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MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
Sundays: (202) 885-4200
NBC News MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Former Governor HOWARD DEAN, (D-Vt.)
2004 Presidential Candidate
WILLIAM ARKIN, Military Analyst
General WAYNE DOWNING (Ret.), Former Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Special Operations Command
General BARRY McCAFFREY (Ret.), Former Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command
General MONTGOMERY MEIGS (Ret.), Former Commander, NATO Stabilization Force
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: One year ago he was the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Will he run for president again in 2008 or seek to become the chairman of the Democratic national party? We'll ask him. Our guest: the former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean.
Then, the Iraq elections, just 49 days away. American troops, concerned about their equipment. Our Roundtable, with four NBC News analysts: former U.S. Army intelligence analyst and author William Arkin; the former commander in chief, U.S. Special Operations Command, General Wayne Downing; former commander in chief, U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command, General Barry McCaffrey; former commander, NATO Stabilization Force, General Montgomery Meigs.
But first, joining us now for his first television interview since the November election is Howard Dean.
DR. HOWARD DEAN: Thanks, Tim, for having me on.
MR. RUSSERT: Topical story: Bernard Kerik...
DR. DEAN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: ...President Bush's nominee to be secretary of the Homeland Security, has withdrawn. What's your reaction?
DR. DEAN: Well, you know, I think he should have known better. I mean, everybody was put on notice with Zoe Baird 10 years ago that if you have domestic help, it can't be an illegal immigrant and you can't pay her under the table. And I think for this still to be going on for people who think they're going to be in public service is not so great.
MR. RUSSERT: Here we sit...
DR. DEAN: I think it was good--on the plus side, it's a good thing he pulled the plug very quickly and it's over and done with.
MR. RUSSERT: We're about five weeks into the November election. Do you think you could have beaten George Bush?
DR. DEAN: You know, that's "woulda, coulda, shoulda." I wasn't the nominee. I know one thing: I couldn't have beaten John Kerry to be the nominee so, you know, to say who could have done what afterwards is--as you know what I said when I left the presidential race: "It's all what we'd call in medicine a `retrospectoscope.'" It's very easy to say just how things should have gone once they've already gone that way.
MR. RUSSERT: Could the Democrats have gone after George Bush's foreign policy, national security record more effectively?
DR. DEAN: Well, I think the answer is yes, because we didn't win, so I believe that you go after somebody's strengths, that the president ran as a war president and he ran as a national security president. The truth is, his record on national security is weak, not strong, but we're not spending the money we need to to get the nuclear weapons leftovers out of Russia; that's a budget item the president has not spent the money on. We're not inspecting the cargo containers. I think it would have been a great strategy to do that.
But I think John ran a pretty good campaign. In fact, from a grassroots perspective, we ran the best campaign that we ever have; it just wasn't good enough. It's one of the reasons I'm interested in the DNC chairmanship.
MR. RUSSERT: What should George Bush do right now about Iraq?
DR. DEAN: Well, my view for a long time has been that this is a terrible mess, and the best we can do is try to get out of there with some reasonable semblance of stability in Iraq. And we can't do that immediately. I actually support the president on the idea of having these elections on January 30th. I don't think there's any good time to have an election. These guys in the White House have really messed up by not anticipating any kind of an insurgency whatsoever. We're going to live with that insurgency as long as we're there. The only chance we can get out in a reasonable way without leaving a much worse national security situation than we found one in is to have these elections, and to try to allow the Iraqis to run their country.
MR. RUSSERT: You said you're thinking about running for chairman of the Democratic national party. If you did, in fact, run for chairman of the party and win, could you run for president in '08 as well?
DR. DEAN: No, absolutely not. You cannot--the reason I'm interested in running for the DNC chairmanship is because I think we need some fundamental things done differently. I think we are left by Terry McAuliffe with a big surplus, and he's done a great job in terms of leaving this party in good financial condition. Something I've never seen in my lifetime in politics is the DNC with a surplus after a presidential election. So the next chairman doesn't have to dig out from debt.
What we do have to do is look at what the Republicans do well and, frankly, what we did well at Democracy for America. We elected candidates in places like Alabama and Utah and Idaho and Georgia. Democrats can win in those places. First, I think we have to have a 50-state strategy, and secondly, I really believe we have to stand up for being Democrats. We have a message to sell. I frankly think it's a better message than the Republicans; we've just got to figure out how to get it out there. Grassroots, empowering people elsewhere in the country, instead of trying to run things from the top down, I think, is the way to do it. It was successful for us. I think it can be successful for the Democratic National Committee.
MR. RUSSERT: You just spent the weekend in Florida meeting with the state Democratic Party chairs. Are you close to running? Were they encouraging to you?
DR. DEAN: Well, you know, I am going to run if I think that I can win, if I think that they really want me. This is an institution and the people in the institution know that they have to change, but the pain of change is always greater. Until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same, they aren't going to change. And I had a lot of debates with myself about whether to try to change things from the outside or change things from the inside knowing it was going to be a significant institutional resistance if I try to change things from the inside, but I concluded it's faster to change the party from the inside.
We have got to get back in power in this country. We can't afford these two trill--imagine the president talking about spending $2 trillion of additional deficit charged to our children's credit card to take senior benefits away. These people who are running this country are running it in a short-term way, racking up enormous deficits, enormous future national security problems for us. We can't afford the Republicans. We've got to get rid of them as fast as fast as possible because they can't run the country properly. And so I concluded that trying to move the party in a direction where we can start winning elections at the local level first, because that's where it all starts, and then at the national level as fast as we can is the right thing to do.
MR. RUSSERT: Social Security faces a crisis. Should Democrats work with the president in trying to set up some private accounts as a way of cutting the cost of Social Security long term?
DR. DEAN: Well, I think that's up to the Democrats and the legislature, but I'll say a couple of things about that. I personally don't think privatization of Social Security is a good idea because you're going to end up taking away benefits from people. Social Security will be there for a 21-year-old today but they will not be there if you allow the president to destroy the system. The biggest problem I have with what the president wants to do is to add $2 trillion to the deficit. This is unbelievable. Four years ago, Bill Clinton was president of the United States. We had a big surplus. This is the borrow and spend, borrow and spent administration. They are fiscally irresponsible. You can't trust Republicans with your money anymore. They just take it and spend it. We cannot afford a $2 trillion borrowing fix to whatever the president wants to do to Social Security.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me talk about your potential run for state chair. For Senator Bob Kerrey had this to say. "[Dean's] got tremendous skills, and if he became [DNC] chairman, he'd do a good job. ...But if he runs, he's going to have some `splaining' to do, as Ricky Ricardo used to say. ... Which Howard Dean are we talking about? ...If we're talking about the Howard Dean who was governor of Vermont, I would say fine. But if it's a presidential candidate Dean, I would say probably no."
DR. DEAN: Well, you know, everybody's going to have their own opinion about whether I should run for the DNC chairmanship or not, but let me just say a little bit about what I think I could bring to the job. First of all, I think it's accepted that our campaign brought hundreds of thousands of new people, not all of them were Democrats, into the fold especially young people to vote for Democrats which--and they voted for John Kerry by a significant margin.
Second of all, we raised more money than any other candidate because we taught people how to run grassroots. Since that time, we've had an organization, Democracy for America, which has raised even more grassroots money and pumped into the local races and we've had some successes in so-called red states.
I understand what it is to empower people who aren't in Washington. I think we can't win anymore unless the message is made in the states and then filters up to Washington rather than made at the DNC and then we tell the state parties what to do because the message--there'll be an overall Democratic message, but the message needs to come from places like Alabama, not just Minnesota, if we're going to win and have a chance in Alabama. So I think I have a lot to offer the DNC and we'll see if they agree with me or not.
MR. RUSSERT: The New Republic has written an editorial opposed to your candidacy. It says, "This is one of those key moments when Democrats must decide what course to take in the wake of 2004 election. And making Dean their spokesman is exactly the wrong way to go. ... During the campaign, Dean embraced a particular, and utterly wrong, theory of how Democrats ought to win elections. Rather than focus on persuading centrists, he argued, Democrats should rile up their own base, which required the nomination of Dean rather than a more cautious new Democrat. `I concluded that the only way we can win is to really get our base excited: African Americans, Latinos, trade unionists, women and new young people.' ... This, too, proved false. ... The liberal base is simply not large enough to win national elections."
DR. DEAN: First of all, I don't think we're talking about a liberal base. I think we're talking about a populist base, a base that wants economic justice, a base that wants fairness, a base that knows it's been left behind by a president who is much more interested in corporate welfare than he is of the welfare of the American public at large.
Second of all, our campaign didn't fail because I was wrong about the strategy. Karl Rove has used the strategy that the New Republic talked about incredibly successful. You didn't see the president becoming a centrist all of a sudden. The president is the most conservative really far-right president we've seen in my lifetime and he uses that very effectively to get his base to the polls.
As I said earlier, we ran the best grassroots campaign that I've seen in my lifetime. They ran a better one. Why? Because we sent 14,000 people into Ohio from elsewhere. They had 14,000 from Ohio talking to their neighbors and that's how you win in rural states and in rural America. If we don't do those things, we aren't going to win. We have to learn to do those things.
MR. RUSSERT: Some mainstream Democrats, Governor, have said when Howard Dean ran, he said he represented the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, and that the Democratic Leadership Council, which was headed by Bill Clinton, was the "Republican wing of the Democratic Party." Is a liberal from Vermont the answer to the Democratic Party's problems when there are so many red states throughout the country that seem to be resistant to liberals from the Northeast?
DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, I'm not running for president, I'm running for DNC chair. So it's the candidates that make the difference in terms of the political message, not the DNC chair. But secondly, here's my record in Vermont, balance the budget, everybody under 18 has health insurance, enormous investment in early childhood so that we've reduced our child abuse rate and eight consecutive endorsements from the National Rifle Association. Now, I don't know if that makes me a liberal or centrist or a right-wing conservative, but it's not exactly what you would call the classic profile of a Northeasterner. I come from a very rural state, and I get rural politics, and I get agricultural politics, and I think that's important.
MR. RUSSERT: MoveOn.org put out a memo to its supporters. It says in part: "In the last year, grassroot contributors like us gave more than $300 million to the Kerry campaign and the DNC and proved that the [Democratic] Party doesn't need corporate cash to be competitive. Now it's our Party: we bought it, we own it, and we're going to take it back." They go on to say that, Terry McAuliffe "cozied up" to the same corporate donors that fund Republicans.
DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, that's not too fair because there weren't any corporate donors after McCain-Feingold. The most you could take was the $25,000 donation, which I don't think goes far enough. I think we need election reform, and we need further campaign finance reform. But under the rules, I think that a lot of that was cut out and that Terry wasn't doing that.
Secondly, in Terry McAuliffe's defense, we are--really are in the best shape that we have ever been in going into an off-presidential year. Now, I understand--look, Move On has a lot of people who are in the same kind of political area as a lot of our folks at Democracy for America, and Move On was very, very helpful during the election, and grassroots politics is where it is. But to say that any faction of the Democratic Party owns it and bought it and so forth, I think, is a little over the top, and I was a little surprised at that memo.
MR. RUSSERT: Ron Fournier from the Associated Press wrote about John Kerry, and he said this: "[They want to know], Democrat leaders, why Kerry ended his campaign with more than $15 million in the bank. ... `Democrats are questioning why he sat on so much money that could have helped him defeat George Bush or helped down-ballot races, many of which could have gone our way with a few more million dollars,' said Donna Brazile, a member of the DNC and a campaign manager for Al Gore."
Are you concerned when you read that John Kerry still has $15 million?
DR. DEAN: Not as concerned as the other folks are because he couldn't have spent that on his presidential race. That was pre-primary money that came in after the deadline. He couldn't spend it. He could have given it to down-ballot races, and I think that's a legitimate question--and I don't know the answer to that question--but he could not have spent that on the presidential race.
MR. RUSSERT: What should he do with the money?
DR. DEAN: Well, that's his business not mine. I don't think I'll be in the business of giving him advice on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: But as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, would you urge him to give it to the DNC or to other candidates--Democratic candidates throughout the country?
DR. DEAN: If he were so inclined, I would prefer it be put into grassroots organizing.
MR. RUSSERT: Harry Reid, the new leader of the Democrats, was on the MEET THE PRESS last week, and he said he would be open to Antonin Scalia being appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court. There may be some ethical problems, he said. If he could get by those, he was very much impressed by the brilliance of his mind.
DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, I like Harry Reid a lot. He's a straight shooter, and I think he's going to be a good leader. I disagree with him on this one. I think Antonin Scalia ought not to be on the Supreme Court let alone chief justice because I think he lacks judicial temperament.
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
DR. DEAN: Because when you--and I have appointed a great many judges as my career as governor--the second thing after a work ethic that you look for when you're appointing a judge or a justice is judicial temperament. That means--in our judicial system, it's very important for the loser and/or the winner in any case to be--to feel like they've been treated fairly and respectfully by the court system. That's what is the glue that binds us together as a society. When you are sarcastic and mean-spirited, as the justice often is from the bench, it leaves the losing--the loser in that case feeling as if they were not respected by the judicial system, and that's why you don't put people with bad temperament on the--on any court, and I certainly don't think they should be on the Supreme Court of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: When specifically was he mean-spirited or sarcastic?
DR. DEAN: You've seen many, many times. I don't have a specific time, but you could go read almost any oral argument in the last year and find sarcastic, mean-spirited remarks from the justice in those arguments.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of abortion. The Newsweek reports that John Kerry went to a Democratic meeting to thank his supporters, and they asked him what he had learned from the past campaign. And he said, "We have to find a different way to deal with the issue of abortion in terms of explaining the Democratic position, and we have to find a way to bring in right-to-life Democrats back into the Democratic Party." Could you conceive of a way the Democratic Party could say to mainstream ethnic voters, "We're a different Democratic Party. We may look at perhaps the whole idea of parental notification in terms of abortion. We may look at banning it in the third trimester." Is there a way the Democrats could change their vocabulary on abortion?
DR. DEAN: We can change our vocabulary, but I don't think we ought to change our principles. The way I think about this is--and it gets into the gay marriage stuff, too. We're not the party of gay marriage. We're the party of equal rights for all Americans. You know, I signed the first civil unions bill in America, and four years later the most conservative president the United States has seen in my lifetime is now embracing what I signed. We've come a long way. We're not the party of abortion. We're the party of allowing people to make up their own minds about medical treatment. It's just a different way of phrasing it. We have to start framing these issues, not letting them frame the issues.
I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats. The Democrats that have stuck with us, who are pro-life, through their long period of conviction, are people who are the kind of pro-life people that we ought to have deep respect for. Not only are they pro-life, which, I think, is a moral judgment--I happen to be strongly pro-choice, as a physician--but they are pro-life more moral reasons. They also, if they're in the Democratic Party, are real pro-life. That is, they're pro-life not just for unborn children. They're pro-life for investing in children's programs. They're pro-life for helping small children and young families. They're pro-life in making sure adequate medical care happens to children. That's what you so often lack on the Republican side. They beat the drums about being pro-life but they forget about life after birth. And so I do embrace pro-life Democrats. I think we want them in our party. We can have a respectful dialogue, and we have to stop demagoguing this issue.
MR. RUSSERT: And if you became chairman of the party, you would actively reach out to pro-life Democrats?
DR. DEAN: In my campaign, supposedly this liberal campaign, we had a number of pro-life people. Our campaign really is a reform campaign. Now, there were a lot of progressive people, and I believe in progressive issues, but what we're trying to do is reform America. We're trying to have health-care reform, we're trying to have election reform, campaign finance reform. We're certainly trying to reform the borrow-and-spend habits of this administration, which is the most spendthrift administration in my lifetime in America. This supposedly conservative administration can't hold on to a dollar, let alone a taxpayer dollar. So we want real reform and I want the Democratic Party to stand for reform.
MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you'd really like to be chairman of the party.
DR. DEAN: I would like to be chairman of the party, but you know, it's an odd dance. It's not like going out into the primaries and bringing people in. There's 447 people that get to vote on this, and, you know, I'm not much of an insider, and this is a pretty insider game.
MR. RUSSERT: When do you have to make a final decision?
DR. DEAN: Not for a while. There's a lot of people who are sort of in and out and moving around, and there's a lot of talking behind the scenes, and I'm very much hoping--I'm hoping actually, oddly as it sounds for me, to be a somewhat of a consensus person. I'm hoping that we'll be able to bring all the factions together. It's going to take some time, because I really fried the party while I was out there running for president, I think with some good reason. But I am a Democrat. I think the Democratic Party is a far better vehicle for reforming America than some other vehicle that you'd have to start from scratch or some interest group. And in the long run, if we can make the Democratic Party the party of real reform, then I think we'd really gain something for the country.
MR. RUSSERT: You said if you win chairman of the Democratic Party, you can't run for president in '08. If you do not become chairman of the Democrat Party, might you consider running for president?
DR. DEAN: I'll think about it, because I never turn down any, you know, proposal without thinking about it carefully. So certainly I suppose I'd be in the mix for a while until I figured out what I was going to do. But my first choice is to be the DNC chair if I can be.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, I turned on the radio recently and listened to an ad for Yahoo! and I want to play that for you and our viewers and get your reaction.
(Audiotape of radio ad):
DR. DEAN: Yahoo locals helped me find all sorts of things, like bookstores (screams) in Iowa, and convention centers (screams) in Nebraska and some very interesting diners (screams) in Illinois!
MR. RUSSERT: What's that about?
DR. DEAN: Oh, it's having fun, you know. Everybody teases me about the scream speech, and it was a little over the top. So was the cable coverage of it. ABC News actually did a great story 10 days later, saying it really wasn't what it was. But I think if you can't have fun with yourself and laugh at yourself, then you probably shouldn't be in the business.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to work with Yahoo! in the future?
DR. DEAN: No. I just did that for one...
MR. RUSSERT: One time only.
DR. DEAN: It's a one-time shot.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Governor Dean, we'll be following your potential election as chairman of the DNC chair, and we hope you come back and share your views.
DR. DEAN: Tim, thanks a lot.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, Iraq: Where do we go from here? We'll ask author William Arkin, General Wayne Downing, General Barry McCaffrey and General Montgomery Meigs. They're all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS, Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: The war in Iraq: Where do we go from here? William Arkin and retired Generals Downing, McCaffrey and Meigs, after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Welcome, all. Let me pick up Wednesday of this week when Secretary Rumsfeld was in Kuwait. Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard posed a question. Let's watch:
SPEC. THOMAS WILSON: Now, why do we soldiers have to dig through local land fills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles, and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?
SEC'Y DONALD RUMSFELD: As you know, you go to war with the Army you have and not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank on a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up.
MR. RUSSERT: General McCaffrey, a reporter from the Chattanooga Times helped with that question, and this issue is a lot bigger than just equipment and Humvees. But that question and that response seems to have generated a big debate about Iraq. What's your reaction?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, first of all, God bless American soldiers and Marines. You talk to them, you're going to get the truth out of them. But I think it was a flash of arrogance on the part of the secretary, unfortunately. That answer might have worked in a congressional committee hearing or with the Joint Staff, but it won't work with troops about to deploy into combat. We've got a problem on the ground. It's complex, dangerous. We're three years into the war. We need to put the country at war and not just the armed forces. That's my instinctive response.
MR. RUSSERT: General Downing, we have 20,000 Humvees. Six thousand are fully armored, 10,000 are partially armored and 4,000 or 5,000 have no armor whatsoever. Is this a problem?
GEN. WAYNE DOWNING: Well, I think they can fix it fairly well, Tim. This thing is not about armored Humvees, I don't think. I think what this is really about and the crucial question is, you know-- at this stage now in Iraq, we're probably 16 months into the time now; we've recognized we have an insurgency on our hands. You know, have we learned the kind of lessons that need to be learned for us to go in, put that insurgency down, establish a degree of security inside of Iraq so that we can have elections, develop the economy, provide services to the people? This is the issue. There are some very positive signs that we are learning the lessons at the strategic level, the operational level now with Fallujah and these other campaigns, and then the tactics that the troops are using. So, I mean, this is not about just Humvees. There are some much larger questions out there that I think maybe positive.
MR. RUSSERT: And yet Senator Joe Biden came back from a visit to Iraq. He was on the "Imus in the Morning" program talking about what people in his state are saying to him. Let's watch.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE): There's a Black Hawk squadron that got sent out. Four wives come to me; will I help them with some money to get seats, S-E-A-T-S, seats for the Black Hawks because they are ripped. These guys are taking material with them to Iraq. And the president's telling us he's doing all he can do. I mean, it's just not true.
MR. DON IMUS (Host): And enough's enough.
MR. RUSSERT: The Los Angeles Times, General Meigs, followed with this article: "...a number of the soldiers [at a California Army National Guard battalion preparing for deployment to Iraq] said that the training they have received is so poor and equipment shortages so prevalent that they fear their casualty rate will be needlessly high when they arrived in Ira early next year. `We are going to pay for this in blood,' one soldier said. They said they believed their treatment and training reflected an institutional bias against National Guard troops by commanders in the active-duty Army, an allegation that Army commanders denied."
GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS: I think that's a little over the top. Look, there's no question that if a unit's deploying into harm's way, if they don't have the right gear, that's wrong. Part of that problem, though, goes to the unit itself, which over the years has been reporting its readiness. Were those issues reported by that unit at the appropriate time? Secondly, Army training to get people ready for harm's- way duty is very, very tough, and a lot of the Guard units never really experience that until they go into a deployment like this. So when you go into a mission rehearsal, it's 24 hours, seven days a week, very, very tough. It's not that anyone is discriminating against the Guard. You're trying to make the scrimmage as tough as the game.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the whole issue of Iraq and how we're doing. The New York Times reported on a CIA station chief who wrote a memo about what he was finding. He warned "the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon. ... The cable, sent late last month ... presented a bleak assessment on matters of politics, economics and security. ...Its basic conclusions had been echoed in briefings presented by a senior CIA official who recently visited Iraq." William Arkin, what's your sense of what we are doing in Iraq right now? Is it working?
MR. WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, Tim, I would almost connect this memo to the question heard round the world about the Humvees this week, which is to say a soldier can't stand up, can't contact his congressperson, families can't complain about the entire enterprise in Iraq, and so instead they focus on armor, on the adequacy of the equipment, on the readiness of the soldiers.
What the CIA station chief was talking about was the entire enterprise, and it seems to me right now that there's a disconnect. There's a disconnect between what the soldiers feel on the ground, the sense that we're not really going anywhere but we are just constantly involved in a process of "whack-a-mole" as it's been called and where the insurgency is put down in one place and it metastasizes elsewhere. And I think that that is not penetrating the administration, it's not penetrating the defense leadership, which has a very optimistic view, almost necessarily, that says, "We are moving forward, things are looking better, we are going to work towards the election and stability and eventually we're going to leave."
But in that same week this week, Tim, we've heard another retired general, General Zinni, the former commander of CENTCOM, say we could be there five years. And though no one in the administration would dare utter such numbers, the reality is that there seems an increasing disconnect between the intuitive feeling of those who are on the ground with the boots and the intuitive sense of the American families and the American culture that we're going nowhere, and we're really stuck there, and sort of the Washington position, which seems to be to want to put a positive gloss on what's happening in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you agree with that?
GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, it's complex, it's dangerous. I think, actually, Bill is closer to being right than not. And I say that as somebody who fully supports the president's decision to go into Iraq. I thought it was the right war, right time, right place. We're safer because of it. The military piece of it's gone pretty well. I mean, the fighting in Fallujah, Tim, was unbelievable valor and effectiveness on this Marine-Army team. But at the end of the day, you got to say are the politics and economic reconstruction going to work, yes or no? Where is this likely to be in 12 months? I think we're right at the turning point. We better rethink our strategy. I think Secretary Rumsfeld's been in denial of an evidence being presented to him that it's going wrong. You got to face up to it and sort out what should we be doing.
MR. RUSSERT: How do you tell the truth to yourself, listen to your troops and still maintain good morale and a can-do spirit?
GEN. DOWNING: I think it's very easy to do that, Tim, and I disagree that they've not learned the lessons. I think, you know, about October, you started to see some very strong guidance come out of the Defense Department to the commanders, and it was a guidance, Tim, that led me to believe--or leads me to believe that they understand the nature of what they're involved in right now.
The key to this thing, and this was articulated, is the Iraqis. The Americans cannot win this thing. In other words, if we put the entire American armed forces into Iraq right know, all three million active and reserve, we could not pacify that country because the Iraqis have to do that. We've got to help them get to that point where they can do it. The Iraqi security forces right now, we estimate they need about 280,000. That figure may be wrong, but--and it may be higher--but right now we've trained about 40 percent of that. And so what we've got to do is get that Iraqi security force stood up, stand behind them, train them, you know, help them with the things they cannot do until they can take over that country.
And let's not forget, you know, this problem we're having is not the entire country. The north, the Kurdish area, free now for 14 years, is doing very, very well. The south now is doing very well. The Shia areas--we're talking about 17 percent of the population in this so-called Sunni triangle, these two rivers where the Sunni populations are, so we're not doing that bad right now, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: The president of Iraq was here recently and said the silent majority has basically been sitting back in Iraq. Could this insurgency be as successful as it is without the tacit support of the silent majority of Iraq?
GEN. DOWNING: I'm not sure that it has support, but there is no doubt about it, Tim, what we're seeing right now is a very effective intimidation campaign, again, in the Sunni areas. The north is doing pretty well, the south is doing pretty well, but the Sunni areas, even though now we've taken out Fallujah, this terrible nest where these terrible crimes had been committed and what was the base of operations, but the rest of that Sunni population, and in key areas of Baghdad, are intimidated by these insurgents because they've changed their tactics.
MR. RUSSERT: General Meigs, Senator Biden also reported the following: "We were in Fallujah spending time with the operational commanders in there. As I'm leaving, they're putting us on a Black Hawk helicopter. One of the commanders...with stars on his shoulder, waited until the noise was loud enough from the helicopter, leaned up and he said, `Senator, anybody tells you that we have enough troops here, you tell them they're a G.D. liar.'"
GEN. MEIGS: I kind of agree with that. Look, let me talk you through a little sequence here. There were originally three battalions planned as part of the Marine task force that went into Fallujah. Things went hot in Mosul. They had to pull the Striker battalion out, the one most suited to urban combat. They couldn't start the operations in the triangle of death until they finished Fallujah. What that tells you is that General Casey does not have enough force on the ground, enough reserves to deal with more than one thing at a time.
The problem, Tim, is that you're going to have an election in January, you're going to write a constitution, you're going to have another election. The time to make hay is now, and if you don't have enough troops on the ground right now to establish the conditions for an election, which is to play chicken with the Sunnis that aren't in the game and get them to agree to take part in that election and create a safe and secure environment that allows people to walk to the polls, it's not going to work. And I think that's exactly right, and I think General Downing's right about people getting the message, but it's not clear that that's gone to the approval process for deployment of forces to Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Make hay? Where do you get to send the troops?
GEN. McCAFFREY: Yeah. There are no more troops. I think Wayne Downing is right on the money. At the end of the day, we've got this brilliant fellow, Lieutenant General Dave Patraes trying to create Iraqi security forces, National Guard, police, Army, border patrol, etc. At the end of the day, within two years, we've either accomplished that or we're in trouble. It's probably moving in the right direction, from an equipping and training standpoint. The challenge is political legitimacy. Is there a government at provincial level, regional level, national level for which these guys will fight and die? So far the answer is no.
The performance, except for the Kurdish militia and some of the Shia party folks, has been abysmal. I mean, the whole Mosul police force took to their heels, 4,800 of them, the minute a few hundred insurgents hit Mosul. So I think Downing's got it right. The key is, how do we stand up an Iraqi government with legitimacy with security forces that will fight for them?
GEN. MEIGS: But you don't get that process working until you break down the insurgencies that's running around and killing policemen in their stations.
MR. RUSSERT: So where do you find the troops to do that?
GEN. MEIGS: You've got extra battalions back here in the States that could go, brigades. We don't see the approval process, but there are some anomalies about the force that is over there now. For instance, you send two battalions of the 82nd. Why two? Why not a brigade combat team, in accordance with Army doctrine? Not clear the rationale for that.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Arkin, General Abizaid, the U.S. commander for the Middle East, acknowledged that Iraqi security forces were not up to the task of providing security during the elections. "`It had been our hope that we'd be able to have a combination of increases that mainly were Iraqi troops' increases' Abizaid said. `And while the Iraqi troops are larger in number than they used to be, those forces have to be seasoned more, trained more. So, it's necessary to bring more American forces.'" Very blunt analysis. And measure that with our decision to basically break down and disband the Iraqi army more than a year ago.
MR. ARKIN: Well, that's water under the bridge at this point, Tim. The reality was that most of that Iraqi army had shed their uniforms in the face of the American military and fled, and they weren't a coherent force. Our mistake was that we just didn't understand the nature of Iraqi society, and we didn't prepare for the postwar period, period. That was our mistake. No one was willing to look at the postwar problem, and it took us more than a year to even get to where we are today.
But I think we're in a danger here of getting into a bit of a numbers game, sort of the body count of this war. The numbers game, is it 40 percent of the Iraqi security force that's available? Vice President Cheney last week said that only three provinces were really problematic. And somebody else will say that, "Oh, well, we need 150,000 troops for the war." And so we're going to fight about the numbers associated here rather than the big picture, and to me, the big picture is, is there going to be a legitimate election run by Iraqis in January? And I think the answer is clearly no. It is not going to be an election that represents all Iraqi citizens, and it is not going to be an election is going to go off without American military backing. That in itself is going to threaten the legitimacy of the election.
MR. RUSSERT: What happens then?
MR. ARKIN: Well, I think either we will see complete chaos post-election and then we will have to start again with another election cycle. Or we will see some semblance of a parliament being created with a recognition that there are vast areas of Iraq, particularly the Fallujah-Ramadi corridor to the west of Baghdad and much of Baghdad itself, that is not represented. And there will have to be another interim election to get to that point.
At some point along the way, at some point along the way, there has to be a balance built between reducing the American presence, which I think is an irritant that deflates the strength of the insurgency and allows the Iraqi people to take care of their own security and stability. I think if we increase the number of troops for the purpose of which is to make the election work and yet at the same time the increase in forces becomes a greater target for the insurgency, a greater irritant, we actually may be undermining our strategic objective.
GEN. DOWNING: You know, the--we go back, Tim, to "Is the glass half empty or is it half full?" And, you know, a lot of what Bill says is true, but there's positive aspects to this entire thing. Do we have a problem in the Sunni areas? We certainly do. Is there going to be an election? Sure. Have we ever been involved, the U.S., in providing security for elections? Absolutely. When I was in the Special Operations business down in Haiti, we had to practically run that election, but we ran it, and we had an election and people were elected. We did the same thing in the Balkans.
We hope that we're going to induce more of the Sunnis to join the political process, and that's one of the reasons I think we've done Fallujah. That's why we're doing these operations. We want the Sunnis to come in and join this process. The fact that the insurgents are trying to intimidate the Sunni population show how important they think that this is. So we are going to have an election. Is it going to be imperfect? Sure, it's going to be imperfect. It's going to have some hair on it and it's going to be ugly. But the end result is we're going to have an elected government, hopefully, with this January election, so we can get along to these other three or four steps we have to take, looking down range now to 2006, where we have a representative government with a constitution in Iraq.
So is this going to be hard? Sure, it's going to be hard. Can we do it? Yeah, I think we can do it.
GEN. McCAFFREY: Yeah, I think it can be done, too. I agree. I don't think this is impossible. The question is: Do we rethink the strategy and put the resources on the table required to pull this off? And the other thing is we have no option. If we get run out of Iraq in the next 24 months, the consequences for U.S. foreign policy for 20 years are going to be severe. It's going to have an impact on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and other questions. So I agree; we've got to move forward. But I think the outcome of that election in January is more likely to be problematic than necessarily a clean step forward. We're going to be in trouble there for the next 12 or 24 months.
GEN. MEIGS: But you've got to go with what you get. I mean, you have...
GEN. DOWNING: Exactly.
GEN. MEIGS: ...to make the best of a broken play. That's what it's going to be.
GEN. McCAFFREY: Yeah. It's going to--here on--yeah.
GEN. MEIGS: The question is how broken is the play going to be?
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break. A lot more of our analysis of the situation in Iraq right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
I think many Americans, whether they're for the war or against the war, are concerned about what's going on there now and curious as to what may have gone right and wrong. Tom Ricks in The Washington Post wrote this. "The original war plan...called for a series of quick reductions in troop levels in 2003, to perhaps 50,000 by the end of that year. A revision of that plan, devised 12 months ago, called for steady reductions last year. Instead, occupation forces hit their lowest level last winter, bottoming out at about 110,000 in February. Then, in late March, the insurgency intensified and broadened, with heavy fighting in Shiite areas of south-central Iraq for the first time. Since then, U.S. troop numbers have risen in response to the unexpected strength and growing sophistication of the enemy."
General McCaffrey, we all know about the fog of war, but what happened? Did we totally, totally miss the whole idea of insurgency and where did it come from? Was it pre-organized, pre-planned by Saddam and the Republican Guard?
GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, you know, going to the war, I thought many assumptions--you know, Paul Wolfowitz is taking some bad raps. I still think he's a brilliant guy that is right a lot of the times. The assumptions I thought were probably correct also, but my question was if you're wrong, you risk a political military disaster going in without adequate planning, adequate forces, etc., which I think is what happened. We ended up from day one with the country destroyed by looters, a 26 million-person country. For God's sakes, 400,000-man active armed forces, a million man reserves. They weren't engaged. They walked away with their guns, their money, their leadership in tact.
So there was a sense of arrogance, but that I think is less concern to me than if your initial plan goes wrong, do you rethink it, do you see new realities and adjust rapidly? That's normally been a strength of the U.S. armed forces. We're not doing it now. I think people have dug in their heels over in the Pentagon and said, "We were right. We're not going to cede new changes."
MR. RUSSERT: Forty percent to 45 percent of the troops on the ground are reservist or Guard.
GEN. McCAFFREY: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: What happens when we run out of reservists and Guards when they serve their 24 months?
GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, I'll tell you thank God for the National Guard and reserves. It's astonishing the job they've done. You know, they came as they were. You never see a story of people deserting or refusing to come to the colors. I mean, the individual ready reservists, we've had some problems, but basically these kids are over there to fight. They're doing a terrific job. The next rotation OIF5 breaks the bank.
MR. RUSSERT: What does that mean...
GEN. McCAFFREY: At that point...
MR. RUSSERT: ...OIF5?
GEN. McCAFFREY: Excuse me. Operational Iraqi Freedom--the fifth rotation will use up our National Guard and reserve. We have called up a couple of hundred thousand of these troops. By law, you can't keep them on active duty more than 24 months. At that point, the inadequate size of the active Army and not just combat battalions, the logistic structure to make it work, at that point, we're going over a cliff. A year out from now we're in trouble.
MR. RUSSERT: You won't have the Guard or reservists to fill the gap.
GEN. McCAFFREY: I don't see how we're going to continue it. At that point, you've got to tell General Abizaid just bring in CENTCOM commander--"Hey, we'll fight this war with two and a half Army divisions. That's probably what we can sustain."
MR. RUSSERT: Realistically speaking, do we need a bigger Army? General McCaffrey said we need 80,000 more Army, 20,000 more Marines. General Downing, do you agree with that?
GEN. DOWNING: I do. I think that the Army just cannot take on the missions that they have now and that we can foresee for the foreseeable future. I mean, Tim--and we've seen this thing probably for clearly for over a year. People like Barry have suggested this, that probably two years out that the Army was too small. And there's a lot of resistance to it inside the Pentagon because of the transformation ideas. And those ideas are good ideas and we need to modernize, we need to do things in better ways, but, you know, Tim, the world has changed and you can't make the world into what you want it to be. You've got to accept the world for what it is and you've got to anticipate the missions that you have. The only prudent thing to do is plus up the Army. Now, what should that number be? Certainly 100,000 rings fairly true with me.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Arkin.
MR. ARKIN: I think it would be a shame for America to increase the size of the Army. The reality is that we should draw down our forces as much as possible in Western Europe as quickly as possible, recoup as many of those troops as we can, reduce our forces in Iraq, not increase our forces.
It seems to me we can have a quick reaction capability and a security capability in Iraq without having the sort of support structures and the sort of large Army of occupation that we currently have there. I think we can actually do more with less. And I think that the notion that somehow we are going to pay for the mistakes of Iraq by increasing the size of the Army, which cannot really be done in a short term-- it has to be done in the sort of long-term view--that would be a mistake. I think our military priorities at this point should be pretty clear in Iraq that we need to move quickly in pushing as much as we can on to the shoulders of the Iraqi people. And the notion somehow that we're going to increase the size of the overall Army on top of increasing our forces in country gives the wrong message.
MR. RUSSERT: What if the Iraqi people resist accepting that responsibility or are too fearful to accept it?
MR. ARKIN: I think that there is a balance that we need to find between the irritant of the American occupation, our presence on the ground as a sort of provocation for the insurgency and Iraqi control. There has to be a balance, and I'm afraid that if we increase our forces, particularly if we increase our forces in--beyond the elections, then we are upsetting that balance. I would prefer that we go more towards the style that we have with our forces in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan now we have 15,000 to 20,000 troops, and they're quick reaction forces, and they're garrisoned and enclaves that are more or less safe. I think in Iraq we need to sort of emulate the same style, and we--it may be a bigger force, but it needs to emulate the same style so we can take the bull's-eye off the American soldier and go back to the business of rebuilding an army, which has really just been worn down over the last three years.
MR. RUSSERT: General Meigs, are we winning the war in Iraq?
GEN. MEIGS: I think we are breaking even, which is not where you want to be. I think General McCaffrey and General Downing are right that we don't see a lot of the really great things that are being done on the ground by battalions and brigades. And the feedback you get from folks you know on the force is that they are very positive about what they're doing. But let me mention a minute--take a bit of Bill's answer here. Let's do the simple math. In the QDR process, the secretary of defense agreed with the Army argument, says you need five units rotating and keep one in the field all the time. That was out of our Bosnia experience. The 3rd Infantry Division is going back online after about 15 or 16 months home. That is less than a 3:1 ratio, and 40 percent of those soldiers in that division were in the last tour in combat.
That is telling you that in order to maintain the types of commitments we have in this world today, the Army and the Marine Corps are just too small. Now, if you can't maintain the rotation of the type that Barry is talking about, even if it went down to two and a half divisions, clearly you have got a problem with force structure. The reason the people in OSD don't want to have a larger Army and Marine Corps, it comes right off the top of your budget out of your discretionary spending. But that's a price we're going to have to pay if we're going to have this kind of a foreign policy.
MR. RUSSERT: General McCaffrey, we have about 30 seconds left. You have the Iraqi people, the American people and the U.S. military.
GEN. McCAFFREY: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Each of them have a breaking point or certainly not limited patience.
GEN. McCAFFREY: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Where are we with each of those?
GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, you know, I just finished writing an Armed Forces Journal article for February where I talk about the center of gravity of those three elements. Iraqi people, I think we're losing them. I think it's going the wrong way. The American people on the balance point, the military this year are on high morale, tremendous courage, tremendous effectiveness. Give us another 24 months and we're going to start damaging the strength of the U.S. armed forces. The turning point is the coming 24 months.
MR. RUSSERT: And we will be watching. General McCaffrey, General Meigs, Bill Arkin, Wayne Downing. And you have a book coming out?
MR. ARKIN: I do, yes, in January. "Code Names."
MR. RUSSERT: "Code Names." We'll watch for it. We'll be right back.
MR. ARKIN: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Brian Williams. That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.