Next Step in Iraq

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This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 5, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stay the course. We will complete the job in Iraq.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush making it clear that terror threats, like the taped message from Al Qaeda's Ayman Al-Zawahri (search), will not sway efforts in Iraq. It has been a violent week, with 21 Marines killed in Iraq, 14 in just one attack.

And, according to a new poll, the president's job approval ratings on how he's handling the war are dropping.

But U.S. military officials say suicide attacks are down. And there's been some progress on the political fronts. So, should we stay the course, or is it time to beat feet and get out?

Joining us now is senior fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations, author, columnist Max Boot.

So, first of all, you know, terrible attack, 21 Marines killed, and all from one unit, which was a horrible blow. But then the Pentagon said the very next day, actually, suicide attacks are down and they seem to be suppressing the insurgency. Is that just P.R. or is that likely to be true?

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It's very hard to tell how we're doing in the insurgency, John. I mean, that's kind of the nature of a guerrilla war. You don't know how you're doing because, in a regular war, you can look at a map and say, OK, our forces have advanced from point A to point B.

But, in this kind of war, the battle is for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. And it's hard to know how we're doing. I think there are some negative signs, but there are also a lot of positive signs, primarily on the political front, going back to the election on January 30, the fact that Iraqis are now writing a constitution, the fact they're going to have more elections.

The reality is that the violence is fairly contained in about four provinces out of 18. It has not managed to stop the political progress of the rest of the country. But, unfortunately, they are able to carry out these horrible acts of violence, these horrible atrocities, including the kind that killed those brave Marines.

GIBSON: The president's approval rating falling on this news from Iraq, support for the war falling. More than half of Americans now think it was a mistake. There is a domestic political calculation that goes into the war in Iraq as well, isn't there?

BOOT: Well, sure. But I think that President Bush has a lot of leeway to do what's right. And I don't think he's going to pull out prematurely.

I mean, if you look at the public opinion polls, yes, the public is uneasy. They're not happy about the casualties. Nobody is, obviously. But, at the same time, there's not this kind of groundswell to force the president to pull out, as there was, for example, in 1968 over Vietnam. I think the public realizes that the consequences of a premature pullout would be catastrophic.

GIBSON: What about this tape from al-Zawahri, sort of capitalizing on the London bombings, threatening more bombings in Britain, more attacks on the United States? Are those empty threats from a trapped and cornered terrorist in a cave, or is that the real deal from somebody who is operating?

BOOT: I wouldn't dismiss them as empty threats. Clearly, Al Qaeda (search) and its affiliates around the world still have the capacity to wreak havoc, as we've seen in Sharm el-Sheikh (search) and London and elsewhere.

Now, whether Zawahri and bin Laden are personally in control of those operations, I don't think anybody has a good handle on that. But, clearly, the people who are fired up by this kind of extremist Islamic fascist ideology are out there, and they're able to carry out attacks and they will continue to carry them out.

GIBSON: What should we be doing about the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia who are spreading this jihad ideology around the world, and what should we be doing about where Waziristan (search), where Zawahri probably is holed up?

BOOT: Well, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are very tough issues to deal with because, of course, they're countries that, on the one hand, say that they're friends of the United States, but, on the other hand, they're sometimes in bed with the terrorists.

So, it's very hard to now how far we can go in pressuring them without leading to a catastrophic fall of the government. I clearly think that we have to keep the pressure on. But we also have to worry about Western Europe, which is now turning into a new breeding ground of terrorism. Places like London and Paris and Hamburg, that's where some of the worst Islamist terror cells are arising. We have to figure out how to deal with that problem as well.

GIBSON: Do you think we have a handle on that?

BOOT: I think we're getting a handle on it. But there's no obvious solution.

I mean, there are these millions of Islamic immigrants and second-generation Islamic immigrants in Western Europe who are being radicalized by these ideologies of hatred, some of which are being sponsored by the Saudis. And it's going to be a long time before we can get a grip on that problem.

GIBSON: Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, author, columnist in The L.A. Times and working on a book, yet another book.

Max, good of you to take a break and come in. Thanks.

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