Transcript: 'The Journal Editorial Report,' January 13, 2007
This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," January 13, 2007.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Mission Baghdad, as the president lays out his plans to clear, hold and build in the troubled capital city, he issues a warning to Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Plus, the U.S. goes on the offensive in Somalia, killing several al-Qaeda suspects in air strikes this week. We'll take a look at the progress being made in the larger war on terror, after these headlines.
GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
President Bush's much-anticipated speech this week on Iraq included stepped-up moves to counter Iranian involvement aimed at killing Americans.
In a thinly veiled message to Iran, Bush announced that he had ordered the deployment of an additional aircraft carrier strike group to the region, and would provide Patriot anti-missile systems to nearby allies.
Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" Columnist and Deputy Editor Dan Henninger, Foreign Affairs Columnist Bret Stephens and Editorial Board Member Rob Pollock.
Rob, you heard the president's speech. Everybody is talking about the fact that it involves more troops. But does it really involve a change of strategy?
ROB POLLOCK, WSJ EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, the change of strategy is the really the big difference. And it's very easy to understand. We've finally decided that it is a U.S. job to help police Baghdad.
Any visitor to the Iraqi capital, for the past couple of years, has noticed that almost all the American troops are out at the airport or in the Green Zone. If you go around the city, you don't see them.
That's going to change under this plan. There's going to be a U.S. garrison in each of nine or ten different districts into which the city is going to be divided. I think there are very good reasons to believe that that might help stabilize the city.
GIGOT: The goal here is to protect the population, Dan. Is it not? And it's based on some real rethinking that the American military has done about counter insurgency strategy over the last two or three years, incorporating the lessons of what we've — what's happening in Iraq.
DAN HENNINGER, WSJ COLUMNIST AND DEPUTY EDITOR: Absolutely. It is no coincidence that General David Petraeus is being sent in to do this. He was the fellow who oversaw the rewriting of the rewriting of the Army's counter insurgency manual. He is an expert on this.
And there are a lot of U.S. troops in Iraq who have wanted to do this for a long time.
Now, there's one additional point to be made here. What they're trying to do is suppress the violence. Because, until you do that, the government can't function.
Carl Levin, the Senate Defense — Foreign — Arms Services Committee chairman, said, after the president's speech, that we should force Maliki to do business with the Sunnis.
Well, you know what? The U.S. government did force Maliki. They have changed the rules of engagement. They no longer have a veto power over U.S. troops over there. They are no longer going to do catch-and-release, which means capturing the jihadists and then letting them back on the streets. That's not going to happen.
They're going to build more prison capacity to hold these people. There has been a significant change here in the U.S. policy.
BRET STEPHENS, WSJ FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: I think that's the point that's really worth stressing. The change is not simply tactical. It's political.
There was a view throughout the last year that the killing that was happening, the sectarian killing that was happening between Sunnis and Shiites, was really not America's business. That the Iraqi government or the Iraqi people really needed to sit down and have what was called national reconciliation.
And I think what this change of strategy recognizes is that you can't get to that kind of national reconciliation if, particularly, the Shiites feel that they have to take their own safety into their hands and resort to the Badr brigades and the Mahdi army and all the other sort of sectarian killing machines that have been leading the country into what people call civil war.
GIGOT: Rob, you've met Petraeus. So have I. I met him in Mosul; saw him in action in Mosul in 2003. What are his qualities that make you think that this can work?
POLLOCK: Well, the main quality with Petraeus is he is a good listener. I've heard no other Iraqi general talk so respectfully about the Iraqis he deals with. And that's what is going to have to happen. Because, again, we are talking about putting American garrisons into the city. But they're going to working closely with a much larger number of American troops.
GIGOT: Is 21,000 troops enough, 21,000 more Americans enough to do the job?
POLLOCK: I don't think anyone can stay that at this point. But what we do know about Petraeus also is that he is an independent mind. He's not beholding to any faction in the government. If he doesn't think he's got enough troops, he is going to tell the president.
GIGOT: I've been told that Petraeus did say to Defense Secretary Gates and to the president that, if I am going to be named the commander over there, I want five brigades and that, if he needs more, he will ask for them.
What about the Maliki government, Dan? Another objection is that this government is too weak a reed for us to depend on. That it will not go after its death squads. And Maliki has promised he will do that. But will he do that? Because it's crucial that he does.
HENNINGER: Well, I think you have to sequence this. They have not been able to achieve the political peace until the violence recedes. You just cannot do politics in an environment like that.
So I think it is going to take maybe four or five or six months to see whether Petraeus and the U.S. troops going into the neighborhoods can damp down some of the violence.
Now, Maliki has agreed that, if rogue Shiite militias are part of the problem, we are going to go after them as well. So we are creating a buffer between the government and the violence out in the streets that I think will allow them to function.
GIGOT: Bret, inevitably, there's going to be casualties here — more American casualties. But that might not — that isn't necessarily a sign that we are losing, is it?
STEPHENS: No. I think that's a point worth stressing. I mean, one of the sort of advantages of the light footprint strategy that we had before is that by parking our troops outside of dangerous cities, outside of dangerous areas, we keeping our casualty rate relatively low.
There is no question. You are putting troops into densely urban areas where they're going to be facing insurgents coming out from behind doors and alleys and streets.
STEPHENS: That means casualty rate is almost certainly going to go up. And I think that's something that the Americans have to recognize. Bush sort of stressed that in his speech the other night.
GIGOT: All right. Thank you, Bret.
When we come back, the U.S. goes on the offensive in Somalia, targeting the terrorists wanted in the 1998 African embassy bombing. Just how entrenched has al-Qaeda become in that country? And can the U.S. force them out?
And "Black Hawk Down" author, Mark Bowden, joins the debate when the "Journal Editorial Report" continues.
GIGOT: U.S. aircraft attacked Islamist strongholds in southern Somalia this week, killing as many as eight suspected al-Qaeda sympathizers hiding there.
The target of the strikes was believed to be those wanted in the 1998 bombings U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The attacks mark the first overt American military intervention there since the U.S. withdrew its troops from a peacekeeping operation in 1994. Soon after, 18 American servicemen died in a raid in Mogadishu.
Mark Bowden is a national correspondent for the "Atlantic Monthly" and author of the definitive account of that raid, "Black Hawk Down." He joins me now in the studio.
Mark Bowden, welcome.
MARK BOWDEN, AUTHOR, "BLACK HAWK DOWN": Thank you, Paul.
GIGOT: So once again, the world is paying attention to Somalia. What are the stakes for American interests in what been happening there?
BOWDEN: Well, I think that the United States is very interested that Somalia not become a continued haven for al-Qaeda-like terrorists. And I think it was headed in that direction up until a few weeks ago when the Islamist courts that had seized control of the country were basically chased out.
So our interest right now is fairly limited, I think, and that is to target these known international terrorists and prevent them from slipping out of Somalia and setting up cells elsewhere on the continent.
GIGOT: Well, Zawahiri, the number two al-Qaeda, the deputy to Usama bin Laden, issued a tape in early January saying that Islamist fighters from around the world should descend on Somalia to try to defend the Islamic Courts Union.
GIGOT: How much do we know about the link between that, the Islamic Courts, and al-Qaeda worldwide?
BOWDEN: Well, first of all, I'd have to say that the whole development in Somalia is fairly heartening when you consider that the Islamists seized power there basically a month or two ago, and basically wore out their welcome in that short length of time, you know.
The call for Islamists to rally around the cause there probably resulted in a somewhat rag-tag element of 100 or 200 people who showed up to join the jihad.
But I think that it is just another indication that most people around the world, even certainly people in Somalia, are not prepared to live under the draconian rule that these zealots prescribe.
GIGOT: Do you have any doubt that there were terrorist training camps? Were al-Qaeda trying to establish itself — themselves in bases there? Is there any doubt about that?
BOWDEN: No. No, doubt at all. I mean, it has been, because of the anarchy there, it has been a fertile ground for terrorists to recruit and train.
And I think this is a very positive development for the United States and the rest of the world that the Islamists have been chased out of power and that the hard-core element is really bottled up in the southern part of their country with nowhere to go.
GIGOT: Well, they're trying to — in that southern part, they're trying to regroup and then reassemble, I gather, as some kind of insurgency like happened with the Taliban in Afghanistan and, of course, in Iraq.
Is it in our interests now to do what we did this week, which is to pursue these people as they come out in the open, and make sure that they can't regroup? Is that the — should that be the main U. S. military goal here?
BOWDEN: Well, I think it is in concert with our goal all over the world, which is to target these individuals who are planning acts of terror. And I think you have some of them there in Somalia. And I think they are in a bad spot at the moment, which is good for us.
And I think we have small elements of special forces in Somalia right now. No doubt they are there to try and track these people and arrest them or kill them.
GIGOT: One of the things I want to ask you about, the Ethiopians swept in very fast, through the capital of Mogadishu, in a matter of days. How extensive was American support for that? I am talking about special forces, maybe CIA operatives, of the kind that we provided the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 20012 and 2002. Have we played a pretty extensive role, more extensive role here in helping the Ethiopians than anybody understands?
BOWDEN: I don't think so, Paul, unless they have managed to keep it a whole lot more quiet than they usually do. America's role has been very low key in here. And I think there are sufficient reasons for the Ethiopian troops — and they have been trained and equipped by the United States —to want to see this Islamist element crushed in Somalia.
And I also think that the big factor here is that the Somali people were clearly not rallying behind this Islamist movement.
GIGOT: Well, now we have this new government in Somalia that has was in with — I guess, it was in a corner of Somalia before. But now, it's established itself in Mogadishu with the help of the Ethiopians.
What chances do you put on their being able to actually establish some order in the country and move ahead so we don't get another cycle of this violence?
BOWDEN: Well, sadly, I'd have to say probably less than 50-50. Because the wild card in Somalia has been, for the past 15 years, these warlords, who essentially all have their own private armies.
I think it is fairly remarkable that the Islamist Courts were able to chase the warlords out of Mogadishu and other cities. But what that suggests to me is that the clans, which are independent of the warlords themselves, are turning against these warlords.
So the real showdown, it seems to me, in Somalia, is going to be between the clan leadership, which is a much more traditional-based form of leadership, and these individually wealthy well-armed warlords, who have been holding that country down the past 15 years.
GIGOT: But at least that's not an outpost of al-Qaeda.
BOWDEN: That's right.
GIGOT: All right. Thank you, Mark Bowden. Thanks for being here.
Much more on this developing story after the break.
And coming up, the U.S. Navy sent additional ships into the waters off the Somali coast this week. Does that move mark the start of a more robust U.S. offensive there? Our panel weighs in when the "Journal Editorial Report" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Those terrorists know longer have a safe haven in which to operate, or at least to live in which they can count on not being hunted down. So they are trying to, we presume, make their way out of Somalia. And in doing so, we want to try to get our hands on them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: That was State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack earlier this week, responding to questions about the U.S. air strikes in Somalia.
On Tuesday, the Navy announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier off the coast where three other warships patrolled the waters since violence in the country escalated two weeks ago.
Bret, how big a victory for U.S. interests is the deposing of the Islamic Courts Union?
STEPHENS: Well, it is huge for the same reason that our victory over Taliban was important. Somalia is a very large country that had become — come under the rule of a Taliban-like regime. And so it provided opportunities to harbor, train, equip al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-related or affiliated terrorists.
And what's more significant is that we did it really at very little — with very little expense and effort of our own. We relied on a local ally, the Ethiopians, to do that.
And in the new transitional government, it seems that we have a reliable ally in the war on terror.
GIGOT: All right.
Let's shift back to the Middle East, Dan, and Iran and Syria. The president's tone in his remarks this week I thought were changed from previously did. He really did warn them. And he said, we're going to dismantle their networks to the extent they're hurting our soldiers and our effort in Iraq.
How do you read the president's determination here? Is it a change?
HENNINGER: I think it is a change. I think they've ramped up the stakes here, and appropriately so.
John Negroponte, who is the outgoing director of Intelligence, appeared before Congress on Friday and, once again, explicitly said Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.
Now, Iran is not a normal nation. It is a rogue nation. See, it is trying to seek regional hegemony in that area. Syria is a client of Iran. Hezbollah, in Lebanon, is a client of Iran. Hezbollah also operates in Saudi Arabia.
We have either got to negotiate with the Iranians, as the Europeans have proposed fecklessly, or take initiative, like the president has proposed in his speech.
GIGOT: This is a direct repudiation, Bret, of the Iraq Study Group's recommendation that we engage Iran and Syria in some kind of broader regional conference. Isn't it? Isn't this rejecting what Jim Baker proposed?
STEPHENS: Well, that's right? The Iraq Study Group suggested that Iran and Syria had interests in Iraqi stability and so, therefore, could be potential negotiating parties.
But the experience of the last three years is that everything that Iraq — everything Iran and Syria have been doing is to destabilize Iraq, to destabilize the government — A, because they want to see us bloodied; B, because they want see us out of there; and, C, because they have, of course, interests of their own.
GIGOT: So we are already in a wider war. The president is merely trying to decide finally we are going to fight as if we are in this wider war, as opposed to causing it.
STEPHENS: That's right.
POLLOCK: That's true. But I do think it's important to remember that, what we have in Iraq is primarily an indigenous conflict between Iraqi Sunnis/Baathists and Iraqi Shiites.
Iran and Syria have been unhelpful. But I don't think anything we do about them is going to be decisive in the context of Iraq.
Now, when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program, you're not going to find anyone with a more hawkish views than me. And I think we should be tough. But that's a different issue.
STEPHENS: I would disagree with you for one moment. Because in the matter of the Sunni insurgency, you are absolutely right. The Sunni insurgency is largely a Baathist insurgency to the extent that it has been helped — it has been helped by other Sunni countries, like Syria.
But the question that we're confronting now in Iraq is what's going to happens to the Shiite population? Are they going to be relatively moderate? Are they going to be pro-American? Or are they going to be pro- Iranian? And that's why the Iranian moves into Iraq have been so insidious.
GIGOT: And the danger is, if we pull out of Iraq precipitously, then the radical Shiite elements will be empowered because they are the only ones that the Shiite population will be able to depend on to put down the Sunni terrorists.
And that, I think, is the gamble that Bush is making in trying to stay there and resist those radical Shiite elements, empower the moderate ones. We don't know if it will succeed. But is seems, to me, a risk worth taking.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week.
Item one, Mark McGuire falls far short in his Hall of Fame bid — Dan?
HENNINGER: Yes. As we all know, Mark McGuire only got about 23 percent of the votes necessary to get into the Hall of Fame. I think this is a big hit for a couple reasons. It goes beyond baseball. It goes to all sports, including one of my favorite sports track and field and the Summer Olympics.
Performance enhancing drugs are going to be a problem for a long time for a couple reasons. One, they are getting harder to detect, and the financial incentives are huge.
But the Hall of Fame is a symbol everybody understands. And I think what it shows here is that no matter how craven or mercenary an athlete is, if they continue to use these drugs, they may collect a lot of money, but there will be no honor in their legacy.
GIGOT: All right, Dan.
Next, smokers may be one minority in Congress with even fewer rights than House Republicans — Brad?
POLLOCK: Yes, the new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in one of her first moves, banned smoking in the Speaker's lobby in the House.
Now, my first reaction to this was who knew that smoking was actually still permitted in Congress. But, of course, Congress never abides by the rules that it sets for the rest of the country. The rest of us have been living in a very different reality zone from the House.
And I think it's a good thing that the Speaker is bringing the House into that reality of the rest of us.
But you have to really wonder what's next. Is she going to ban transfats in the congressional cafeteria? If she does that, there won't be any food left to eat.
GIGOT: All right, Bret.
And finally, Cindy Sheehan goes to Cuba — Rob?
POLLOCK: Yes, well, this past week marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. This was the occasion for protests from human rights groups, self-styled human rights groups, I should say, all over the world.
But for sheer irony value, my favorite protest has to be the one that happened inside the prison that is Cuba itself, which was led by none other than celebrated American anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan.
Now, I studied the reports carefully and could find no evidence that she had bothered to bring up Cuba's human rights records with the Castro brothers.
GIGOT: That's a shame. You were in Guantanamo recently. Do you think that that will survive the Bush presidency as a holding place for al- Qaeda?
POLLOCK: Well, I think it will. They are building courtrooms. They're going to start trials soon. And they have a relatively new secretary for detainee affairs who is very good, I think. He has been very good in educating people about the reality at Guantanamo, which is a lot better than most people think.
GIGOT: All right, interesting.
All right, that's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report."
Thanks to Dan Henninger, Bret Stephens and Rob Pollock.
I'm Paul Gigot. Thank you to all of you for watching. And we hope to see you right here next week.
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