MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: The president digs in on Iraq.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I know there’s a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there’s going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We’re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done.
MR. RUSSERT: Democrats grow more uneasy.
(Videotape, November 16, 2006):
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Mr. President, we need to make a transition in Iraq.
It is not working. We need to change the policy, not stay the course.
MR. RUSSERT: And on Tuesday, Senate confirmation hearings begin for Robert Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. With us: the national security adviser to the president, Stephen Hadley; and the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican John Warner of Virginia and Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan.
Then, 27 years ago, President Jimmy Carter brokered an historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. He has written a provocative new book on the still-unresolved problems in the Middle East, “Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid.”
But first, the national security adviser to President Bush is here.
Welcome, Stephen Hadley.
MR. STEPHEN HADLEY: Nice to be here. Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Headlines in The New York Times and across the country:
“Rumsfeld Memo Proposed ‘Major Adjustment in Iraq.’” The secretary of defense wrote a memo the day before the election saying we needed major adjustments in our Iraq strategy. Does the president agree?
MR. HADLEY: The president has said that what is going on in Iraq is not going well enough or fast enough. The president said we need to make changes. Some of those changes are going to be significant changes. The goal, he has said, remains the same. It’s a goal that we share, that Iraqis share: an Iraq—a democratic Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself and an ally in the war on terror. But obviously what we need is an a—is an approach going forward that increases the prospects of success, that can confront both the new challenges we face in terms of rise of sectarian violence, and also the new tools we have to deal with those challenges in terms of a unity government coming out of an election which 16 million people in Iraq voted, and a government that wants to take more responsibility for dealing with the situation in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: One of the things that Mr. Rumsfeld suggests in his memo—a day before the election—was redeployment. A quick reaction forces, take U.S. troops out of Iraq, put them into Kuwait, surrounding areas. When the Democrats suggested that, they were accused by your White House of cutting and running.
MR. HADLEY: I think maybe you misunderstand a little bit what the memo was about. The president, as you know, before that date had called for a review of where we were heading in our approach and the way forward on Iraq. It drew on work that had already been started in a number of agencies in the government. And one of the things the president said is, “I want to look at new ideas, I want to have an open door to ideas.” And what I think that Rumsfeld memo represents is kind of a laundry list of ideas that have been considered. Some he, he put, as he said, above the line, some of them he put below the line, but it was an effort, I think, to broaden the aperture of the debate. It was a useful memo, and we used it in that way to trigger discussions. But this was not a game plan or a set of—an effort to sort of try to set out the way forward in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: He does say in the memo, “Perhaps we should consider taking our hand off the bicycle seat and letting the Iraqis ride alone,” suggesting the Iraqis are children who are being trained by the U.S. to ride a bike.
MR. HADLEY: I think what’s interesting about the meeting the president had with Prime Minister Maliki this week in Amman, Jordan, is that it was Prime Minister Maliki who came in to the president and said, “We in the Iraqi unity government are ready to take more responsibility for our own future.” He talked about the results of a joint review that has been done to accelerate the transition of security responsibility to Iraqis. He talked about the things he wants to do to increase the Iraqi contribution to stabilizing the situation in Baghdad, to move the economic reform. This is a government that wants to take more responsibility but is lacking in the capabilities to do it. And one of the things the president and prime minister talked about is how we can help the Iraqi government get the capabilities so that they can succeed.
MR. RUSSERT: It is strange that the day before the election the secretary of defense is saying we need major adjustments, and you just confirmed that, and yet in the lead-up to the election, the president never suggested we needed major readjustments—or adjustments in our Iraqi policy. He was saying we were making progress.
MR. HADLEY: We are making progress, but one of the things the president has said consistently, that we need to make adjustments, and we have been making adjustments...
MR. RUSSERT: But these are major...
MR. HADLEY: ...as the situation changes on the ground, and based on what we learn.
MR. RUSSERT: Was the president saying one thing publicly to the voters while you and Donald Rumsfeld were saying another thing privately inside the White House?
MR. HADLEY: The president has been talking about making changes, and has been making changes throughout. We basically, as you know, about 18 months to two years ago, revamped the way we were training and restructuring and helping the Iraqis to strengthen the security forces. We changed the way we’re doing reconstruction, moving away from large projects to small projects that can build stabilities in local areas.
We have made adjustments as we’ve learned on the job and as—also as the Iraqi situation has changed. And the point I would say, when the president talked recently about a new phase in Iraq, it is a function of both new challenges in terms of sectarian violence, and new opportunities reflected by a unity government that wants to take more responsibility. We’ve been making changes, and what the president has made clear is we’re going to be making changes in the future.
MR. RUSSERT: On Thursday, this meeting with the president and the prime minister of Iraq in Amman, Jordan—there they are greeting each other. The day before, these were the headlines, a memo that you wrote, “Bush Adviser’s Memo Cites Doubts About Iraqi Leader.” And let me read part of that memo for you and our viewers. “The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.” “Ignorant of what’s going on,” “does not have the capability.” Do you stand by those words?
MR. HADLEY: The president sent me over to Iraq to make an assessment of the situation there as part of the overall review he asked for. And, of course, as I’ve just said, key to success is going to be the performance of this new government. I made an assessment, raised a number of questions, hard questions that should have been raised, but if you look at that memo and if you look at what the president said in the press conference after the meeting with Prime Minister Maliki, it is clear that this government shares our objective for an—for Iraq and has the will and desire to take responsibility. What the rest of that memo is about and what the conversation the president and the prime minister had was the need to get greater capabilities so that the Iraqi government can succeed. And that’s really the focus of our effort.
MR. RUSSERT: The problem, Mr. Hadley, is this, the president the next day at the meeting said this about Mr. Maliki, “He’s been in power for six months, and I’ve been able to watch a leader emerge. ... He’s the right guy for Iraq.” The president’s saying he’s the right guy for Iraq, and the day before, there’s a memo that says he may—from you—that he may be ignorant of what’s going on, or that he may not have the capability of leading the country. How can it be both, and why don’t you think the American people are confused when the president’s top foreign policy adviser questions the ability of the Iraqi prime minister, and then the president says “He’s the right guy”?
MR. HADLEY: That memo was written early in the review process, in the first week of November as a result of a trip I took. We have been making assessments in a variety of agencies to try and answer the questions I posed in that memo. And what the president did, and one of the reasons it was so important for him to go to sit down with Mr. Maliki is to make a—to come to his own conclusions, and he reached those conclusions and announced it at the meeting—after the meeting over there.
MR. RUSSERT: So, in two weeks, Mr. Maliki is no longer ignorant and is now capable and the right guy?
MR. HADLEY: He needs to get better information. We’ve talked about that, he understands that. He needs to perform better, his government needs to perform better. If you listen to Prime Minister Maliki, that’s what he says. He’s not satisfied with the performance to date. And that’s one of the reasons they talked about how they can increase the performance of this government. But the good news is it is a unity government coming out of an election in which 12 million Iraqis voted, and it is committing to taking more responsibility. That is the good news. And what we need to do is to help that government succeed by building that capacity.
MR. RUSSERT: I listened very carefully to Prime Minister Maliki, and this is what he said, “Be assured that the Iraqi forces and the security forces have reached a good level of competency and efficiency to protect Iraq as a country and to protect its people.” Competency and efficiency? Thousands have died in the last few months; he wants more help. How can he possibly say his forces have reached competency and efficiency? If they have, then we could get out.
MR. HADLEY: Well, he also said that the—they will try—that his goal is to be able to take responsibility for the security of his country middle of next year, so obviously he’s not ready to do it today. He said he was not ready today. He set the goal of middle of next year. And one of the things he did was...
MR. RUSSERT: Is that doable?
MR. HADLEY: He—one of the things he did was brief the president on his plan for achieving that objective, which involves accelerating, training, equipping, transfer of responsibility. Our commanders have looked at that plan, they think it is ambitious. We were—we’re going to do everything we can to try and help him achieve those goals, but I think, as Prime Minister Maliki has said, he’s not ready yet. He acknowledged that. But he has a goal for Iraqis to take responsibility for security in Iraq, that’s a good thing, and we need to try and help him achieve that goal.
MR. RUSSERT: One of—the president says on Thursday that raised some eyebrows here in this country was this:
PRES. BUSH: This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s unrealistic about a graceful exit from Iraq?
MR. HADLEY: I think what the president was doing in that comment is they began to see—press, Tim, about how the Baker-Hamilton Commission was just going to be cover for an American withdrawal, almost regardless of what was happening on the ground. And the president needed, and felt he needed to stop that right there. That isn’t graceful withdrawal, that’s cut and run. And, of course, as the president’s said, cut and run is not his cup of tea.
What, what we think needs to happen, what we think the Iraqis want to happen, and the American people want to happen is for success in Iraq, a government that is democratic, that can defend itself, govern itself as an ally in the war on terror. Because if we do not have that, what we have is a situation of chaos in Iraq where it will become a bastion and a safe haven for terrorists who will destabilize the region and plan against the United States. That’s not what we want.
I think what you, you will find is the American people understand we need to succeed in Iraq. Their concern is whether we have a plan for success. That’s why the president has conducted this review, that’s why he’s listening to all sources to develop a way ahead in Iraq. It’s what the American people expect, and it’s what the men and women in uniform who are taking great risks for this country deserve. And that’s what the president is committed to do.
MR. RUSSERT: Republican former speaker Newt Gingrinch made this observation, and let me share it with you and our, our viewers. He said, “Unless the Bush administration admits that the war in Iraq is a ‘failure,’ it will never develop a strategy to leave the country successfully.”
MR. HADLEY: The, the—we have not failed in Iraq. We will fail in Iraq if we pull of—out of our troops now, before we’re in a position to help the Iraqis to succeed. If we succeed in Iraq, it will make the country safer. They—the, the consequences of failure are too dire. At the same time, what the American people need to know is that the president understands we need to have a way forward in Iraq that is more successful. That’s what he wants, that’s what the Iraqi government wants, that’s what this review process is all about.
MR. RUSSERT: But in terms of trying to bring the country together, to bring Democrats—who now control Congress—to the table, could the president step forward and say, “I acknowledge we were wrong about WMD, we were wrong about troop levels, we were wrong about the length of the war, we were wrong about the cost of the war, we were wrong about the financing of the war, we were wrong about the level of sectarian violence, we were wrong about being greeted as liberators. We made some fundamental misjudgments, and they were wrong, but now we’re all in this together”? Could he do that?
MR. HADLEY: He’s done a lot of that. He’s acknowledged that...
MR. RUSSERT: All those mistakes?
MR. HADLEY: He has acknowledged that—for example, that there were not stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: How about troop levels?
MR. HADLEY: He’s, he’s acknowledged that, that in terms of troops we need to be building Iraqi forces to provide greater security. You know, Tim, people forget that, that we had hoped to have 150,000 to 200,000 Iraqi army forces to help in the security proposition, and those forces melted away at the close of the war. We have been trying to build Iraqi security forces, because when we go to the Iraqis and say “How about more forces?” the answer of the Iraqis has been “We do need more forces, but they need—we need Iraqi security forces.” And that’s why one of the major efforts of the administration has been to train and equip and increase the competence of Iraqi security forces, because Iraqis want Iraqis to be responsible for security and chart the way forward.
So the president has acknowledged that there are things that have not gone the way we had hoped, that we need to make some changes. We’ve been making some changes. He’s acknowledged we need to make a reassessment, given the new situation on the ground. That’s the process we’re engaged in now.
MR. RUSSERT: Whenever the administration seems to be having trouble with Iraq, in terms of its message, al-Qaeda comes front and center. This was the president on Tuesday talking about al-Qaeda in Iraq.
(Videotape, November 28, 2006):
PRES. BUSH: There’s a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented, in my opinion, because of these attacks by, by al-Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal.
MR. RUSSERT: And yet when the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency two weeks ago testified before Congress, this is his exact testimony.
(Videotape, November 15, 2006):
LT. GEN. MICHAEL MAPLES: Attacks by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq account for only a fraction of the insurgent violence.
MR. RUSSERT: “Only a fraction.” Your own book, “Victory in Iraq,” says al-Qaeda makes up the smallest enemy group. Why does the president keep bringing up al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda when your own military and your own reports say that they’re the smallest component of the enemy?
MR. HADLEY: Because it’s true, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s true, what?
MR. HADLEY: It’s true. If you look at what Zarqawi said, who was the lead al-Qaeda operative in Iraq, he’s articulated very early on a strategy for provoking sectarian violence by attacking Shia, so they in turn would attack Sunni. This was part of their strategy, to sow chaos, to thwart the advance of democracy and make al—and make Iraq a safe haven for terror.
MR. RUSSERT: But is al-Qaeda the smallest...
MR. HADLEY: They are a—they are a small fraction of the total of incidents, but they are responsible for some of the most heinous incidents—the car bombings and other things that result in the massive—the large civilian casualties. And it is those casualties and those incidents that have provoked the reprisals that the president has talked about. It’s very important for the American people to understand that there is a key al-Qaeda piece in all of this, and that is why one of the principal responsibilities we have, the challenges we have, is to deal with al-Qaeda in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s the more dangerous component, the Shiite death squads or al-Qaeda?
MR. HADLEY: It’s in, in some sense it’s both. The efforts by al-Qaeda have provoked a Shia response. That is taking a form of the death squads. And what I think was very important is when you hear Prime Minister Maliki, he is talking about the need for a rule of law in, in Iraq that a—the police and the army can only report to the Iraqi government. And those forces, whether they be Sunni, Shia, or other groups that operate outside the law and kill innocent civilians, need to be brought under the law. And he said very clearly it is the responsibility of the Iraqi government to do that. We can help them. We can help manage the security situation, we can help train their forces, but he has said that it is important that, that groups outside have justice brought to them by Iraqis. He makes no distinction.
So the answer is, we’ve got to do both. We’ve got to go after al-Qaeda, we go—have to go after Sunni death squads, have to go after Shia death squads. And the Iraqi...
MR. RUSSERT: So Mr.—Prime Minister Maliki will take apart Sadr’s militia?
MR. HADLEY: He has said that those acting outside the law have to be brought to justice, and Iraqis have to take the lead on that. That’s an important statement.
MR. RUSSERT: The president’s going to meet with Mr. Hakim, the Shiite leader tomorrow. Are we going to cast our lot with the Shiites and exclude the Sunnis?
MR. HADLEY: Absolutely not. One of the—what we’ve been working for, of course, as I said—as the president said, is a democratic Iraq. Democratic Iraq which, for the first time in the history of Iraq and first time in the history of the region, have Sunni, Shia, Kurds and other groups working together in partnership to try and bring in a democratic Iraq. Terribly important.
MR. RUSSERT: The Sunnis will be a full partner?
MR. HADLEY: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about the...
MR. HADLEY: And that’s what the Iraqis want. That’s what Maliki’s talked—that’s what his reconciliation program is all about.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask...
MR. HADLEY: To bring all moderate forces behind the government and then to go after those extremists.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about the Baker-Hamilton study group that you brought up. And here’s the way The Washington Post reported it on Friday:
“The bipartisan Iraq Study Group plans to recommend withdrawing nearly all U.S. combat units from Iraq by early 2008 while leaving behind troops to train, advise and support the Iraqis. ...
“Panel members concluded that it is vital to set a target to put pressure on Iraqi leaders to do more to assume responsibility for the security of their country.”
And then we read this in The New York Times from you. It says: “On the way home from Jordan, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said Mr. Maliki was told that the Baker-Hamilton report ‘was going to be one input’ - a clear signal that no matter how senior the group’s members, no matter how bipartisan the group, no matter how close Mr. Baker is to the president’s father, the recommendations would not be regarded as sacrosanct.”
Which prompted Newsweek to put a cover on the magazine saying, “Will Bush Listen?” Will the president listen to the Baker-Hamilton bipartisan group that has, has achieved a bipartisan consensus?
MR. HADLEY: The president supported the formation of the commission, he has met with the members of the commission, and did other senior members of his, of his administration. We’ve provided documents and information to them. I think it’s interesting, the American people don’t, probably, understand that the report has not come out and is not public and will not be public until Wednesday. There’s a lot of speculation about what’s in that report. Let’s see what they actually say.
The president is looking forward to receiving that report. He is conducting a review. That will be an important input to that report, but the president also wants to listen to Republicans and Democrats in the Congress. He wants to have the results and hear the results of the review by his military commanders. He wants to hear what the Iraqi government thinks is the way forward. He’s going to then take all of those things and come together with a way forward. His hope is that his way forward that the American people can support, Republicans and Democrats, the legislature and the Congress. That’s his objective.
Baker-Hamilton will be an important input, but as you would expect, he’s going to get inputs from a number of sources.
MR. RUSSERT: Some people have suggested the president is just plain stubborn about Iraq. He is going to do it his way, no matter what other people advise. As he said, if it’s only just his wife and his dog, he is going to follow the course that’s in his mind.
MR. HADLEY: He is stubborn about Iraq because—in the sense that the goal for him is very clear. It is a goal that the Iraqis share, I think the American people share. He’s also stubborn about Iraq because he understands the cost that if Iraq fails, I think the American people understand the cost that Iraq fails: a base for al-Qaeda and terrorists to destabilize the region, plan attacks against us, use oil against the West.
I think the American people understand the cost of failure. What they want to see is a way forward that has a prospect of success. That’s what the review is going to produce and it will be a way forward in partnership with the Iraqi government that wants to take more responsibility and needs to be supported in doing so.
MR. RUSSERT: We will be watching very closely. Stephen Hadley, we thank you very much for sharing your views this morning.
MR. HADLEY: Thanks very much.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, more on the situation in Iraq and the upcoming confirmation hearings on Tuesday for secretary of defense nominee Robert Gates. We have the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan. Then, former President Jimmy Carter. They are all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Iraq with John Warner, Carl Levin of the Armed Services Committee. Then Jimmy Carter, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Warner, Senator Levin, welcome both.
All right, Senator Warner, this is it. October 5, this is what you said to the country, “I assure you in two or three months,” that would be today, “...if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it’s a responsibility of our government internally to determine: Is there a change of course that we should take? And I wouldn’t take off the table any option.” Sixty days are up. Are we ready for a change in course?
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA): You know, I, I really felt strongly about that. Carl and I had just returned from our eighth trip, and it turned out just as I predicted, if I may say with a sense of humility. But the government, the US government, both the Congress and the executive branch, are studying every possible option at this time. The Baker-Hamilton group, which you referred on your earlier piece with Steve Hadley are doing their job. And our president is listening, learning, and he’s open to take a change in course. Not necessarily the final goals, I think they should remain fixed, but the change of course of how to get from here to there, they’re doing it.
And I hope that the president, each time he sees an option whereby we can cut down the risks to the men and women of the armed forces, the loss of life and limb, the hardship on our families and our troops, that he will immediately put those things in place. Like he said with Maliki, “You want more authority over your troops? You’ll get it. You want more equipment? You want more training? You want to enlarge them? You’re going to get it.” So I think the president has taken a very aggressive action and I strongly recommend as he finishes his own internal review, in a week or 10 days, that he then come before the new Congress in January—after all, the people spoke in this election, very loudly, and the new leadership are a reflection of the voices of the people across this country—consult informally with the leadership of both the House and the Senate and hopefully we’ll forge a bipartisan—and underline “bipartisan”—consensus of the changes in strategies we should employ in the next months and perhaps six or eight months to come.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Levin, Senator Warner says the president is open to an aggressive review and yet on Tuesday, this is what he said to he nation. Let’s play it and come back and talk about it.
PRES. BUSH: But there’s one thing I’m not going to do. I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s your reaction to that?
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI): His stubbornness has continued. Some of his rhetoric has changed. He says he’s open to new ideas. (Coughs) Excuse me. He’ll even listen to Democrats. I—I even heard Steve Hadley say they’ll even listen to Democrats on the Hill. Boy, that would be a change. He’s been absolutely stubborn in his view that we are there—and this is his words just a few days ago, by the way, Tim—“We are going to stay in Iraq as long as Iraqis ask us to be there.” Now, that seems to me to be more of the same, “Stay the course. It’s up to the Iraqis how long we’re there.” It’s an absolute refusal to do what we all know, I think, just about everybody except the president, his wife and a few others who are very, very willing to say whatever he wants them to say.
We’ve got to tell the Iraqis it’s their responsibility. It’s their country. The prime minister of Iraq, Maliki, said something which has not been reported enough. He said the entire problem in Iraq is political. It’s not military. He said it’s the politicians who have the end to violence in Iraq. It’s a political problem in Iraq. It can’t be solved militarily. We’ve got to put pressure on the Iraqis to take responsibility, and the only way that that’s going to be done is if the open-ended commitment to Iraq of our troops is over. We got to end it. And the president, when he says we’re going to stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqis want us to stay, keeps that open-ended commitment, which takes the responsibility off them and puts it on us. The wrong way.
MR. RUSSERT: USA Today described the dilemma confronting our country, Senator Warner, and I want to share with both our senators and our viewers. “All the options carry downsides and dangers. Withdraw U.S. troops quickly and court chaos, the White House warns. Send more troops to secure Baghdad and strain a U.S. military that’s already stretched thin, the Pentagon says. Appeal to Iran for help and hear demands that Washington in turn ease its objections to Tehran’s nuclear program, diplomats predict. Divide Iraq into autonomous regions and give al-Qaeda terrorists a safe haven in Sunni territory, the administration says. The war has become a Rubik’s Cube: Move to fix one side of the puzzle and another side is upended.” Do you agree with that?
SEN. WARNER: Clearly there are a lot of problems out there, and there’s no option and I think the Baker-Hamilton report will show this. That was a conscientious effort by well-meaning, well-trained, well-experienced citizens, voluntarily, to try and reach a consensus. We don’t have it before us, but they did reach a consensus, they did look at all the options, and much of what you described there was before that group. But the thing about it is, little no was—little noticed was the United Nations Security Council on the 28th of this month—that is, November. They said that this problem in Iraq affects the security of the whole world. They just didn’t limit it to the region, the national security of the whole world. And we have to come up with a solution to this problem, and we’re doing it.
MR. RUSSERT: Would it be better—would it be more helpful, when you talk about bipartisanship, if the president called in Democrats and Republicans and said, “You know, I’ve made big mistakes. I’ve made misjudgments on weapons of mass destruction, on troop levels, on cost of the war, on sectarian violence, about greeted as liberators. I admit I have made some really big mistakes.” Would that be helpful?
SEN. WARNER: Look, I said in my first comment here, come—when the new Congress comes in, recognizing that the new leadership is a result of the people. After all, our Constitution set up the executive branch, the Congress, but the people have the power in this country. They spoke. And he should come up and talk to the joint leadership, House and Senate, and the Democrats and the Republicans. I don’t know...
MR. RUSSERT: And acknowledge failure?
SEN. WARNER: I don’t know they’d have to acknowledge it all, he said it, in
effect, “I’m not pleased with what’s going on, nor am I pleased with the speed
by which corrections are taking place.” It’s per...
MR. RUSSERT: What should the president say?
SEN. WARNER: Let’s look forward not backward to solve this problem, which is really one of moderation in the Muslim world against the extremists in the Muslim world, whether it’s Lebanon, whether it’s Iraq, or whether it’s the Palestinian situation.
MR. RUSSERT: But as I hear it, Senator Warner and Senator Levin, the country Democrats are listening, and they want to be brought in to the table. And yet they’re not willing to put something on the table unless the president seems to make some admissions. Is that fair?
SEN. LEVIN: No. He’s not going to make admissions, he’s not capable of admitting mistakes. What we have put on the table is a proposal. Democratic leaders have put a proposal on the table. By the way, there are risks no matter what course we take, because obviously the Iraq policy has been such a terrible mistake; poorly handled, poorly conceived, a mistake going in, that’s overboard. Democrats and Republicans want us to try to maximize the chances of success. No matter what course we take, there’s going to be risks. But the current course is a failure, we’ve got to change it.
Here’s what we’ve proposed. We’ve proposed that the Iraqis be told that in four to six months, we’re going to begin a phased redeployment of American troops from Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: The president’s rejected that.
SEN. LEVIN: I know the president’s rejected that. He’s rejected everything that reflects on his policy, or that suggests that his policy is wrong, or that we got to change course. He, he says over and over again, “We’re going to be in Iraq as long as the Iraqis want us.” That is an abdication, number one, of policy on our part. But worse, it’s the wrong message to the Iraqis. It tells them that it’s not their responsibility, it’s ours.
Tim, we’ve got to shift the responsibility to the Iraqis. The Democratic proposal is a modest one. It is not precipitous. It’s been characterized as cut and run. It is not. It simply says to the Iraqis, “Folks, you say, your prime minister says that the problem in Iraq is political.” Our military leaders say that there’s no military solution to Iraq. You put those two facts together—Maliki’s statement that the problem is political, with the, I think, fact that there’s no military solution. We have got to shift the onus to the Iraqis to solve their political problems. We cannot save them from themselves, Tim. And we should give them four to six months, and then we will begin a redeployment of American forces. Give them that much time to solve the problem, which they acknowledge is a political problem, not a military problem.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Levin has laid out the Democratic plan. Baker-Hamilton is suggesting, we have reported, a redeployment. Could you buy into a redeployment of American troops in significant numbers next year, Senator Warner?
SEN. WARNER: I think that we have to look at all the options, and as chairman of this committee until my good friend takes over in January, I want to make sure that we look at all options, we don’t seize on one right now. I come back again and again to the importance of our president to go before the new Congress, the joint leadership, bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats of both houses, share with them the, the fruit of his thinking, this concentrated effort that he and his colleagues in the administration have done, and see if we can’t form a consensus that the Congress and the president moves out jointly on. We have a moral obligation to these brave young men and women of the Armed Forces, whose loss of life and loss of limb is a heavy burden on this country. We have an obligation to the people of this country, who spoke in this election. And we better darn well pay attention to what they’re saying.
SEN. LEVIN: And we, we share that feeling, by the way, strongly.
MR. RUSSERT: On Tuesday—Tuesday you’ll have the confirmation hearings for Robert Gates to be the new—the nominee to be secretary of defense. Senator Levin, I want to bring you back to November 5, 1991, when Mr. Gates was nominated to be director of the CIA, and you had reservations about his conduct with Iran-Contra. But separate the issue and focus on his integrity. And this is what Carl Levin said about Robert Gates: “I am left with the feeling that Robert Gates has not been fully forthcoming with the Senate as to his recollections of the events of the Iran-Contra affair. ... I have remaining doubts about Mr. Gates’ candor with the Senate. I cannot vote to confirm him.” If you did not trust him or believe him or respect his candor under oath, how can you possibly vote for him?
SEN. LEVIN: Well, because I want to take the whole picture into account, I want to take the 15 years since then into account. I want to see how he deals with the problem which existed back then, which was that he was not candid about Iran-Contra in his recollection. There’s a lot of other issues that we face and we need a change in that department. We’ve got to have a change in Iraq policy. We have to have someone who will speak truth to power and not just tell the president what he wants to hear.
By the way, it was not just me who had problems with the candor. It was, for instance, Secretary Shultz, who felt that Mr. Gates, when he was the deputy to Mr. Casey at the head of CIA manipulated intelligence in order to support a particular policy of Casey’s. We have to go into that...(unintelligible).
MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to go into this issue?
SEN. LEVIN: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: You think he’ll be confirmed?
SEN. LEVIN: I just—I, I think it’s likely he’ll be confirmed, but it’s very important that there be a thorough process, and I want to give our chairman credit for making sure that there is a thorough process.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Warner, Mr. Gates was given a questionnaire by your committee. He says that things probably should’ve been differently done in Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld, the day before the election, wrote a memo saying “We need major adjustments.” Why didn’t the president say to the country before the election “We need major adjustments in our Iraq policy, mistakes have been made,” as opposed to “We’re going to stay the course. I’m not happy, but full speed ahead”?
SEN. WARNER: Well, I certainly regret some of those statements that were made at that time, but in, in fairness to the president, the nation was in the middle of an election period, and he had to exercise great care, such as his role as commander in chief, and what he was going to do now and in the future with the troops didn’t appear to be a political, a political reason to influence those elections. It was a tough call on his part. I wish they’d dropped some of the rhetoric. You’ll have to ask someone that lost the election how serious...(unintelligible)...turn one way or another. But...
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, quickly, will Mr. Gates be confirmed?
SEN. WARNER: I think—I say with a great deal of confidence that our committee will do a very thorough job on Tuesday. I hope we can vote the nomination out at the conclusion of a long, open session to be followed by a closed session, and that on Wednesday, there’ll be, at the direction of our leadership, a floor debate and a vote. I think it shows that the Congress can swing into action and do our advise-and-consent role in a time of urgency like this, and do it correctly under the Constitution.
MR. RUSSERT: Republican John Warner, Democrat Carl Levin, thank you for your views.
SEN. LEVIN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: We’ll be right back with Jimmy Carter, the former president of the United States. A very provocative book about the Middle East.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back, joined by the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter.
FMR. PRES. JIMMY CARTER: Good to be back with you. Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Your 21st book. “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.” Mr.
President, that title alone is going to create some controversy.
FMR. PRES. CARTER: Well, well, maybe it’s provocative. That’s—I prefer that. I don’t look on provocative as a negative word. If it, if it provokes debate and assessment and disputes and arguments and maybe some action in the Middle East to get the peace process—which is now completely absent or dormant—rejuvenated, then—and brings peace, ultimately to Israel, that’s what I want.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me read from page 215 of your book. “A system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights. This is the policy now being followed.” And last Sunday you told Louisville Courier-Journal, “I would say that in many ways the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupying forces is as onerous—and in some cases more onerous—as the treatment of black people in South Africa by the apartheid government.” Those are very strong words.
FMR. PRES. CARTER: They are exactly accurate. And I think I should point out quickly that the book refers to Palestine and not to Israel. And I also make clear in the book that the apartheid that is perpetrated now on the Palestinians in the occupied territories is not based on racism. It’s based on a desire by a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land. And in the acquisition of that land, the occupation, the confiscation, and then the colonization of that land, they are perpetuating an absolute and total division between Israelis living on Palestinian territory and the right of Palestinians to interrelate with any Israelis who are occupying their own land. So, that word is, is accurate for what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians on Palestinian territory.
MR. RUSSERT: Michael Jacobs, who’s a managing editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times, wrote this in the Journal Constitution. “The use of ‘apartheid’ in the title [of President Carter’s book] is bizarre. Unlike blacks in pre-1990 South Africa, Israeli Arabs are the legal equals of Jewish citizens. Carter applies the term only to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank who don’t live in Israel, aren’t Israeli citizens and don’t recognize the existence of the nation that supposedly is oppressing them.”
FMR. PRES. CARTER: That’s exactly right and, and he’s saying—that’s one of the few things he said that agrees with what I believe. And that is I’m not referring to the treatment of Arabs who are living in Israel and who are citizens of Israel and have full citizenship rights to vote and so forth. But the, the Arabs that live in the occupied territories—which is not Israel’s territory, but their own—are horribly abused. And I don’t think anyone could go to the West Bank and Gaza or even to East Jerusalem and see what’s happening now to the Palestinians that would disagree with my use of the word apartheid.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me take you back to January of 1976. You were on MEET THE PRESS and asked about the Middle East and about a Palestinian state. And let’s listen to, carefully, to what you said then and see if you in your mind, 30 years later, you’re still in agreement. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, January 11, 1976)
GOV. JIMMY CARTER (D-GA): I think when we get down to the last stages of solving the Middle Eastern question, which I hope we can do in the future, the recognition of the Palestinians as an entity with the right to have their own nation, to choose their own government, to exist in a territory, possibly on the West Bank and maybe the East Bank of the Jordan, is an integral part of an ultimate solution.
I would not recognize the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO, nor their leaders under any circumstances, diplomatically, until they recognize the right of Israel to exist in peace in their present location in the Far East—in the Middle East. I think that ultimately Israel might have to withdraw to—from some of the boundaries, toward their 1967 boundaries. There’s some that I would not cede if I were the premier of Israel. One would be control of the Syrians—by the Syrians of the Golan Heights and I would not relinquish control of the, of the Jewish and Christian worship places in Jerusalem, but I think the recognition of the Palestinians as an entity and as a nation will be an integral part of the future of Middle Eastern settlement.
FMR. PRES. CARTER: I was pretty wise for a Georgia governor in those days.
MR. RUSSERT: But that still pretty much outlines your views.
FMR. PRES. CARTER: It does. It does. And, and there can be some modifications of the 1967 borders as negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And this has been done, as I point out in the book, in what’s known as the Geneva Accords. And we were involved a little bit in that. And that is that Israel would, would continue to occupy a portion of the West Bank, on which is now living about 50 percent of all the Israeli settlers, in exchange for which they would cede a little bit of land, an equal amount of land, to the Palestinians just west of the Gaza Strip and, to some degree, inside Israel.
So it’s all feasible. It’s all spelled out in this book, and it’s the only avenue, in my opinion, that will ever lead—and I say this with—very carefully—will ever lead to permanent peace for Israel accepted by the rest of the world as an entity there.
MR. RUSSERT: As I read your book, this struck me, particularly from someone in political life. You wrote the following: “There are constant and vehement political and media debates in Israel concerning its policies in the West Bank, but because of powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the United States, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned, voices from Jerusalem dominate in our media, and most American citizens are unaware of circumstances in the occupied territories.”
And then you went on to say: “There’s no doubt there is a strong aversion to criticizing Israel in this country. I wouldn’t say it’s all because of intimidation, but that is one factor.”
FMR. PRES. CARTER: Yeah. Do you disagree with that? Well, I won’t ask you that. You’re the one asking questions. But I don’t think anyone could disagree with that. There is—there are very few, if any, voices in the political realm of Washington, or in the major news media, who would raise the kind of issues that are raised in this book.
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
FMR. PRES. CARTER: I have said in the book, I don’t know if it’s intimidation or just reticence. There are some factors that are involved even in the religious circles. But it’s completely—almost completely unacceptable in this country for any public official to criticize the policies of Israel, even if they are horribly abusive against the Palestinians and violate human rights.
MR. RUSSERT: This is, this is, in effect, taking on the “Israeli lobby” or the “Jewish lobby.”
FMR. PRES. CARTER: That’s part. The Jewish lobby may be part of it. I didn’t say that in the book, but I think that’s part of it. But even—you know, I don’t think that The Washington Post or The New York Times or NBC or others are intimidated by, by the Jewish lobby. But I think there’s a reticence, even in public fora, to describe both sides of the issues in the West Bank.
MR. RUSSERT: Looking at the Middle East now, what must be done? If President Bush picked up the phone and called you and said, “President Carter”—does he ever call you?
FMR. PRES. CARTER: Oh, yes, we discuss matters on occasion. Either I call the State Department or the White House or he calls me, yes.
MR. RUSSERT: If he said to you, “Mr. President, what do I do today about the Middle East? What do I do to get a true peace?”
FMR. PRES. CARTER: OK. First of all, I think that the United States should stop their horrible abuse of the Palestinian people in a generic sense. I mean, all Palestinian people. Because they voted for Hamas candidates last January, we have cut off all aid to, to the Palestinian people, humanitarian aid and otherwise. We don’t let contributions from other nations go to the Palestinian people. They don’t have enough money to pay their, their teachers, their nurses, their policemen, their firemen, anybody on their public payroll, just because the Palestinian people voted for Hamas candidates. So I would stop that and let humanitarian aid go into Gaza and to the West Bank.
Secondly, I would encourage the formation of a unity government that would include Hamas and Fatah so that the Palestinian people could be brought together. The Egyptians are trying to do this, but it’s over the objection of and the obstruction of the United States and the Israeli government. That was the next thing. And I, and I think the Palestinians are on the verge of forming a unity government.
And third, when that is done, there won’t be any equivocation about who can speak for the Palestinians, and I don’t think there is now. Mahmoud Abbas is the only anointed leader by the Palestinians—I mean anointed by Israel and the United States—as acceptable even three years before he became president. But while he was prime minister, under Arafat, and since he’s been president now for almost two years, he has not been permitted to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians with Israel to try to find an accommodation for their problems.
So I think the United States could use its maximum effort to bring about those kind of peace talks between Abbas and the representatives of Prime Minister Olmert. And if the United States is not willing to do that, I think they should be. As I said, the United States doesn’t want to, then they could let the international quartet do it where the United States would be a major player joined by Russia, the United Nations and by the European Union.
MR. RUSSERT: Before we leave you, I’d like to take advantage of your experience as a past president. How do you believe history will judge the war in Iraq?
FMR. PRES. CARTER: As one of the most troublesome and, and important errors ever made in international policy of the United States of America, for more than one reason. One is that we abandoned a justifiable and major presence in Afghanistan, where we could have helped wipe out al-Qaeda, we might have caught Osama bin Laden. And if not, if he had still escaped, we could have used our tremendous influence at the end of that war, with the Taliban overthrown, to rebuild Afghanistan, and to let them know that the Western world—and the Arab world—were supporting their move toward democracy with full restoration of their basic quality of life. That’s one thing.
We abandoned that in the middle of what I consider to be a justifiable war, and, and moved our resources, financial resources, our military resources, into Iraq, lost the support of almost unanimous support around the world following September 11, and almost acted unilaterally, with Great Britain by our side, in an unjustified war in Iraq, and alienated a lot of people who would otherwise have been allies with ours.
And I hope that they—that the coming Lee Hamilton and, and James Baker committee will recommend that, that there be a convergence in a conference of Iran and Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others, even going to France and Russia, to say, “We, as a collective group, will guarantee to the Iraqi people our full support to rebuild the nation that has been damaged, if not destroyed. We will support the government that exists, and we will also guarantee you that, over a period of time—not a very extended time—the Iraqi people will control their, their military, their political and their economic affairs by themselves, without American influence, and with a collective worldwide beneficial influence for the rebuilding of a damaged nation.”
MR. RUSSERT: President Jimmy Carter, we thank you for joining us. Your self-described provocative book, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.” Thank you again.
FMR. PRES. CARTER: It’s a pleasure.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week, in-depth coverage of the upcoming Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.