This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Sept. 8, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: It was certainly no surprise when American war deaths in Iraq passed the 1000 mark. But it was the stuff of headlines when it came to pass yesterday. The question is how important a milestone is this? Is it militarily significant or psychologically important, both, neither?

For answers we turn to Fox News contributor retired Army general and military historian, Robert Scales.

Bob, welcome back.


HUME: What's the meaning of this event, if any?

SCALES: I don't think it has any military significance. I do think it's a milestone; it's a tragic, sad milestone. And it kind of gives us a time for reflection, for looking back. Looking to see what's happened over the 18 months. And may be even looking forward to see perhaps how we might want to change the way we prosecute this war in the future.

SCALES: One question, of course, is we've been involved in this now for what? A year an half.

SCALES: About a year and a half.

HUME: A year and a half. It was the overthrow of a country's government and the occupation thereof now for quite a long time. And more trouble is still going on. By historical standards, is this a high casualty rate, low casualty rate? What?

SCALES: It's very low casualties when you compare it to something like Vietnam. I mean at the height of the Tet Offensive (search), which lasted nine days, there were well over 1,000 American dead. So in terms of the rate, obviously it's much lower. But it all goes into this whole idea of and ends and means, Brit.

18 rangers was too high a price to feeding the starving poor in Somalia (search). But you have to ask, and the American people are asking is keeping us safe at home, safe from terrorist, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, a price that we're willing to pay? So it's all relative. It depends on what the ends are.

HUME: Of course, the argument is made that fighting in Iraq doesn't really do that. Because it is argued, Saddam Hussein (search) didn't really have connections to terrorism in any meaningful way that threatened us. And therefore, we may be furthering some goal over there, long-range goal perhaps of democracy in the Middle East and so forth.

SCALES: Nobody is reading their history. There's a tenet historians call the "center of gravity," or this sort of heartland. And if you look at the map of the Middle East, the one piece of territory that sits right in the heartland of the Middle East that separates all of the warring powers the center of gravity — the geographic center of gravity in the Middle East — is Iraq. Why do you think the Iranians are so paranoid about the Americans presence in Iraq? Because they don't like us? No. Because they can't pursue their own terrorist agenda if they have a stable, democratic government on their borders. Essentially, Iran is surrounded.

HUME: On one side.

SCALES: Sure. And so, to simply say that well, "There weren't a lot of terrorists in Iraq before 2003" is a bit disingenuous, frankly.

HUME: In your judge then, where is this likely to go from here?

SCALES: Well, I think it's going to end with whimper and not a bang. The America's exit strategy is centered on a gentleman by the name of Lieutenant General Dave Petreaus. He's training the Iraqi military, the National Guard, the police to replace Americans. The sooner he does it, the sooner these guys are on the street. The sooner they move into places like Samarra and Fallujah and take over the day-to-day, dirty business of the close combat function, the sooner Americans soldiers will start removing themselves.

HUME: You have a sense of how long they've been training and you also have a sense of what the mission is.


HUME: So what is your judgment about how far along they are, or the kind of training needed to get these forces ready?

SCALES: I mean we're building an army from scratch. You can make an argument that it takes about 15 years for America to make a battalion commander, about 17 years to make a good platoon sergeant. And here we are trying to take an army and create an entire command, an entire army structure, equip it, train it and put it the field in 18 months.

HUME: That sounds like mission impossible?

SCALES: Oh, not mission impossible. But we just have to understand how difficult this is. And the American people have to be patient with the process. But there's a good man in charge. Dave Petreaus knows what he's doing. He's done this before. He's got the trust of Allawi and the Iraqi government. And I think if anybody can do it right, Dave Petreaus can.

HUME: What does history tell us about the efforts of an insurgent, even indeed terrorist group, in a place like Iraq where it seems safe to say, based on the performance there, while they have some popular support, they probably don't have very much...

SCALES: That's right.

HUME: ...these insurgents. How does that weigh in the equation?

SCALES: There aren't really many good historical analogies to Iraq. And too many people are trying to throw around too many historical analogies. The bottom line is that they don't have the support of the people, as say the Viet Cong and the NVA did in South Vietnam. Bad analogy. And it's nowhere near like, for instance, the situation the Battle of Algiers in 1958 to 1962. Entirely different situation.

The vast majority of the Iraqi people want a stable environment. They want to be left alone by both sides. A lot different than the Maoist insurrections in the '50s, and of course, Ho Chi Minh in the 60s.

HUME: But they don't want us gone right away.

SCALES: They can't have us gone right away because if we leave, it's either civil war or the insurgents, the radical Islamist take over. The American presence has to be there; even if it's benign, it's got to be there until the Iraqis can take charge.

HUME: Bob Scales, great to have you as always.

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