Rice and Gates Make Case for More Troops in IraqPresident Bush's secretaries of State and Defense spent their days defending his new plan in Iraq, first at a White House news conference and then on Capitol Hill. Secretaries Rice and Gates found only minimal support for a greater troop commitment in Congress.
President Bush's secretaries of State and Defense spent their days defending his new plan in Iraq, first at a White House news conference and then on Capitol Hill. Secretaries Rice and Gates found only minimal support for a greater troop commitment in Congress.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I am Robert Siegel.
The day after President Bush spelled out his new way forward in Iraq to the nation, his top two cabinet officers went to Capitol Hill. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the rounds to try to sell the president's plan to a skeptical Congress.
In a few minutes, we're going to hear about reaction from Baghdad. First, NPR's Guy Raz reports on the day's events in Washington.
GUY RAZ: If Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice drew straws to see who'd go in front of the House and who'd do the Senate, Secretary Rice drew the short straw. She had to testify in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the morning after the president's pitch for his new plan.
And it was there that she encountered particular hostility from some of the senators who should have been protecting her, like Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, who stopped Rice mid-sentence when she started describing the progress in Iraq.
Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): Madame Secretary, your intelligence and mine is a lot different, and I know my time is up here. But to sit there and say that, Madame Secretary, that's just not true.
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Secretary of State): Well, Senator , if you'll -
Senator HAGEL: - that is not true.
Ms. RICE: Senator, if you'll allow me to finish, I think, you - there is a point I'd like to make about the Iraqis killings Iraqis and what that really is.
Senator HAGEL: Well, what that really is -
Ms. RICE: They are -
Senator HAGEL: - it's pretty obvious, what it really is.
Ms. RICE: They are just thoughts -
RAZ: Hagel eventually called Iraq quote, "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam." Over on the other side of the Capitol at the House Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace had an easier time. What the committee wanted to know was how long the increase in troop strength in Iraq would last. Here is Gates.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (Defense Secretary): I don't think anybody has a definite idea about how long the surge would last. I think, for most of us in our minds, we're thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years.
RAZ: The chairman of the committee, Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton, opposes a troop buildup. And he asked Gates if the plan doesn't work, what then?
Mr. SKELTON: We would revisit our strategy. Is that it, sir?
Representative IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri): If the Iraqis failed to keep their commitments, I think we would have to do that.
RAZ: Gates seemed to imply that if the Iraqi government doesn't do its part, well, the administration can decide not to deploy all those troops after all. It's been widely reported, including here on NPR, that senior military commanders are uncomfortable with the president's new plan. And even though General Peter Pace wasn't asked about this directly, for some reason, he felt compelled to say:
General PETER PACE (Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff): I have been one who has said, frequently, do not send extra troops just to do what the troops there now are already doing. But if there is a defined military mission and if it is supported and supporting political initiatives and economic initiatives, then it would be useful. In that context, this plan meets those criteria.
RAZ: Speaking of extra troops, Gates said the U.S. military needs more combat troops, and he'll grow the Army and Marines by 92,000 troops over the next five years. Now, for its part, the White House is calling its Iraq plan the new way forward. Reporters here in the Pentagon recalled today that the last shift in strategy was simply called the way forward.
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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Bush administration's plan for Iraq.
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Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Audio: U.S. Iraq Policy
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joing Chiefs of Staff, talk to the media about U.S. policy in Iraq.
Bush Advisers Promote His New Plan for Iraq
At a news conference Thursday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged that it's "hard to say" how long President Bush's proposed troop increase might last.
"We'll have to see in terms of the length of time," Gates told the White House press corps. "It's viewed as a temporary surge. But I think no one has a really clear idea of how long that might be."
Gates was speaking alongside Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in a news conference designed to sell the president's new Iraq strategy.
Gates also announced plans to increase the number of U.S. soldiers and Marines by 92,000 over the next five years. The change has been in the works for some time, he said, and would have been necessary regardless of the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Both Gates and Rice were treading a fine line when asked what might happen if Iraq does not fulfill the commitments it has undertaken.
"The Iraqis have devised their own strategy — political, economic and military — and our efforts will support theirs," Rice stressed. "Among Americans and Iraqis, there is no confusion over one basic fact: It is the Iraqis who are responsible for what kind of country Iraq will be."
But the Bush plan does not stipulate deadlines for Iraq to assume such political, economic or military commitments. Nor does it lay out a standard to judge whether they have succeeded.
At the press conference, Rice said the U.S. needs to give some "breathing space" to Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Malaki and his government.
Between television interviews this morning, an open television microphone picked up Rice saying, "I don't want to descend on the Maliki government and look like we, you know, just sort of beat their brains out."
Other news from the press conference:
—Secretary Rice offered more harsh words for Iran and Syria. Although the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended diplomatic engagement with the two countries last month, the Bush administration has ruled that out. "Syria and Iran should end their destabilizing behavior in the region," Rice warned. "The United States will defend its interests and those of our friends and allies in this vital region."
—Rice named Ambassador Tim Carney as the administration's new coordinator for Iraq transitional assistance — a new position. A career foreign service officer, Carney has served as ambassador to Sudan and Haiti.
—Asked if the new U.S. plan would include trying to arrest or kill Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, Gates replied, "I'm not going to hang specific targets on specific people, but all law breakers are susceptible to being detained in this — or taken care of in this campaign."
Sadr is an important supporter of Prime Minister Maliki's. But his Mehdi Army has fought U.S. troops twice since the 2003 invasion, and his speeches are virulently anti-American.