Year in Review Dominated by Iraq

The year 2006, capped by the execution of Saddam Hussein, was dominated by the war in Iraq. Meanwhile, the era of nuclear non-proliferation may be over.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

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

In this hour of the program, we usually review the week's news. But on the last Saturday of December, we take a look back at the whole year. NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr is here. Hello Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Dan, the obvious most important thing that has happened in the last 24 hours, of course, is the execution of Saddam Hussein. I wonder what you think. Was it better to have killed him, or would it have been better not to have killed him?

SCHORR: I think - well, leave that to the Iraqis. I mean, this was their problem. If you are suggesting that by keeping him alive, they had some symbol there, I don't think it's a good idea. I think the sooner we can forget Saddam Hussein, the better.

WERTHEIMER: Dan, President Bush talked about what is - has happened in Iraq this year in his year-end news conference. It was a very brief, pithy statement. Here it is.

GEORGE W: 2006 was a difficult year for our troops and the Iraqi people.

WERTHEIMER: A difficult year. What do you think?

SCHORR: Well, I think you can at least say it was a difficult year. The end of this now comes where, having said for a long, long time simply that we're going to stay the course, now he says they're working on a new strategy. And sometime early in the new year, they promise to come up with that strategy. I can't imagine what the strategy can be that will satisfy those who want troops there and troops out, or more troops than they have now. But it'll be very interesting to see.

WERTHEIMER: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned this year and was replaced by Robert Gates. Does that change mean anything for Iraq, do you think?

SCHORR: I think all of these things are symbolic. I mean, here was Rumsfeld, who was being blamed for everything that went wrong in the war in Iraq and there has been calls for his head - he's got to go, he's got to go, he's got to go. All right, he's gone now. I have no idea whether the new secretary of defense, Bob Gates, is going to do anything much different or much faster. First of all, he has to get up to speed, as the president said. So some time is lost there. But whatever happens, it's got to be better than last year was.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that this is the year in which we saw Iraq's - the situation in Iraq degenerate, if that's the right word, into civil war?

SCHORR: Yes. I think one can say that. There's always a big argument about what civil war really means. If civil war means a war that is fought entirely or to a great extent with people in your own country, if you mean that they would rather kill each other than kill Americans, they seem to be able to do both pretty well. But yes, I think it's time to say this is a civil war.

WERTHEIMER: And Iran and North Korea both continue to go forward with their nuclear programs, despite everything that the leaders of the U.N. and the U.S. could do about it. That was a situation which just was hanging there all through the year.

SCHORR: I think that's right. And I think one can say about the year 2006, it was the year when the era of nonproliferation ended. All these years, the United States, in company with others, has been trying very hard to hold the line - no more, no more. Well, you've got Pakistan and you've got India, which the United States seems to accept a lot better than accept elsewhere. But that era is over. People will look back on the year 2006 and say, well, we had a pretty good ride with nonproliferation, but it's over.

WERTHEIMER: What about the rising tension in the Middle East? We've seen Islamist movements gaining strength, leading the Palestinians now, causing instability in Lebanon and to some extent in Jordan - what about that?

SCHORR: What about it is that we have this kind of revolution of the Islamists, which are trying to introduce Koran all over the world and everywhere. And to some extent, they are at least successful in killing infant democracy.

And however, there's only one little bit of good news - Mogadishu, where the Islamists were driven out, and those who wanted to start a different kind of government are back in power. Keep your fingers crossed.

WERTHEIMER: Dan, let's come back home and talk a little bit about the United States. One of the biggest things that happened in this country, of course, was the 2006 election.

SCHORR: That's right.

WERTHEIMER: Where the Democrats won control of both houses of Congress. A great deal of that was fueled by the anger about Iraq. But the incoming speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said there was another reason as well.

NANCY PELOSI: The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington, D.C. And the Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history.

WERTHEIMER: Dan, is that what you expect to see?

SCHORR: Well, I'll keep my fingers crossed there also. I mean, this was the best Congress money could buy. And apparently we have to see whether Nancy Pelosi pulls them back from this trough and makes them into a legislative body once again. By the way, I think that you should know, and I think Nancy Pelosi now knows, that there is no ladies room in the speaker's complex of offices there. I think they're going to have to do something about that.

WERTHEIMER: I would hope so.

SCHORR: I think the big question is, if we've had since 1994 something of an era of Republican running the country, that may have ended in this election in November. It may be time to be turning back as this country always inevitably does at some point or other. It may be turning away from the Republicans, who haven't really done a great job, and try to see whether they can bring it back to the Democrats.

I think that that is - if I would say, where are we politically? We're at the end of the era of Republicans.

WERTHEIMER: Congress debated some important issues in 2006, including issues that have to do with the war on terror, giving the president extraordinary powers. One would certainly expect that the Democrats would have a different take on presidential powers. They certainly have a different take on the conduct of the war in Iraq. But do you expect them to do something?

SCHORR: They promised to. Don't ask me what I expect because I have expected good things very often and get disappointed. But Nancy Pelosi and the senators are promising that it will be very different now, and they won't be passing bills just to help people who give them money. If that happens, it will be a miracle. But maybe it's time for a miracle.

WERTHEIMER: Another thing that happened in 2006 was that election 2008 happened in 2006. It began, at any rate.

SCHORR: Yes.

WERTHEIMER: And the leading contenders are emerging. You see anybody you think that's going to go all the way?

SCHORR: Oh, you won't get me on that one. I think there will be many things happening between now and a year and a half from now. There will be people entering into the race, there will be people getting out of the race. Some will look as though they're getting out even as they're getting in. I will not predict who will be the next president of the United States, no matter what you do to me.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you, Dan. I appreciate it. I should follow your example.

NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr. Thanks, Dan.

SCHORR: You're welcome.

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