This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, May 24, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.
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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: This is a Fox News Alert: This is a special edition of On the Record. It's 11:00 p.m. on the East coast and 8:00 p.m. on the West coast. And for those of youjust tuning in, President Bush spoke out tonight and laid out his plans for the future of Iraq.
Fox's James Rose is at the White House with the details - James?
JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Greta, good evening. With his job approvalratings at an all-time low, and even members of his own Republican party questioning his handling of Iraq,President Bush tonight sought to reassure Americans and the world that the U.S. does indeed have a plan totransfer full sovereignty to Iraqis on June the 30th in an orderly and secure manner.
Addressing a friendly crowd of about 450 military personnel, the president warned terrorism willincrease in Iraq before June 30th. And he added, "The way forward may sometimes seem chaotic." But thecommander in chief said American troops are going to stay put. And he repeated previous vows to add tothe 138,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq if field commanders request them.
Security remains the most essential and elusive part of the president's exit strategy. And much ofhis address focused on U.S. training of Iraqi army and police forces. The president said a new team of senior military officers is now assessing every unit in Iraq's security forces. He claimed eight more battalions of Iraqi troops for a total of 13 will be ready for action by July 1st. And he envisioned a timewhen Americans patrolling Iraqi cities will pass their batons to their Iraqi counterparts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Financially, they must be theprimary defenders of Iraqi security as American and coalition forces are withdrawn. And we're helpingthem to prepare for this role. In some cases, the early performance of Iraqi forces fell short. Some refusedorders to engage the enemy. We've learned from these failures. And we've taken steps to correct them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROSEN: The president has much writing on the diplomatic efforts of that man, the U.N.'s specialenvoy to Iraq, Laktar Brahimi, who is assembling the Iraqi government that will accept full sovereignty onJune 30th and help the country transition to free elections next January.
A spokesman says Brahimi may well miss his May 31st deadline for naming the leaders of the new Iraqi government. The U.S. will use the time between now and then to secure support for the new year end Security Council resolution, whose first draft was circulated today in New York by the U.S. and Great Britain. This resolution authorizes a multinational force under unified command to remain in Iraq for at least one year. The commander in chief made clear tonight that force would be led by an Americancommander and that U.S. soldiers would never find themselves taking orders from Iraqi generals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: American military forces in Iraq will operate under American command as a part of amultinational force authorized by the United Nations. Iraq's new sovereign government will still faceenormous security challenges. And our forces will be there to help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROSEN: The president's presumptive Democratic opponent next fall, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry said tonight the president laid out only general principles "most of which we've heard before."
And Kerry supporters charged the president did not answer a number of key questions in his remarks, including how much U.S. operations in Iraq will cost taxpayers, and whether the Iraqis will be free to elect any kind of government they choose, including perhaps even one based on strict Islamic law.
Reporting live from the White House, which is infested with cicadas, James Rosen, Fox News. Greta?
VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, the whole city is, James I might add. We're going to hear from our panel in a moment. But first, let'sget late breaking details from Iraq.
Fox's Jeff Goldblatt is in Baghdad - Jeff?
JEFF GOLDBLATT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Greta, in this speech, President Bushsaid our enemies in Iraq can incite the murder and suicide, but cannot contribute to any progress. And oneenemy the president referred to, outlawed Shi'ite cleric Muqtata al-Satr, who the president said commandsan illegal militia, that launches attacks from holy shrines and hides behind innocent civilians.
That militia's been active over the last 24 hours in the southern Iraqi cities of Najaf and Kufa onceagain on the losing end. At least 32 of Satr's fighters were killed in Kufa. And in nearby Karbala, U.S>forces scored a victory by forcing the withdrawal of Satr's militia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARK KIMMITT, COALITION MILITARY SPOKESMAN: ...Iraqi police have begunpatrolling the city, and it would appear that normal life is returning to the city of Karbala, absence themilitia that had been holding the city hostage for so many weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLDBLATT: Meantime for the second time this week, there's been a deadly terrorist attack inBaghdad near the headquarters of the coalition. Two people were killed, two others wounded after anarmored plated SUV was hit by a roadside bomb just outside a checkpoint to the green zone.
The vehicle belonged to a foreign security company. The dead, British nationals. Last week, ahomicide car bomber attacked a different green zone checkpoint, which killed a head of the Iraqi governingcouncil Izadine Saleem (ph). And in this speech, President Bush said that Saleen (ph) was killed byterrorists who are interested in the death of democracy.
And we're live in Baghdad with the latest. I'm Jeff Goldblatt - Greta, now back to you in the nation's capitol.
VAN SUSTEREN: Jeff, thank you.
Now to the president's speech tonight, joining us from Stanford is Peter Robinson, formerspeechwriter for President Reagan and author of, "How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life." In Los Angeles is former Dukakis campaign manager, Susan Estrich. And here in Washington is retired Army Major General Bob Scales, also a former commandante at the Army War College.
And I guess the first question's got to be to you, general. Why this - what do you think is the pointor the purpose of this speech where it was tonight, the - on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
MAJ. GEN. BOB SCALES (RET.), FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Greta, I think it's veryimportant. The Army War College is a school for generals. No one makes a general in the American Armyunless he's gone to a war college.
It's also the center for the intellectual study of warfare at the strategic level. And the president wasgiving us a speech tonight about military strategy in large measure.
So it's perfectly suited, to my mind at least, to go back to my old alma mater and talk about militarystrategy and progress in the war by talking to a group of people who are going to have to be the ones verysoon within about a month after they graduate to execute that strategy.
VAN SUSTEREN: So what - so general, what did the president say to these generals that waseither reassuring or new?
SCALES: He said three things. Number one, I mean the message was fairly clear. Forced levelswill be about 135,000 for a while. He said secondly that the violence may very well increase, as we get close to the 30 June.
He also said that the exit strategy is centered around Iraqification. That as the fighting drifts or istranslated over to the Iraqis, that then will allow the American forces to withdraw.
And the last thing he said, very interesting, is he talked about Fallujah being a successful way to conduct a military operation. I find that -- I found that to be particularly fascinating.
VAN SUSTEREN: Peter, what's your thought on the speech tonight? And I might add that, of course, you were one of the directors of my favorite speech, the one by President Ronald Reagan. I had to give him that plug.
But anyway, having said that, Peter, what did you learn tonight?
PETER ROBINSON, FMR. REAGAN SPEECHWRITER: Thank you, Greta.
The speech was not beautiful and it wasn't stirring, but it was calm, businesslike, and determined. And this was a moment when the president of the United States needed to demonstrate to those generals, butalso to all of us exactly that, calm, businesslike determination.
In that regard, it was solid. And the solidity itself is the news.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, I suppose those who love the president before the speech are ecstatic.Those who didn't like the president before the speec are unmoved. What about that sort of like eightpercent or whatever, as we talk about those moderate, undecided. What do you think they're thinkingtonight about this speech?
SUSAN ESTRICH, FMR. DUKAKIS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Very disappointed, Greta. I don't think he moved a single vote tonight. In fact, what I think is troubling for the president is you've got a lot of Republicans right now. I mean, obviously Democrats would say this speech accomplished nothing.He's still trying to make a link that doesn't exist between Al Qaeda and the war in Iraq.
And so Democrats obviously dismissed this speech as a total failure.
But I think what's really troubling is I was listening to the radio on the way over. And hearingcriticism from military mothers, from people who've served over there, from undecided voters, from peoplewho were waiting to hear something new and didn't.
And I think the real problem for the president right now is they're aren't enough people on his side.His approval ratings are at an all-time low. He's taking tremendous criticism from people in his own party.He doesn't need me to criticize him right now. He's got his own colleagues criticising him.
And for those who were looking for something new for some magic bullet in the speech, what he said instead was bad days ahead. And I don't think that's what people who are in the middle wanted to hear, quite frankly.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, do you think that some people will wait to find out exactly who itis on July - or on June 30th, July 1. We're going to be turning the government over to?
ROBINSON: Sure. Well, look, I know from all the phone calls that I was placing this afternoon,all of us I'm sure were on the phone, just as I was. The journalists were thinking what's going to be new here. Will there be a major announcement, so forth.
He's the commander in chief. He's not the entertainer in chief. And the sheer businesslike quality of the address I think is what's critical here.
Look, we've lost 801 [service members] in 14 months. During many years, several years in Vietnam, we lost more than 800 every two months. And during the second World War, we lost 800 every two days.
As large scale military undertakings go, this was beautifully executed. And I think there's a good chance it'll go down as one of the most successful in American history. He is months, not years, but months away from a democratic election held in the Arab world for the first time in history, set aside certain elections that took place in Lebanon.
This will be the first large entirely Arab country to hold democratic elections. This man has achieved an enormous success. And his job is to see it through, not to satisfy the appetite for novelty of us and the chattering classes, with all due respect to Susan.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me stick to chattering classes.
VAN SUSTEREN: Let me just...
ROBINSON: What's that?
VAN SUSTEREN: Go ahead, Susan.
ESTRICH: See, I don't think it's novelty. I don't want novelty. I'm not looking for somethingnovel. I think a lot of people are looking at what's happening right now, seeing a scandal that has made us the embarrassment of the world, seeing kids being killed every single day. And I don't think it's novelty. I think we're looking for some answers, not novelty. And they turned in tonight looking for answers and justdidn't get any.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me ask the general...
ESTRICH: That's not novelty.
VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask the general a quick question. General, are the generals in the military - those that are active duty, are they satisfied we're going on the right path? Forget the - you know,the president's supposed to be the entertainer in chief. I agree with that point. And a lot of people are looking for answers. And perhaps he didn't give every answer to every question. But is our military happy?
SCALES: Here's what I get from my peers...
VAN SUSTEREN: And happy may not be the right word. I mean, are they feeling...
SCALES: Here's what I get from my peers. The sensing is that the military situation in the lastthree or four weeks has gotten a lot better. Fallujah was handled brilliantly. The work of the First Armored Division in Karbala and Najaf and Kufa was very well done. It seems to my peers that the cork is being putback in the military bottle. And they want some recognition for the work that they've done.
And they also, I think, recognize that from a purely military standpoints, things are going well.The issue that they have in the back of their minds is this issue of Iraqification. It - a quick analogy. Youknow, Iraqification will work when a young Iraqi soldier is serving an Iraqi government that he's willing to die for. And that is the great unanswered question.
VAN SUSTEREN: And in the 30 seconds we have left, Susan, your thoughts on that?
ESTRICH: Well, I think the problem right now is that the military deserves an enormous amountof credit. But military leadership, and by that I'm talking about fellows like Donald Rumsfeld, I think have let down some of the generals who have served them. And I think until you address that, so long as you're standing by a man who suspended the Geneva Convention and given up on the rule of law, you can't make Iraq a shining example of democracy in the world.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I'll let Peter respond to that, but we're going to take a quick break.
Panel, stand by. And up next, President Bush warns of the dangers he expects in the coming days. And later, a 21-year old college student vanishes in New York. What was the last thing she said to her roommate?
VAN SUSTEREN: As we have been reporting, President Bush spoke out earlier this evening inthe first of a series of speeches about the future of Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The rise of a free and self governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredittheir narrow ideology, and give momentum to reformers across the region.
This will be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power and a victory for the security ofAmerica and the civilized world.
Our work in Iraq has been hard. Our coalition has faced changing conditions of war. And that hasrequired perseverance, sacrifice, and an ability to adapt.
The swift removal of Saddam Hussein's regime last spring had an unintended effect. Instead of being killed or captured on the battefield, some of Saddam's elite guards shed their uniforms and melted into the civilian population. These elements of Saddam's repressive regime and secret police have reorganized, rearmed, and adopted sophisticated terrorist tactics.
They've linked up with foreign fighters and terrorists. In a few cities, extremists have tried to sow chaos and seize regional power for themselves.
These groups and individuals have conflicting ambitions, but they share a goal. They hope to wearout the patience of Americans, our coalition, and Iraqis before the arrival of effective self-government andbefore Iraqis have the capability to defend their freedom.
Iraq now faces a critical moment. As the Iraqi people move closer to governing themselves, the terrorists are likely to become more active and more brutal. There are difficult days ahead. And the wayf orward may sometimes appear chaotic. Yet, our coalition is strong. Our efforts are focused and unrelenting. And now power of the enemy will stop Iraq's progress.
The terrorists only influence is violence. And their only agenda is death.
Our agenda, in contrast, is freedom and independence, security and prosperity for the Iraqi people.
And by removing a source of terrorist violence and instability in the Middle East, we also make our own country more secure. Our coalition has a clear goal understood by all. To see the Iraqi people in charge of Iraq for the first time in generations.
America's task in Iraq is not only to defeat an enemy. It is to give strength to a friend, a free representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf. And the sooner this goal was achieved, the sooner our job will be done.
There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom. We will hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, help establish security, continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, encourage more international support, and move toward a national election that will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people.
The first of these steps will occur next month, when our coalition will occur next month when our coalition will transfer full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens who will prepare the way for national elections.
On June 30th, the coalition provisional authority will cease to exist and will not be replaced. The occupation will end and Iraqis will govern their own affairs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Coming up, has Akmad Chalabi outsmarted those who don't like him? Also ahead, a desperate search tonight for two sisters, ages 12 and 6. They were swept away by a dangerous river current. Are they close to being found tonight?
VAN SUSTEREN: Back with more on the president's speech. Tonight, we are joined by Peter Robinson, former speechwriter for President Reagan, former Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich, and retired Army Major General Bob Scales.
Peter, I said that you get a chance to respond to Susan's point. And I hate to repeat Susan's point because I could get it wrong.
Susan, correct if you're wrong - if I'm wrong, but Peter, I think where we left off is she says that Secretary Rumsfeld let down his generals. Do you agree or disagree? And Susan, correct me if I'm wrong.
ROBINSON: Oh, I can't find any reading under which Rumsfeld has let down his generals. It's been my understanding that the generals in the field and command have said they have adequate forces throughout the operation.
There was a disagreement in the beginning. Rumsfeld made a decision.
Susan also made the point. She suggested that Rumsfeld had disregarded the Geneva Conventions.That's just not so. The Pentagon's interpretation of the Geneva Conventions may be right. It may be wrong. Courts in due time will rule on that, but their interpretation is deeply grounded in the rule of law in a deep respect for the Geneva Conventions.
ROBINSON: And in my judgment is correct.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, go ahead.
ROBINSON: You may disagree, Susan, but it's so. Read John Hughes' paper. John teaches at Boalt Hall at Berkeley. The are legal scholars who say this interpretation is correct. And there's no doubt that it's rooted in the law and respectful of the Conventions.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan?
ROBINSON: No, no, no. Thank you, Susan, for that contribution.
Greta, could you arrange for us to get in the studio, so we can arm wrestle and settle this?
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I'm going to let Susan respond that they might go to the dinner. Go ahead, Susan.
ESTRICH: I don't think the way to settle this is arm wrestling. I think, really, the way it's going to be settled is not through brief court martials, but through a long summer of discovery first in the initial courts martials, later as it works itself way up the line through Senate hearings, through discovery, through legal hearings.
I think the effort, first, in the Afghanistan situation later to transfer it to the Iraqi situation into Guantanamo Bay (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guantanamo as well.
ESTRICH: Suspend the Geneva Convention to argue that it simply did not apply in these circumstances is literally without precedent.
And it's not an interpretation of the Geneva Convention, but literally a decision to not apply it. And you know, I've been reading the "Military Times," hardly a left wring radical publication, where here you have the folks writing for the military and really with great sadness saying that, you know, the military was let down by these lawyers in the White House, these law professors with very little experience in somecases, trying to get around international law.
I think to the detriment of the soldiers in the field and the reputation of the United States in the world. And I think it's really unfortunate. And it's going to all come out to the detriment of this administration.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me switch gears now and go to a historian. Jerry,you're also a historian. How do we convince the Iraqis that we don't want to be there?
SCALES: You do it one day at a time. And you do it through your actions and not your words.
The speech was fine, but what the Iraqi people want is they want to see evidence of what the president's talking about. After the 30th of June, when the first fire fight breaks out, and suddenly, the Americans grabbed control of the fight and run it themselves. And Iraqis aren't able to participate through their own chain of command. That'll be deeds, not words.
So we have to take sovereignty seriously on the battlefield. We have to give the Iraqis the absolute maximum degree of latitude that we possibly can.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think going into this military engagement that this nation truly understood the history and the culture of the Iraqs?
SCALES: No, no, no. In fact, I think the whole issue of cultural awareness is huge. If you look at the failings and the shortcomings in this campaign, they all relate, not to technology and to structure andmaterial. They relate to the human side of war intelligence.
Simple affairs, cultural awareness, language, civil action. Soldier conduct, you name it. It's allfocused on the softer side of war. And if we're going to change something in the military in the years ahead, it's got be focusing less on technology and more on the human side.
VAN SUSTEREN: Back with more on the president's speech tonight. We are joined by Peter Robinson, former speech writer for President Reagan, former Dukakis campaign manager, Susan Estrich, and retired Army Major General Bob Scales.
Peter, I said that you get a chance to respond to Susan's point. And I hate to repeat Susan's point,because I could get it wrong. Susan, correct me if you're wrong - if I'm wrong. But Peter, I think right where we left off is she says that Secretary Rumsfeld let down his generals. Do you agree or disagree? And Susan, correct me if I'm wrong.
ROBINSON: Oh, I can't find any reading under which Rumsfeld has let down his generals. It'sbeen my understanding that the generals in the field in command have said they have adequate forces throughout the operation.
There is a disagreement in the beginning. Rumsfeld made a decision. Susan also made the point. She suggested that Rumsfeld had disregarded the Geneva Conventions. That's just not so.
The Pentagon's interpretation of the Geneva Conventions may be right. It may be wrong. Courts in due time will rule on that, but their interpretation is deeply grounded in the rule of law in a deep respect for the Geneva Conventions.
And in my judgment, is correct.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, go ahead.
ROBINSON: Well, Susan, that's so. You may disagree, Susan, but it's so. Read John Hughes' paper. John teaches at Boalt Hall at Berkeley.
There are legal scholars who say this interpretation is correct. And there's no doubt that it's got rooted in the law and respectful of conventions.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan?
ROBINSON: No, no, no. Thank you, Susan, for that contribution.
Greta, could you arrange for us to get in the studio so we can arm wrestle and settle this?
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I'm going to let Susan respond...
ESTRICH: Well, I don't think...
ROBINSON: ...go ahead, Susan.
I don't think the way to settle this is arm wrestling. I think
Susan respond. They might to the general. Go ahead, Susan.
ESTRICH: I don't think the way to settle this is arm wrestling. I think really the way it's going to be settled is not through police court marshals but through a long summer of discovery first in the initial court martial. Later, as it works its way up the line through Senate hearings, through discovery, through legal hearings.
I think the effort first in the Afghanistan situation later to transfer it to the Iraqi situation, and to Guantanamo Bay...
ROBINSON: To Guantanamo as well.
ESTRICH: Suspend the Geneva Convention to argue that it simply did not apply in thesecircumstances is literally without precedent. And it's not an interpretation of the Geneva Convention, but literally a decision to now apply it.
And you know, I've been reading "The Military Times." Hardly a left wing radical publication.
Where here you have the folks writing for the military. And really with great sadness saying that, you know, the military was let down by these lawyers in the White House, these law professors with very little experience in some cases, trying to get around international law I think to the detriment of the soldiers in the field and the reputation of the United States in the world. And I think it's really unfortunate. And it's going to all come out to the detriment of this administration.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me switch gears to - Jerry, you're also a historian. How do we convince the Iraqis that we don't want to be there?
SCALES: You do it one day at a time. And you do it 'till your actions and not your words. The speech was fine. But what the Iraqi people want is they want to see evidence of what the president's talking about.
After the 30th of June, when the first fire fight breaks out, and suddenly the Americans grabbed control of the fight and run it themselves. And the Iraqis aren't able to participate to their chain of command.
That'll be deeds. No words. So we have to take sovereignty seriously on the battlefield. We have to give the Iraqis the absolute, maximum degree of latitude that we possibly can.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think going into this military engagement that this nation truly understood the history and the culture of the Iraqis?
ROBINSON: No, no. no. In fact, I think the whole issue of cultural awareness is huge. If you look at the failings and the shortcomings in this campaign, they all relate not to Technology and not the structure of material, they relate to the Human side of war intelligence.
Civil affairs, cultural awareness, language, civic action, soldier conduct, you name it. It's all focused on the softer side of war.
And if we're going to change something in the military in the years ahead, it's got to be focusing less on technology and more on the human side. Otherwise, we'll run up against cultures now and again with the same degree of adolescence in how we deal with those cultures, that we did in this one.
VAN SUSTEREN: You have 30 seconds, go ahead.
ROBINSON: Well, the general's absolutely right about that. But it's important to note that that's typical of war. Lincoln didn't expect to lose the first battle of Bull Run. Eisenhower didn't have to expect to - expect to have his lunch handed to him in the North African campaign during the second World War.
The point here, the question that Americans have for the president is has he adapted, does he havea plan suited to the circumstances now? And does he have the will and determination to see it through? In my judgment, people looking at the mantle tonight will answer yes to both of those questions
VAN SUSTEREN: And you're going to get the last word, Peter - you didn't get to respond to that. And June 30th, certainly is going to be a telling date for us all.
Thank you all very much.
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