Will President Bush Stand by His Man in Iraq?

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This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on December 2, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My plan and his plan is to accelerate the Iraqis' responsibility. See, here's a man who's been elected by the people. The people expect him to respond, and he doesn't have the capacity to respond. He's the right guy for Iraq. And we're going to help him. And it's in our interests to help him.


MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: I'm Mort Kondracke.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: And I'm Fred Barnes, and we're "The Beltway Boys." And the "Hot Story" is "Decision Time in Iraq." And there are two options, and they're quite clear-cut. And by the way, the "him" and that - that guy that Bush was - was off screen who Bush was saying the nice things about is Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. And they met Thursday in Amman, Jordan. Now the options are this: go for victory or move toward retreat, begin a retreat from Iraq, which would lead to a defeat, I believe. Now on the one hand you have President Bush and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon — you know, led by Chairman Peter Pace — are for going for victory, not for a pullout or a pullback or anything like that anytime soon. And President Bush was pretty clear on this. Watch.


BUSH: I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there.


BARNES: That was sort of a preemptive strike at the Iraq Study Group, you know, that's been around -- what? -- how long have they been around? Six, seven months or something, looking into Iraq and coming up with new ideas, headed by Jim Baker, the former secretary of state, a Republican, and Lee Hamilton, the former lots of things, a Democrat. And they're basically for a retreat. But not on a specific timetable, which Democrats who are also for some kind of a retreat, actually want, led by Carl Levin, the senator from Michigan. Now if you're going to pursue a victory strategy, as -- which President Bush and the -- and the chiefs want, there are several things that you have to do. And they have -- and if it's going to work, they have to be done successfully. One, of course, is for Prime Minister Maliki to really get his act together, which he hasn't had, and either curb or cripple these militias, particularly the Shiite militias, particularly the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr -- cripple them and -- because they're a huge part of the problem of violence and bloodshed, particularly in Baghdad. But Maliki, when you heard him at that press conference with Bush, you weren't sure that he's ready to do that. Watch.


NOURI AL-MALIKI, PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ (through translator): Mr. Sadr and the Sadrists are just one component that participates in the parliament or in the government. And I think participating in the government is a responsibility, and it's a mutual commitment. And those who participate in this government need to bare responsibilities.


BARNES: You got that? Whatever that was, it wasn't, we're going to crush the militias. It was - he wasn't saying that. OK. That was number one that he's got to do. Secondly, they got to do something really quickly in Baghdad. The U.S. and Iraqi forces are going to really have to step up their efforts to pacify Baghdad. You can't have a capital city that is in -- in chaos. They may have to bring in more troops for that. And thirdly, what they're going to have to do and I think this is going to happen, because everybody seems to agree with this, whether they're for victory or they're for retreat, and that is to step up the training, accelerate the training of the Iraqi army by implanting more American troops as trainers. If this doesn't work over the next couple - well, the next year, say, of the Bush -- Bush's final two years in office, who knows? He may have to side with the retreatists, if there's such a word as retreatists.

KONDRACKE: Look, referring to the - the Iraq Study Group, it used to be that these independent, bipartisan commissions, you know, would meet, they would report, and then they would go home. That's not the way it works anymore. Starting with the 9/11 Commission, of which Lee Hamilton was also a co-chairman, now they think that they're anointed to - to - to make policy and sell policy and so on. And in the case of this commission, they've been leaking like crazy all over the place what their conclusions are. They had their -- actually had their picture taken by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz for "Men's Vogue" magazine. After the press conference on Wednesday, they're going to -- they're going to go on tour to try to sell their policies. And what -- and what they're really doing is, they're not just advising, they are trying to force the Bush administration into beginning withdrawals. Not a specific timetable, apparently, but -- but substantial withdrawals by the end of 2007, beginning of 2008, and force negotiations with Iran and Syria, who are operating against us in -- in Iraq. Now the outcome of this is going to be that the Democrats are going to seize on these Iraq Study Group conclusions, and the Iraq Study Group is going to be going around the country. And they're going to try to hammer the president into -- into doing what -- what -- basically what the Democrats want, namely get out. Not increase, get out.

BARNES: Yes, I know. And they're going to have a great ally in this, and that's going to be the mainstream media, which will buy into this, and will -- as if this is holy writ that has come from the Iraq Study Group, and cannot be -- they will not tolerate any resistance to it, which I think Bush is going to offer. So the pressure really will be great. Now I think that if these recommendations are what we think they're going to be - been widely reported, particularly in The New York Times, I think the Iraq Study Group will have labored hard and brought forth a mouse. I mean, if their big recommendations are, one, retreat -- you know, pull back. And of course, a pullback from Baghdad would mean the violence and bloodshed would increase, not decrease. That being one, and the other one which you mentioned of course, sitting down and yapping with our enemies in Syria and Iran, who -- who don't have any good intentions at all for Iraq, except to subjugate it. If that's the best they can come up with, that's not much. I mean, we didn't need a blue (INAUDIBLE) -- a blue-ribbon commission to come up with advice like that.

KONDRACKE: Yes. No, on -- on the face of things, I don't see much either in the way of change in the Bush administration's policy. There are certainly no indication that they're going to go for a big increase in troop commitment, or that we're going to have substantial assignment of troops in Baghdad to really clean the place out, and pacify it. The most you're getting is the idea that we're going to embed more trainers with the Iraqi troops. That may be a good idea, except up to now, the trainers have not been doing a great job with the Iraqi security forces. Now there is this story that -- that the State Department is considering a recommendation whereby we would stop trying to reconcile the Sunnis and the Shiites. We would basically dump the -- the Sunnis and side with the Shiites, which.

BARNES: And the Kurds.

KONDRACKE: Which - which.


BARNES: Mort, that's 80 percent of the population.

KONDRACKE: Well, I know it is.

BARNES: And 80 percent that supports democracy.

KONDRACKE: Well, I'm not sure that the Shiites really do support democracy. All the -- certainly Muqtada al-Sadr does not. And Muqtada al- Sadr is -- is a pro-Iranian. He's getting support from the revolutionary guards in Iran. And - and Maliki refuses to do anything about him, as you - as you pointed out.

BARNES: Well, and.

KONDRACKE: So, you know, I -- I just don't know where this goes.

BARNES: Appeasing the Sunnis has not worked though.

KONDRACKE: Well, I -- you know, is it appeasement or reconciliation? I mean, you cannot.

BARNES: Appeasement. He keeps offering them things.


BARNES: And Mort, the Sunnis -- what do the Sunnis want? They want control again. They want.

KONDRACKE: Well, they're not going to get control again.

BARNES: .to be - like they had under Saddam Hussein.

KONDRACKE: If you're going to have a withdrawal, you're going to need a regional conference to prevent a regional civil war. That's -- I think that's what Baker perceives.

BARNES: Well, the Iranians and the Syrians won't help.

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