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?
WEST: Wow. Look, let me put in this way. I fought in Vietnam. I was with a combined-action platoon that spent 45 days in a Vietnamese village. I think the Congress has to be awfully, awfully careful and not so conceited about itself. It seems to be looking at everything as though it is a political game without really asking what's the effect on the morale over time. I mean, can you imagine, if you're a squad leader or platoon commander, and you are beginning to do well in your area—and that's happening—and you see these people debating something that seems to you to be kind of nutty and has nothing to do with what is happening on the ground, and yet they are saying things like, "We are going to pull you out a year from now." I think we have to be awfully careful we don't get into a situation the way the way we did in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, where the troops looked over their shoulder and saw nobody behind them. So there is a burden on the Congress to be very judicious in what it does. And that's a burden that Congress should take very, very carefully
GIGOT: All right. Good advice, Bing West. Thanks so much for being here.
WEST: Thank you, Paul.
GIGOT: When we come back, congressional Democrats tie emergency war funding legislation to a fall 2008 deadline for troop withdrawal. But what else is in this $124 billion bill? We will tell you after the break.
GIGOT: Welcome back. President Bush is getting his veto pen ready as Democrats in Congress load up a war spending bill with pork barrel projects and so-called benchmarks for progress in Iraq that would require U.S. troop withdrawal if they are not met. Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" Columnist and Editorial Page Deputy Editor Dan Henninger, Columnist and Editorial Board Member Bret Stephens, and in Washington this week, Columnist and Editorial Board Member Kim Strassel. Kim, the president asked for Iraq and Afghanistan spending bill of about $100 billion with $3 billion for disaster relief. How did this thing become a $125 billion monstrosity?
KIM STRASSEL, WSJ COLUMNIST AND EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: This is called buying your way to victory. What you have here is—remember Nancy Pelosi and her liberals ran on anti-war agenda. Now her anti-war wing wants her to hold up to the principles. The bill she put forward, though, with its deadlines, as bad as it is doesn't go as far as some liberals would like. In addition it makes some conservative Democrats nervous that it goes too far. So her own option is to actually buy votes and threaten people into voting for it. And she has done it with millions for spinach, for peanuts, for wildfire suppression. There's a minimum wage provision. I mean, someone said it well earlier this week. This is better suited for a kind of highway bill discussion than it is a serious war discussion.
GIGOT: As the week went on, moveon.org and some of the real opponents of the war, Bret, decided they could vote for this because they think it can, in fact, stop the war eventually, or it is that kind of similar—what about these benchmarks for victory? Benchmarks, not for victory, but benchmark for retreat that Congress is imposing in this bill.
BRET STEPHENS, WSJ COLUMNIST AND EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: It is astonishing. Either we withdraw in the spring of next year, according to the bill, or we withdraw, at the latest, in the fall. What is amazing to me is the hubris of a Congress that thinks that it can manage or micromanage the pace of events 5,000 or 6,000 miles away in Iraq. And it is all the more amazing, because you do now have, as Bing West pointed out, a surge that does seem to be working out. The level of violence in Baghdad is way down. The successes of American troops against Al Qaeda has absolutely improved. So there is a real kind of disconnect here between what is happening in Iraq and what—the kind of pressure Pelosi is under.
DAN HENNINGER, WSJ COLUMNIST AND DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes, I think the disconnect has been the house leadership, Speaker Pelosi, John Murtha. They thought opposition to the war was a slam dunk, because that's the way they won in November. Now they are finding out, even among their own members, it is not a slam dunk. For instance, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter from New Hampshire, a liberal, went over to Iraq about two weeks ago, came back and said, "You know what? I am little ambivalent about what we are doing here." She is being attacked by her own constituents. On the right, you have Congressman David Boren who's supporting the president. On the left, John Lewis said, "I won't vote for any of this stuff." moveon.org has been attacked by bloggers to the left of them on this. It is much more complicated than Nancy Pelosi thought.
STEPHENS: It also brings up the fact that, when you bring up Vietnam analogies, you have to remember they are often more complicated and they cut various ways. It was the Democrat party that collapsed in 1968 over divisions of the war. And something similar could happen here, when you have an extreme left wing that wants it one way, and moderates—the moderates you mentioned—who don't want to defund the troops, don't want to be seen to betray...
GIGOT: Kim, we have just a little time. But, Kim, do you have any doubt the president will veto this bill? And would his veto be sustained?
STRASSEL: Yes, the president will veto this bill. The question—remember, this has also to go to the Senate. And it faces a lot of harder prospects there because Democrats have failed to get through similarly tough language in the last few weeks. So this is—this is going to be defeated. And the question is how Nancy Pelosi goes about passing a supplemental that can get through, and can get to the president's desk and get signed. And that she doesn't get criticized for leaving the troops with no money.
GIGOT: All right, Kim, thanks. We'll be back after this short break. Still to come, very strange bed fellows. Christian conservatives and the ACLLU team up in a Supreme Court case that, once again, questions the free speech rights of school kids. That, and our "Hits and Misses" of the week when the "Journal Editorial Report" continues.
GIGOT: Dozens of students protested outside the Supreme Court this week, as the justices took on what legal experts are calling their biggest student speech case in two decades. At issue is whether an Alaska principal acted reasonably and in accord with the school's anti-drug mission when she suspended a student for displaying a 14-foot banner, reading "Bong Hits for Jesus," across the street from his Juneau high school. Dan, I know this is the kind of case you got into journalism to talk about. What's at stake here?
HENNINGER: At stake is whether schools—public schools, junior high school principals are able to administer or control their schools, or whether the students are accorded such extraordinary rights of speech, dress and so forth, that they can pretty much do what they want. This all flows out of cases from the 1960's and 1980's that expanded rights for students in the schools. And I think can you trace the decline of order in the schools along with that. Now the Supreme Court clearly has recognized there is a dilemma here. Either you need some discipline in the schools or you give students a full panoply of rights. And they're going to try to figure that out with this case.
STEPHENS: I take a very different view of the case. What this case is ultimately about is whether our schools in this country is going to basically kowtow to every politically correct orthodoxy that comes our way. What if the banner had read "Bong hits for Mohammed" or "Bong hits for Buddha," and various groups had claimed to be offended. This issue is very active in France, where a publisher, in fact, faces criminal charges for publishing the notorious cartoons about Mohammed. And I think that—what you run the risk of, in this instance, is by trying to defend the principal's very dubious right to police speech outside of the schoolhouse gate, because that's where it took place. You are going to find principals and other school authorities insisting on all kinds of speech, which they will claim to be disruptive to the school's mission. And at the end of the day, you're going to end up with legally enforceable politically correct speech codes.
GIGOT: But what if you have a situation where some kid is in history class and he decides "I don't like the Iraq war. I want to debate the Iraq war in this classroom." Does the teacher have a right to enforce order in that case?
STEPHENS: That's a completely different case. Because Frederick, the student, was outside the schoolhouse gate. He unfurled his banner in at a...
GIGOT: But at a school sponsored event where he deliberately flouted school anti-drug policy. Now can you have—since when can't a principal discipline someone like that?
STEPHENS: I don't understand how he was flaunting school anti-drug policy by...
GIGOT: By saying "Bong hits for Jesus." He was advertising drug use. How is that?
STRASSEL: You know what? What's that old famous saying about how the Constitution isn't a suicide pact? If you talk to any parent—and I am one—giving a child the ability to say whatever they want is suicide.
GIGOT: What about the Supreme Court oral arguments in this case, Dan? You read the transcript, know what the justices are talking about. Where are they going to come out?
HENNINGER: I think they're going to come out restricting and paring back some of the extensive free speech rights that they have given to students, because, as Justice Roberts said, a principal faced with a situation like this has got to say, "Do I apply case A, case B or case C?" And they are supposed to do that instantaneously or be sued. It is a ridiculous situation.
GIGOT: They are really reeling back some of their earlier decisions here and trying to make up for that mistake in 1969 in the Tinker case?
HENNINGER: Yes, exactly. I think that's inevitable.
GIGOT: OK. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Winners and loser, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week. Item one, peace activists mark the Iraq War anniversary in a not so peaceful fashion—Dan?
HENNINGER: If people think Nancy Pelosi is having problems controlling the Democratic Caucus, wait until they look at the peace activist swing the November elections let out of the bottle. This past week, in Washington, there was a sit-in at the office of Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen. They were pasting up pictures of dead soldiers on the wall, banging a gong every time they read off a name. In Michigan, at the office of Republican Mike Rogers, they splattered red paint on his office, put graffiti up on the walls. And for the last ten days, they've been sitting outside of the house of Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco. You know, there must be some sort of genetic inheritance here, which the baby boomers feel they're going to bring back all of the 1960's and 1970's again, and the anti-war movement. I think it is time to get out the Joan Boaz LP's and buy tickets for the next year's Democratic Convention.
GIGOT: All right, Dan, thanks. Next, animal rights activists urge a German Zoo to kill an abandoned polar bear cub—Bret?
STEPHENS: Yes. Meet Knut. This is my three-year-old daughter's cuddly-wuddly version of Knut. But in reality, Knut is a 20-pound three-month-old polar bear in the Berlin Zoo. He was rejected by his mother. His brother died. For the past three months, the zookeeper has actually been bottle-feeding the little bear and keeping it alive. Now, you would think this is a heart warming story. Not for everyone. Animal rights activists claim that this is inappropriate for the species, and the best thing that can be done for this little creature is to give it lethal injection. Now I don't know what's appropriate for polar bears, but for human beings, that certainly is not.
GIGOT: finally, a hit for John and Elizabeth Edwards—Kim?
STRASSEL: Presidential races can be vicious. But I think the low point in this one, so far, came this week when commentators and bloggers started trashing on John Edwards for deciding to continue his presidential campaign, despite the recurrence of his wife's cancer. What made this depressing is, if you watch the Edwards' press conference, it was actually quite inspiring. These people are a team. They've been married 30 years. He clearly is devoted to seeing her through this. But she is devoted to seeing him realize his presidential ambitions. It was also inspiring to see her be so brave in the face of this. So a hit to the Edwards.
GIGOT: Yes, I agree. This is really a decision for them to make. And the rest of us ought to stay out of it. OK. That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Send your e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. And visit us on the web at www.foxnews.com/journal. Thanks to Dan Henninger, Bret Stephens and Kim Strassel. I'm Paul Gigot. Thanks to all of you for watching. And we hope to see you right here next week.
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