Week in Review: The Iraq Debate

In the lead-up to Gen. David Petraeus' report to Congress about the progress in Iraq, President Bush made a surprise visit there, and several other reports were released addressing military progress.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

There were several reports released this week on U.S. military progress in Iraq. Next week, Congress hears the long-awaited report on the troop surge from the top U.S. commander in Iraq. President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq, and Fred Thompson officially became a candidate for president.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And the next few weeks will be certainly crucial for assessing the future of U.S. policy in Iraq.

SCHORR: Oh, yes.

SIMON: You had two reports in the political and military situations - one from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, another from a commission of retired military officers headed by the retired Marine General James Jones. What were their conclusions?

SCHORR: Conclusions, generally, if you put it all together, was that the modest progress is being made with the military side, but the police, the national police force is a mess and ought to be abolished. But there is progress being made here and there and in spots. That's on the whole. General Petraeus has summarized what he has to say in a letter to the troops.

SIMON: This just came out on Friday, addressed to soldiers, sailors, Airmen, Marines.

SCHORR: That's right. And in preparation for submitting the big report to Congress, he has reported to the troops, as he finds it a very natural thing for him to do, and the way he sums it up is to say we have a long way to go down the field, but we have the ball. That's to say that the initiative is now in the hands of the Americans, and that is about as optimistic as he can be.

SIMON: Going over the letter, I noticed he says many of us had hoped this summer would a time of tangible political progress. He goes on to say it has not worked out as we had hoped, speaking of the Iraqi National Assembly, but he says at the time, however, our appreciation of what this legislation represents for Iraqi leaders has grown.

SCHORR: Well, that's right. He is making a very, very careful point there that they need the Iraqi leaders. They think they're doing as well as they can, but they are far from being able to establish a cohesive Iraqi state.

There is a very intricate processes going on right now, trying to achieve some uniformity among Americans. And so you get - maybe we can get one brigade back starting next January, maybe if things go well, so on and so forth. They're looking for the language, which would make it possible for the Democrats to support a bipartisan move, which says mostly we stay there, mostly we go on fighting, but we make some gestures, here and there, to bringing them home again.

SIMON: President Bush, of course, made a surprise visit to Anbar province in Iraq on his way to the APEC summit in Australia.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Did the president's visit help promote the case he wants to make to the American people?

SCHORR: Well, it helped move the case by saying that here is a province, which is almost free of terrorism. Alas for that theory, however, on Thursday, four Marines were killed in Anbar province, and in Anbar province two bridges were blown up. I think that the people in that province are sending a kind of message to him. It's unbelievable that this place, which he just visited and said it's about the most secure place around, and now we're having dispersed violence there.

SIMON: A new videotape from Osama bin Laden has surfaced this week on a Web site...

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: ...about to be released. Once again, we note, coming up on the anniversary of September 11th. Anything new in that tape as you read the transcript?

SCHORR: Well, not really. It goes on to say that you're in the hands of bad people, and if you really want to get the war over with, everybody should become Islamic or something like that. It's a fairly kind of routine piece of propaganda.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the significance of Fred Thompson officially becoming a candidate for president this week. It's been apparent for several weeks and perhaps months. I'll phrase it to you this way: Is America ready for an actor to be president?

SCHORR: It seems to me that they had one who remains very, very popular.

SIMON: Yes, indeed.

SCHORR: It also seems to me that Fred Thompson is trying to don the mantel of Ronald Reagan. And I think the story of Thompson in this campaign will be whether he does or does not succeed in coming out as today's Reagan.

SIMON: It seems almost like an absolutely ridiculous question when nobody has cast a single vote yet. But the question being asked this week, was did Fred Thompson wait too long to get into the race?

SCHORR: The other question was maybe he should have waited longer. I mean, I don't know how you judge these things - you're going to have to excuse me on this issue. I do not know when is the preferred time for a Fred Thompson viewing the field of a decisive - have enough there for a ball team.

SIMON: A federal judge in Thursday struck down some key provisions of the Patriot Act. The original version was already revised once in 2005 after a judge ruled that portions of it then violated the Constitution. Another revision at hand?

SCHORR: Oh, well, and those has to do mainly with the fact that they have been using communications companies to be able to penetrate their networks, and that sort of appears to be invasion of privacy, so the judge has ruled. I imagine it's going to be appealed, and I think this is going to go through the courts for a long time before it comes to an end.

SIMON: Let me ask you about something that happened at the APEC summit in Australia. The president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, asked President Bush to support a declaration to end the Korean War.

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: There, in fact, was no peace treaty at the end of hostilities of the Korean War in 1953.

SCHORR: Correct. That's correct.

SIMON: Technically, the two sides remain in conflict. What do you make of President Bush's answer?

SCHORR: Well, his history wasn't very exact. There is not to be any U.S. declaration ending the war because the war was not with the U.S. The war was between North Korea and the United Nations, by which the U.S. remains as one member. And there will be, when it comes to an end, it will come to an end by a peace treaty between the United Nations and North Korea, and the United States has no role there.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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