Rice, Gates and Pace Promote U.S. Policy on Iraq

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joing Chiefs of Staff, spoke with the media Thursday morning about the administration's new strategy for Iraq.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Those two officials began their defense at the president's policies today by appearing before reporters at the White House. They were accompanied by a top general, General Peter Pace. They answered questions about the president's plan to send more troops, and Secretary Gates described the so-called surge this way.

Mr. ROBERT GATES (U.S. Secretary of Defense): The increase in military forces will be phased in. It will not unfold overnight. There will be no D-Day. It won't look like the Gulf War.

INSKEEP: Let's get some perspective on what's being said from a couple of our correspondents. We begin with NPR's Michele Kelemen, who covers the State Department. Michele, good morning.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What does Secretary Rice say?

KELEMEN: Well, she's talking about sort of a surge of her own on the civilian side. She talked about the need to decentralize and diversify the U.S. civilian presence. And by that she's talking about these provincial reconstruction teams, which are these joint military-civilian groups that go out and rebuild after you regain territory. And she announced today that they're going to move from 10 to 18 provincial reconstruction teams, specifically in Baghdad from one to six. And she also announced a coordinator for Iraq transitional assistance.

INSKEEP: Significant statement, I thought also, that she said we're going to get people out of the Green Zone, that fortified zone in Baghdad.

KELEMEN: That's right. Out of the Green Zone and out of the U.S. embassy, to get them more out in the field.

INSKEEP: Which seems like an acknowledgement of what entire books have been written about, that maybe U.S. diplomats and civilians have been out of touch as to what's really happening in the country.

KELEMEN: Well, it's also going to be hard for her to get these people to go do that. I mean, it's been a hard assignment to fill in the first place.

INSKEEP: Well, stay with us. I'm going to bring another voice into the conversation; that's NPR's Guy Raz, who covers the military. And Guy, have you learned anything more about what the additional troops will be doing once they get to Iraq?

GUY RAZ: Well, we understand, clearly from Secretary Gates's comments, that he's not even sure how long this deployment will last. He's - he was asked if this was temporary and how long it'll take, and essentially said I don't know. What we do know is the deployments of additional troops into Iraq will be what he described as a phased process. We can assume that will take several months, perhaps as long as a year.

INSKEEP: Hmm. And elsewhere on this program today, Guy, we've heard NPR's Martin Kaste report on the response to this speech, and you heard people around a military base guffawing, almost laughing at the president's speech last night. A little bit of cynicism here.

RAZ: Yeah. I think so. And I think in part because the president really didn't indicate whether the Army will be able to draw upon the Guard and the reserves to the extent to which Army, senior Army officers have asked to do so. And Secretary Gates, in his comments just a few moments ago, he reiterated the position of the White House, which is that Guard units will only be deployed for a maximum of one year at a time, and they'll be given five years off. And that essentially is the crux of what - when we hear about the term strain, that is the crux of it. There are about 500,000 active duty members of the Army, and only about 25 percent of those members of the Army are fighters, so not enough soldiers to bring into regular rotations in Iraq without causing enormous strain.

INSKEEP: So we're talking about a surge of U.S. troops. We're talking about a surge of U.S. civilian workers. And Michele Kelemen, I guess we're going to have a surge from the secretary of state as well.

KELEMEN: Well, she's going on a trip anyway. She's leaving tomorrow afternoon to go to the Middle East. And this is really just to rally support in the region for the plan. Regional players there, Arab states have been very worried about where Iraq is heading, and have been telling the secretary not to abandon it; that's one of the fears. But interestingly, you know, one of the suggestions in the Iraq Study Group was this diplomatic approach, but it talked about dealing with all the regional players, including Iran and Syria.

And both the secretary and President Bush last night made clear they're not dealing with Iran and Syria. Those guys are on the wrong side of this divide, as they see it, of extremists versus moderates in the Arab world.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Guy Raz, thank you.

RAZ: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And again, top aides to President Bush have been defending his plans at the White House today, and that defense continues later on today when a couple of them testify before Congress.

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