at this point. There have been several other good polls.

In addition, I've been looking closely to the behavior of the Shiite (search) population, which, as you know, is going to run the country eventually. This is two-thirds of Iraqis and there's very, encouraging news on both of those fronts that amongst average Iraqis, ordinary Iraqis, we are winning the battle for hearts and minds. And if that continues to be the case...

HUME: Give me some examples.

ZINSMEISTER: Well, the -- one of the examples from the poll would be -- let's use a very recent one. The latest one I know of was an informal street poll conducted by The New York Times. Not a big scientific poll, but given the source, it's interesting.

The Times found that of the people in Baghdad they spoke to, 60 percent think the Americans are doing a good job. And 85 percent feel safer than they did two months ago. Lots of other examples like that.

Now, mind you, Baghdad is where the problem is worse. You've got to remember in places like, Mosul and Kirkuk and Basra that you rarely hear about, those are basically functioning, stable, booming cities at this point. Not booming, that is an over exaggeration. But these are cities well on the way to healing with millions of people in them. So the country is not all in flames as we sometimes get the impression from some of the reporting.

HUME: Now, there is a New York Times article coming out -- New York Times magazine will publish this weekend which will be the cover article, the cover is called Who Botched The Occupation Inside The Stories Entitled Blueprint For A Mess, How The Bush Administration's Prewar Planners Bungled Post War Iraq. And it goes through these violent outbreaks that we've seen of late.

What about that issue of the planning that critics say was horribly bungled?

ZINSMEISTER: Well, I'm sure it could have been done better. On the other hand, planning for a war is just about the last thing you can really do well. It is very difficult. It is improvisational. That's one of the things I learned about combat. You just -- there is no plan. You throw it out and you start over every two hours. In the aftermath, something similar pertains.

I think that you have to, though, look beyond these sort of immediate sensational things, and look at the deeper glacial forces.

HUME: Well, I agree. But tell me why you think that this level of guerrilla warfare can be subdued?

ZINSMEISTER: Well, let me give you one good example. You know, we've heard that there aren't enough forces. That is one of the main criticisms. I've been...tracked the force levels very closely.

And at this point, Brit, we have, in additions to the U.S. forces, 25,000 foreign soldiers. And really strikingly, the latest news today is that the Iraqi security forces are now up to 90,000.

HUME: Yes. That's what Rumsfeld was no doubt talking about that.

ZINSMEISTER: And that's very significant. Even this early in the war, the majority of causalities involved in defending Iraqi sites are taken by Iraqis that. Let me point out that puts the attackers on the wrong side of Iraqi public opinion as those fathers and brothers and neighbors come home maimed, the insurgents are not going to look so popular.

HUME: Still, they seem able to get supplies; they seem able to get suicide bombers.

ZINSMEISTER: That will continue for some time. I'm afraid we're going to have to be very steely about this. There are a lot of arms in that country. There is a group of people who are extremely fanatical. But it is a limited group. It's a remnant. It is not a growing group. It's not a popular movement like we were used to in Vietnam (search) or something. This is a

HUME: Talk about Vietnam. That word is being increasingly spoken of, mentioned as a comparison here.


HUME: Why is it not a good comparison?

ZINSMEISTER: It's really completely different. First of all, you don't have a Ho Chi Minh (search). There are no identifiable leaders to this movement. There is no platform. There is no positive message. There is no Ho Chi Minh trail to pump poison into Iraq. What is there is all that's going to be there in terms of armaments and money and so forth and that's slowly going down.

These pouncing raids that the American soldiers have mounted over the last couple of months have done a lot of damage. Thousands of these insurgents have been killed or arrested. And again, it's a limited universe. It was probably 20,000 to begin with; it's down to whatever now. With each passing month, it will get smaller. And I'm particularly convinced that without a sympathetic Iraqi public to swim in and hide amongst, it's going to be a losing game in the long run.

HUME: That was different in Vietnam.

ZINSMEISTER: Very different, yes.

HUME: So, how long do you think this will take for the corner to be turned on the violence?

ZINSMEISTER: I think we are turning the corner now on some of this attitudinal stuff and the violence will follow gradually after that. I think we have to be patient, but I also think we've have to have some perspective.

We need to remember that the number of soldiers killed since the -- the American soldiers killed since we flooded the country in May is about the same number as have died -- police officers have died in this country enforcing our laws on our own streets.

This is -- every one of those is a tragedy. That's why we take off our hats and honor soldiers when they walk by in the street. But this is -- for a very historical goal, this is a level of sacrifice we're going to have to live with and tough out. And I think within a couple of years, we'll be mostly outside of Iraq.

HUME: Karl Zinsmeister, thanks very much. Nice to have you.

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