Election Results Alter U.S. Plan of Action in Iraq

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Michele Norris talks with NPR Senior News Analyst Ted Koppel about the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Koppel also talks about the impact of Tuesday's elections on the war in Iraq.


Joining us now to talk about the change at the Pentagon, voter sentiments on the war and what this all means for U.S. strategy is NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel, and Ted, you've covered quite a few presidents and even more elections. Did the president's quick post-election move on Rumsfeld surprise you?

TED KOPPEL: Well, not since Jonah was tossed overboard to quiet the seas has there been an effort to do something as quickly and as efficiently as getting rid of Secretary Rumsfeld the day after the election. I think it will temporarily quiet the seas, but it's not going to change the reality of the situation in Iraq.

NORRIS: When we look back, will this prove to be the significant turning point on U.S. involvement in the war? What do you think about that?

KOPPEL: What I think about that is that Democrats and Republicans are essentially facing the same realities in the Persian Gulf, and those realities are not going to change. There has been sort of the implication that if only the Democrats got a majority in the House and maybe even a majority in the Senate, that somehow the Iraq War is going to be handled in a totally different fashion, and the impression is that therefore the young men and women who have been serving over there will be able to come home.

I think that's putting the cart before the horse. There are some very, very tough realities to what's going on in that region, not the least of which is that if we were to pull out of there precipitously, Iran, whose influence in the region has been growing by leaps and bounds, would overnight become unquestionably the most powerful force in the Persian Gulf. And remember, Iran is moving in the direction of acquiring nuclear technology and maybe nuclear weapons, and that's been one of the greatest concerns of the Bush administration.

I don't think all that much, as we look back on it, let's say six months from now, that all that much will have changed.

NORRIS: We keep hearing that the choices in Iraq are not good. They're bad and worse, it seems, and so it's a question of whether the leadership of the Pentagon, the new secretary of defense, will have sort of the temperament and the grit to lead both the military and the nation through this very difficult period. We just heard Ken Pollock say that he's got the patience of Sisyphus but he prefers to stay out of the spotlight. Does he have - you know him well - the temperament for this kind of thing?

KOPPEL: Well, I don't know him that well personally. I've met him a few times professionally. I defer to my friend Ken Pollock on that. He knows him far better. Whether or not he has the temperament, I think the key point here is to remember that he was, as Ken Pollock pointed out, a member of Bush 41's circle of advisors. And remember that the first President Bush restrained U.S. forces from going all the way up to Baghdad and restrained himself from overthrowing Saddam Hussein. There were several very good reasons for that, but one of them was that he wanted to maintain Saddam Hussein as a counterweight, a counterbalance, to Iran.

One of the things that we have perhaps unwittingly done is we have empowered the Iranians in that region by getting rid of their worst enemy in the Persian Gulf.

NORRIS: Thank you, Ted.

KOPPEL: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel.

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