Rep. Frank Wolf on the Iraq Study Group

In 2005, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) made his third trip to Iraq and was alarmed by what he found. His concern led to an independent group charged with looking at U.S. policy in Iraq. Wolf talks to Deborah Amos about Iraq and how his actions led to the creation of the Iraq Study Group.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

When Congressman Frank Wolf went to Iraq, he saw progress in schools and hospitals. He also saw security failures, increasing violence. At the same time Wolf decided the war was not going well, the White House released a new strategy document titled “Victory in Iraq” about winning on the ground. Not convinced, Wolf came up with the idea for an independent panel to analyze U.S. policy. That panel became the Baker-Hamilton study group.

Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia joins us. Good morning.

Representative FRANK WOLF (Republican, Virginia): Good morning. How are you?

AMOS: Well. Congressman, tell us a little bit about that September trip to Iraq. What did you see? How did you get out of the Green Zone? And what did you learn?

Rep. WOLF: Well, it was my third trip to Iraq. And the first two times I was with my chief of staff, Dan Scanlon(ph). We were by ourselves without any military and we drove through the entire country. The third time we were with the military. And every time I've been there we've always spent our time outside the Green Zone. I could see the difference: some things were better, schools were opened, hospitals were much better than they were the first and second time. But some things were much worse, and that is the security issue.

The first two times we drove all over, lived with Iraqis. And this last time I could that that was not possible. So it just seemed that we needed to take a, as you said or as I've said in the report, fresh eyes. To get a group of people, bipartisan, who loved their country more than they loved their political party.

AMOS: You came home alarmed. So who did you call at the White House when you got back home?

Rep. WOLF: I spoke to the secretary of state, and then I spoke to the secretary of defense. And then we spoke to Steve Hadley, the national security adviser.

AMOS: What kind of response did you get from the secretary of state?

Rep. WOLF: Well, initially, it was not overly positive. But once I laid it out, I think in fairness, the secretary of state became very, very open. Actually, the secretary of defense became very open, and the National Security Council. But it took a while because, you know, I think no administration - Republican or Democrat - likes Congress meddling in their business.

AMOS: Do you think that they were looking for a way to reassess the policy, despite what they were saying publicly, and you offered that way?

Rep. WOLF: I don't know the answer to that. I would always hope that everyone is always thinking about what can be done and how you can do better. I mean as well as something is done, if somebody outside has fresh eyes it goes a little bit better. So I would hope that they would always be analyzing, because we have American men and women who are putting their lives on the line every day. And you're talking about security of the country, so it will be my hope that this was going on at all times and would always go on, on every policy with regard to the federal government.

AMOS: Congressman, are you concerned, though, that events on the ground in Iraq may have even overtaken the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton study group?

Rep. WOLF: I think that's probably a problem. But yet if you had a very serious illness, you've got to begin to deal with it. So we are where we are and hopefully their recommendations will be such that, however late it is, will provide an opportunity for the nation to develop a policy whereby we can be together when our country is divided and we're not sure and everything is just turmoil. And when the United States is weak, the world becomes a much, much more dangerous place. So hopefully better late than never.

AMOS: Frank Wolf, thanks so much.

Rep. WOLF: Okay, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

AMOS: Frank Wolf is the Republican congressman from Virginia's 10th District.

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