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Iraq Troop Levels at the Center of Political Debate

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Iraq Troop Levels at the Center of Political Debate

Iraq Troop Levels at the Center of Political Debate

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NPR's news analyst Cokie Roberts joins us now. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And as we've just heard from Guy, there's a lot of talk about a surge in U.S. troops. What is the reaction likely to be outside the Pentagon?

ROBERTS: Well, he talked about a Clark Clifford moment. And of course Clark Clifford was considered one of the wise men of Washington. And that's who you're hearing from a good bit now, that whole Baker-Hamilton Commission was considered the elder statesmen of the two parties coming together to give their advice. And one of the wisest of wise men, according to many people in Washington, is Colin Powell, who yesterday decided to break his silence on the war in Iraq.

General COLIN POWELL (Former Secretary of State): If you surge now, you're going to keep troops who have already been kept there long, even longer. And you're going to be bringing in troops from the United States who were going to be coming anyway, but perhaps a little bit later. The current active Army is not large enough and the Marine Corps is not large enough for the kinds of missions they are being asked to perform.

ROBERTS: Powell spoke on CBS program “Face the Nation.” So he speaks of course not only as a former of secretary of state but also as a military man, and talks about the Army being broken and he quoted Gates as saying we're not winning. So he went on to say: So if it's grave and deteriorating and we're not winning, we are losing but saying we haven't lost yet.

That is a view that will carry some weight here, and members of Congress are listening to that. Some Democratic leaders weighed in yesterday. Ted Kennedy on “Fox News” said that he would be against a military surge. The new Majority Leader Harry Reid on ABC said he'd be for it if it only lasted a couple of months. But now military leaders are saying it would take that long to even get a surge geared up. And supporters of increasing troops say that it would probably last a couple of years. That would be very controversial unless a huge turnaround happened quickly.

MONTAGNE: Turning to another subject, you mentioned Senator Reid's view of the situation in Iraq. He also talked yesterday about his colleague Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who had emergency brain surgery late last week. What is the situation now? What's his condition?

ROBERTS: Well, Senator Reid says the doctors say that Senator Johnson is improving. But Renee, even if he isn't or doesn't in the long run, there's lots of precedent for an incapacitated senator staying in office. But the fact that there's so much attention focused on this one member of the Senate shows you how incredibly vicariously the Democratic majority is, this one vote majority.

And for the next couple of years, if someone is sick or if someone gets mad at the Democratic leadership, or if one of the various people running for president in the Senate decides to take off on his or her own, it will be very, very difficult for the Democratic leaders to govern. And I think Tim Johnson is just the first of those very likely events.

MONTAGNE: Another member of the Senate, Democrat Evan Bayh, made a surprising announcement over the weekend that he will not run for president. And what is that decision mean for the 2008 race?

ROBERTS: Well, I think that it shows you that this race has already started so early, you're already getting candidates crowded out. When you have superstars like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, it's hard for other candidates to raise any money, to get any attention. The big names just sort of take up all the oxygen in the room. Now Senator John Edwards - former senator - seems to think that he still has some room there, and apparently plans to announce his candidacy from New Orleans to make a point about what failures of government have been like over the last few years. So they're not completely - the two big ones are not completely crowding everybody else out, but it's going to be very hard for others to get traction, and they're going to have to do it very, very quickly.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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