Week in Review: Iraq Policy, Iran Politics

Highlights of the week's news include President Bush's pledge for a new strategy in Iraq; the possibility of sending more troops there; the administration's treatment of an op-ed piece on Iran; and criticism of an incoming congressman for being sworn in on the Quran.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Bush conceded this week the United States is not winning the war in Iraq. His new defense secretary, Robert Gates, headed off to Baghdad to consult with generals there on a new strategy.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott. What a week. It's all Iraq week, isn't it?

SIMON: Well, yes. A few other subjects might come up, but President Bush had a year-end press conference. He said the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq. He also said they weren't losing. He called for expanding the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps to fight terrorism. What was your assessment of this presentation?

SCHORR: Well, there are two assessments. One is looking at the president personally. He's undergoing some change, right. I think state of denial is no longer it. The state of denial has been pierced somehow, and he indicates that he's aware that things are going very badly and that he doesn't know when they are going to go better.

The question remains as to what he does. He's promised a speech, which was supposed to be made before Christmas and now will be sometime maybe in January, which seems to indicate that they're having a great deal of difficulty making up what this new strategy should be. They talk new strategy, but what is new strategy other than perhaps sending 40,000 more troops to Baghdad?

SIMON: Let me ask you about Defense Secretary Gates, who went to Iraq to consult with commanders there on the ground.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: News accounts seem to make a lot of the fact that Secretary Gates listened to people, as opposed to making appearances.

SCHORR: I'm sure that's true, and there was a lot to listen to. The question now - several generals have already said that our Army is almost broken; we have to do something to rebuild the Army. And if that is true, it's not a question of sending more troops to Iraq; it becomes a question of where do you find more troops? They're not talking about a draft. They're not talking about simply getting a lot more volunteers. They're talking about restructuring the military, the Marines as well as the Army, in order to provide a way to give them more man and women power.

SIMON: Let me ask you about Iran. Friday, an op-ed piece - I guess we should say an op-ed piece nearly didn't appear but did appear in The New York Times. Flynt Leverett, former senior director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council - he's now at the New America Foundation - and Hillary Mann, a foreign service officer, had written a piece for the Times apparently detailing their experience negotiating some more minor level agreements with Iran. What ran in the Times was the version as it had been redacted by the CIA...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Now, they said there was no classified information included in this piece. And in fact, they thoughtfully footnoted each redaction about what they would have said. Here's what Flynt Leverett told ALL THINGS CONSIDERED yesterday.

Mr. FLYNT LEVERETT (Former Senior Director, Middle East Affairs, National Security Council): The White House says that for us to write about this is, you know, revealing classified information. And it is not just a false claim. It is a fraudulent claim, that people making it know it's not true.

SCHORR: This is a redaction-mad administration.

SIMON: This is the CIA, which is sometimes at war with this administration, isn't it?

SCHORR: Right, but not lately, I think. I think that whenever they can, they will say you can't see this, you can't. Why can't you see it? Just because you can't see it. And it comes up in several connections, and now it's come up in connection with this report on Iran.

SIMON: What do you make of the U.S. and Great Britain sending a battle group to the Persian Gulf?

SCHORR: Oh, there clearly is...

SIMON: A Naval battle group...

SCHORR: A Naval battle group. Yeah. I would believe that that is meant to show Iran how strong we still are, even though they hear that we may have been losing things here and there. That's a big signal to Iran, saying we are still going to be a power in this area, in this region, even though you say that we will be evicted from it.

SIMON: And there were local elections in Iran over the past week. And President Ahmadinejad was able to win a - I think his party was able to win only a couple of seats, local seats in Tehran. What do you make of those results?

SCHORR: This is clearly a big reverse for President Ahmadinejad. We tend to look at him in terms of atomic weapons and all the things he's going to do. We don't watch what happens internally. Internally, he is not very popular. He's lost a great deal of his popularity that he had. And we should perhaps allow the Iranians to take care of the president of Iran. He would do better than we do.

SIMON: A story that got a lot of attention this week, a Congressman from Virginia, Virgil Goode, sent a letter to his constituents criticizing the fact that somebody elected to Congress from Minnesota - I believe the first American Muslim ever to be elected to Congress - was going to place his hand on the Koran at some point at a public swearing-in ceremony. Congressman Goode - Congressman Goode said this is exactly why we have to restrict immigration.

SCHORR: May I say that this is really quite weird. First of all, when you take your oath of office, the oath of office is not taken on anybody's Bible. It's an oath to defend the Constitution. A lot of people say I'd like to, after that, have a little private ceremony where I will give a religious cast to this, and I'll go in and I'll swear on the Bible. If you want to have your own ceremony, and you want to have a Bible or the Koran, it seems to me that's really up to you. It's not a matter of Constitution. But I don't know, we get funny things from Virginia these days.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

SIMON: Dan Schorr.

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