Week in Review: Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo

Analysis and review of the week's top news events. Topics include the war in Iraq, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the aftermath of the suicides at Guantanamo Bay.

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JOHN YDSTIE reporting:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is back on jury duty. I'm John Ydstie.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: My message to the Iraqi people is this. Seize the moment. Seize this opportunity to develop this government of and by and for the people. And I also have a message to the Iraqi people, that when America gives a commitment, America will keep its commitment.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

YDSTIE: President Bush speaking Tuesday on a surprise visit to Baghdad.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hi, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Hi, John.

YDSTIE: President Bush had words of encouragement for U.S. troops and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But did anything substantive come out of the meeting with the prime minister, in your view?

SCHORR: Well, I'm not sure what you call substance. But it is now clear that the President has committed himself more firmly than ever before to say with this Iraqi government, and then make sure that it will continue. There is some nervousness, undoubtedly, on the part the part of Prime Minister Maliki, who wonders how Americans must be reacting when they read all week of 2500 dead. And so the President says, I'll stick with you. I think the President has left himself, really, no escape hatch.

YDSTIE: How did the region react to the President's visit?

SCHORR: John, I don't know about the whole region, but let me tell you something very interesting. An American of Iranian origin talked this way about it, said the President of the most powerful country in the world has to sneak into Iraq and has to use duplicity and subterfuge in order to reach his destination safely. He says Americans may not notice that detail, but other peoples of the world do, that Bush's travel in this style is a display of U.S. weakness and vulnerability.

YDSTIE: But isn't that a little unfair, Dan? I mean, the President of the United States needs to have tight security wherever he goes, and particularly in a place like Iraq.

SCHORR: Well, that's right. But when you show how much you need to have that security - of course, presidents travel in big limousines with convoys and Secret Service and so on and so forth. I must say that this time they went further than I've ever seen them go. They told untruths about the President's plans in order to put the press off. There were only six people who really knew most of the time what was going to happen. If you lived in Europe, as I have for many years, you don't think Americans have to act that way.

YDSTIE: The U.S. Congress has rejected a deadline for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq. But in the lead-up to the resolution, lawmakers engaged each other in a serious debate on Iraq for the first time since the war began. Did you hear any surprises?

SCHORR: Well, I don't think it was a very serious debate. I beg to differ with you. I think that they played a kind of game. As for example, in the Senate, they offer a resolution to bring all the American forces home before the end of the year. That gets soundly defeated. The purpose of offering it is that it will be soundly defeated.

In the House, they also have a resolution, which they offered, saying we must stick with them, do what the - nothing has changed, except that politicians position themselves for what they are going to say when they go home.

YDSTIE: Prime Minister al-Maliki is putting a reported 75,000 Iraqi troops and police on the streets of Baghdad to protect the capital from further assaults. What additional supports must the Iraqi government put in place to cool the sectarian violence there?

SCHORR: Well, what they really need is to stop the feud that goes on between the Sunnis and the Shiites, because a great deal of violence is in retaliation for violence from the other side. As that goes on, and continues to go on, I think that Prime Minister Maliki has an opportunity, and intends to seize that opportunity, to try to bring people together.

He's even, I understand, suggested to the insurgents that they might want to come and talk to him about an amnesty. So I think he has an opening to do something. And who knows? Might work.

YDSTIE: In another part of the Middle East this week, we saw growing frustration and violence among Palestinians. The rival political factions, Fatah and Hamas...

SCHORR: Mm-hmm.

YDSTIE: ...are at odds. And ordinary Palestinians are increasingly hungry, as the international aid is drying up. One Palestinian official reportedly brought $20 million in a suitcase from abroad this week to alleviate that situation somewhat. What...

SCHORR: That $20 million is only a drop in the bucket for what is needed with three months of pay. These people, what they really demonstrate - I watched on television, saw these people demonstrating; they weren't demonstrating for policy. They are starving. They said we are starving.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: And I think that, clearly, Hamas is going to have to deal with that.

YDSTIE: At what point is it a full-blown humanitarian crisis?

SCHORR: Oh, I think you can say it's a full-blown humanitarian crisis right now. I think that they are hurting. And I think that the economic squeeze on them may have some affect.

YDSTIE: On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there had been encouraging news from Iran. That nation has not yet responded formally to a proposal for it to give up enriching uranium in exchange for a package of incentives. Iran's president hasn't said yes, but he hasn't said no either.

SCHORR: Well, no. He did say a little bit of yes by saying at a meeting that he was attending in Shanghai, and he said that there are favorable signs in this package, which we don't know the contents of yet. And he now indicates that he thinks there are things to be talked about. And that goes up and down. It may last three days and be gone. But as things go in the Middle East, it's good news.

YDSTIE: Back in our own hemisphere, there were three suicides at Guantanamo Bay last Saturday. The incidents again shine light on the U.S. treatment of detainees.

SCHORR: Yes. And that on an otherwise good week for the President, this was not a very good thing. And at press conference he said that he really would like to close Guantanamo, but he can't. Well, off in Europe, off in Asia, they're not exactly sure why the President can't close it if he decides to close it. But that is a big black eye.

YDSTIE: And part of the good news for the White House was good news for Karl Rove. The President's closest political adviser, Mr. Rove will not face federal indictment in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. Could the news have come at a better time for the White House, Dan?

SCHORR: That news cannot arrive at a bad time for the White House if the news is that he's not going to be indicted. And the President actually said, I feel very relieved, which I thought was very, very funny. And clearly, of course, Mr. Rove feels very relieved.

Well, it is of some importance in this very long lasting investigation. A lot of people said it's going to end up with Rove. We assumed it to be so. And so, it isn't so. And so time marches.

YDSTIE: This probably the biggest story for you, Dan. Bill Gates has announced he will step down from day to day operations at Microsoft on July 2008. That's 2008, a couple of years from now.

SCHORR: That's right.

YDSTIE: Are you dusting off your resume?

SCHORR: Well, I don't think I should talk about this on the air, and so on. But I must tell you I have a competing offer from Apple.

YDSTIE: And neither of them can probably pay you enough.

SCHORR: I have not yet made up my mind.

YDSTIE: NPR's senior news analyst and future high-tech executive, Dan Schorr. Thanks very much, Dan.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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