Trail Dust: Iraq Progress Report

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," March 20, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: The Iraq handover this summer and the progress we're making there is the subject of this week's trail dust. As you know, Fred just got back from a 10-day trip to Iraq and survived a rocket attack. It came how close?

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Came pretty close. But I was asleep at the time. But it was quite a wakeup call, 4:10 a.m. I didn't go back to bed that day.

KONDRACKE: Right. OK. Now, you come back saying that this is a bigger, harder, more difficult task than you ever anticipated that it would be looking at it from here. Why?

BARNES: Well, we have to do everything there. You know, have to create all the new ministries, regulatory agencies, everything. I mean, this intervention of America in Iraq makes the New Deal (search) look like a little pilot program.

I mean, fortunately, thousands of experts and advisers and so on are over there to help the Iraqis. It's a stupendous effort, and the Iraqis ought to be a lot more grateful for it than they are.

KONDRACKE: Well, what about the Iraqis? Aren't they supposed to do this themselves? I mean, are, we're supposed to empower them. It sounds like we're going to do everything ourselves.

BARNES: Well, you know, it's been said about the French that they never forgave us for liberating them. And there's a little bit of that attitude over there in Iraq.

And they, and, look, nobody likes to be an occupied country. So, you know, they want help, but they kind of resent the help, and they're difficult to get along with.

KONDRACKE: Well, so, but fundamentally, I mean, you know, we thought we were going to be greeted as liberators...


KONDRACKE: ... and it's pretty dicey there. The polls suggest that they want us there.


KONDRACKE: So what's the problem? I mean, why aren't they willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work rebuilding their own country?

BARNES: ... a lot of them are. The Kurds (search) are, certainly a lot of the Shi'ites (search) are down in the south it's pretty safe. One of the reasons is, they're just dubious.

They tend to be, the people there tend to be a little sullen, conspiratorial minded. And they, and they believe the worst about the U.S., what our motives might be.

KONDRACKE: Well, now, how secure is Baghdad?

BARNES: Well, I'll tell you, when I was there, I rode around in an armored car with a guard, and it is not, it is the unsafe area. The north and the south are both pretty safe, but there are, that's where the, the terrorists strike every now and then, and, you know, I didn't go out walking around the streets.

KONDRACKE: Yes, but what about the crime situation ... for ordinary Iraqis?

BARNES: Crime...

KONDRACKE: I mean, that is a measure, I would see, of, of how well we're doing.

BARNES: Yes, yes, and that's a measure that shows progress. Crime is going down, significantly.

KONDRACKE: OK. Now, Ayatollah Sistani (search), he's been ... somebody that you have thought was ultimately a Democrat and ... a force for good ... and stability ... the leader ... of the Shi'ites ... in, in the south.



BARNES: Yes. No, I think he is, but he is, again, difficult. He's a guy that ... on the one hand will do something that looks like he's going to block a new constitution, and then he'll back down. Up the hill, down the hill. He's hard to get along with as well.

KONDRACKE: OK, June 30 comes and goes. Are the Iraqis going to want us to stay in a big way and help them out for the long, for the long term?

BARNES: Yes, I think they're going to want us to stay, but they're going to complain about it the whole time. I mean, we'll have a huge embassy there, 100,000 American troops will still be there through the rest of the year, and then an elected Iraqi government will come in January, and will write a constitution.

I think they'll want us to stay as well. But it's going to be a difficult relationship. It's like dealing with the French, you know, it's not...

KONDRACKE: Final question. Should Paul Bremer (search) be secretary of state? And does Bush like him well enough to make him?

BARNES: Well, Bush loves Paul Bremer, they're the same age, same sort of background, both went to Yale, and he does deserve to be secretary of state.

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