Can Iraqis Work Together?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 1, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: There was incredible voter turnout (search) this weekend, proving Iraqis are determined to have a say in their government, but getting to the polls and getting your fingers stained with ink is only half the battle. No matter who wins, all the parties must work together to build something approaching what we would call a stable democracy.

Joining me now, Danielle Pletka, Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (search). Danielle, the big question: so, can these opposing political groups in Iraq, at each others' throats most days of the week, work together in this new government?

DANIELLE PLETKA, VICE PRESIDENT, FOREIGN AND DEFENSE POLICY STUDIES: I don't know, John, I think they're less at each others' throats than the Congress and the Republicans and the Democrats are at each others' throats this is week.

GIBSON: But they got RPGs.

PLETKA: Not in the Iraqi government, actually.

No, I really do think that they can work together. There's no question that there are heavily armed elements, but I would argue they're not really political forces.

GIBSON: Danielle, do we really even care what sort of government emerges from this? Do we care if it goes French on us: isn't quite the ally we would expect, or that it turns into a theocracy? Is the only thing we cared about was the turnout?

PLETKA: No, that's not true. I think we care a lot about the kind of government that Iraq has. We care about rule of law, we care a lot about protection of minorities, we care a lot about foreign policy. We don't Iraq to be a haven for terrorists.

And I don't think there's any chance that Iraq will become a new Iran or a theocracy. Sure we care, but we don't care about the individuals. We care about the system. We want the system to work.

GIBSON: Well, for instance, right now, we seem to like Prime Minister Allawi. Do we care if it turns out that Allawi is not running the Iraqi government, that some guy whose face and name we don't know?

PLETKA: I sure hope it's some guy whose face and name we don't know. It seems clear that Prime Minister Allawi's party isn't going be on top, and so it's not very likely that he's going to be the new prime minister of Iraq. We're not sure who will. That's the way it ought to work.

The United States ought not to have favorites. We want their system to work and that means that they're going to have a prime minister, who we like or like less every few years.

GIBSON: What about the business of this government standing up to these insurgents and winning this battle? They did a really god job on Sunday. Does that tell us that they can do it if they want to do it?

PLETKA: Well, I think that it meant a lot for Iraqis, that they were actually standing up for something. They weren't protecting Americans, they were protecting their own freedoms and their own liberties and their own right to vote. That was a very meaningful thing for them and I think it really energized their government and their forces.

Does that, therefore, mean they've been holding back elsewhere? No, I don't think so. They're moving in the right direction; they're going to be trained up enough in time, I hope. But I think that eventually they will have the capability to do things themselves. They don't yet.

GIBSON: Let's just look at this Zarqawi phenomenon. What do you think accounts for the reason that they just could not mount much of an attack on Election Day, aside from what appears to be those poor Brits that were in that plane they shot down and nine suicide bombers?

PLETKA: I think it tells us a great deal about the bankruptcy of what the terrorists are trying to push. They want to defeat things; they have only a negative message. They don't want to achieve anything in Iraq and that has no resonance with the Iraqi people.

When the Iraqi people were given a choice between doing something for themselves or doing nothing, they made the right choice. And those are the kinds of options they're going to have to have in the future. Zarqawi's about nothing other than killing people. That's not a political message.

GIBSON: Is the new attitude of the Americans, the American government, the American president, the American troop, the works, "Would you kindly get on with a free Iraq so we can go home?"

PLETKA: Sure. Of course it is. And that's what it should be. We don't want to stay there forever. We don't want to stay there, they don't want to keep us there forever. But we've got to stay until they're ready. That's the right thing to do.

GIBSON: Do you think that in any way, the voting on Sunday made the sacrifices of American lives worth it?

PLETKA: That's an awfully hard question. For every family who has sacrificed a son or a daughter, that's an unbelievable tragedy in their lives. But at the end of the day, if our forces are fighting to provide people with better lives and to protect American national security, that, at least is a great cause.

It is better to have sacrificed in the name of a great cause than in the name of nothing at all. That's what the suicide bombers are about. They're about nothing at all. Our forces are about bringing freedom to people and that's something worth fighting for.

GIBSON: Danielle Pletka with the American Enterprise Institute. Danielle, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

PLETKA: Thank you.

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