The U.S. War on Terrorism, and in Iraq

Discussing his efforts to fight terrorism, President Bush says that victory in Iraq is essential. For thoughts on how the United States might win in Iraq, Robert Siegel talks with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Ambassador James Dobbins and former Special Forces officer Michael Vickers. We also hear from Iraqi citizens about their thoughts on U.S. policy in their country.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today President Bush spoke to the American Legion about Iraq. It was the first of five scheduled speeches on the subject. The president rejected all calls for a rapid withdrawal of forces.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror and that depends on victory in Iraq. So the United States of America will not leave until victory is achieved.

SIEGEL: The U.S. presence in Iraq has proven more difficult and less popular than the Bush administration foresaw in 2003. The question now is what to do in 2006. We've put that question to some American policy experts in Washington and also to some Iraqis on the streets of Baghdad.

Mr. HAMAD JAHSON(ph) (Iraq Citizen): (Through Translator) I am Hamad Jahson. I want the Americans to set up a serious government, a decent government whose hands are not stained with Iraqis' blood, not a government of killers and thieves.

Dr. RAHMAN SADAR(ph) (Iraq Citizen): (Through Translator) The Americans told us they came to liberate us, to bring democracy to this country but let them be honest to their people and to the Iraqi people. They have done nothing here. My name is Dr. Rahman Sadar. I'm a 35-year-old university professor. What would I like to see the U.S. do in Iraq? I would like to see them be sincere to the country which they claim they came to liberate.

Mr. MORTAVAR DEREJA (Iraq citizen): (Through Translator) My name is Mortavar Dereja(ph) and I'm 22 years old. A few days ago, I was watched a man driving his car. He was about 200 yards away from the U.S. military convoy. The last U.S. vehicle shot him. I want the Americans to leave. Enough is enough. They have destroyed our people.

SIEGEL: Some Iraqi answers to the question what should the U.S. do next.

We're going to hear some Americans answer that question. We'll hear from a former secretary of state, a former officer in Special Forces in the CIA.

First, former ambassador James Dobbins, who served in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. He was involved in rebuilding Bosnia after the breakup of Yugoslavia. He says the main objective of the U.S. now is to prevent Iraq from descending into what developed in the Balkans, a conventional civil war.

Mr. JAMES DOBBINS (Former Ambassador): Iraq is already at this point in the stage of an unconventional civil war and we don't have the power or the capability of completely suppressing that conflict. And therefore our choice is either to get out and ignore it entirely and take the consequences or support the least bad side, which I think is still the side that we essentially created and therefore continued support to the Iraqi government recognizing all its imperfections is the least bad option open to us.

SIEGEL: Should we then keep roughly the same number of troops in Iraq that we have there now?

Mr. DOBBINS: I think probably not largely because I think that's politically unsustainable, both in this country and in Iraq. The fact is that both the American people and the Iraqi people no longer favor a large American troop presence in Iraq.

And I think we need a posture and a policy that's likely to endure because I think we are going to have to stay engaged at some level for a long time. So I would favor moving to a smaller presence, one that is largely made up of advisors and enablers, and leaving the actual street fighting and patrolling to Iraqi units.

SIEGEL: On a diplomatic track, are there things the U.S. should be doing in the region that should be part of U.S. policy that it's not doing?

Mr. DOBBINS: It's absolutely essential that the United States engage all of Iraq's neighbors and put forward a common vision that could be a common vision of Iraq and of its neighborhood. You simply can't hold a fractured failing state together if its neighbors don't want you to. They have too much influence. They have too much at stake, and they can undermine your efforts.

SIEGEL: All of Iraq's neighbors doesn't just mean Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia. You're talking about Syria and Iran.

Mr. DOBBINS: The more unhelpful they are, the more important they are to engage. If you look back to Yugoslavia in the mid-'90s, the United States recognized that it wasn't going to be able to hold Bosnia together unless it engaged Tugeman and Milosevic, the two men who were personally responsible for the genocide that we were trying to stop.

SIEGEL: They were the leaders of Serbia and Croatia.

Mr. DOBBINS: And they had to be brought to the conference table. They had to be given privileged positions and they had to participate in ending the civil war and in implementing those agreements.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Dobbins, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. DOBBINS: Pleasure.

SIEGEL: And now back to the streets of Baghdad.

YADSALIV(ph) (Iraq citizen): (Through Translator) To be frank with you, I don't think the Americans can change anything here. My name is Yadsaliv and I do odd jobs to make a living. Plus the Iraqi who need to help ourselves. If we can't do that, then the Americans can do nothing to help us.

MARIANYAKMOV(ph) (Iraq citizen): (Through Translator) I want the Americans to fear God. Make them fear God. I am 56 years old. I am Christian and a housewife. My name is Marianyakmov.

SIEGEL: Michael Vickers has advised President Bush on the war. He's a former captain in the Special Forces, a former CIA officer, too. He says the U.S. military role in Iraq must now be played out much more off the streets of Iraqi cities.

Mr. MICHAEL VICKERS (Former captain, Special Forces): Well, I think we're going to have to shift to a supporting role over the next two years, which means a smaller American presence. Probably a third, half the size that it is.

But fundamentally, more in an advisory role with a quick reaction force. I think that's the only way that American support can be sustained for the several years that it's likely to require. I think there needs to be a much greater effort with the police. There's been a much better effort with the army, but the advisory effort needs to be stepped up overall.

SIEGEL: Which is the more important message for the United States to communicate to the Iraqis? Either, one, we're going to be here and we're going to see to it that this gets sorted out and that there's a secure country here and a stable government. Or two, we're going to get out of here within a few years, so you'd better start making a stable government and a secure country for yourselves.

Mr. VICKERS: Well, I think it's actually a combination of the two. It's not really polar opposites, in a sense that, one, we have to assure the Iraqis that as long as they wish to have a unified country and make progress toward that that we'll support them, that we won't pull the rug out from under them. But it's fundamentally theirs to do. And we can play a supporting role and that they have to step up to this.

There's a tension always in these transitions from going where you have the primary role to the host nation of how much dependency to allow. You don't want to pull out all support from them, but by the same token, they have to step up.

SIEGEL: You think that the U.S. could reduce the number of troops in Iraq, change the mission of still another - if I hear you right - another 60,000 or 70,000 troops who might remain there?

Mr. VICKERS: I think not only can we, I think we have to. I think the Iraqi insurgency is fairly inelastic to our troop size. I think if you added 50,000 troops or subtracted 50,000 troops, the outcome -

SIEGEL: It wouldn't make any difference.

Mr. VICKERS: It wouldn't make any difference, but it does make a big difference to American support for the war and that's the critical ingredient.

SIEGEL: How long do you think those American troops that remain will remain in Iraq in order for the mission to be successful?

Mr. VICKERS: Well, about half of those would be in advisory and support capacity and about half of those would really be more in a quick reaction force, only used if necessary with the Iraqis out front. They may well be there five or more years. The difference would be that they would not be in a front line role.

SIEGEL: Michael Vickers, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. VICKERS: My pleasure.

HALAISHANAN(ph) (Iraq Citizen): (Through Translator): My name is Hilaishanan and I'm 31 years old. I work at a dry cleaning shop. I want the United States to end my fear. I'm Christian and we cannot go to work easily. We are too afraid to move around, especially in my own neighborhood.

Under Saddam, things were far better off. Although there were problems, but the situation was very much safer.

Unidentified Man: The U.S. withdrawal is not an interest of Iraq, because if they pullout, everybody will (unintelligible). They are now in control. Our army and police force are not ready. They are bad. We are against Americans and we don't want the Americans. We want an independent Iraq with a good, noble Iraq controllers. But there isn't anyone in the government who cares about Iraq.

SIEGEL: Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright says what is essential now is that the United States has to figure out how to secure Iraq for Iraqi citizens. And to do that, she says, the U.S. must figure out how to redeploy its troops.

Ms. MADELINE ALBRIGHT (Former Secretary of State): Well, I think that it requires a strategist redeployment, because what we are doing now is going out on large kind of search and destroy missions. And I think frankly the problem is that our presence is both the solution and the problem.

The solution because we are the main way of providing security, but the problem because according to all the reports, our presence is also a magnet for the insurgency. And so we have to figure out a way that we are a part of a train and support program versus the search and destroy program in order to not be this kind of a magnet.

And I'm very concerned about the fact that there seem to be a creation of more terrorists and a civil war.

SIEGEL: One element of assuming that new role that you describe would be simply having fewer U.S. troops in Iraq. Important to do?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Yes. Well, I do think we need to - and I've been saying this for some time - we need to be using this year and now more of the next in order to have a draw down of American forces. The other thing that I've been arguing for though, is that the United States did not start World War I or World War II, but when we saw that our natural interests were involved, the U.S. went in and helped the win the war.

The Europeans did not agree for the most part with the war in Iraq. But clearly the turmoil there is affecting their national interests as much as ours. And they have to be a part of the training system for the Iraqi forces and the Iraqi police. And they need to be a part of the reconstruction of Iraq.

SIEGEL: What if U.S. advisors to the Iraqi security forces, even with the participation of Europeans, just can't create a central authority that is strong enough to overcome sectarian or regional divisions in Iraq. What if it is not successful? What's plan B?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I think that - as far as I'm concerned, it's very hard to just totally quickly pull out and leave this big vacuum. And so I think that one would have to look at ways that there could be greater autonomy given to the various regions without letting Iraq split up because of the consequences of that on the neighboring states.

SIEGEL: Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's former Secretary of State Albright. We also heard from Ambassador James Dobbins and former Special Forces Officer Michael Vickers, as well as several Iraqis. All answering the question we put to them, what should the U.S. do next in Iraq?

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