Hadley: U.S. Should Stay Engaged with Iraq

President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley/Getty.

hide captionPresident Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley (pictured here last year), strongly defends the need for the U.S. to wait until September to judge success of the current strategy in Iraq.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

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Stephen Hadley, tells Michele Norris that there has been some progress made toward 18 "benchmarks" for political, military and economic reforms in Iraq. He cites three Iraqi brigades in Baghdad as evidence.

Two senior Republican senators introduced legislation Friday that would force President Bush to narrow the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of this year.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who drafted the legislation, say the Bush administration's original aims in Iraq are not viable in the near term.

Despite growing pressure for a new strategy in Iraq, the administration continues an all-out offensive to support the current policy.

Like President Bush, his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, is urging a delay in changing course until the top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, delivers his status report in September.

But in a recent interview, Gen. Petraeus spoke of a long-term vision for Iraq, saying the insurgency could last up to 10 years.

Hadley spoke with Michele Norris on Friday at the White House.

How should Americans interpret Gen. Petraeus' recent comments? Is it possible that even with the potential drawdown of troops that there might be tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq over the long run, a decade from now?

I think what Gen. Petraeus was saying is that there is going to be a level of violence in this society for a long time. And we know that societies have gotten to the point of this level of violence that it takes a long time for it to get out of the system. And one of the things the president has said is our objective has to be to help the Iraqis get a government that can provide security, that can provide services and can be an ally in the war on terror, both for their good and for our good. And even a democratic government in Iraq that is able to provide security and service and be an ally in the war on terror is going to have to cope with a level of violence for a long time, and that is why, of course, the training of the Iraqi security forces that we're doing is so essential.

Will they be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops, though, as they try to cope with that violence over the next 10 years? Will there be tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq, yes or no?

Well, what the president said yesterday was that we all want to get to the point where Iraqis have the government capacity and the security forces in order to take responsibility for security. Is there a role for the United States in helping that process after January of 2009? The president said very clearly he thinks there is, where we are doing training and embedding, strengthening the Iraqi forces as they take responsibility for security. Being there to protect, obviously, our own interests, which are to go after al-Qaida and make sure that al-Qaida can never use Iraq as a safe haven from which to plan attacks against us, help stabilize the country, reassure the government, keep the neighbors, in some sense, at bay. These are things that we can do in support of what, over time, everybody wants to be an increasing Iraqi role.

So will we be engaged in Iraq after January 2009? I think the president hopes so, and I think if you listen to people like Senator Lugar, they believe that a precipitous withdrawal would be bad for American interests, and they believe we need to find a basis for being engaged in Iraq after January 2009, and what the president has said is, that's what he wants to do. To leave Iraq when he leaves office on a ground and in a place that's sustainable for Iraqis, sustainable for Americans, that we can support in terms of our resources and our men and women in uniform. That's his goal.

Now, you talked about a precipitous withdrawal. What if we changed the adjective there and instead talked about a phased withdrawal? The president yesterday explicitly told members of Congress not to try to dictate –

Exactly.

– war policy, but I'm wondering if the president is, in some way, asking members of Congress to abdicate their role, to advise and consent and guide the president, particularly on foreign policy, and in doing so, to defy the wishes of their constituents, to essentially turn a deaf ear to what they're hearing back home.

No, I think that he said very clearly, he hears the same voices our senators and representatives hear from home. He knows this is hard for the American people. It's been four years. We've lost some of our best and brightest. What he said yesterday very clearly was, issues about force levels and operations need to start with the recommendations of our commanders in the field.

That's why he said very clearly, in a structured process, I want to hear from Ambassador Crocker. I want to hear from Gen. Petraeus. I'm going to consult with Secretary Gates. I'm going to consult with the Chairman of Joint Chiefs. He's obviously going to consult with Secretary Rice. And then he said, 'And I am going to consult with the Congress, Republicans and Democrats.' And then on the basis of that, as Commander in Chief, as you would expect, he will come forward with what he believes the next step is in terms of Iraq.

So I think it is an open process, an inclusive process. It's exactly what Congress prescribed in the legislation last May in connection with the supplemental request. So we think, in last May, the Congress got it right. There is a process for doing an orderly consideration in September about where we are in Iraq. It starts with a report from Gen. Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, but as the president said, it will be a process that will be an inclusive one and include Republicans and Democrats.

When you look at this administration, there have been a number of missed signals on the level of violence in Iraq after the invasion, on Saddam Hussein's weapons stockpiles, on a number of decisions about when and where to place troops and when and where and how to replace certain people who were architects of the war. As the American public looks at what's happened in the past, why should they trust this administration to lead us out of this conflict? Why should they believe that this administration has the vision to find the best way forward?

There is a great national debate on where we should be going forward. The process I've described in September is a way to structure that debate with the men and women in uniform and the folks in the field with the Congress and with the American people, so I think the process the president has laid out is a good process. History will judge on the stewardship of this period, but I think we should not underestimate the challenge that came to this country after 9/11. For many people, 9/11 may seem as a blip. I think what it was was an opening round of a struggle that this country is going to have to be waging well after this president, and that is against an ideological movement that is antithetical to everything we stand, that has been very active, and we've seen it do attacks in America, we've seen it in attacks in Europe, we see it active in North Africa, we see it in Iraq.

And we're told this week that al-Qaeda is as great a threat now as it was before 9/11.

No, that's actually not what you're told. What we're told is that since 2001, and particularly in the last two years, we have seen some regrouping and some renewal of operational activity and training. It is certainly not at the level of what it was before 2001. It is certainly not where it would be if we had not, as a nation, taken all these actions that we've done since, but the reminder and the wakeup call in those reports is al-Qaeda continues to be a threat to the United States.

It is going to be a long-term threat. And the challenge, as the president said, is going to be two-fold. One, going after them operationally overseas so we don't have to deal with them at home, but secondly — and more profoundly — to come up with an alternative vision to the dark vision of the terrorists and extremists, and that is the freedom and democracy agenda. And that, I think, is the thing that American people understand.

We have a major challenge that we are in some sense in the opening hours of, and what we need to do is, as a nation, is come together and put in place the tools we need both to wage the operational war and also to wage the war of ideas. This administration has made a start at doing that. We obviously need the support of Congress and the American people, but it is also going to be a vocation for the administrations that come after, and I'm confident the American people, as they have in the past, will rise to the challenge and will do it.

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