Week in Review: Bush Iraq Plan Is More of Same

This week, President Bush endorsed Gen. David Petraeus' plan for a gradual drawdown of troops in Iraq. But the plan is less turning point than turning back to the way things were before the troop "surge," says News Analyst Daniel Schorr. he discusses the week's top new stories with Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

This week, we heard the long-awaited testimony from General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the troop surge in Iraq. President Bush endorsed the general's plan, but congressional Democrats and some Republicans say that it doesn't go far enough.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr is here.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And the president addressed the nation this week. He, of course, pointed to General Petraeus' testimony as the definitive assessment of the troop surge.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: After hearing General Petraeus' report, does this seem, to you, like some kind of turning point?

SCHORR: Well, a turning point. Last January, they kicked the can down to mid-September and said this would be the turning point. But it hasn't really turned anywhere. There are going to be 57,000 troops brought home before Christmas because Senator John Warner asked to have some troops brought home before Christmas. Then they are going to roll back the surge, and when they finish or have 130,000 there, which what they had to begin with, it only begins to look more and more like we are in for a rather permanent troop stay in Iraq.

SIMON: Secretary of Defense Gates had some remarks on Friday, which suggested the drawdown could go even further.

SCHORR: That's right. He did say - he expressed a hope, I think, he called it, that if everything goes well and then maybe by the end of next year, we can have our troop strength down to 100,000. I don't know what that means except there is a big campaign being waged to defeat any Democratic attempt to oppose all of these by saying the most optimistic things possible, but they don't promise you anything.

SIMON: How do you assess the assessment that was made this week of the surge, both by the president, who thought that it had some effect, and then people who clearly were - clearly skeptical of that assessment?

SCHORR: Well, I don't know how you read it, but I know this is a remarkable thing. This Anbar province, which is the - supposed to be the greatest success of the surge so far, our president goes to Anbar province and the next thing that happened is four Marines in Anbar are killed. The president meets with a charismatic Sunni sheik.

SIMON: This is Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha.

SCHORR: Exactly. Who has been the first such person to work with the United States and very soon, he is killed. So I don't know, if this surge is successful, it's a highly modified success.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the sheik's murder. And your assessment after looking at events as you have for so many decades, does something like the death of Sheik Abu Risha - does that have the practical effect of stiffening the determination of his tribe to still work against al-Qaida? Or does it make them more timorous? Does it send the message that cooperation could…

SCHORR: Well, how about some degree of both. They must be awfully angry about this, and they may very well want to take it out on somebody. On the other hand, if you were a young sheik today, you wouldn't be quick to go out and say I'm going to work with the Americans. There's been an assumption that we're working for - as better central government, but if all of these works, it could just as easily end up as being a fragmentation into a series of one, two, three, maybe different countries. It is not written in stone that because there are people willing to work against al-Qaida, they will end up saying we will not support Maliki, who is a Shiite, in Baghdad.

SIMON: Negotiations collapsed on the Iraqi oil law this week. It had been held up in the parliament for many months, and, clearly, a lot of disagreement on what that law should entail. Help us understand why it's so difficult for Iraqi legislators to reach a consensus.

SCHORR: Well, in Iraq all the oil is in the north and all the other provinces have to benefit from a distribution of oil revenues. The most important earmark, benchmark that were supposed to come out of all that's going here would be a law, which would give a fair apportionment of oil revenues to everybody. That law has collapsed. That may be a serious a blow to the attempt to bring them all together as anything that has yet happened. But people don't pay much attention (unintelligible) getting people shot, but the fact of the matter is that if the Kurds keep their oil and don't share their oil with the others they're in terrible trouble.

SIMON: Friday was the last day on the job of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It had been suggested that President Bush might be interested in nominating the former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Harry Reid, Democratic leader in the Senate, says that Olson is not getting confirmed.

SCHORR: And he probably isn't going to get confirmed. I mean, anything can be stopped by a filibuster or a by vote. And if Senator Reid says it's going to happen, it's indeed going to happen. You know, somehow I have a feeling that the idea of nominating Ted Olson was floated in order to start some other controversy than Iraq.

SIMON: Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, suddenly accepted the resignation of the Russian prime minister. And he named a man named Victor Zubkov to replace him…

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: …who is unknown to many Russians, as well as many Americans in the news business, and is said to be an anti-corruption investigator.

SCHORR: Well, I'm trying to understand Russia. You know, it is still a riddle wrapped in a rare mystery or whatever they're wrapped…

SIMON: That was Churchill's phrase, a riddle wrapped up in an enigma…

SCHORR: Inside enigma. Inside enigma.

SIMON: A mystery.

SCHORR: Whatever. What happened is that Putin, who loves running Russia, is ending his two terms. Under their constitution, as under ours, two terms is all you get, but their constitution is different in one way. That is after you skip a term you can come back.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: And so it's clear that Putin wants to keep that seat warm for himself, appointed somebody that nobody knew, and will probably remain just as unknown because his only job is to hold that seat until Putin is ready to return.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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