Is Victory in Iraq Still Possible?

In what's become the deadliest month this year for U.S. troops in Iraq, many Americans wonder if victory is still possible in Iraq. Retired Gen. John Keane, former Army vice chief of staff, and Larry Diamond, former senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, talk about the future of Iraq.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

In a news conference at the White House yesterday, President Bush said he's not satisfied with the situation in Iraq, but that we're winning and that the U.S. still has a plan for victory. If victory is defined as a unified democratic Iraq that can defend itself from enemies within and without, many critics would ask if that's even possible anymore.

As the support of the American people ebbs, even the Bush administration talks of goals and benchmarks, and the president said yesterday that his patience is not unlimited. Two days ago, as General George Casey and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad laid out a three-point plan to achieve a democratic, multiethnic and multisectarian Iraq, they, too, acknowledged that time is running out. And General Casey said maybe the U.S. needs more troops in Baghdad.

Today we'll discuss whether victory in Iraq is still possible, what it would take, and what it might look like. And if it's not, what's the best outcome the U.S. could hope for?

Later on in the program, tourists visit a decaying prison for Halloween spooks and thrills, but the history underneath the entertainment can be far more chilling.

But first, is victory possible or is it time to look for the least painful way out? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

We begin with retired General John Keane. He's a former Army vice chief of staff, and he's with us here today in Studio 3A.

Jack, thanks for coming in. Good to talk to you again.

General JOHN KEANE (U.S. Army, Retired): Yeah, it's good to see you again, Neal.

CONAN: Let's wrap our heads around what victory means at this point. Do you think that definition of victory, as initially laid out three years ago, still makes sense?

Gen. KEANE: Well, it probably doesn't make sense in terms of a fully operating democratic state that's completely stable and secure and not a threat to its neighbors. Some of that can be achieved, but some of it probably cannot. I think right now if we continue to do what we are doing, to maintain this thread of status quo that we have, in a sense, then we're heading towards strategic failure. And by that I mean a fractured government, which would lead to a civil war and then ultimately a failed state.

I do believe we can reverse some of that. And I think it's certainly, given what the stakes are, that we - it would absolutely irresponsible not to try.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And what would it take to reverse it, do you think?

Gen. KEANE: Well, it really requires a change in our strategy; first of all, an admittance to ourselves that it probably was naïve to push democracy on the Iraqis to the degree that we did, given their political culture, their history of violence, their inability to compromise, the Saddam Hussein repression for 35 years and what that meant, the irreconcilable differences between the Sunnis and the Shias.

And what we wound up with is a relatively ineffectual government where the head of the government cannot pick his ministers and they don't have truly effective power, and they have not been able to change the dynamics of unrest in the country much at all. So something less than that should be acceptable to us, a strong leader who can direct the needs of the nation, maybe keep the current leader in place. But - and then politically enfranchise the Sunnis for sure - reconciliation, amnesty, has to be the centerpiece.

We have to use the Shia-dominated government to pull back the militia. We have to get the other nations in the region involved. Every single nation in the region, to include Syria and Iran, do not want a failed state in Iraq. I mean they have different interests, to be sure. And they would like maybe different outcomes. But nobody wants a failed state. Get them involved in this thing and start exploiting their mutual interests.

And then on the military side, we have to change how we go about doing things on the ground, and truly move towards the principle of successful counterinsurgency, which is protect and support the people. And the way that would translate on the ground tactically would be have enough forces to route the insurgents out of neighborhoods and small towns and cities, have enough force to create a presence 24/7 on a street. Do not return to your bases after you've routed them out, so that the insurgents cannot come back.

And then bring in economic and humanitarian relief that will connect the people to the local government, ultimately to a national government, so the people themselves will isolate the insurgents and the violence that's taking place and bring some cohesion to that situation.

That's some of the things we can do in the time we have to discuss it.

CONAN: And just very briefly, though, that sounds like it may take more U.S. troops and not fewer.

Gen. KEANE: Well, I think it certainly will not take less. The Iraqi security forces should do the brunt of this because they actually will be more effective once completely trained. Our objective state for the Iraqi security force now is about 325. We're sitting at about 300. Most analysts who look at this, you know, advise me that we probably need to grow it to somewhere between 650,000, 800,000, to deal with the reality of this.

If we don't want to increase U.S. forces in the near term, you know, because of the political liability associated with that, then we have to concentrate our forces much more and take some risk in other parts of the country while we're waiting for the Iraqi security forces to grow.

But yes, right, it does require more boots on the ground to be able to do something like this.

CONAN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation. Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. He's also with us here in Studio 3A. And it's good to speak with you again as well.

Mr. LARRY DIAMOND: Good afternoon, Neal.

CONAN: And again, that idea of victory in Iraq, is that a chimera now? Is that gone?

Mr. DIAMOND: Oh, it was gone a long time ago in the sense of obtaining an outcome where we could have a stable, democratic, pro-American government in Iraq. I think we should abandon the word victory. The challenge now is to stabilize Iraq so that it doesn't slip into all-out civil war. It's already in a civil war, and so that western Iraq, particularly Anbar Province, does not become what Afghanistan was before September 11th, which is a safe haven, training and operating ground for Jihadist insurgency against the West.

CONAN: And as you look at what it's going to take to do that, what do you see? Is the present government - is the idea of a democracy in Iraq, as General Keane suggested, is that maybe gone too?

Mr. DIAMOND: Probably, although much of what General Keane said I agree with. I would add a few key imperatives. Absolutely we have to get the regional partners involved, but for what? I think General Keane would probably not disagree that if we're going to turn the corner on the descent into all-out violence and if we're going to turn the corner on the insurgency, we have to induce deeper and more far-reaching political compromise among the main groups than has been obtained so far, and particularly on a few key issues. He mentioned amnesty in terms of bringing key Sunni political and former military leaders back into a central role in the new political order.

CONAN: That requires some pretty serious concessions by the United States, saying attacks against American soldiers, we're not going to prosecute those.

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, I think the deeper concessions are going to have to be by the Shia, political forces that are now dominant in Iraq. But the two big ones I would add are, first of all, a new bargain on federalism, on the constitution, and a new bargain on oil. This deeply flawed constitution that was adopted last August and approved in the October referendum can never be viable, stable and certainly acceptable to the Sunnis because it allows for the creation of one big Shiite super-region spanning all nine southern provinces - half of the country - with implicit control over 70 percent of the oil revenue because of the additional provisions on oil that give the regions and provinces control over all new future oil and gas fields.

CONAN: And much of the rest would go to the Kurds.

Mr. DIAMOND: Exactly, because of the likelihood that they will incorporate Kirkuk. So we need to have oil and gas clearly established as a national responsibility. We need a clear agreed formula for dividing the revenue from current and future oil and gas fields, and we need to limit the number of provinces that could come together into one big powerful region.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. Give us call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Is victory still possible in Iraq, and if it's not, what's the least painful way out? You can also send us e-mail, talk@npr.org. Let's begin with Gerald. Gerald's calling us from Georgia.

GERALD (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi Gerald.

GERALD: How are you?

CONAN: Very well. Thank you.

GERALD: I have a concern about the comment of Prime Minister Maliki yesterday. Of our troops - we've lost 90 some-odd troops so far this month, and then him criticizing our political leaders and criticizing our military and then saying that such a raid that happened the day before yesterday would not ever happen again, and we had in our sights one of the primary people that's creating all of the insurgency...

CONAN: You talking about the arrest of the Muqtada al-Sadr deputy who was allegedly involved in death squads?

GERALD: Yes. So I've been very patient. We have a family member involved in the military who's had six deployments in this war. I think it's time to come home. If they're going to treat us the way they are and - Maliki's going to be criticizing us as he is, and have a do-nothing government, we just need to gather up all of our equipment, our men and women, and come home.

CONAN: Jack Keane, that's not just a lack of patience, that's resentment that I'm hearing there.

Gen. KEANE: Sure, some of that's certainly understandable, particularly - by the way, we truly respect and appreciate your family member's service and contribution to this great nation of ours, and we don't take that lightly, believe me. So when you have a personal stake in it like this, I mean you can understand some of those emotions, and I respect those emotions, frankly. But to pull up stakes and leave is a disaster for the region and for the ultimate security of the United States and for everything that we value, so that's really not an answer. We've got to stay here and work through the problem. I believe we can work through it. It will not have the same result that we certainly intended at the outset. I totally agree with my colleague here today. Stability is certainly an acceptable option here, as opposed to the very lofty objective of a full-fledged democracy.

CONAN: Larry Diamond?

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, I think we suffer now in Iraq a severe contradiction. Our military presence is stabilizing in the sense that it's preventing a descent into all-out civil war. I agree with General Keane. If we just pull out in a matter of months or a year and say, the heck with it, we've done what we can, it will become much bloodier and much uglier. But if we stay indefinitely with no indication of when we might leave and no pressure on the Iraqi politicians to take responsibility, we're going to be creeping, as we have been, toward that disaster.

CONAN: Thank you Gerald very much for the call, and we'll take more of your calls when we come back from a break: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking about Iraq today. At his news conference yesterday at the White House, President Bush assured us there is a plan for victory. But some wonder if that's even possible anymore. Our guests are General Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff, and he was in Iraq during the U.S. invasion. As well as Larry Diamond; he was the former senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, now a senior fellow at Hoover Institution.

Of course you're welcome to join us. Is there still a possible victory in Iraq? What would it look like? What would it take or are we just talking about shades of defeat? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. Let's go back to the callers. This is Nicholas - Nicholas with us from Kalamazoo.

NICHOLAS (Caller): Hello. Thank you so much for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

NICHOLAS: Really, my thought is, victory really can't be won unless we are looking at diplomacy. Wars are not won on a battlefield. Wars are won at a table of diplomacy. And what have we done to get Hezbollah or Osama Bin Laden to sit in front of us and tell us what they really want. The reason why I'm asking that is because it seems to me if those Iraqis really understood that as soon as our mission was accomplished we were going home, instead of throwing bombs at us now and settling out the differences in their country later, they would be waiting until we left. You know, instead right now they're just throwing bombs at us. Are they really looking for their country's freedom or is there - what is their motive? Do they have some other motive?

CONAN: What do you think, Larry Diamond?

Mr. DIAMOND: We need three kinds of diplomacy. First of all, to mediate the dispute among the different Iraqi parties and militias over what the future structure of the country and division of oil is going to be. Secondly, we need much more intensive diplomacy than we've had with different elements of the Sunni-based insurgency that are willing to talk to the United States. We've made efforts at this. They've been disorganized, they've been feckless. They haven't had the leverage that we could bring to bear if we were serious.

I might add that one of the other things that President Bush said in his press conference yesterday was that whether we sought permanent military bases in Iraq would sort of depend on the Iraqis. He left it open. He had a golden opportunity to make clear to the Iraqi people that we weren't going to seek military bases to lay to rest one of the most powerful motives for the insurgency. We're going to have to do that if we're going to turn a corner on it.

And third, as General Keane said, we need to bring in the regional neighbors. Iran can have leverage on some of the most militant Shiite parties. Syria and some of the other Sunni Arab neighbors can have leverage on some of the Sunni Arab elements of the insurgency.

CONAN: General Keane, a lot of military historians say that, indeed, wars are often won on the battlefield, then lost by diplomacy, but your interpretation of this situation now?

Gen. KEANE: Well, sure, I mean, and we clearly fight wars to obtain political objectives and they're clearly related to each other. And in adding to the comments that have already been made, and bringing the regional partners, I have strong feelings about that and it make sense. You also have to give Syria and Iran some red lines in terms of what they're doing to aid and abet the insurgency, and in the case of Iran, to aid and abet the Badr Corps and Sadr and to try to get Iraq to become a proxy state for themselves.

CONAN: It's hard to draw a red line unless there's a credible threat of military force behind it, isn't it?

Gen. KEANE: Well, I do think that no one can prosecute a counterinsurgency and achieve a degree of success when you have open borders and outside agitators contributing to it. Every time military practitioners have looked at that in our history, we've always had failure or close to it, and so you have to deal with this issue. It's part of the entire mosaic.

The other diplomacy I have strong views about, and we've touched on it here, is in reconciling the Sunnis - I mean they were completely disenfranchised, as Larry mentioned, as a result of the constitutional referendum and the general election. We truly have to find leaders among those groups who are willing to participate in the political process, and they're out there. I know one of our generals a number of weeks ago met with seven Sunni insurgent leaders. All of them to a person said, look, we are willing to look at a political option, but we are not willing to go to jail or to be executed inside that jail once we've been arrested.

All of us have American blood on our hands. We're willing to lay down our weapons eventually, but we have to have some assurances we're not going to be tried for fighting a war. And my reaction to that is, look it, I mean, we have reconciled our enemies, horrific ones at that, with the Germans and most of the Nazis and the Japanese, and they became vibrant countries. Certainly we should remove this obstacle ourselves and our own political views about it, and secondly, we should certainly encourage the Sunnis to reach out to bring them in. After all, the people who we're so concerned about who've killed Americans, the objective is for them to put their weapons down so they will stop the killing, and that makes infinite sense. To those who executed Americans in clearly war crime sort of fashion, they should be held to a different standard.

CONAN: Here's an e-mailed question from Jenny in South Carolina. What are your thoughts about the proposal to divide Iraq into three sovereign nations - Sunni, Shiite, Kurd? Is that even possible? And this is an idea, Larry Diamond, that's gaining currency.

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, it's interesting because the way Senator Biden - Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - and Les Gelb have most recently articulated it this week, they don't call for necessarily three units, and they don't necessarily call for breaking up the country into separate states, but for a federalism of a few big units - it could be more than three, and I think it must be more than three because it can't just be one big Shiite super-region spanning the whole southern half of the country.

If you try and partition the country, which is the more radical form of this - first of all, who are we to divide up and disintegrate their country when the majority of Iraqis don't want it? And second of all, it will bring about...

CONAN: We did it to Germany.

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, in the midst of the Cold War. We didn't do it voluntarily. But second of all, it will bring about what the Indian partition brought about, which is a bloodbath.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and this is Joe. Joe's with us from Philadelphia.

JOE (Caller): Hi. Fascinating discussion. I believe that Muqtada al-Sadr is a bad actor and that his Mahdi Army is behind an awful lot of the sectarian killings. My question is, can we succeed in Iraq without taking him down, or if we do take him down, can the government there stand?

CONAN: Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric based in Baghdad, but the Mahdi Army has tentacles across much of the country, General Keane.

Gen. KEANE: Well, certainly, and they are a real problem. A number of years ago we had them him in our sights and we certainly wanted to arrest him, and the military command was denied - denied that, and that's unfortunate. Certainly he has reacted to the al-Qaida and the Sunni-provoked violence in Baghdad and he's using that violence to protect his people and to release his death squads on the Sunnis. And he's executed hundreds of people in the last number of weeks.

It's clear what he really wants, and that is more political leverage in the country. He wants to be a real political power, certainly.

CONAN: But the problem is his political party is part of the ruling coalition. And as we mentioned, the Badr Brigade also part of another faction of the ruling Shia coalition.

Gen. KEANE: And he has - yes, he has positions inside the ministries, particularly those that service the people, like transportation, etc. And he has used humanitarian assistance to the population to gain popular support in the areas where he's most responsible. The government has to deal with al-Sadr. We're not going to solve the problem until they have the willingness - and certainly the capability I believe is there - but the willingness to deal with him. And right now it's obvious they're unwilling to deal with him.

CONAN: Larry Diamond?

Mr. DIAMOND: It's too late. I agree with General Keane; in fact said when I was in Baghdad as part of the CPA that we should arrest him for murder of a Shiite cleric during the early days after the fall of Baghdad. Now, if we take him out they'll just be others coming up after him. He has a 50 percent support rate in the country. That means it's more like 75 percent among the Shia.

We're going to have to somehow deal with his political forces. I think you create circumstances in which you don't have Shiite communities calling on the Mahdi Army to retaliate for the slaughter of their own people by Sunni insurgents because we've lowered the temperature of violence through these political steps and intensive diplomacy with the insurgency and with the regional neighbors.

CONAN: Joe, thanks very much for the call.

JOE: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go to, this is Vin. Vin's calling from Providence, Rhode Island.

VIN (Caller): Hi. Just wanted to say that we are not going to extricate, doesn't seem anywhere in sight, and that we should actually redefine victory. What are we actually looking for? And if it has to, we have to bring together a nonpartisan group together at a high level and try and figure out what our options are. And the choice might be that we'll have to actually go for - go back, reach to our partners in the world and then bring them in onboard and say, yes, we've made a mistake, looks like we need to work together and solve this problem, make Iraq a better place so that we can have a better future in terms of terrorism and terrorist threats and have a better strategy for the whole thing.

CONAN: Larry Diamond, there is the Baker-Hamilton Committee, bipartisan committee, that's going to be presenting its recommendations in a few weeks.

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, probably by the end of the year. That's the one faint ray of hope, that we do have precisely this 10-member, fully bipartisan, and I think truly open-minded commission. And I think it may propose a significant change of course. And I hope that the president will really take their recommendation seriously.

CONAN: And General Keane, what do you think?

Gen. KEANE: Well, I totally agree with that. And myself and some other military leaders had the opportunity to make presentations to that group. And certainly every indication that we have in doing so is they're very thoughtful and completely open-minded and taking a fresh look and trying to free themselves of all the baggage of the past.

I mean we cannot get too optimistic about it because this is a very, very complex problem and there's no silver bullet here for sure. But there are a number of things that can be done, and I'm hoping that their recommendations will be the catalyst that's necessary for change.

CONAN: Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff for the United States Army was in Iraq during the U.S. invasion. Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, former senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Send us e-mail, talk@NPR.org.

And this is TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

Let's see if we can get Butch on the line. Butch is calling from Blacksburg, Virginia.

BUTCH (Caller): Good afternoon. Interesting discussion. We keep - I'm sort of going to dovetail on the caller - a couple of callers back - you know, we keep throwing around - the media keeps throwing around and particularly the Bush administration keeps throwing around the term victory. Can we achieve victory? Victory is still possible. Victory this, victory that.

Nobody's ever told me what victory in Iraq is or could be or is going to be. And in my estimation and the estimation of most other people that I know who are able to think for themselves, we went in there with no hope of ever achieving victory from the very first day we invaded.

So you know, would somebody explain to me what exactly does victory mean? Does that mean the Mahdi Army lays down its arms and, you know, lays their guns and puts up their hands? I just don't see any of these things happening that we could call victory. I just see a quagmire for probably the rest of my life and the rest of a lot of young people's lives in this country.

CONAN: General Keane?

Gen. KEANE: Well, you know, a paraphrase of what the stated official end-state is in Iraq, loosely described as victory, I guess, would be a democratic government that's capable of providing a secure and stable environment for its people that is not a threat to its neighbors and does not permit a foreign terrorist sanctuary to grow up inside the country.

I mean that's a paraphrase of what it is, in my judgment.

CONAN: You've also said, though - and we'll to Larry Diamond in just a moment - you also said maybe democracy isn't part of it. Maybe we need - and there's more and more talk of this too - a strongman in Baghdad. Well, Saddam Hussein was a strongman in Baghdad, a particularly bad one. But nevertheless, what would've been accomplished?

Gen. KEANE: Yes. Well, you know, we chose a different model. After the Korean War we permitted strong executive leadership, so to speak, to take care of Korea and eventually they blossomed into a capitalist and then democratic society. It took 20-plus years to even move in that direction.

But nonetheless they were not a threat to their neighbors and they gradually came to appreciate the values of the West and what it would mean for their own people.

I think most people, if we look back on it and we're honest with ourselves - one, we were somewhat naïve about the complexity of the problem in Iraq, the culture that has existed in Iraq, the impact of Saddam Hussein, as I said before - and we had awful ambitious lofty goals that are very difficult to achieve now - something less than that has got to acceptable.

CONAN: Larry Diamond.

Mr. DIAMOND: Neal, the good options have been gone for a long time. Victory has been, I think, expired as an option for a long time. At this point I think the imperative for the United States is to avoid a disastrous outcome. And the most disastrous outcomes would be western Iraq becoming a haven and operating base for al-Qaida in Iraq and other Jihadist strike forces against the United States, terrorist organizations...

CONAN: And against places like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, for that matter...

Mr. DIAMOND: And all of our neighbors, and most important of all Europe, because Europe's closer as a Western civilization than we are. And the country falling in to a much, much more horrific civil war. If we don't focus the minds of the Iraqi parties on the need for the kinds of constitutional compromises that I've talked about, this stalemate could go on at this level for a very long time. And that will eventually, I think, constitute a defeat for the United States.

CONAN: Focus the mind. Sunnis at this point, many of them, fear that they have nothing left to lose. That's one of their prime motivations. And the Shia, they don't see a reason for compromise at this point.

Mr. DIAMOND: I think General Keane's right in everything he said about the Sunnis. With respect to the Shia, there are compelling reasons for compromise. And that is, they have won a political victory, without question. They control the national government now for the first time in the history of Iraq.

They need to have a victory worth having. What is the point of being in control of a national government that's falling into all-out civil war? What's the point of controlling oil if you can't produce it and sell it on international markets? And Iran has an interest here as well, because Iran is a multinational state as well.

It has its own Kurdish, Azari, and other ethnic minorities. If Iraq breaks up, Iran could face the danger as well.

CONAN: Stay with us if you will. We're going to have to take a short break. When we come down we'll continue our conversation. And then we'll be talking about a Halloween tour that evokes the real ghosts that haunt a prison in Philadelphia.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Today we're talking about Iraq and how to find a path to victory, if one exists, as the bloodshed continues. Our guests are General Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff. We should make a correction: he was not in Iraq at the time of the invasion, but visited shortly thereafter and has been back subsequently. Also with us, Larry Diamond, now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, former senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Grace. Grace is with us from Miami.

GRACE (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

GRACE: I'm asking what precedent is there in history for third parties intervening to prevent a civil war? Going back to a correlation between our civil war - would anyone had been able to stop it, prevent it? Maybe we should just walk away from it and have them settle the thing.

CONAN: And General Keane, Grace poses a difficult question, but that's not the only conflict under way in Iraq, is it?

Gen. KEANE: Right. Well, that's a reasonable question. And certainly if it truly came to a civil war where there's opposing legitimate authorities and there's a breakdown of the government and the Iraqi security forces starts to fracture and the coalition forces - principally the United States and England - are caught between those, you start to lose any justification to curtail that violence, certainly.

You know, we went into Bosnia, most recent one, to keep the warring factions apart. But our presence was so significant and there had been a peace accord that we were able to enforce that peace accord. And certainly here I don't believe there would much support from the American people, nor do I think our national leaders would want the United States forces truly to be in the middle of a civil war.

And the thing about a civil war, as horrific as that is, some would say it does get you an answer. All civil wars do, to some degree. The problem with that is we don't want to go there because the amount of lives that would be lost would be hundreds of thousands, and sadly, most of them would be innocent lives.

CONAN: And Larry Diamond, certainly there is an aspect of a Sunni/Shia civil war underway in Iraq.

Mr. DIAMOND: There's not aspect. There's a civil war.

CONAN: But there's other conflicts. There are other parties involved.

Mr. DIAMOND: That's true, and we have many different type of wars, and one of them is an insurgency against the new political order with a heavy terrorist element that aims to strike at Europe and the United States. But we have a medium-intensity civil war there now. Iraqis are dying at a rate of tens of thousands, probably, a year, and the challenge now is to whether we can keep it from becoming an all-out civil war, what Tom Freidman once called Lebanon on steroids. I agree with General Keane: if we just withdraw, it's likely to become that. I also agree with Senator Biden and Les Gelb, from their recent essay, that if we don't set some sort of timeframe for American military withdrawal, the Iraqi parties are going to think that they can just keep making maximalist demands and seizing more power while we keep the floor from falling under.

CONAN: All right. Grace, thanks for the call. And one more question before we let you both go, and that is that in an interview today with Reuters, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, said he could get violence under control in six months, which is half the time that General Casey was talking about the other day, provided Washington gave him more weaponry and more say over his own forces. I am now prime minister and overall commander of the armed forces, yet I cannot move a single company without coalition approval because of the U.N. mandate, Maliki says. Larry Diamond, is this a credible offer on his part?

Mr. DIAMOND: I am very skeptical. I think we should give him more equipment. I completely agree with General Keane. We've got to significantly ramp up the overall intended size of the Iraqi armed forces, the current level - and it's not so much the police, we need a bigger army that's much more trusted right now by the Iraqi people. But until there is a political consensus in the country - I can't emphasize enough how crucial the stabilization of Iraq depends on a political deal among the different forces on the sharing of power and revenue.

CONAN: And General Keane?

Gen. KEANE: Well, unless he's making some political agreement that Larry and I both know is necessary, I don't see how that objective is obtainable, given the fractious nature of the conflict right now and the totally and complete inadequacy of the size of his force, and to include the military advisers that we're providing, we don't have anywhere near a sufficient number, and we've got to educate them better and raise the experience and quality of that force to make a better impact on the Iraqi forces themselves. It's much too ambitious.

CONAN: General Jack Keane, retired, former Army vice chief of staff with us here today in Studio 3A. Thanks as always. We appreciate your time.

Thanks also to Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. Both of them were with us in Studio 3A. And when we come back, we'll go to prison for Halloween.

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