MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
In Congress, the debate over Iraq continues to percolate. So before the summer recess begins, we decided it was a good time to check back in with the two freshmen representatives we've been talking with since their election.
Gabrielle Giffords is a Democrat from Arizona and Peter Roskam, a Republican from Illinois. The war was a key issue in both of their campaigns, and both have traveled to Iraq on separate congressional delegations.
When I spoke with them earlier this week, Congressman Roskam was just back from two days in Iraq. He traveled to al-Anbar province and also had a chance to see the troop surge.
NORRIS: It was a bipartisan trip and we did have the chance to sit down with General Petraeus. And he used a phrase that I think is significant in this and that he said we had tactical momentum. My sense is that General Petraeus and his leadership style is going to have a lot of credibility with the Congress and the American public when he moves forward and gives a report in September.
But the type of things that we observed in the Anbar province in Ramadi, for example, were very significant. Al-Qaida was dominant there 90 days ago, and they've been removed and extracted from that area. So it was a powerful, informative trip.
NORRIS: When you talk about tactical momentum, that's almost like saying we're trending in the right direction. It doesn't necessarily mean that the strategy is working.
NORRIS: Well, I think, yeah. You don't want to over-characterize something. But tactical momentum is better than tactical retreat. I mean it is a trend in the right direction, but it's also - it's a measured observation, which is why I think when General Petraeus comes back in September and reports to the Congress and to the country, he's going to have a great deal of credibility because he's very careful in how he characterizes things, and he's not overselling.
NORRIS: I'd like to turn now to Representative Giffords. You also traveled to Iraq. It was back in February before the surge began. I also want to ask the same question to you. In your estimation, is the current military strategy working?
NORRIS: I don't think the surge is working. In fact, I voted against the surge because it's clear to me that the solutions to the violence and the escalation in Iraq are not based on the military. They're not based on military solutions. They are going to be based on political solutions.
So this tactical momentum that perhaps the general is talking about, I think we need to look at strategic momentum. And the reality is that things are not going well in Iraq, even based on the standards and the guidelines that the president put out himself.
NORRIS: You voted against the surge, but you did vote to authorize the spending in that debate over the Iraq spending bill. You did authorize that. And some of your constituents back home in Arizona were not happy about this. In fact, you faced one constituent who told you that you had the power to stop this and you didn't. Why did you decide to cast that vote in favor of the spending bill? And what kind of price might you pay back in your district for that?
NORRIS: There is a real difference between the war and the warriors. I voted for the emergency supplemental because that bill included funding for the National Guard and Reserve equipment. The bill included funding for housing, a three billion dollar purchase for vehicles designed to withstand roadside bombs. While our troops are over there, it is critical that we keep them safe.
NORRIS: Congressman Roskam, your district in Illinois also includes many families that are directly affected by the war. While you were in Iraq, you held a teleconference. I understand there were almost 6,000 people participating in this very large conference call. What were people most concerned about?
NORRIS: There was really a wide range of responses. I heard from some individuals that had family members who were serving in Iraq, who are concerned about their safety. I heard from constituents who were concerned about us not supporting the effort appropriately, and really a wide range of opinions.
NORRIS: And the tone on what you're hearing from people in Iraq, how has that changed over time based on what you heard as a candidate and now as a congressman?
NORRIS: Well I think, as a candidate, it's largely other people that are driving the agenda. Now, as a congressman, you're actually - you have the responsibility of casting a vote. I had a town hall meeting that I think was instructive in my district about 90 days ago. And one of my constituents raised her hand when it came up to Iraq and she said, you know what I want to do? I want to win in Iraq. And at that point, the entire hall burst into applause.
Now, that's not to say that this is an easy situation. That's not to say that there hasn't been a lot of tactical and strategic mistakes over the past several years. But I represent a district that, on balance, recognizes the cost of failure in Iraq.
NORRIS: When you talk about victory, though, at what cost? How many lives would be lost in pursuit of that victory and what constitutes a victory?
NORRIS: Well I think what constitutes a victory is requisite stability on the ground. In recognition, I think, of the Iraqi parliament right now, that they have more to lose from pressure on the outside than they do from one another. When we met with leadership of the Iraqi parliament, I made it clear that what they were doing is unsatisfactory at this point. You know, it's as if they're more fearful of one another gaining an advantage than they are from the pressures from the outside.
NORRIS: Congressman Gifford, it's like I can almost hear you even though we're not face-to-face, when I heard Congressman Roskam talk about the possibility of a victory in Iraq. Is a victory in Iraq possible?
NORRIS: I think it's up to the Iraqis to decide what they want their country to look like. It's not up to us to make those decisions for them. When the president talks about success, there are a couple of key measures that he has talked about - reform of the de-Baathification laws, services to Iraqis like the delivery of power and water.
The numbers are not improving in Iraq. And so the strategy, the surge in terms of putting more troops - we need the surge in diplomacy. We need to go back to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's recommendations, really take a hard look at those and realize that the military is not going to solve the problems here.
Our men and women are fighting, and I just want to make sure that the efforts that our men and women are putting forward really merit the mission. And frankly, I think the mission right now is we should redirect into areas that I think would be more effective.
NORRIS: I'd like to respond to that because I don't think that it's fair based on my observations, based on our bipartisan colleague's observations over the weekend that you could characterize this as a failure. Failure is an oversimplification, and is really blind to what's happened.
NORRIS: Representative Roskam used the word failure. I did not use the word failure. The word that I question was the word win. Our troops have done everything that they've been asked to do, and I really think the future of Iraq should lay in the Iraqis' hands.
NORRIS: And that's where we left it with Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona. We also heard from Republican Peter Roskam from Illinois. And we'll be talking to the freshman members of Congress again, as we've been doing regularly since they were elected last year.
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