Week in Review: Iraq, Bush Shakeup, Congress

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Highlights of the week's news include President Bush's plans for Iraq; changes in the leaders responsible for the conduct of the war and U.S. diplomatic efforts; and a new Congress.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer, sitting in for Scott Simon.

It was a busy week, filled with major changes on Capitol Hill and within the Bush administration, and also filled with anticipation about the upcoming announcement from the White House of a new strategy for the war in Iraq.

Dan Schorr is off this week, so joining us to discuss those stories and all the news of the week is NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. He is at member station WFAE in Charlotte this morning.

Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now on Iraq - let's start there. President Bush is having difficulty formulating an Iraq policy. His policy speech has already been delayed once. Now, the president is expected to deliver it next week. Any previews, Juan?

WILLIAMS: Well, the inside word is that it'll be a limited surge, Linda. And by that, they mean an additional 10 to 15,000 U.S. troops going in -a maximum of 20. That would absolutely stretch the military to the limits of its capability at this moment, and in fact, create danger in terms of other military crisis that could occur in the world. The military would not be able to respond beyond that.

Already, we've seen the now new Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - as well as the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi - send letters over to the White House expressing their opposition to the idea of this surge. And what's interesting about this is you're also facing opposition from some in the military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have real questions about whether or not the dangers outweigh the benefits of this limited surge, because, you know, the proponents of the surge really want it for an 18-month period.

They'd like to put 50,000 troops in there. And so, by putting this limited number in there, you are creating more targets, and you're also creating more sense of occupation in Iraq. So they see it as possibly putting themselves in dangerous way for a limited benefit.

WERTHEIMER: Juan, one of the other things that happened this week on Iraq, is that Senator Joe Biden accused the president of using this surge and other things to sort of try to delay things so that he might be able to hand off this war to the next administration in two years.

WILLIAMS: Well, he used such vivid language, Linda. He talked about, you know, Vietnam and the scene of those helicopters going in to lift people from rooftops and get Americans and their allies out and saying that President Bush doesn't want that scene taking place out of the Green Zone in Baghdad on his watch. And he's willing to wait for the next president to do it.

Well, you know, the real issue here comes down to exactly what is Prime Minister al-Maliki willing to do? That's why there's talk about him announcing a renewed effort to go after the militias, including...

WERTHEIMER: Right.

WILLIAMS: ...Shia militias. And therefore, the limited U.S. forces could go after Sunnis and insurgents - sort of al-Qaida allies coming in from outside the country. So we'll see if that combination works.

WERTHEIMER: The president is making some changes to his Iraq team in advance of his speech next week. General George Casey was a top ground commander in Iraq, and General John Abizaid at Central Command will leave their jobs in the coming weeks.

WILLIAMS: That's right. General David Petraeus - who had trained some of the Iraqi forces earlier, and apparently been praised for the work that he'd done - will replace General Casey as the commander of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq. And then you also have Navy Admiral William Fallon who will replace John Abizaid at Centcom.

And what we see here is an effort by the president to put people in place that he believes are more of his mind about trying to win the war and believing that it is possible, rather than simply trying to hold the fort.

WERTHEIMER: Right.

WILLIAMS: So it's a difficult thing. And then, there's been lots of questions internally about Fallon, because he's a Navy admiral whose experience is in the Pacific. He's had limited experience in the Middle East. So it seems as if - according to critics - more and more, the president is pointing his fingers at the generals and saying the military is not doing what I want them to do.

WERTHEIMER: Quickly, Juan. There've been changes on the civilian side. John Negroponte's leaving his job as the director of National Intelligence and going to the State Department to be number two to Secretary Rice. The president's going to name Zalmay Khalilzad as the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N. He is now ambassador to Iraq. What does that mean?

WILLIAMS: Well, it - there's a lot of speculation here, Linda. So it's hard to put a finger on it. But Navy Admiral John McConnell - who was director of the National Security Council under President Clinton in 1992 to '96 - is the one who will be replacing Negroponte. Negroponte never seemed to get a grip on the whole intelligence apparatus. The new operation was put in - new system, I should say, was put in place after the failures to identify the threat of...

WERTHEIMER: Right.

WILLIAMS: ...threats of 9/11. So it seems as if there's a desire to try to get a new look at intelligence. And then, the question is, is he looking for Secretary Rice to leave and possibly be replace by Negroponte? So all that's up in the air.

WERTHEIMER: Big subject shift here. The new Congress pledged to take action on a flurry of legislation in the first 100 hours. Ethics reform was first in the House, followed by implementing recommendations in the 9-11 Commission, and raising the minimum wage, that's to come. Nothing about Iraq, what do you make of that, very quickly?

WILLIAMS: The Democrats don't have a strong plan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: So, at the moment, look for lots of depositions requests and oversight. That'll be the Democrats primary effort coming in at the front of this new Democratic Congress.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR senior correspondent, Juan Williams

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