RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Few military bases have suffered more casualties in Iraq than Camp Pendleton here in Southern California. It's one of the Marine Corps top training facilities for fighting insurgencies.
Col. Clarke Lethin is chief of staff for the first Marine Expeditionary Force there. He fought in Afghanistan and in Iraq during the Marine's first assault on insurgents in Fallujah in 2004. Now, Col. Lethin is charged with operational planning at Camp Pendleton, getting troops where and when they're needed, and he knows the challenges behind the numbers.
Colonel CLARKE LETHIN (Chief of Staff, Marine Expeditionary Force): We have about 44,000 Marines in our command. We'll send out to Iraq anywhere between 12,000 and 15,000 Marines we'll have in Iraq at any one time. That means we'll have 12,000 to 15,000 more Marines preparing and training to go to Iraq the next time. And on top of that, we also put Marines aboard ship to go out through the Pacific and out into the Persian Gulf and serve out there. So if you think about it in those terms, probably 60 to 70 percent of our Marines are either in Iraq or preparing to go to Iraq in the theatre.
MONTAGNE: Some thousands are also just coming back.
Col. LETHIN: And just - yes, ma'am, just coming back.
MONTAGNE: And that's sustainable.
Col. LETHIN: Yes. It's sustainable. Are there problems? I won't even say problems so much as challenges with the Marines and the families, certainly there is. But it's not any different than Marines throughout history and as long as we've been a Marine Corps for over 230 years.
MONTAGNE: Now there have been successes in Iraq's Anbar province. Everyone acknowledges some successes - Fallujah. Nobody knows better than you that winning a place isn't much good if you don't hold it. Are you worried that gains in, say, al-Anbar and these other places would evaporate when the Marines, in fact, do leave?
Col. LETHIN: You always have to be concerned about that, and that's part of our profession. And since we're contesting an enemy of free will, there's always going to be areas where what you've done has maybe gone backwards slightly. But as long as you're always moving forward and trying to find solutions to the challenges that present themselves, then that's progress. And you can have progress in areas like that, even when there is some violence, or even when they're isn't political progress.
You mentioned Fallujah. Fallujah, not too long ago, was almost completely manned and secured by Marines. Then the Iraqi army was brought in. Then, the police began to be built up. And that helped to be able to move Marine units out of there, and just leaving our advisers with Iraqi Army units. And then the police force began to be built up.
MONTAGNE: But how fragile is it? I mean, the Iraqi police don't have a great reputation?
Col. LETHIN: And that's why you have to have a transition plan. It is a long commitment, but if, you know, if we study history at all, then we know that insurgencies and defeating insurgencies take time.
MONTAGNE: Has the perspective on counterinsurgency training changed in the wake of some Marines being charged with - and in one recent case, convicted of -violent crimes in Iraq?
Col. LETHIN: Yes. We continue to have a greater emphasis on our ethical conduct in combat. Whoever makes the most mistakes is going to lose this war. The enemy has made some atrocious mistakes that has led to the sheikhs and the Sunni tribes turning and realizing that them being married to al-Qaida was not the solution for them.
When you find 12 and 13-year-old boys beheaded and laying in front of the hospital, when you find a sheikh slaughtered and his body left to rot in the August sun for four days, those are mistakes. The Marines have capitalized on those mistakes to make sure we don't make mistakes, but more importantly is that our Marines understand that they are the good guys.
MONTAGNE: Although, I think, I can't believe that the Marines didn't go in there thinking, in the first place they are the good guys, and still you have a Marine squad leader convicted of murdering an Iraqi man in Hamdania last year.
Col. LETHIN: Yes. And that's very unfortunate, and the justice system has played out. He's going to pay for that.
MONTAGNE: Just back to, you know, lessons learned, how do you enforce the we're-the-good-guys ethic more strongly or more successfully now than you might have for some of, I mean, some of these you'd agree...
Col. LETHIN: Yes.
MONTAGNE: ...at least the accusations are terrible.
Col. LETHIN: And it all comes down to leadership. Every Marine has the opportunity and should, if something is not looking right or is unethical, to say no.
MONTAGNE: Thank you for joining us.
Col. LETHIN: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Col. Clarke Lethin is chief of staff for the first Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton here in Southern California.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Next, we have some responses to today's resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He quit today amid questions about the firings of U.S. attorneys and many other controversies over surveillance programs and Gonzales' own testimonies before Congress.
And here's what some officials in both parties had to say. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said Alberto Gonzales was never the right man for this job. He lacked independence, he lacked judgment and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove, the presidential adviser. Reid goes on to say this resignation is not the end of the story.
A Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, calls this a positive step forward. She says that Gonzales' serious errors in judgment and conflicting statements caused major problems.
Better late than never. Those are the words of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. It's about time. Those are the words of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.
From House Republican Whip Roy Blunt: I appreciate his hard work in defense of our country and look forward to his future contributions. Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, says he hopes the next attorney general doesn't suffer such poisonous partisanship.
Finally, from Gonzales himself: I have lived the American dream. Even my worse days as attorney general have better than my father's best days.
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