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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Iraq: Exit Strategy or No Way Out?
Aired January 31, 2007 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: ... special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "Iraq: Exit Strategy or No Way Out?"
Reporting tonight from Washington, here's Anderson Cooper.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. When the bipartisan Iraq Study Group issued its report last month, calling the situation grave and deteriorating, President Bush had an answer. The problem, he said, is we're not succeeding fast enough.
There was no such optimism when President Bush addressed the country tonight. Even success, he said, might not look like the kind of success we're accustomed to seeing.
But success, he said, is vital all the same, and he offered a plan that he says will achieve it.
Coming up, a closer look at whether it stands a chance.
But first, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A difficult admission for President Bush, who rarely admits he's wrong.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.
Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons. There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents.
MALVEAUX: So he is now sending an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq, staking their lives and his presidency on Iraq's new and fragile government.
BUSH: Only Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush and his aides went to great pains to frame this as an Iraqi plan. And while he has set no timetable for an exit from Iraq, the president says his and the country's patience has worn thin.
BUSH: I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people. And it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.
MALVEAUX: Those promises, share oil profits across all of Iraq's ethnic lines, spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction projects, allow people who are loyal to Saddam Hussein back into political life and hold elections in the provinces. President Bush offered a bold goal.
BUSH: To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.
MALVEAUX: President Bush last spoke to Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last Thursday on a secure telephone conference. After the nearly two-hour conversation, sources say the president was personally assured that the rules of engagement will change for Iraqi troops and they will be allowed to take on the militia of Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
BUSH: Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.
MALVEAUX: About 50 people protested the president's policies outside the White House gates. Inside, the president acknowledged the work of the Iraq Study Group and that his decision on his new strategy is at odds with many he consulted.
BUSH: Their solution is to scale back America's efforts in Baghdad or announce the phased withdrawal of our combat forces. We carefully considered these proposals, and we concluded that to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear the country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush used the words victory and success to express confidence that the new strategy will lead to positive results, but admitted there will be bloodshed ahead.
BUSH: This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations or IED attacks.
COOPER: Suzanne joins us now.
Obviously, Suzanne, this is not the end of the debate. What's next for the president and the plan?
MALVEAUX (on camera): Anderson, now it really is the big sell. We're going to see tomorrow secretaries of state as well as defense, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of them here at the White House to hold a joint briefing on camera to present a united front.
And in the afternoon President Bush is going to highlight this strategy when he travels to Fort Benning, Georgia. That is where he's going to be speaking before a very friendly audience, a group of troops -- Anderson.
COOPER: Suzanne, thanks.
This has been billed as not just the last chance for the mission in Iraq, but also the president himself.
More on that now from CNN's John Roberts.
BUSH: The global war on terror...
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If it feels like it's all been said before...
BUSH: The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq.
ROBERTS: ... it's because it probably has.
BUSH: It's a major new campaign to end the security crisis in Baghdad.
ROBERTS: From his most recent series of speeches during last year's campaign, all the way back to the deck of the Abraham Lincoln.
BUSH: The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time.
ROBERTS: The president has repeatedly appealed for patience while successive plans to stabilize Iraq have failed.
STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: I think this is the last -- the last chance for him. He's got only two more years left in his administration. He needs -- he needs as much popular support as he's apt to get from this speech.
ROBERTS: And does this last chance stand any better chance than plans before it? Perhaps, says General Don Shepperd, if the president gives up his central idea of winning.
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): The key is turning the war over to the Iraqis, not Americans winning the war. Americans cannot bring security to Iraq, nor can they bring security to Baghdad.
ROBERTS: By increasing troops, President Bush is both following an old playbook to secure Iraqi elections.
December 7, 2004
BUSH: We'll increase U.S. troop strength by about 12,000 personnel.
ROBERTS: And contradicting what he said six months later.
June 28, 2005
BUSH: Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight.
ROBERTS: Will the gamble pay off this time around? Here's what Foreign Policy Expert Michael O'Hanlon told Congress today.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: The best you could hope for out of a surge is to get violence back to where it was maybe in 2004; or if you're really lucky, the more difficult parts of 2003.
ROBERTS: At risk for President Bush, his legacy. Success could revive his presidency. Another failure could seal his place in history.
HESS: There's no question that the one line after his entry in the encyclopedia, George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States, who chose to invade Iraq, and then whatever the consequences may be.
ROBERTS: And if it doesn't work, what then?
SHEPPERD: If this just doesn't work, we leave Iraq. We put the best face on that we can and we stand by for the next big event. And we be very, very careful and very studied about committing ourselves to combat anywhere again.
COOPER: John, is that the only option if this plan fails, pulling out?
ROBERTS (on camera): Certainly, it's not in the president's playbook, Anderson, and something that he has vowed will not happen under his watch. And even if the Democrats were to up the pressure on the president to pull the troops out of Iraq by withholding funding for the troops as they did back in the Vietnam War, that's something that would take some time. It took a couple of years back in the 1970s for that to finally take effect.
It's likely, then, that this would pass over to the next administration. But not before it became the central issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.
And, Anderson, I know of at least one Republican who doesn't want to see that happen.
COOPER: John, thanks very much.
(BEGIN BREAKING NEWS)
COOPER: Breaking news now. Reaction tonight from Democrats and Republicans alike to President Bush's new plan for Iraq.
Just moments ago, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton issued this statement. In part it reads, "Based on the President's speech tonight, I cannot support his proposed escalation of the war in Iraq. The President's Iraq policy has been marred by incompetence and arrogance as his Administration has refused to recognize the military and political reality on the ground." The statement goes on to say, "The president simply has not gotten the message sent loudly and clearly by the American people, that we desperately need a new course."
(END BREAKING NEWS)
COOPER: It's not just Democrats parting ways with the president.
Joining us now, Republican Senator Gordon Smith, who also opposes sending more troops.
Senator, thanks very much for being with us.
SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: My pleasure.
COOPER: Anything new in the speech tonight? Anything make you change your mind?
SMITH: No. It was a very sobering speech. It's essentially what he told us during our consultation with him a couple of days ago.
It's a stark reminder of the power of the commander in chief to take the initiative and it sets up with Congress, you know, a traditional war powers confrontation.
COOPER: What -- you've gotten a lot of attention lately for essentially changing your mind or at least speaking out more publicly about your feelings on the war. What brought about that change?
You said the execution of the war in some ways might even be criminal.
SMITH: Well, I was referring to the practice of doing over and over again the same thing that fails and expecting a different result.
COOPER: Sending troops on the same streets?
SMITH: Same way and same bombs blowing them up with -- which was a strategy and tactics that I think needlessly get our soldiers killed. And it does not equal victory as the president had laid it out.
So I hope to have changed or influenced policy, a change in policy. But clearly, the president -- we have one commander in chief at a time. And he is going to ramp this up.
My hope is that he's right and I'm wrong. The predicate of what he's saying is that security provided by Americans is necessary for Iraqis to make economic progress and political decisions. I just don't happen to believe it. I think it's the other way around. They need to make decisions so that security will come and flow from their own countrymen. They can be their own freedom fighters.
COOPER: When you see this president talking, does he have credibility on this subject to you?
SMITH: Well, I hope he does. I mean, I want America to win. I want this president to be successful. But, you know, what he's doing now is a hail Mary pass. We've tried the hail Mary before. I just hope there's an Iraqi army there to catch the ball, because they haven't in the past.
COOPER: What would you want done?
SMITH: I want the Iraqis to maintain security in Baghdad. I want them to step up to their government. We've paid an enormous price economically and, even more importantly, in lives and limbs of our soldiers, to give them this opportunity.
I don't know that we fully comprehend with our western thinking what democracy means to them. I mean, I think it's a very different thing. It's about getting even with your neighbor. It's revenge. It's voting for your party that will kill the other party. That's what's got to change. And that's not a fight that's ours that we can fix.
COOPER: So you say, what, bring the troops out starting now?
SMITH: What I believe we should continue to do is provide training, logistics, share intelligence, interdiction periodically. But our patrolling their streets? No. I think our troops should be repositioned on the borders of Iran, Syria, so when you got a Toyota full of AK-47s, those are our enemies. Those are the jihadists that would export terror not just to Iraq, but to our country. That's our fight.
But the policing of the streets of Baghdad, I'm sorry, we don't have enough. It isn't 20,000 you need. It's probably 200,000. You need to turn the whole city into a green zone, not just a little quadrant.
COOPER: Supporters, though, of the president's policy will say, look, the alternative, an Iraq that falls apart is a nightmare scenario, is one that we can't even really consider. Do you think that's true or is that -- or do we know really what would happen?
SMITH: Look, when we're not the shield to take the bullets, will they stop shooting at each other? Maybe not. But the way civil wars are settled is one side wins or it's hurtful enough that they say, let's figure out how to go forward as one country. Those are political decisions. And ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that our presence there is counterproductive to their deciding what kind of country that they're going to have.
COOPER: So do you think sending 21,000 more troops continues to be criminal?
SMITH: When I say criminal, I'm referring to a military tactic, not a legal term. I just think that we have got to do something differently than what we've been doing now for four years.
SMITH: I'm afraid what the surge means is a perpetuation and extension of the status quo. I hope I'm wrong. I want the president to be right. And we will see.
But in the meantime, the Congress is going to be looking at returning to the authorization, the appropriations, all of these things.
COOPER: Democrats are talking about the idea of possibly withholding funding. Would you support that?
SMITH: I would rather us focus on the authorization. Because the problem with defunding is these troops as we speak are on the move. It's really hard for me to think it honorable to defund them from having bullets when their commander in chief orders them to stay in the fox hole. That's dangerous, may be deadly for our side.
COOPER: Gordon Smith, appreciate your time. Thank you very much, Senator.
SMITH: Thank you.
COOPER: Well, the war in Iraq has evolved over the years. So, of course, has the enemy. New insurgent groups are popping up on Baghdad streets. They are a learning enemy, dangerous, and they're more determined than ever to kill Americans. We'll go inside the bloody battlefield ahead.
Plus, as we mentioned a bit already tonight, Congress has the power to stop President Bush's plan in some ways by cutting off the money. The question is, will lawmakers use it? You just heard from Senator Smith. We'll talk to some others.
And I'll ask a soldier and a Marine who fought in Iraq what they think tonight of the president's speech and the plan.
You're watching a special edition of 360, from Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The most urgent priority for success in Iraq is security, especially in Baghdad. Eighty percent of Iraq's sectarian violence occurs within 30 miles of the capitol. This violence is splitting Baghdad into sectarian enclaves and shaking the confidence of all Iraqis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, it was just 400 yards from Baghdad's heavily fortified green zone that CNN's cameras captured a battle between Sunni insurgents and American forces yesterday.
Tonight, we know more about who they were fighting. And it is a long and frightening list.
CNN's Michael Holmes reports tonight from Baghdad.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Any combined U.S.-Iraqi sweep of Iraq's problem areas will encounter a complex array of groups with often vastly different agendas, but one common enemy, the United States of America.
Here is a list of who was likely on Haifa Street shooting at American and Iraqi soldiers this week. Baathists, who want a return to power; the Conquerors Army, Sunni extremists; 20th Revolution Brigades; Ansar al Sunna; the Islamic Army in Iraq; the Jihadi Groups of Iraq; Al Rashideen Army. And of course, al Qaeda.
It's a dizzying list of enemies, and that's just on Haifa Street.
Go elsewhere, say Sadr City, and you have the Mehdi army, led by the firebrand Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Americans took them on in 2004 with some success. In 2007, they would face a very different Mehdi army, one whose fighters, the U.S. says, have trained in Iran and in Lebanon with Hezbollah. They are better armed, better prepared for a fight.
If the Mehdi army represents the greatest homegrown threat, al Qaeda is the war's most dangerous import. Its money, training and influence are unmatched. The irony for America being that the group didn't exist in Iraq before the invasion and was hated by Saddam Hussein.
Many ordinary Sunni civilians and leaders who once entertained talks with the government now distrust it so much, especially in the wake of Saddam's disorganized execution, that they are turning to al Qaeda for security and leadership and doing so in numbers.
Here, just last month, al Qaeda-linked fighters show up as Sunnis mourn their dead, offering vengeance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Listen, you infidels, we tell you the blood of the martyrs will not go wasted. And we, with God's help, are coming.
HOLMES (on camera): As Hezbollah has done in Lebanon, al Qaeda in Iraq is providing social services on the ground in many places, fuel, generators, medical assistance, even house repairs. Services the government can't provide.
(Voice-over): At street level, there are homegrown neighborhood groups -- vigilantes, if you will -- protecting their streets from Shia and Sunni death squads, trusting no one except their own.
Different groups, different aims, nuances that vary literally from suburb to suburb, province to province, nuances some American officers admit they still don't understand.
GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY: It's a much more complex environment and it's one that will be resolved primarily by Iraqis, but with our full support.
HOLMES: And an increase in U.S. troops, say observers, could lead to an increase in insurgent violence.
ZAKI CHEHAB, AUTHOR: It's already been worries and fears that any American action or an American role would be targeting such militias. The same thing for Sunni insurgency. Where there was a call last night by the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq among all his members to be ready to attack any steps or actions taken by both the American forces and the Iraqi government.
HOLMES: It is literally a bloody mess, where there are no easy choices. More Americans may come, but they will find a better prepared, better armed and more determined enemy.
Michael Holmes, CNN, Baghdad.
COOPER: One of the men who covers the mess better than just about anybody is John Burns of the "New York Times."
He joins us from Baghdad, along with Retired Lieutenant General Dan Christman and Retired Brigadier General CNN Military Analyst James "Spider" Marks.
John, let me start off with you.
I want to bring back something you had said -- you and I had talked about a couple of nights ago. Essentially, that -- we were talking about why wouldn't the Maliki government try to disarm these militias. And essentially, your point was, that is their plan B. Can you explain that?
JOHN BURNS, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I think that the Maliki government -- and in a sense, who can blame them -- has been preparing for some time for an eventual American military withdrawal and an all- out civil war.
And it's hard to understand many of the things that they are doing now without taking account of that, as I say, plan B. COOPER: So, General Marks, if plan B is, you know, relying on these sectarian militias, why would the Maliki government now go against them as they claim they're going to? But as John Burns has pointed out, they've said that plenty of times in the past.
BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, the issue remains, how are they going to be able to move forward and normalize this relationship? Frankly, a stressful and strained relationship with the United States and assert, frankly, visible and overt independence so they're out from underneath the thumb of the United States, which clearly the United States is trying to achieve.
They want to try to do that. The coalition forces want to try to do that now with the increase in the U.S. forces that are going to be deployed. But, clearly, the U.S. forces are not going to roll into town and say we're here to support. What they're going to say is, they're going to roll into town, they're going to take charge, and over the course of time they're going to want to get the Iraqi forces up front, making it happen.
You're going to have to have the Maliki government on board to make that happen. And the militia that he has on board must be integrated into some type of normal force. Or you just can't go forward at all.
COOPER: General Christman, how do you fight -- I mean, how do you fight a war like this on the ground where there's not just one enemy, but you know, literally a dozen or more militia groups out there, and often fighting each other?
LT. GEN. DAN CHRISTMAN, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, In the first place, the whole point of this counterinsurgency campaign, Anderson, as Dave Petraeus has written, is to make sure that we understand ultimately it's about political power.
And so you need to understand the power brokers that are in this region. The best people to understand that are, of course, the Iraqis themselves who are in the lead.
But I have been impressed over the last 12 to 18 months on the degree to which the U.S. has begun to understand better these cleavages, especially within Shia Islam. It's not without notice here that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who's the other power broker here, not just Muqtada al-Sadr. We talk about him all the time.
But the leader of the other contingent, al-Hakim, has his own Badr brigade. He visited President Bush. And I thought that was hugely significant. I had the chance actually to talk to al-Hakim myself the day after he met with President Bush. He is a very, very sophisticated, smooth operator.
I think we are getting better, Anderson, in understanding these cleavages here. But, again, the best people to handle that ultimately are the Iraqis themselves.
COOPER: We're going to talk more with John Burns and the others about that in a moment. Stay tuned.
More on the -- we'll talk about the troop increase ahead. It won't be the first time we've sent more troops to Iraq. Will it work this time? Why didn't it work before? We'll talk about that.
And the Democrats' dilemma. Can they stop the president from putting troops in danger?
This is a special edition of 360, "Exit Strategy or No Way Out?"
U.S. CASUALTIES BY AGE:
Younger than 22: 864 22-24: 681 25-30: 702 31-35: 301 Older than 35: 340
Source: Brookings Institution December 2006
COOPER: Before the break we were talking about the insurgency with John Burns of the "New York Times," as well as General James "Spider" Marks, here in Washington -- retired general. And also Dan Christman, also joining us in Washington.
We continue that discussion now.
John, what happens if the president's plan fails? And what kind of a timetable are we looking at as a -- to be able to measure whether or not it has failed or is succeeding?
BURNS: Well, I was little surprised to hear General Odierno, the operational commander, the new operational commander here in Iraq, if you will, the first in a line of new generals who are going to be taking over this war, saying at the weekend that he need three or four months once he had those new troops -- at least the first of those new troops, to accomplish the stabilization of Baghdad and that he envisaged by the autumn -- that's to say August or September of this year -- pulling U.S. troops back to the periphery of Baghdad, which by the way, is what Mr. Maliki wanted all along. He did not want more U.S. troops. He did not want more U.S. troops in the heart of Baghdad. That's what he's going to get.
So the Americans are working under a deadline driven both by American politics and by Iraqi politics.
COOPER: General Marks, does that make you nervous, that U.S. politics are playing a big role in this?
MARKS: Oh not at all. Anderson, politics always will drive military operations on the ground. And soldiers fight where they're told. They don't choose where and when and who they're going to have to fight against.
And what General Ray Odierno is talking about is to achieve stability, you then have to sustain that stability over the course of time. And I think what you're talking about is moving that into the fall. And so what you want to try to do is make sure the bar is set and realistically you can achieve and then measure that success within Baghdad. Then you get out to the other provinces.
COOPER: General Christman, you're a student of history. We've talked a lot about history in the past when you've been on the program. Is there any reason to believe that we have learned the mistakes, even the mistakes of recent history in Iraq and that somehow it will be different this time?
CHRISTMAN: We've learned, I think, Anderson, clearly some military mistakes learned from those. I think all of us are encouraged who know Dave Petraeus. He's a very, very superb student of history and of counterinsurgency. And to have him in charge of this campaign I think will bring this knowledge of historical mistakes and how we can profit from those to the current fight.
Where I don't think, Anderson, if I can be candid here, we have learned at all is the political mistake from Vietnam. And that's this whole notion about where the center of gravity in fighting an insurgency lies. And it's, of course, the political will of the home population.
This -- I'll take just a bit of a different stance here from Spider. I am concerned about politics intruding into this. All of us who looked at this situation understood from the get-go this is a five to seven to eight year commitment. And what I'm worried about is that there was no mention made by the president to encourage the American people to stay with this for the long term.
I'm not here for precipitate withdrawal, but I am here for committing enough troops for a time so that the Iraqis can profit from this embedding and from the partnership which the president has outlined.
That's a very important lesson that we need to learn from Vietnam, that we stick with our partners.
COOPER: John, among the U.S. commanders, U.S. troops that you speak to, probably on a daily basis, is there concern that U.S. politics is what's driving all this?
BURNS: Well, concern -- I think there's a recognition -- again, General Odierno, when he met for the first time with American correspondents at the weekend, he spoke about the patience of the American people being exhausted. He said he felt that the American people would stick with the American enterprise here if they felt they could see progress and they were not seeing any progress. And that these additional American troops, he hoped would give him and other commanders the chance to show progress on the ground. And I have to say, I don't think that that hope is necessarily vain.
When I've been out with American troops in Baghdad, they have a calming effect, almost wherever they go. Despite the reluctance of the Maliki government to see more U.S. troops here -- they don't want American generals looking over their shoulder -- despite the opposition of Sunni and Shia extremists, the fact is that the vast majority of Iraqis and certainly the vast majority of Baghdadis, the 5 million, 6 million, 7 million of them will welcome this American troop increase because it's about the only thing that may, in the short to medium term, bring a greater degree of stability and curb, if not eliminate -- curb the sectarian violence.
COOPER: John, General Christman, General Marks, appreciate it. Thank you.
Democrats, of course, won control of Congress largely because of Iraq. Now they're under pressure by some to block money for more troops.
Coming up, how the 110th Congress could stop the president's plan and why it probably will not.
Also ahead, the frontline perspective. What the president's plan means for U.S forces on the ground. I'll talk to a soldier and a Marine who have been there, get their perspectives.
And more from David Gergen and Andrew Sullivan and Joe Klein immediately -- right next. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, ASSISTANT DEMOCRATIC LEADER: As Congress considers our future course in Iraq, we remain committed on a bipartisan basis to providing our soldiers every resource they need to fight effectively and come home safely.
But it's time to begin the orderly redeployment of our troops so that they can begin coming home soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, that was Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, giving the Democratic response to President Bush's speech earlier tonight on Iraq.
As we mentioned earlier, Democrats are considering holding symbolic votes in the House and the Senate on President Bush's plan. And a few lawmakers, including Senator Kennedy, are pushing for much tougher challenges to the troop increase.
Their real emergency break, which is of course, written into the constitution, may actually go unused. CNN's Candy Crowley explains why.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congress could stop him if it wants to.
GENE HEALY, CATO INSTITUTE: As Jefferson put it, this is the way you chain the dog of war, through the power of the purse.
CROWLEY: At first read, Articles I and II of the constitution seem like a road map to collision. Laid out in Article I, Congress's duties. Provide for the common defense, raise and support Armies, provide and maintain a Navy.
Article II, the President shall be Commander in Chief, which is to say the lawmakers authorize paying for the war, he conducts it.
SUSAN BLOCH, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW: And the idea that the framers had in mind in splitting the powers was to make the two entities -- the president and Congress -- work together.
CROWLEY: It has not precisely worked out that way this time.
SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Consultation, to me, means consultation. You sit down and talk with people you're trying to work something out with. Not after you've already written the speech.
CROWLEY: Congress used purse power to rein in the military adventures of other presidents, cutting off funding in Somalia, Angola, and most notably in Vietnam.
HEALY: It got President Nixon to back off of the sort of Captain Ahab mode in Vietnam. And it may be the only way to get this president to start to change course.
CROWLEY: This Congress is mostly reluctant to talk purse strings. Instead, it's headed for a political statement with no force of law.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Next week, the plan is, is to draft a very simple resolution, asking the members of the Senate if they support or do not support this surge.
CROWLEY: By the time they get around to voting, additional troops may already be in Iraq.
For now, despite opposition to a troop increase from nearly all Democrats and a growing number of Republicans, Capitol Hill's constitutional right to pull the plug will go unused.
Democrats fear they will look anti-military. Republicans worry it is.
SMITH: Is it right, is it honorable to defund the troops when they're ordered to stay in place and we then budget away their bullets? That, to me, seems dangerous and deadly to our troops. And that's -- that is the crossroads that we're at. And it's a real dilemma.
CROWLEY: Having given the president the power to wage war four years ago, now Capitol Hill finds it far tougher to get out of it.
Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Well, joining me now to talk about the policy and the politics of it all is a blogger from "TIME" magazine, Andrew Sullivan from andrewsullivan.com. Also, Joe Klein, "TIME" magazine. And Former Presidential Adviser David Gergen.
David, let me start with you. You've seen what the Democrats are saying today. You just heard from Hillary Clinton her statement. Are they going about this in a smart way, you think, in their reactions to the president's speech?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, they're going in about 40 different ways, so it's hard to know which one is smart and which one is dumb.
But Anderson, the truth is we haven't seen this kind of presidential defiance of popular public opinion on a war since President Nixon expanded our efforts and went into Cambodia in defiance of all of the political wisdom of the time.
And the Congress did not stop that just as the Congress will not stop this. But Congress, over time -- if the political will is against the president -- Congress, over time can -- can not only make his life hell, but they can begin to tie his hands. And eventually, that's, of course, -- the Congress as well as the demonstrators forced President Nixon's hands in Vietnam and brought that to -- helped bring that to an end.
But the -- and I think that's eventually what's going to happen here. But it's not going to happen in the short term.
What is going to occur in the next few weeks, there are certain deadlines in this strategy for Maliki to bring the troops -- his troops into Iraq and start acting within the month of February.
Now, if we get into February and he's not producing, that's going to give the Democrats a huge opening to get much, much tougher and begin setting conditions on what they appropriate.
COOPER: I mean, it's not just Democrats, Andrew. Increasingly, today we're hearing from Republicans. Norm Coleman, Senator Brownback. Were you surprised to hear them coming out and saying what they...
ANDREW SULLIVAN, TIME.COM BLOGGER: I was surprised to hear Brownback because he represents the real hard right of the party. And it looks to me like he's angling up against McCain in the 2008 election.
And McCain's policy is now weighted to the president's. Even though McCain wanted, I think, up to 50,000 more troops, a much more thorough going surge, and wanted them three years ago. He's now linked with the president, rather like Tony Blair, and will go down with the president like Tony Blair, all things looking as if they're going to happen the way they are at this moment.
COOPER: Joe, Andrew was talking about '08. How much of presidential politics plays into all this in terms of some of the big Democrats' and Republicans' reactions?
JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, of course, there's a lot. But before I go into that, there was one other major event that we saw here on CNN during "LARRY KING" tonight. And that is John Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services -- the former chairman of the Armed Services -- ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said that he would study this proposal. He didn't say he would support it.
Now, if you're not going to have John Warner on your side, if you're the president of the United States, you are in one big heap of trouble.
Another thing that I would note is that Hillary Clinton has been briefed a number of times by General Petraeus. She respects him tremendously. They're very close. But she's not supporting this either.
I think that the president is really pushing a very, very big rock up Mount Everest here.
COOPER: David Gergen, '08 politics playing a big part in all of this?
GERGEN: Yes, one of the big things about this tonight, Anderson, is the president has now thrust this into the '08 election. Had he been into a winding-down phase, you know, he might have gotten American troops out of there before '08. Now they're certain to be in Iraq during '08. And everybody's fate is suddenly tied to that.
I think that's why Mrs. Clinton issued her statement so quickly tonight. Joe Klein is absolutely right, the John McCain wagon -- I mean, Andrew made the point that John McCain is now hooked to this war. And his fate now rises or falls to a significant degree upon what now happens in the next few months with this surge.
And Barack Obama quickly came out. So I think that in very large part from the Democrats' point of view, while they're going to have some temporary problems in the Congress, trying to figure out how to deal with this, this has been a huge gift to the Democrats' hopes of taking the White House. Because if this does not work, the Democrats are much, much more likely to take the White house in '08. SULLIVAN: It's also going to split the Republicans quite badly, I think. And it's going to make it seem as if the Republicans' advantage on national security is a monolithic. In other words, when one Republican disagrees with another about something that's supposedly really vital to our national security, the Republicans lose a critical advantage in terms of the competition with the Democrats in the sense that they're no longer the party that keeps you safe.
And in this world, the party that keeps you safe is the party you vote for. And I think they're losing that -- because this war has not made us more safe.
COOPER: We're going to have more with Andrew and John Klein, David Gergen in just a moment.
Much more on the dilemma the Democrats are facing. Also, how to stop the president's plan, and how they might try to stop it and what it might cost them politically.
Also ahead, the president said U.S. and Iraqi forces will have new powers under his new plan. Will that really make a difference?
We'll hear from a soldier and a Marine who fought in Iraq.
You're watching a special edition of 360, "Iraq: Exit Strategy or No Way Out?"
U.S. TROOPS STATIONED AROUND THE WORLD:
Iraq: 150,000 Europe: 53,000 Guantanamo: 700 Kosovo: 2,000 Afghanistan: 18,000 South Korea: 19,000 Japan: 20,000
Source: TIME Magazine
COOPER: Well, the U.S. military already stretched very thin. Now President Bush says he'll order at least 21,000 more troops to Iraq, extending the service of some of them.
We're Back with our political roundtable, Former Presidential Adviser David Gergen, "TIME" Magazine's Joe Klein, and "TIME" Blogger and Author Andrew Sullivan. Andrewsullivan.com is the blog.
Andrew, one thing I read on your blog today, you know the president -- and he said it again in his speech tonight, that basically the prospect of losing is sort of a nightmare scenario, is beyond comprehension. You were kind of raising the idea that maybe it's not.
SULLIVAN: Well, maybe it isn't. And he said, actually tonight, if Maliki doesn't reach these benchmarks, we will leave. So he's already contemplated.
To my mind, the war that we're in has been framed by Osama bin Laden. As Islam against the west. If we withdrew, and the war became Sunni versus Shia, it becomes the narrative, Islamic against itself.
COOPER: It really is. I mean, if you read the philosophies, if you read and notice who's dying in this, it really is an intra-Muslim battle.
SULLIVAN: And only Muslims can stop it and only Muslims can seek democracy. You cannot impose it on the barrel of a gun. You can only choose it. So letting this war actually happen and getting a new real state of affairs in Iraq may be in our interest in the long term.
Why should an American die for Shiaism? Why should a young American die for the Sunni cause? I mean, these are not things that we should care about or do care about. And maybe this war -- to be resolved on the ground by the people who are fighting it, instead of our trying to protect them from themselves.
COOPER: David, are we, in your opinion, involved in sort of an intra-Muslim war?
GERGEN: We are. But I want to -- I take issue with Andrew. If he's pointing in the direction of letting this -- getting the focus off us versus Islam, having an intra-Islamic conflict would somehow be in our interest. It would be profoundly not in our interest.
It would be a nightmare if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, for example, as a Shia nation and then Egypt gets nuclear weapons as a Sunni nation, Saudi Arabia gets nuclear weapons. That -- this kind of regional instability, which Iraq points toward, is exactly what American presidents have been trying to avoid, you know, for the last 50 years or so. It is not in our interest.
SULLIVAN: We've been in this war for years and Iran is still getting a nuclear bomb. Being in this war has not prevented Iran from rearming. In fact, it seems that being in this war has empowered Iran. And maybe when Iran sees Iraq disintegrating, refugees flowing over the border, real possible instability within Iran, they might step up to the plate and stat being responsible in this...
KLEIN: And there is a position somewhere in between surging into Baghdad and pulling out entirely.
If you listen to some leading Democrats like Jack Reed, the Senator from Rhode Island, West Point graduate, he talks about deploying troops in such a way that we protect the Kurds from the Turks in the north, we keep the borders secure and we keep on fighting in Anbar against al Qaeda. That seems to me to be a very reasonable middle ground.
SULLIVAN: I think that's really reasonable, too, Joe.
KLEIN: And it would keep us out of the battle that Andrew, I think is absolutely right about in Baghdad.
COOPER: But doesn't this risk -- I mean, wasn't this exactly what the Saudis were talking about to Dick Cheney when he went there several weeks ago? That they said, look, if there is this pullout, that they would be forced in some way to come to the support, whether it's financial or in other ways, of Sunni insurgents -- David?
GERGEN: Yes, that's exactly right. And I -- we want to keep the Saudis out, just as we want to keep the Iranians out. We do not want a regional conflict.
But let me mention one thing. I welcome the views of both Joe and Andrew on that. There seems to be one aspect of this speech which hasn't gotten a lot of attention yet, is that rather than negotiating with Iran and Syria, as the Baker-Hamilton Commission proposed, the president's gone the other way. He was pretty belligerent toward them. He talked about seeking out and destroying networks outside Iraqi that were helping Iraqis. He's moving a carrier group into the area. He's talking about Patriot missiles. It sounded like the United states was expanding its entire military presence in the region and that he wouldn't mind getting into a conflict or at least he's going to have a dust-up. Did you-all sense that?
KLEIN: Boy, there was one sentence in that speech, you know, where absolutely he said that. And that is really dangerous. I mean, first of all, this administration doesn't have a proven track record of incompetence in just dealing -- of competence in just dealing with Iraq. And now he's going to take on Iran and Syria?
I mean, there's a real argument at this point, a strategic, a geostrategic argument for trying to split Syria away from Iran. And it just seems to me that, you know, pure belligerence on his part.
And by the way, to bring it back to the '08 campaign, the most profound way that this is going to affect that campaign is that there's going to be a real threshold test for credibility as a presidential candidate. And that is to be the exact opposite of George Bush. To go into office knowing the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite, to understand the geostrategic, you know, factors in the region, to understand national security.
If a candidate -- Democrat or Republican -- can't meet that test, they are not going to be credible as a candidate. COOPER: Joe, David, we've got to cut it off there. I know Andrew wants to respond. You're going to have to read it on his blog, andrewsullivan.com, which I recommend.
Gentlemen, thanks. Interesting discussion.
They've served on the frontlines tonight, listened to the president. We're going to talk, ahead, to a soldier and a Marine, what they thought of the speech next, on this special edition of 360.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Here are the differences. In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents. But when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned. This time, we'll have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was President Bush describing what would be different for American troops in Iraq under his new plan. Again, a plan on paper is one thing. The streets of Baghdad and the villages of al-Anbar Province are a world away.
We turn now to two men who served in Iraq.
John Powers is an Army captain -- was an Army captain.
Andrew Borene is a former Marine intelligence officer.
Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.
John, let me start with you. You heard the president's speech. Do you think 21,000 more troops will do the job?
CAPT. JONATHAN POWERS, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Well, you know, I look at the numbers, what we had at the election. We had about 150,000 around the time of the elections. And the operation tempo for the soldiers was incredibly high. Guys were on three-day rotations. We were doing an hour of sleep and then two hours on -- on guard, and then back to an hour of sleep. And that exhausted them for just over five days. And now we're expecting them to keep the same operation tempo for months.
COOPER: We're also not talking 21,000 new troops. This is some troops who have been there already and just extending their tours. So that stresses all the more.
POWERS: Exactly. Exactly. So many of the soldiers have gone back for second, third, fourth tours. The stress on the soldiers and equipment is incredible. And the Army is really stretching at this point. And it's going to be very difficult for them to keep this operation tempo. COOPER: Andrew, what about you? Listening to the president's speech, how do you think he's handled Iraq to this point and has your opinion changed over the years?
1ST LT. ANDREW BORENE, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Yes, absolutely. In the year 2000, I supported President Bush. In 2003 I deployed to Iraq with the 1st Marine Division.
When I came home in 2004, I became a spokesman for the Kerry- Edwards campaign in opposition of the White House policy. So, I think it's been mismanaged from jump. It's nearly criminal that two years after the invasion started, our troops were still fighting in vehicles that didn't have proper up-armor kits.
And this 20,000 troop deployment -- you know, I think what people forget is it's not just 20,000 troops that we're talking about. Every one of those troops is backed by a family. They're backed by friends back home. Not to mention the additional burden on the extended tours of those in Iraq.
This really is President Bush's last chip with the American people. There aren't very many troops on the ground that support this move.
Colonel Oliver North, himself, said that what we really need are more Iraqi troops, not more American troops in Iraq. And I think he's absolutely right. And I know that my peers who I interact with agree.
COOPER: John, you're trying to work with Iraqi officials, trying to help kids now to this day in Iraq. What is it like and when you were a soldier, what was it like working with Iraqi troops?
POWERS: Sure. You know, we trained up about 175 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers by April 2004. And the first time we needed them for a raid, we had 14 show up to work.
POWERS: Fourteen. So the soldiers were just blown away by it. You know, what are we doing here, putting this fight up?
Now, I think that things have gotten much better on the ground there -- not on the ground, but for the Iraqi soldiers. But when Bush talks about sending 18 brigades into Baghdad, they asked for six in the last Operation Together Forward, and only two showed up. So how do we know this next 18 is going to step up and fill the role?
COOPER: Andrew, what about that? Do you have much confidence in the Iraqi forces at this point?
BORENE: You know, we -- reading the report and coming back, the experience of a lot of the Iraqi troops has been pretty abysmal. A lot of them defected. A lot of them went just for the money and abandoned their uniforms and ran away once bullets started flying.
One of my very close personal friends trained the Iraqi special forces, which actually did quite well in their performance. But overall, the training was far under what the White House was reporting as far as a success rate. And I think a lot of that has to do with -- if you look at it, there's not a very large proportion of U.S. troops in Iraq actually engaged in the training of the Iraqi army or the Iraqi police, for that matter.
There's been, in my belief, a tremendous under emphasis of the importance of civil military operations and civil military cooperation. Any troop surge that the president can get done right now politically has to be accompanied, I believe, by diplomatic efforts to internationalize the commitment to a stable Iraq. In addition, economic reconstruction efforts because until an Iraqi teenager or an Iraqi young man has more economic incentive to take a job with the Iraqi government or in private business than he does to plant a roadside bomb, we're going to continue making more insurgents than we kill. And at the end of the day this is becoming Shiite versus Sunni. This is no longer U.S. versus Iraqi.
COOPER: It's a tall order at this point to try to internationalize it. This is the first time, I think in the president's speech not talking about coalition troops. We didn't hear that phrase at all tonight.
Andrew Borene, appreciate your perspective.
And John Powers, thanks very much as well.
POWERS: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Good luck on your project.
We'll have more of 360 in a moment. Stay with us.
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