Casey Sees Situation in Iraq Firsthand Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, recently took a trip to Iraq to get a firsthand look at the progress there. Casey says the two-day trip allowed him to get a sense of the mood in the country.

Casey Sees Situation in Iraq Firsthand

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

More about the future of the Iraq war will be known in four weeks. That's when the top U.S. commander in Iraq and the American ambassador are set to deliver a progress report to Capitol Hill. Five of every six members of Congress have visited Iraq to assess the progress themselves. But it's not clear what they've learned there. The trips are brief. Official visitors rarely venture far from the Green Zone and they rely largely on what U.S. officials tell them.

Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania recently returned from Iraq and he joins us.

Thank you so much for your time.

Senator ROBERT CASEY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Liane, it's great to be with you. Thank you.

HANSEN: You were in Iraq for only two days, which is, I guess, pretty typical of congressional visits. How much can you learn in such a brief time?

Sen. CASEY: Well, you can actually learn a great deal, especially if you have a trip that's well planned as we did. And Senator Dick Durbin and I, we were able to set up meetings with a number of government officials and, of course, some of our military leadership as well as with individual troops.

Part of it is not just the briefing you get but an intuitive sense your own opportunity to be closer to talk to soldiers face to face, to talk to leaders face to face, but also to get a sense of the danger. Just one insight into what I saw on the ground in Baghdad, when you're in a helicopter flying very low at a high rate of speed, you get a good view of the neighborhood, so to speak.

It is a city of concrete barriers. Everywhere you go, thousands and thousands of these things lining the streets to protect pathways and roadways, surrounding the Green Zone. The Green Zone doesn't have anything green about it. It's really a city built behind concrete barriers. So you can't see that on television screens. And also the sense you get of the tension and the danger.

So I thought it was a very important trip for me and I think it was designed such that it would provide real information.

HANSEN: When you had face-to-face visits with the troops, what do they tell you about the mission?

Sen. CASEY: Well, they're very upbeat and that we were at a patrol base outside the city zone, in a non-urban area. But the thing that I wanted to get a sense of is - from them is whether they needed anything and just get a sense of how they're doing as opposed to cross-examining them on the details of the military engagement.

HANSEN: They gave you no idea about whether or not they thought progress was being made?

Sen. CASEY: Well, the soldiers give you some of that, most of that you get from the high-ranking officers. We met with the second in command, Odierno, and also obviously, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. But I think to a person, they're very upbeat. They're confident and they're focused and committed to their mission. We would expect no less.

HANSEN: When you sat down and had dinner with General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, what picture did they paint for you of the progress being made in Iraq?

Sen. CASEY: General Petraeus pointed to a particular progress that he asserts they're making with regard to individual insurgent leaders and leaders in al-Qaida and talked about the progress overall. But what was abundantly clear to me is that there's virtually no political progress. The Iraqi government is not showing any sense of urgency that I could detect to get things done. And I think that what I wanted to convey to the Iraqi leadership as well as to our military leadership is the patience of the American people is running very low.

Every time they ask for patience, every time the administration asks for more time, the only people who pay that price are not the politicians in Washington, not U.S. senators like me, not the president, not the vice president, not anyone in Washington. The people who pay the price for that are the troops.

HANSEN: So you seem to be saying that the picture that you were given and told about what's going on in Iraq is pretty accurate.

Sen. CASEY: Well, I don't want to go that far. I think that the, obviously, when you get a military briefing, there's a certain amount of spin to it. But I think that a lot of the debate on Iraq will be about the so-called surge. If your definition of success of the surge is military progress on the ground, you could probably point to individual instances.

But I have a different definition and I think the administration gave us a different definition of what success in the so-called surge would be. The key question here is what's been happening politically. In the news there, it's very grim, I'm not happy to report. And I think that's where the debate and the cargo(ph) should be.

HANSEN: Did your views on the war changed after your trip?

Sen. CASEY: No. I was one of the first handful of United States senators to vote against the so-called surge because I'm on the Foreign Relations Committee. I thought it would - it didn't make sense at the time because I didn't think it would have the impact that the administration said it would. And I think I've been proving right because it has not led to the political developments that must take place for this government to operate on its own and to have a military and a police force that can keep order on the - in and within the government and have respect for the rule of law, but also to have a military that can take on the enemy, not just in the next couple of months or the next couple of years, but for a generation.

HANSEN: Are you planning to return to Iraq?

Sen. CASEY: Well, I think I should depending on what happens in the next couple of months. I hope that we can get on the path where we're moving in a new direction and the president will work with the Congress to get this policy right. But I'm afraid that my hopes there might be dashed. So we'll probably be returning at some point.

HANSEN: Democratic Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania. He's back from a two-day trip to Iraq. Thank you so much for your time.

Sen. CASEY: Thank you, Liane.

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