Gen. Richard Myers on Iraq

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," September 27, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: When the history of this time is written and era of tragedy and turmoil and triumph, I believe it will be said of Dick Myers he was one of the most consequential chairman of our joint chiefs’ history. No chairman is deep deeply involved in more critical decisions involving our country, and our security and certainly involving the men and women in uniform. At time of historic challenges and opportunities, our country needed the best and America found it in Dick Myers, whose courage I’ve seen, whose council I will miss, and whose friendship I value, Dick Myers.

GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary. And good afternoon.


BRIT HUME, HOST: That, of course, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today, commenting on the man he chose to head the joint chief of staff, Air Force General Richard Myers, who retires after a 40-year military career. He joins me now.

Welcome General.

MYERS: Thank you. Nice to be here.

HUME: Congratulations on your retirement.

MYERS: Thank you.

HUME: Congratulations on making it through.

MYERS: Thank you, sir. It’s been a privilege, as a matter of fact.

HUME: Let me ask you first of all a here-and-now question. Abu Azzam, the guy that got killed in Baghdad, said to be No. 2 Al Qaeda man in Iraq. What about this guy? Who is he? What makes him No. 2?

MYERS: Number 2 because he was probably, while Zarqawi, the No. 1 Al Qaeda in Iraq, was on the run a lot, we think this fellow was doing a lot of the communicating and a lot of the planning and perhaps leading some of the operations. He was also a financier, as well. So, he was probably working the finances. So this is a big deal, I think.

HUME: Headquartered — he was quartered in Baghdad or...

MYERS: He was called the Emir of Baghdad. Previously he’d been the Emir of Al Anbar Province, this is out west, of course.

HUME: Hard to quantify, I know, but how much difference might absence make in the near term to the amount — the number of these terrorist attacks that seem endless?

MYERS: You know, I don’t know. I think we really don’t know. We’re going to have to see. There were other people that were picked up with him, as well. And so it’ll be a pretty good blow, but this is a network that is fairly resilient. They’ll go to the bench. The bench — the players that come in will not be as strong, certainly, in the near term, so hopefully it will make a difference.

HUME: How much difference would it make if you got Zarqawi, in your judgment?

MYERS: I think it’d be a similar sort of thing. I think, probably one of his main — main value to the organization is just his charisma and his absolute uncivilized message that he seems to attract those that are on the very edge of extremism. And I think it’d make a difference to get him too, of course.

HUME: The supply of people willing to die in this cause, a cause which, obviously, is involved in the murder of civilians and the innocence, has seemed to be strikingly large. What accounts for that in your judgment?

MYERS: I think it, well, you know, it doesn’t take many people, it takes one suicide bomber, to get in a vehicle that’s laden with explosives if they willing to blow themselves up, drive into a marketplace and explode themselves and their vehicle and kill or wound hundreds of people, and that when we see that from time to time or suicide vests. So, it doesn’t take a large numbers, it just takes a real dedication and belief this violent, uncivilized extreme behavior leads to greater religious benefits, which, obviously, most people don’t believe. But there are those on the fringe that do it and they’re willing to...

HUME: Have you been surprised what seems to be the number willing to do this?

MYERS: Well, I don’t know. There were lots of — you remember we first got into understanding Al Qaeda after 9/11, we looked at Afghanistan, the number of people that had been trained there, and I think it was up in the thousands and people that had gone through Al Qaeda training in Afghanistan, so...

HUME: Do you think that’s who we’re up against, the people who were trained in Afghanistan? Is that your opinion?

MYERS: Well, some and then some new, of course. I think a lot of folks that we’re up against have had training in Afghanistan or other countries.

HUME: What have we learned, I mean, counterinsurgency is obviously not a new thing in warfare, it’s been going on for centuries. What have we learned about counterinsurgency in this war?

MYERS: Well, I think it’s similar to what we learned in past insurgencies and that is that generally it takes, they’re fairly — now you’re talking about Iraq specifically?

HUME: Yes.

MYERS: OK, Iraq specifically, they take some time to deal with, that it’s — military force alone is usually not enough, that it takes the political and economic progress as well to end these things and that in the end, the people that live there have to be the ones that make the difference, in this case Iraqis. And having talked to many Iraqis, they want to do that.

HUME: How much better equipped and trained are the Iraqi forces now than they were a year, two years ago in your judgment?

MYERS: Well, a year ago we hardly had any Iraqi forces that were capable of participating in this counterinsurgency at all. I mean, we were just working through some of the training and so forth. We started really in earnest when General Dave Petraeus, General Casey went over which was a year ago June, end of June, July. And so in the last year, it’s been an enormous difference. We’re finally getting to, what I would call, critical mass with Iraqi security forces, where they are now participating in a very major way in all of the operations, sometimes they lead the operations with our help. Sometimes they follow with our lead, and sometimes they go out and do them on their own.

HUME: Looking at this whole conflict, the war on terror, at large, what is the greatest lesson you feel that you have learned as a military man since 9/11, 2001?

MYERS: The greatest lesson, to me, is that Al Qaeda and the long war, the broad war, of which Iraq is a part, they know they can’t defeat us militarily.

HUME: Cannot?

MYERS: They cannot. Absolutely cannot. They’ve never won a tactical battle with us in any of the last four years. The only way they can defeat us — the only way they can defeat the United States and international community is if we lose our resolve, our patience, if you will, our will to persevere. That’s the only way they can be successful.

HUME: And yet they have held on, held up, and kept us over there, perhaps longer than you anticipated?

MYERS: I don’t know that it’s longer. Not longer than I anticipated. I knew this was going to be hard. I think Afghanistan, in terms of the heavy fighting, went probably faster than we anticipated and just having had their parliamentary elections is actually in pretty good shape. Iraq, I think, this insurgency that has built over the last two years and has changed in character from May `03 when major combat ended until today, has changed in character but — and not predicted, necessarily, but not totally surprising either.

HUME: What is your — as you go — as you go out this week, what is your greatest worry about what might come next?

MYERS: Frankly, I don’t have a worry about what’s going to come next. You may know that I did an around-the-world trip visiting troops. And the reason I say that is not out of some false hope or naive belief that everything’s going to be rosy. But what I do know is that the men and women that I’ve stood alongside and worn this uniform are — understand their task better than anybody could — should even expect them to understand it, are very positive about their ability to have an outcome that’s very successful and are willing to just go after it. I mean, these are the best men and women we’ve ever had. So, I’m very positive about the future.

HUME: General Myers, thank you for your service. Thank you for this interview.

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