GAO Sees Lagging Progress in Iraq

The Government Accountability Office is releasing an extremely negative assessment of military and political progress in Iraq, according to The Washington Post. Other reports have suggested dissatisfaction among the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the Bush administration's handling of the war.

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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CHADWICK: First, the ongoing battle over what to do about Iraq and there are many opinions. The Washington Post today reports that the Government Accountability Office is releasing an extremely negative assessment of military and political progress in Iraq. This comes after other reports suggesting dissatisfaction among the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the Bush administration's handling of the war.

Joining us now is NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, welcome, and anything on this GAO report which says really very little progress in Iraq?

TOM BOWMAN: Right. Well, we're told by Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon spokesman, that Pentagon officials will be asking the GAO to upgrade some of their negative assessments. Pentagon officials are now working on their responses to the GAO, and they expect those to be part of the final GAO report which will be released next week.

CHADWICK: From the senior military leadership, we've been reading over the last several days - and there have been references by people like the senior Republican senator on defense, John Warner - that the Joint Chiefs of Staff is getting out its views, and they are not the views of the administration. Isn't it unusual for that to happen?

BOWMAN: Well, I guess it is in a way, but you have to remember, the Joint Chiefs, their whole role is to train and equip the U.S. military, the forces. And there's a tug of war going on between the Joint Chiefs and General Petraeus and his staff.

Petraeus has said that they would like to see the surge go well into the spring and into next summer before you start drawing down the troops, whereas the Joint Chiefs, I think, would like to see the troops start to come home a little faster.

And the reason is because the Joint Chiefs are saying, listen, it's a big world out there. We have to be concerned about much more than just Iraq. There's problems with North Korea. There's a resurge in China. There are training missions we would like to do with foreign militaries, and equipment and assistance we would like to give to foreign militaries. We can't focus all our efforts, all our troops, all our money, just on Iraq.

So there's that concern that they have. But again, Petraeus and his people are saying, listen, Iraq, we're trying to turn it around. We believe progress is being made. We need those troops for a bit longer.

CHADWICK: We've seen analysis over the last six months that says that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld changed the relationship between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House so that it was harder for senior military leaders to make their views known. Is that view widely held in the Pentagon?

BOWMAN: It is pretty widely held, particularly in the Army. There's no question that Rumsfeld browbeat senior officers into his views, including how many troops should be sent to Iraq, particularly after major combat was over, and issues of how big the Army should be.

I did a story on a general named John Riggs who suggested to me in an interview that the Army should be increased by 10,000 soldiers. And he said this in 2004, before Rumsfeld was ready to say the Army should be larger. And as a result, Paul Wolfowitz, who was then Deputy Defense Secretary, made it sure that General Riggs should stay in his lane and should not speak out.

So they're pretty harsh when generals actually speak the truth. And they would get what was called the wire brush treatment from Rumsfeld.

CHADWICK: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman with us from the Pentagon. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Alex.

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