Week in Review: Iraq, Libby and Biden

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Iraq again dominated the week in Washington, with a new intelligence report shaping the debate on U.S. policy there. Also in Washington this week, the Lewis Libby trial for perjury put prosecution witnesses on the stand and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) opened his presidential bid with a gaffe.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

This week, the debate over the president's proposed increase of troops, the surge into Iraq, continued. More presidential candidates entered the race. And a final report from an U.N. agency on climate change.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And let's begin with Congress, with the Senate resolution against the proposed troop surge in Iraq. There've been many different versions proposed. The latest, the one that's gotten the most attention, I think is safe to say, is by Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, who seems to have attracted the most bi-partisan support. What's in this version?

SCHORR: Well, not a whole lot, actually. It says that the Senate disagrees with the planned augmentation of American troops; it omits the not in the national interest, which was in a previous version of this. Now it is simply something that commands the largest number of people but doesn't say very much at all. Except that it does indicate that they don't really like it, but they don't want to do a lot about it.

SIMON: Maybe that's why it's winning such bi-partisan support?

SCHORR: That's when you get bi-partisan support, is when it doesn't do much.

SIMON: Has this been the first opportunity for people running for president in 2008 to really have to define where they stand on Iraq, certainly if they're in the Senate?

SCHORR: That's right. Well, the National Democratic Committee is having a session here and so people, including most of the candidates, have to get up and say something. Hilary Rodham Clinton has said such: When I am the president I will bring the troops home if they're still there. And everybody has to have a little something to say on the question of Iraq and more troops for Iraq, because that hangs over all politics in this country right now.

SIMON: Let me ask you about that figure, 21,000. There were some different statistics on that this week, General Petraeus, for example, suggesting that maybe only 10,000 would be necessary. And then other reports that the 21,000 was not quite stating the full extent of what the surge would be.

SCHORR: That's right. What appears to be is that in addition to the combat troops, they've also provided for backup troops to handle logistics, one thing or another. And apparently there's another 20 or 21,000. And so if you really want the real number, it's double what the White House has said.

SIMON: National Intelligence Estimate was released on Friday that said that sustained political cooperation in Iraq is unlikely in the near future, and that it'll be 12 to 18 months before Iraqi security forces are capable of taking over on their own. What does that assessment portend for this temporary troop surge plan?

SCHORR: What it portends is that you can't call it a surge if by surge that you mean they go in for a very short stay and come out again. What the national intelligence community is trying to explain is this is a long and very hard way, and it's not going to end soon.

SIMON: The size of the field entering the race for president is getting larger and larger. And the race seems to be getting - getting off to a start earlier and earlier. Let me ask you about the remarks widely reported this week. Senator Joe Biden gave an interview published Wednesday in the New York Observer, the day he announced for president...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...in which he said of Senator Obama of Illinois, quote, "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." Senator Biden has kind of run into a buzz saw on this now.

SCHORR: And has had to apologize. What's strange, what's happening in our country, you have to be very careful how you speak. You can't just toss things off because if it comes out sounding wrong, you really hear about it. In the case of Senator Biden, this is not the first time he's gotten into trouble by trying to explain things. You will remember - indeed, we discussed earlier - when he ran for president a long time ago, and it turned out that in his speech he used some of the material from a British Labour leader.

SIMON: Head of the Labour Party then, Neil Kinnock.

SCHORR: Head of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, borrowing from him a part of his own biography. I don't know what happens to people when they get into politics with the television cameras on them, strange things.

SIMON: Former New York Times reporter Judy Miller testified this week in the trial of Lewis Libby. So did Matt Cooper of Time magazine. What did you notice in Judy Miller's testimony?

SCHORR: Well, she simply gave her own version of what had happened. But I must say, taking all the testimony together in the week, you get something which David Ignatius of the Washington Post aptly wrote about as being a failed cover-up. It is quite clear that in all of this, they tried very, very hard to get either the office of the vice president, or the CIA or somebody to make up for the fact that the White House had not leveled with this country about whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And so the trial is bringing out various elements of that. It was a failed cover-up.

SIMON: Dan, the Super Bowl is tomorrow, played in Miami, Indianapolis Colts, the Chicago Bears. I know all the bookmakers in Las Vegas want to know what does Dan Schorr predict?

SCHORR: Oh, that's easy to say. I mean, if this involves Chicago...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: And it does, yes.

SCHORR: If this involves Chicago, and my friend comes from Chicago, I'm for Chicago.

SIMON: A very articulate prediction. Thanks, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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