Friday, July 13, 2007

Inside Iraq, 2007-07-13

On today's Inside Iraq program on Al Jazeera English, host Jasim Azzawi spoke to three guests (one American, one European, and one Arab) about the future of U.S. and British military involvement in Iraq. The American was the former U.S. ambassador to Jordan, now a senior advisor to the Secretary of State and the coordinator for Iraq policy, David M. Satterfield — who used the current administration talking point phrase "fair and balanced" to describe the process by which General Petraeus' mid-September progress report will be judged. (It's nice to know, by the way, that somebody at MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann is keeping an eye on Al Jazeera.) Satterfield also invented a new word, "precipitive."

The European was Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour M.P. from central London, and the Arab was Dr. Bashar Ja'afari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations. Only the American, a loyal Bushie to the core, has any illusion that there is a future for the American military presence or any hope of meaningful progress resulting from the current troop surge.

Here is the full transcript of the program: copyright ©2007, Al Jazeera English

Jasim Azzawi: Hello and welcome to Inside Iraq. I'm Jasim Azzawi. Republican support for President Bush is crumbling. A signal of a total meltdown or a painful jolt to change the Iraq policy? In the eyes of his people, Al-Maliki has lost all credibility; can President Bush afford to ditch him to forestall more defections? The watershed September testimony is approaching fast. How will Congress react if General Petraeus paints a bleak picture and asks for more time? Seb Walker reports.
President Bush: What's realistic, as well, is to understand the consequences of what will happen if we fail in Iraq. In other words....
Sebastian Walker: George Bush under pressure. The U.S. President is facing unprecedented dissent over a perceived lack of progress with his Iraq strategy.
reporter: Given the mixed report that you present today, how do you persuade Republicans to stick with you as they look ahead to the next elections?

Bush: Um, a couple of things: first of all, I respect those Republicans that you're referring to — I presume you're referring to friends of mine like Lugar — Senator Lugar, Domenici. These are good, honorable people. I've spoken to them and I listened very carefully to what they have to say. Um, first of all, they share my concern that a precipitous withdrawal would embolden Al Qaeda.
Walker: But even as Bush outlined what he described as "measurable progress" in Iraq, the U.S. military there announced its latest fatality. U.S. soldiers in Iraq are dying at a faster rate than ever — a result of raising troop levels in a last-ditch effort to stabilize the country. Amid little sign either of violence diminishing or of Iraq's political factions uniting, it now looks like Bush's last pillars of support in Washington are starting to fall away.
Senator Richard Lugar (R–IN): The United States has violated some basic national security precepts during our military engagement in Iraq.
Walker: Key Republican Senators have deserted the cause. They include Richard Lugar, who worked with the White House at the outset of the war. The military is due to present its report of progress on the ground in the middle of September, but the verdict of Washington's top commander, David Petraeus, could just be that he needs more time. The worry for Bush is that without fast results and soon, patience could already have run out by then. Sebastian Walker for Inside Iraq.
Azzawi: To examine how events might unfold in the next 6 to 12 months, and their impact on Iraq and the U.S., we shall attempt to provide 3 different perspectives: an American, European, and an Arab. First, to understand how the U.S. government views the latest development, I'm joined from Washington by Ambassador David Satterfield, senior advisor to the Secretary of State and coordinator for Iraq. Ambassador, welcome to Inside Iraq. Perhaps we can start with the revolt of the 4 senators, if we can call it that. Was that born out of frustration of the execution of the policy, or they have a deep reservation about the policy itself?

Ambassador David Satterfield: You would have to ask those members of Congress to explain their own positions. With respect, though, to the administration, the President has made clear we understand the concerns of Americans, the concerns of their representatives, about the pace of progress in Iraq. The report which was submitted yesterday, the President discussed, is a very sober, very frank assessment of where progress is being made and where it is not, and we acknowledge much more needs to be done by Iraqis in terms of the pursuit of national reconciliation — and that is the fundamental requirement for lasting stability and lasting security in that country.

Azzawi: That report you refer to was a mixed bag. There was some positive aspects on the security, on the military aspect, and there were some negative things regarding the benchmarks that the Iraqi government has not come through yet. Why would a few months make any difference?

Satterfield: Our commander in the field, General Petraeus, our ambassador, Ryan Crocker, have said that the next 60 days will be important to them as they assess the true impact of the full operational staffing of the surge, as they assess their ability to help support the government of Iraq, the leaderships of Iraq, as we hope they move forward on a national reconciliation agenda that they themselves have embraced, that they themselves have endorsed. Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus in September will be reporting to the President, to the Congress, on their assessment of the situation, and also on their view of consequences of various ways ahead.

Azzawi: One is almost tempted to ask, what if the report is not very clear, or even a negative one?

Satterfield: Well, we don't speculate on "what if's." We look at the situation as we find it today. We work with our Iraqi partners, the partners in the region and the international community, to try to improve the circumstances. We will make a fair and balanced assessment in September.

Azzawi: One entity in the United States made "what if": the House of Representatives yesterday passed, if you like, the first part of a legislation to say it is time to pull the troops, perhaps in 120 days, and later on some time in April 2008.

Satterfield: We don't believe that setting a fixed deadline for precipitive [sic] withdrawal of forces, or for a terminal date for the engagement of our forces in operations in Iraq, is productive. We think it has quite a negative impact on the situation. It undercuts General Petraeus and what he is trying to do.

Azzawi: That's exactly what Ryan Crocker said, just a few days ago, to the New York Times. He said it is, perhaps, it is going to be a very, very horrendous slaughter if we ever contemplate the fact of to withdraw. Is that was born out of events on the ground that really, even the reduction of American forces is going to have enormous negative consequences on the population in Iraq?

Satterfield: We believe that a precipitive [sic] withdrawal of U.S. forces would have an extraordinarily negative consequence. It would produce not only the real possibility of significant humanitarian suffering in Iraq, it would undoubtedly add to the presence of Al Qaeda and extremists of all types in that country. It would not be positive from any perspective. But Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus in September would provide again their assessment of the situation, their assessment of different courses ahead and their consequences.

Azzawi: Ambassador Satterfield, perhaps the genesis of this problem lies in the limited number of troops that went into Iraq. The warning by [General] Eric Shinseki back in 2002 was not heeded. Is there enough U.S. forces and Iraqi forces to stem the violence?

Satterfield: The number of U.S. forces applied to the surge in Baghdad, the overall level of our forces and their posture in Iraq, and the number of Iraqi forces that currently exist are the product of the best assessments of our generals on the ground and Iraq's commanders on what is necessary to take on this task. With respect to Iraqi force size, we are engaged in discussions with Prime Minister Maliki, with his government, with his security officials, on how best to grow and in what direction to grow the Iraqi armed forces, but again, the troop levels on the ground and their deployment is a decision of the generals.

Azzawi: Since you mentioned Al-Maliki, pretty much, he has lost a lot of credibility in the eyes of Iraqis. They don't look at him as prime minister of all Iraqis, but rather to a limited segment of Iraqi political body.

Satterfield: Well, I would let the Iraqi people speak for themselves on what they do or do not assess the government to be or the government to represent, rather than making observations from a third country, many miles distance from Iraq. We believe that Prime Minister Maliki and his government do need the support of all of Iraq's communities, of all of Iraq's political leaderships — plural — in order to succeed. The task, the challenges in front of this government, in front of any government of Iraq, are very considerable, and we don't underestimate the magnitude of those challenges, but what is required here is a common national vision, a common national will, to move forward, to move forward on security for all Iraqis, economic opportunity for all Iraqis, and above all, a national reconciliation process that makes of Iraq a true unitary state.

Azzawi: You just mentioned the magical figure, the magical word if you like, "national reconciliation." He's been in power for almost a year and 4 months right now, and that national reconciliation is far, far in the distance.

Satterfield: We have acknowledged that the pursuit of real national reconciliation, a common national vision, is still something on which progress is very much needed and needed urgently — for the sake of Iraq, not just for the sake of the United States. That is going to require compromise, it's going to require consensus among Iraq's leaders, but I want to draw attention to the fact this is not the issue of one man, the prime minister, or even this particular government. It is a question of whether all of Iraq's political leaderships can come together, can, if you will, submerge their party, sectarian, ethnic, or individual agendas for the sake of an Iraqi national agenda.

Azzawi: Pretty much you summed up the leaked memo by Stephen Hadley, way back a few months ago, when he cast a lot of doubt on the ability of the man or on his sincerity.

Satterfield: We are not challenging the sincerity or the dedication of Prime Minister Maliki to pursuit of national Iraqi goals, but we would note that it requires more than a single man's leadership. It requires a consensus amongst all of Iraq's political leaderships and all of Iraq's communities to make the prime minister a success.

Azzawi: Ambassador David Satterfield, principal advisor to Secretary of State and coordinator of Iraq, thank you very much for being a guest on Inside Iraq.

Satterfield: Thank you.

Azzawi: We will take a short break now, and when we come back we will be joined by two more politicians, a European and an Arab. Stay with us.
anonymous senior U.S. security official: September 15th now looks like an end point for the debate, not a starting point. The President has got to get out ahead of this train.

[commercial break]

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker: You look at those who say we could have bases elsewhere in the country. There's the prospect of American forces looking on while civilians are being slaughtered.
Azzawi: Welcome back. I am joined now by Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, and by British MP Jeremy Corbyn. Gentlemen, welcome to Inside Iraq. Ambassador Ja'afari, American withdrawal from Iraq, some people say, is almost inevitable, whether it's either in its entirety or a big chunk of that force has to go, but can you imagine the Americans willing to leave Iraq to Al Qaeda, to the militias, and to Iran?

Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, Syrian amb. to the U.N.: Well, thank you very much, Jasim, at the beginning, for having me with you, and I say hello to your guest in London. Actually, answering your question would require from me the following comment: First of all, the solution to the Iraqi crisis is a political solution; it's not a military one. The invasion of Iraq by the American and the British troops created this chaos and mess in Iraq. Before the occupation and invasion, Iraq used to be, more or less, a stable country in the area, in spite of what happened in the previous years, but politically speaking there were no Al Qaeda in Iraq before the invasion, there were no fanatic groups before the invasion, and there were no dissension — sectarian dissension among the Iraqis themselves before the invasion, so I would think that it would be rather more fair to say that it's not up to Petraeus to decide for the future of Iraq, it would be up to the Iraqis themselves to decide for their own future. The North-South Development Monitoring Report, which is issued in New York, has published just two days ago an astonishing report saying that Iraq — the country that has the two great rivers, namely the Tigris and the Euphrates, is running dry, and the Iraqi people get only 2 hours of electricity per day, and that 70% of the Iraqi people have no access to safe drinking water, and that 19% of the Iraqis have access to sewage, so it is a shame that Iraq is thirsty right now while it has the two biggest rivers in the Mesopotamia.

Azzawi: The Americans would argue, Mr. Corbyn, that the purpose of this political, the purpose of this military surge is to create the political conditions for the Iraqis themselves to come together and solve their problem. Do you see the wisdom of creating those conditions?

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, M.P. (Labour – North Islington, London): The wisdom of creating conditions where there can be a political settlement would obviously be a good idea, but the "surge" by the United States seems to me to be a last-gasp throw of the dice. There are too many Iraqis in exile — internally or exiled. There are over half a million dead. There are now nearly 4,000 U.S. troops dead, plus British and other troops dead, and they think this surge is going to bring about a political settlement. What it's done is created the greatest animosity towards the occupying forces, and the United States knows that when General Petraeus' report comes in September, it's going to paint a very grim picture indeed. Bush has lost support in Congress. The troops are only there because of the power of the Presidential veto. I think we're seeing the endgame of the U.S. in Iraq. Obviously, there then has to be some kind of political settlement, political reckoning, after the point at which U.S. troops withdraw, but, as the ambassador says, it's very clear that before the invasion, Al Qaeda were not in Iraq. There were not the degree of sectarian differences there are now. All this has been promoted by that presence. I suspect the people of Iraq will continue to suffer for some time, but the withdrawal of the occupying forces will at least give an opportunity for all those forces to come together and shape the kind of Iraq the people of Iraq want, rather than shape the kind of Iraq that George Bush has in mind for them.

Azzawi: If anything, Ambassador Ja'afari, this surge or this current condition is slightly and perhaps surely is bringing the administration to adopt the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, and that is to open up to the regional countries and perhaps pull a little bit of the American troops and create the conditions for national reconciliation.

Ja'afari: Well, actually many countries, including my own, Syria, felt optimistic when the Baker-Hamilton report appeared. We were optimistic for a while, but then the disappointment came soon because we felt that the American administration, rather than starting setting up a schedule for pulling out of Iraq, pulling the troops out of Iraq, it started a new surge of the troops. The administration has increased the number of troops in Iraq, thinking that, by increasing the number of troops, they would put an end to the instability in Iraq. I think the current American administration did not get the lesson from what happened in the last five years, since the occupation of Iraq started in the year 2003. The main lesson that the American administration should get from this dramatic experience in Iraq is that, as long as there is a foreign occupation of a country, you should expect a very strong resistance, #1, and you should expect some kind of chaos and mess in this occupied country, because there is no centralized government, strong government — strong, centralized government in Iraq. The report of today has shown us that only in the couple hours this morning, 36 rockets landed in the Green Zone, which is heavily protected by the American troops.

Azzawi: Let me get a response from you, Dr. Bashar. The interim report yesterday that was unveiled at the White House mentioned that 80% of the suicide bombers are Arabs, 50 – 60% of those pass through a network in Syria. Could you comment on that, please?

Ja'afari: Well, I think this is a kind of a way out for the current impasse facing and challenging the American troops in Iraq. It wouldn't be possible for Syria to orient or to guide all these national Iraqi resistance, which is diverse and multiplied, as you know. Even the Americans themselves don't know who they are fighting. One day they say Al Qaeda, the other day they say Takfiri (تكفيري : roughly, "excommunicators," Wahhabi or Salafi Muslim extremists who consider mainstream Muslims to be infidels or apostates; or specifically certain splinter groups from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood), the other day they say the Ba'athists. They don't know who they are fighting. They are fighting the whole Iraqi people, actually, because they are occupying another land. They are trying to dictate their will on another people. Through this kind of mechanism, they should expect resistance.

Azzawi: Mr. Corbyn, the junior partner of this American enterprise in Iraq, the U.K., primarily Mr. Blair, is gone. The new occupant of 10 Downing Street just issued some perhaps new guidelines. First of all, Parliament should declare war, and second, that British foreign policy should be based on morality as well as on legality. Are these signals that perhaps in a few months time the 5,500 British troops right now in Basra will be pulled out?

Corbyn: I think these are quite important signals. Gordon Brown, our new prime minister's, first statement was that Parliament will have warmaking powers. I hope those also include powers about the significant deployment of troops, because that is clearly a factor, and secondly, yesterday Douglas Alexander, our new international development secretary, made a speech in the United States in which he said that the policy in future should be directed by international law and by the United Nations, adherence to U.N. resolutions. That is all very promising.

Azzawi: Since you mention international development, Mr. Corbyn, Iraq is pretty much approaching a failed state, almost Somalia; the country is in chaos. Is there a moral, legal, and political ground on which Iraq could seek compensation at minimum from Britain and the U.S.?

Corbyn: The first thing has got to be the withdrawal of British and American forces; they're the occupying forces in Iraq. They are the ones that are the cause of the trouble, and it's unbelievable that Bush should blame Syria, Iran, Al Qaeda — anybody. The reality is they're occupying forces and they shouldn't be there. Secondly, Iraq is in a desperate situation. I mentioned earlier all the people in exile. There's also the health crisis, there's the cancer crisis, there's the depleted uranium crisis, there's the unexploded cluster bomb crisis, there's the lack of water, electricity, and all those things, so yes, Iraq is going to need a great deal of international help and support.

Azzawi: Dr. Ja'afari, what happens if Iraq implodes? If Iraq becomes a second Somalia?

Ja'afari: Actually, Syria, as all the neighboring countries of Iraq, is highly interested in protecting itself from the bad side effects of this American-British occupation of Iraq. We have a great interest in playing a positive role in Iraq, because we believe in this, in what we call the contagious proximity, so we would be affected by any instability, either in Iraq or in Lebanon or elsewhere. This is why we are highly interested in seeing the whole region in full stability, in full peace, in full development. We don't need foreign troops in our area, we need peace.

Azzawi: Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, gentlemen, thank you for being guests on Inside Iraq. To access the show and to send us your comments, please go to We have reached the end of this show; join me next week when we take another look Inside Iraq. Good bye.
Where do I begin? Well, of course, there's that "fair and balanced" phrase again. We will make a "fair and balanced" assessment of the progress of the surge, but not until September. Yes, the U.S. government should be run like Fox News. Maybe we should amend the Constitution not to allow Ahnold to be Prez, but to allow Rupert Murdoch that honour. There is also the obvious point that we don't need to wait until September to have a fair idea of how well (or how poorly) the surge is working. We've been ramping up since January, and violence has only increased. Also, the President is downright delusional if he thinks the American people will stand for maintaining a six-figure troop presence in Iraq. We need to be planning an orderly exit strategy instead of burying our heads in the hot sands of the Iraqi desert. Also noteworthy, though, is the advice that Ambassador Satterfield gave to the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki: "[W]hat is required here is a common national vision, a common national will, to move forward, to move forward on security for all Iraqis, economic opportunity for all Iraqis, and above all, a national reconciliation process that makes of Iraq a true unitary state. ... It is a question of whether all of Iraq's political leaderships can come together, can, if you will, submerge their party, sectarian, ethnic, or individual agendas for the sake of an Iraqi national agenda." Substitute America for Iraq, and you can point that advice right back at your own administration. President Bush has consistently placed his own "party, sectarian, and individual agenda" above the national interests of the United States. He has sown division and discord rather than seeking compromise and consensus. He has tried to substitute his own individual leadership for the will of the people. He has isolated himself inside a bubble of unreality in which his own fervent wishing will somehow make everything turn out all right.

The figures quoted by Dr. Ja'afari — that only 30% of the Iraqi people have any access at all to safe drinking water, and only 19% have access to sanitary sewers — should be shocking to the conscience. I don't want to sound like an apologist for Saddam, but how can we possibly say that the average Iraqi citizen is better off under those conditions than under the previous régime? Flush toilets aren't just a convenience, they are a necessity for dense urban populations. Tally up yet another ticking time bomb for the health and welfare of Iraq. Mr. Corbyn's comments, as a member of the ruling Labour Party in the British Parliament, foreshadow a rift between the U.S. and the U.K. over Iraq policy if the U.S. doesn't change course drastically and soon. In particular, Nouri Al-Maliki [MAH-lee-kee] doesn't have the confidence of the Iraqi people; if he doesn't — or can't — regain it, there can be no political progress towards a political solution, making the military surge irrelevant in the long run, except of course to the fallen soldiers and their families.

Dr. Ja'afari put it quite well: "[A]s long as there is a foreign occupation of a country, you should expect a very strong resistance, and you should expect some kind of chaos and mess in this occupied country." Bush is fond of speaking of politicians who he claims have "not learned the lessons of 9/11," but Bush is missing some major post-9/11 lessons. We cannot ever fully stabilize Iraq by military force; it is an intrinsically impossible task for an occupying power. We need to get out and do what we can to minimize, and as much as possible reverse, the damage we've caused to Iraq.

Some other transcripts you might want to check out...

Inside Iraq
on Al Jazeera EnglishThe Daily Show with Jon StewartReal Time with Bill Maher
Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Click below for more...