1. Headline
  1. Headline
NBC News
updated 8/30/2005 12:39:04 PM ET 2005-08-30T16:39:04

Sunday, August 28, 2005
Guests: Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad U.S. Ambassador to Iraq;
General Wesley Clark (Ret.) Fmr. NATO Supreme Allied Commander - Europe;
General Wayne Downing (Ret.) Fmr. Commander-in-Chief U.S. Special Operations Command;
General Barry McCaffrey (Ret.) Fmr. Commander-in-Chief U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command;
General Montgomery Meigs (Ret.) Fmr. Commander, NATO Stabilization Force Moderator/Panelist: Tim Russert - NBC NewsThis is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

Mr. Tim Russert: Our issues this Sunday: Iraq, political violence and deaths surge. This morning, an announcement of a draft constitution, but will all sides accept the document? And a majority of Americans now say the war was a mistake as demonstrations build at home. With us, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Then insights and analysis from four retired military generals: General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied commander, Europe; General Wayne Downing, former commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command; General Barry McCaffrey, former commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command; and General Montgomery Meigs, former commander of the NATO Stabilization Force. The war in Iraq, where do we go from here?

But first, this was the scene just hours ago in Baghdad, an announcement of a new Iraqi constitution. The Shiites in the south, the Kurds in the north have both expressed their support. But what about the Sunnis? Earlier this morning, I asked the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, whether any of the 15 Sunni negotiators had signed the draft constitution.

Amb. Zalmay Khalizad: Later today, there will be a ceremony hosted by the president and I understand from the president that there will be a significant number of Sunni members of the constitution commission who will be there.

Mr. Russert: You said on this program just two weeks ago, "...it's very important that the Sunnis participate in the political process. Without them participating, the insurgency will have a substantial base of support." Are you confident that the Sunnis will vote for this constitution before October 15 and it will pass?

Amb. Khalizad: Well, that is the real test, whether they will vote for it in large numbers or not. If the Sunnis do vote for it and approve the constitution, the constitution is not stopped, then it will be a national compact and it will help with the counterinsurgency strategy and with the development of a joint road map for the future of Iraq. And if they don't, then it will be a problem, but we will have to wait and see.

Mr. Russert: Mr. Ambassador, let me read for you and our viewers this morning something that exists in this draft constitution. Islam is the official religion of the state, and it is a main source for legislation. No law can be passed that contradicts the fixed principles of Islam's rulings.

Do you believe that the 1800 American men and women who have died in Iraq died for the creation of another Islamic republic in the Middle East?

Amb. Khalizad: No. The words that you read are exactly the same words that were in the constitution of Afghanistan which we celebrated. And also do not forget that immediately after what you just read, there are two other requirements that the draft mentions, one, that no law can be against the practices of democracy and also that no law can be in violation of the human rights enshrined in that constitution. What you have, Tim, is a new synthesis between the universal principles of democracy and human rights and Iraqi traditions in Islam. And in that, it is an agreement, a compact between the various communities and it sets a new paradigm for this part of the world, a reconciliation, a synthesis between the various forces and tendencies that are at work here in Iraq.

Mr. Russert: As you well know, some secular Iraqi leaders disagree with you in terms of the effect of the so-called Islamic influences. This is how The New York Times reported it on Wednesday. "Secular Iraqi leaders complained that the country's nearly finished constitution lays the groundwork for the possible domination of the country by Shiite Islamic clerics, and that it contains specific provisions that could sharply curtail the rights of women. The secular leaders said the draft contains language that not only establishes the primacy of Islam as the country's official religion, but appears to grant judges wide latitude to strike down legislation that may contravene the faith. To interpret such legislation, the constitution calls for the appointment of experts in Shariah, or Islamic law, to preside on the Supreme Federal Court. The draft constitution, these secular Iraqis say, clears the way for religious authorities to adjudicate personal disputes like divorce and inheritance matters by allowing the establishment of religious courts, raising fears that a popularly elected Islamist-minded government could enact legislation and appoint judges who could turn the country into a theocracy. The courts would rely on Shariah, which under most interpretations grants women substantially fewer rights than men."

Amb. Khalizad: Well, let me say several things on each of the points that you've raised. One with regard to women first. This constitution, this draft, recognizes equality between men and women before the law and disallows any discrimination. It also disallows violence in the family. It encourages women's political participation. And it grants a 25 percent minimum women's representation in the National Assembly.

With regard to family law, which is a controversial article, it recognizes the freedom of choice, that people can choose which law, whether secular or religious, can--will govern their personal matters having to do with marriage, divorce, inheritance. This is no different than what is the case in Israel.

With regard to the role of the Supreme Court, I think your comments reflected an earlier draft. The current draft does not establish a separate constitution review court but gives the responsibility to the Supreme Court here and it doesn't call for Shariah judges. It calls for experts in law, which includes expertise in Islamic law, but also expertise with regard to democracy and human rights, to be represented in the Supreme Court and it allows the next parliament to legislate on that.

Mr. Russert: So if a Shiite man decides to bring his wife to a Shiite religious court, you believe that woman will have equal protection?

Amb. Khalizad: Well, first, exactly how this will be done will be regulated by law. What the constitution says is that it's freedom of choice. And it directs the next legislator to regulate. What I've heard from the conversations that we've had with various members of the commission is the concern that if someone was of strong faith and wanted to go to a religious court to get an affair settled, he should not or she should not be disallowed from doing that by the state. But how they will do it exactly, that will depend on the legislature.

I have encouraged many groups who have concern about this that they ought to make this a campaign issue and run against ideas that they find unacceptable with regard to what their legislation might be. This is a living document, as all constitutions are, Tim, and as Iraq evolves and changes, this constitution will also change and adapt to the circumstances. Our own Constitution, as you know, had to change in order to remain relevant. And this will be the case with Iraq as well, as it will be the case with other countries. Constitutions are not just one-time documents. To be relevant, they will have to adapt.

Mr. Russert: Are the Shiite clerical leaders closer to Iran or the United States?

Amb. Khalizad: Well, they know that there are differences among them on this. There are Shiite clerics that are hostile to the United States and there are Shiite clerics who want to have a good relationship with the United States. I think talking about millions of people and talking about thousands of clerics it's difficult to group them and characterize them with sort of one kind of characterization. Some are close to Iran; there is no doubt about that as well. Iran is seeking to influence developments here. Some of the clerics who were opposed to Saddam Hussein were based in Iran. Iranians assisted them. So there is an Iranian influence. There's no question about that.

Mr. Russert: The president has said that American troops will stand down when Iraqi troops stand up. How many Iraqi troops do you believe are now fully combat-ready and capable of replacing Americans on the front lines?

Amb. Khalizad: I think that the number of Iraqi forces that can operate entirely independent of the United States are not very large. But the number of Iraqis that are participating in combat with differing degrees of American support is very large. And, of course, over time, more and more Iraqi forces will be able to do things without the United States. But the fact that they are participating in the combat, even with the help of the United States, is a step in the right direction. And, of course, the ultimate goal is to have Iraqis taking care of Iraqi security. And it's not only the question of numbers, it's not only the question of the quality of the force, but also these sources have to be trusted by all Iraqi communities. Building institutions such as army and police and a judicial system, these are not easy things to do.

Mr. Russert: Finally, do you expect an uptick in the violence in the insurgency between now and October 15?

Amb. Khalizad: Well, of course, as you know, the insurgents have declared war on the constitution, and they have declared war on the election. So I will not be surprised if they increase violence. They go after people who support the constitution. I understand the problems particularly with regard to the Sunnis who are facing intimidation and worse. They face difficult choices, a lot of pressure. But it is time for them, for the interests of their people, to join the political process. Not everyone loved every article of this document. Not everyone is totally satisfied. But there is enough in this constitution that meets the basic needs of all communities and for Iraq to move forward. But I do expect, Tim, that the terrorists and extremists will try their best to intimidate people, to prevent them-- those who support the constitution from voting and to encourage opposition to this draft.

Mr. Russert: Mr. Ambassador, we thank you very much for your views. Be safe.

Amb. Khalizad: Well, thank you, Tim. All the best.

Mr. Russert: Coming next, more on the war in Iraq. An in-depth military analysis from four retired generals, Downing, Meigs, Clark, and McCaffrey. They're next right here coming up on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

Mr. Russert: A military assessment of the war in Iraq with four retired generals, after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

Mr. Russert: And we are back.

Generals, welcome all. General Clark, let me start with you. You just heard our ambassador and there are wire reports now the Kurds, the Shiites say this is a good constitution. The Sunnis, apparently at this point, don't want any part of it. What now?

Gen. Wesley Clark: Well, I think it has to be worked in country. I think there's a chance that this can be worked out. It's a political process. And that's the process we want. We've got a choice. Are we going to go forward and try to make a political process work or are we going to let it disintegrate into a civil war? And a lot of it does depend on American leadership, whether we like it or not. And the ambassador is over there. He's the man on the point and he's got to do it.

Mr. Russert: What happens if the Sunnis do not support this constitution?

Gen. Clark: Well, it depends on the significance of that lack of support. It may be dissolved over time. It may be that it crystallizes a Sunni political operation that empowers them and lets them get greater bargaining leverage. Maybe the constitution gets modified over time or maybe it breaks up into civil war. All of that's in play.

Mr. Russert: General McCaffrey, there's been a lot of discussion about the president's comments about when the Iraqi troops stand up, the American troops stand down. You just heard the ambassador saying there are very few combat-ready Iraqis who could replace American troops on the front line. Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, said there are about 3,000 in his estimation, after 28 months of the war. What is your sense? How many Iraqi troops are there? And when will there be enough Iraqi troops so Americans can come home?

Gen. Barry McCaffrey: Well, Tim, to be honest, I'm reasonably optimistic about this. I talked to General George Casey in country and Dave Petraeus, the guy who's actually in charge of trying to build the Iraqi security forces. My judgment is today there's probably 110 battalions fielded, probably 36 of them are capable of taking a lead in active operations. But most of them are out there somewhere in the streets or in the rural countryside. They're a huge factor, and by next summer they're going to be very important. Now having said that, the key is not training, equipping, and deploying Iraqi security forces. It's getting a government for which they're willing to fight and die. That's more troublesome. That's more non-linear. But I actually believe that will probably happen by next summer also.

Mr. Russert: So what's the hard number?

Gen. McCaffrey: Well, you know, you can say the hard number is 182,000. But more likely you've got 36 Iraqi battalions right now that are capable of fighting engagements on their own.

Mr. Russert: How many per battalion?

Gen. McCaffrey: Well, maybe 600, 700. It's a sizable force. It's certainly out in Anbar province. Right now the Marines have got 15 Iraqi army and police battalions. That's a huge force and it's going to start to make a difference.

Mr. Russert: Well, maybe that will help shed some light on the following comments, because I think I'm not alone in being confused by what we're hearing from the U.S. military leadership. This is the front page of The Financial Times on Wednesday. "U.S. General Sees Significant Withdrawal In Iraq. The U.S. is expected to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next 12 months in spite of the continuing violence, according to the general responsible for near-term planning. Maj. Gen. Douglas Lute, director of operations at U.S. Central Command, said the reductions were part of a push by Gen. John Abizaid, commander of all U.S. troops in the region, to put the burden of defending Iraq on Iraqi forces. ... `We believe at some point, in order to break this dependence on the...coalition, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward. You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It's difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country.'"

And then the Associated Press just a week ago: "The U.S. Army is planning for the possibility of keeping the current number of soldiers in Iraq--well over 100,000--for four more years, the top Army general said," Peter Schoomaker." And then this, "The top U.S. military leader in Iraq [Gen. George Casey] said there could be substantial withdrawals of some of the 135,000 U.S. troops in the country as early as next spring. ..."

General Downing, what's going on?

Gen. Wayne Downing: Well, I think what you're seeing here, Tim, is the people in country--this is General Casey, General John Binds--they're weighing out the requirements on how many forces are actually needed. Then it's up to the Marine Corps and the Army to satisfy those force requirements. I think what you're seeing here with General Schoomaker is he knows the future is very uncertain, that we're not going to withdraw troops on any kind of a time line. We're going to withdraw these troops, Tim, based on the conditions.

One of the key conditions is going to be the stand-up of the Iraqi army. As Barry pointed out, 36 good battalions now. A year ago, we only had one. Maybe three times that, maybe 108, 110 battalions ready by next summer. That would indicate that there's a possibility that you could start pulling U.S. forces out at that time. So I think what you're seeing here are these generals playing--each one of them playing their roles. I personally don't think anybody is going to move out of there in any kind of sizable numbers for another year or two years.

Mr. Russert: Keep the current force of 135,000?

Gen. Downing: I think that's what it's going to take.

Mr. Russert: General Meigs, Peter Baker in The Washington Post wrote that the U.S. has given up hope of defeating the insurgency with U.S. forces, that it's going to take the Iraqis to step forward. Robin Wright, in The Washington Post, said that American officials have determined that they cannot defeat but could only diminish the insurgency and we will not leave a day before it's necessary, but it may be a day before it's necessary for us. Is there a sense amongst the military leadership of this country that we cannot, in fact, defeat the insurgency as it exists and that it's perhaps time to start winding down the war?

Gen. Montgomery Meigs: No. Look, the key point here is the Iraqis have to defeat the insurgency. It's the Iraqi tribal leaders and the security forces that are now being produced that have to control this problem. We have to help them. We have to create a safe and secure environment that would allow those units to become capable, but the commanders I talk to that are coming back from Iraq talk about the progress they have made in their sectors. And when I ask senior Army officials who are longtime friends who aren't going to give me a BS answer how we're doing, "Are we winning or losing?" they're saying, "We're winning." But it's slow, hard going in an insurgency. It always has been. It always will be.

Mr. Russert: Are we winning?

Gen. McCaffrey: Well, probably the wrong question to be honest, Tim. I think the real question at hand is: What will happen in the constitutional process? Will there be a successful referendum? Will we get a vote in December? Will there be a legitimate government? If there won't be, we're in trouble by next summer. I personally think we can't sustain this current rate of deployment much longer than by next fall. We've got to draw down the 17 brigades in my judgment probably down to around 10.

Mr. Russert: The fall of '06.

Gen. McCaffrey: The fall of '06. So we'd better be doing pretty well next summer; we, meaning the Iraqis got a government, they got a security force and are starting to pull it together. I think that's likely to happen. This ambassador, Khalilzad, the team we've got on the ground is pretty astute. John Abizaid, you know, our Arabic-speaking CENTCOM commander, I think has a pretty good feel for it. So I don't sense despair inside the U.S. armed forces at all.

Mr. Russert: General Clark, you wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post on Friday and I want to cite it and come back and talk about it. "Before It's Too Late in Iraq. The growing chorus of voices demanding a pullout should seriously alarm the Bush administration, because President Bush and his team are repeating the failure of Vietnam: failing to craft a realistic and effective policy and instead simply demanding that the American people show resolve. Resolve isn't enough to mend a flawed approach--or to save the lives of our troops. If the administration won't adopt a winning strategy, then the American people will be justified in demanding that it bring our troops home."

Gen. Clark: Exactly. And it starts with the intent and purposes, the mind-set of the administration when it went into Iraq. This administration went into Iraq as this was the first of a number of states that it was going to knock off, get leadership change in, maybe even move military forces against. They expected to be welcomed as liberators. Then they refused to really construct a diplomatic dialogue in the region. For us to succeed in Iraq, we've got to deal with Iraq's neighbors. You cannot isolate Iraq from its neighborhood. Iraq's neighbors are part of the problem, and they've got to be part of the solution. That means we're going to have to talk to Syria and Iran and Turkey and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and the best thing to do is to try to get them all together in a step-by-step process so that there can be a regional dialogue. If we can put a regional dialogue together on top of the political process that's going on in Iraq, then maybe we've got a chance. Without that, then it's in the interest of every one of those states to fight inside Iraq for their own interests. So the Iranians pull their faction in Iraq one way. The Syrians and the Saudis work on the Sunnis to do what they want. And this state is getting ripped apart from the outside. If we want to help put that state together, we've got to work with Iraq's neighbors.

Mr. Russert: Why is it in Iran or Syria's interests to help us? Why not let the current status quo continue and they can take full advantage of having a radical Islamic state in Iraq, which is fueled by terrorism who could help destroy the United States?

Gen. Clark: Well, it's up to U.S. diplomacy to find those elements of common interest. And here's the way I'd do it. If you look at Iran, what they want is a Shia-dominated buffer state in Iraq. After all, they were invaded by Iraq once. They see this as an historic opportunity to advance the cause of Shia Islam. That's exactly what the Saudis and the Kuwaitis and other Gulf states don't want. And so between those two diverging points of views, we could pull together the common interests, broker the compromises, work the arrangements, and craft a state in Iraq that meets everybody's concerns in the regions and gives the Iraqi people the kind of self-determination and regional support that they're going to need.

Mr. Russert: Was it a mistake to go into Iraq?

Gen. Clark: Well, I think it was a strategic blunder. First it wasn't connected to the war on terror, at least not to the people that struck us. Secondly, it has proved a huge recruitment tool for al-Qaeda. It's a feed lot for terrorists who want to learn how to fight Americans. We put our American soldiers at risk there. And we're producing terrorists out there. It's a training ground. And seeing American soldiers engaged there just raises the temperature and the blood pressure throughout the Islamic world. So I wish we hadn't done it. But having said that, I still believe there's an opportunity to make the best of a bad situation in Iraq. I don't want to see us come out of there if we can put a strategy together that will leave that region more peaceful and protect our interests and the interests of the other nations.

Mr. Russert: Would Iraq have been more stable with Saddam Hussein?

Gen. Clark: I think we could have worked against Saddam Hussein in a different way. We hadn't exhausted the diplomatic process. We hadn't finished squeezing him. There were lots of different moves we could have put on Saddam Hussein and maintained the focus on Afghanistan, where we've still got significant problems. We really haven't addressed the issues of Pakistan yet. We really haven't worked the whole arrangement of militant Wahabism coming out of Saudi Arabia, the funding, the ideology. If we're going to succeed in the war on terror, we have to succeed first on an ideological basis. It's about persuading people that they don't want to feel this way and that they shouldn't feel this way. It's about changing minds before it's about killing people.

Mr. Russert: All of you have had distinguished military careers, leading men into war. We now have a majority of the American people saying this war is a mistake. General Downing, how long can you conduct a war that is not supported by a majority of the American people?

Gen. Downing: Well, Tim, you absolutely have to have the support of the American people. And the troops that we have in Afghanistan and Iraq right now feel this very, very strongly. They want the support. Quite frankly, I think one of the problems that we're having is that the news media, the opposition to the war are framing this entire discussion in the terms of casualties and casualties only. I think what we don't have is a serious discussion about why you take those casualties.

We're on out there roaming the roads in Iraq and Afghanistan, looking for IEDs to blow up. Everything we're doing in a military campaign, both the U.S., the coalition and the Iraqi forces, are aimed at objectives. And those objectives are to promote the political process, number one, because what we're doing, Tim--for the last six weeks we've been doing this--we're preparing for the elections in the middle of October--I mean, the referendum on the constitution and then the follow one, the election in December to ratify it.

The other things we're doing is we're supporting the economic development of that country and the social development. That's why these military operations are going on. And I really think that it's incumbent upon you and the others in the responsible American press to put the casualties into these kind of context. In other words, what is it that they're accomplishing? I mean, can you imagine us and, you know, it's been quoted out there in the Web, judging the D-Day invasion of Normandy back in 1944 by the casualties that were suffered?

Mr. Russert: But those opposed to the war will say there's no comparison between World War II and Iraq; that one was a war of choice and one was a war of necessity. Those opposed to the war will say that we entered this war on the rationale of weapons of mass destruction that do not exist. Those who oppose the war will say that the number of troops that were necessary to conduct the war and the level of armament was woefully inadequate. And that it is--and that we would be greeted as liberators. None of those things have happened. And it's time to take the troops home because this was a tragic blunder.

Gen. Meigs: Tim, it doesn't matter. We're there. We lanced the boil. We're there. We have Salafist penetration into this situation in a very-hard core Sunni insurgency in a critical point in the Middle East, where if it goes south, if we get a civil war between Sunnis and Shias, international markets will be affected. Our role as an international leader will be affected. We'll have a huge strategic problem. So having pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall, which I would agree was untimely, the Pottery Barn rule applies. We have got to leave this as a stable situation. We cannot afford to pull out here prematurely.

Mr. Russert: Does that mean putting in more troops, if necessary?

Gen. Meigs: It means doing whatever's required strategically to ensure that we get an Iraqi government and an Iraqi security services that can run a reasonable country that's constituent-based.

Mr. Russert: Do we have more troops to put in there if need be?

Gen. Meigs: If we had to surge troops, we could. It wouldn't be easy but we could, yes.

Mr. Russert: General McCaffrey, you said this two weeks ago: "It's a race against time because by the end of this coming summer we can no longer sustain the presence we have now. This thing, the wheels are coming off it. The American people are walking away from this war." You were involved in Vietnam. How long can you conduct a war without the support of the majority of the American people?

Gen. McCaffrey: Well, remember, I was one that supported the intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan from the start. I thought the president was right when he went in. I still feel that way. Now, having said that, armies don't fight wars, countries fight wars. So without the support of the American people, this thing will come to a grinding halt rather quickly. I think part--I actually agree with Wayne Downing's views. We haven't put the strategic argument in the right context in the public. However, you know, I pulled out a quote, 24 August news conference, Secretary Rumsfeld: "Throughout history there's always been those that predicted America's failure just around every corner." And he goes on to talk about "many Western intellectuals praised Stalin during the period of World War II."

For God's sakes, Tim, you know, we have to have this argument set up in a respectful manner to the American people. We have had 16,000 killed and wounded, $200 billion. It's a very difficult situation. And I think some of the happy talk and spin coming out of the Pentagon leadership is part of the president's problem.

Mr. Russert: Do you believe that Secretary Rumsfeld should stay in his current position?

Gen. McCaffrey: Well, I don't think I have a legitimate viewpoint to express on that thing. I think many people argue that his misjudgments have put us in a serious difficult position. I think the intervention, as Wes Clark says, was badly done. You know, I go over there and look at these soldiers and Marines in combat right now and Navy SEALs. They're the best kids we ever had in uniform--I don't think that's an overstatement in terms of courage and commitment--but they've got to be backed up by the American people, by the Congress and by the Pentagon with more sensible policies and adequate resources and we don't have that right now.

Gen. Clark: Tim, and if I could just--I just want to come in on one thing here. You got us here as military experts. But if you ask any of the top leaders, they will tell you that the country has a responsibility. The president has a responsibility. This administration has a responsibility diplomatically in the region. One of my greatest heartburns with this operation is we dumped the responsibility on our uniformed services over there for doing this. We haven't carried the load diplomatically in the region.

Now, every one of us who serve in top positions knows that there has to be hand-in-glove teamwork between military force, diplomacy, economic power and informational power. This administration has relied excessively on the courage and skill of the men and women in uniform. It doesn't want to talk to the people in Iran. It doesn't want to talk to Syria. It doesn't want to do the hard work and heavy lifting of diplomacy because of domestic politics at home. And I think it's time we said it. You know, I just can't stand to see the sacrifices men and women in uniform and their families make when this administration won't lift its finger the right way diplomatically to give them the help they need to succeed in Iraq.

Mr. Russert: You have this concern about diplomacy. General McCaffrey, you raised a concern about misjudgments made. Anthony Zinni, a man you know well, had this to say--he's the former head of the U.S. Central Command. He says that "Rumsfeld has turned the nation's top military officials into `Stepford generals,' who have acquiesced in a transfer of power from uniformed officers to the Pentagon's civilian managers. ... `We have a very strong-willed secretary. We went into a war where he took away a lot of the prerogatives of the military, made some military decisions on troop strength and postwar planning, and they did not do well to say the least.'"

Do you agree with General Zinni?

Gen. Downing: Well, that's a--that's a--that's a very controversial statement. The people that I know in the building, Tim, in the Pentagon say that Secretary Rumsfeld is a very aggressive, very, very tough leader, but you can talk to him. Certainly there were decisions made during the Iraq War, Tim, that were probably ones that we wish we could--we could relive. You know, when you--when you do a war plan, you probably make 50 assumptions, and if five of them go bad, that's OK, because--providing you recognize you made a bad assumption and you react to it. And I think there's a lot of truth in the fact that we probably wasted the first 12 months in Iraq because we didn't plan for post hostilities. But...

Mr. Russert: But think what you're saying, General...

Gen. Downing: But what is--yeah.

Mr. Russert: Let's just stop right here, because this is very important. We have four military generals around this table. You're saying we wasted the first month. General Clark is saying...

Gen. Downing: First year.

Mr. Russert: First year.

Gen. Downing: Yeah.

Mr. Russert: General Clark is saying that there has been not the necessary diplomatic research. General McCaffrey said there have been misjudgments made. Some people will declare that you're armchair quarterbacks, armchair generals. But you're four men with vast experience and you're coming to some very harsh judgments about the execution of this war and its process.

Gen. Downing: But the fact is, is they've made the adjustments. And by the way, I'm not an apologist for the administration. I'm not a member of the administration, although I was. But they've made the adjustments. I don't agree with Wes on the diplomatic tracks, because I think the diplomatic tracks are being pursued except not in a visible way. The other thing you've got to realize, Tim, is what we're doing in Iraq is a revolution, and one of the reasons this--that we're having trouble with this in this region is if a democratic Iraq arises, it is going to change the landscape of that entire region. It is the most strategic country from the Mediterranean out to Afghanistan. And if we're able to produce this democracy, which by the way I think we are, it may not be an American democracy, but it's going to be an Arab democracy. This is going to be a watershed effect which is going to affect an entire region.

Mr. Russert: It's going to be an Islamic state, by the--by the wording of its own constitution.

Gen. Clark: That's exactly right.

Gen. Downing: There are other Islamic states. Turkey is an Islamic state. Malaysia is an--is an Islamic state. Indonesia are Islamic states. These are all states which are acceptable to us and acceptable to the world.

Gen. Clark: Tim, I'd like to go back there...

Mr. Russert: Who will have--I'll get there. Who'll have more influence with Iraq: Iran or the United States?

Gen. Downing: I do not think it's going to be Iran. And I think one of the things you're seeing with this federation is the ability to protect the minorities of those countries, both Sunni and Kurdish. And one of the things that's lacking from this entire equation, Tim, is trust. This is a country that has no history of trust in any kind of a political process, you know, and we're judging this with 230, 250 years of experience with democracy. This is the first time these people have actually done this and, you know-- and I really think that they will grow into this thing and this constitution, whatever it's going to be. And by the way, it's going to be ratified, and it's probably going to be accepted because the numbers tell you that. I think this overall will be good for the country once they establish trust.

Mr. Russert: Go ahead, General.

Gen. Clark: Two points. First, when generals are given senior command positions and they've had their entire lives and professional education in the military, they're expected to have a body of professional knowledge and character that lets them stand up for what they believe. So we have a principle of civilian supremacy. No one doubts that the secretary of defense is ultimately in charge. He's going to make the right decision or he's going to make the right decision as he sees it. It's up to the generals. If they feel he's making the wrong decision, they fight it. If they feel it's that significant, then they retire or resign from their position. Nobody's done that. So whatever the thrashing around was, they are complicit in that decision, in those decisions. Whether they turn out to have been bad or not, that was military advice.

Now, we've all been in positions where we've disagreed with our bosses, and it turns out, you know, bosses normally don't like that, so it's a pretty unpleasant thing, and you've got to have people of character in uniform at high positions, and then you've got to trust the process. In this case, I don't think the answers that came out of that process were good.

Secondly, with regard to diplomacy, I've talked to members on the NSC staff. I know they're not doing the diplomacy. Going to the Iranians and asking them not to help their side is not the kind of contact I'm talking about. I'm talking about having something like a contact group which we set up in the Balkans at the diplomatic level, at the representational level, in public where you can get nations' interests out on the table, where you can talk about regional issues, including trade and travel, you know, tourism, visiting Najaf, where the airports are going to be. All of these are regional concerns, and they need to be dealt with in an open fashion.

It's not just about cutting off the supply of weapons or the flow of jihaddists, although that's part of it. This administration needs to bite the bullet and say, "Look, we're in a part of the world where there are going to be people that we wouldn't necessarily run their countries the way they're doing it. But they are the governments, and we're going to talk to them even if we don't agree with everything they say." It's up to us find areas of common interest and try to work this.

Mr. Russert: We're at a critical stage in this war by everyone's estimation. And, General Downing, you raised the role of the media. There was widespread discussion about the role of the media in Vietnam, the media lost the war and so forth, but we're in a situation now where Cindy Sheehan, who lost a son, has encamped herself down in Crawford, Texas, is coming to Washington. There are anti-war demonstrations throughout the country. The reconstruction of the country has not occurred on pace. Money that was supposed to be used for reconstruction is being used to help secure the country. General Meigs, General McCaffrey, everybody, we in the media are covering the reality. Are we not obligated to do that even though it may not, in fact, "encourage," quote, unquote, the American people to support the war effort?

Gen. Meigs: Wrong question, Tim. Look, there is a very complicated phenomenon here, and we in the media tend to go to the extremes. We tend to go to the most controversial, the most exciting event. So the problem is, in an insurgency, progress comes from dogged, hard, sweaty, dangerous work. It's very slow business. And it's hard to get the complexities of this kind of an operation into soundbites and above the full paragraphs. It's very difficult work. That is compounded by the fact that reporters down range have a very difficult time getting out of that Green Zone and getting down into the grass roots of what's going on politically. So the frustration I have as a former soldier is I will talk to people who've just returned from Vietnam. And you saw Chris Matthew's "Hardball" program. There are commanders...

Gen. McCaffrey: Iraq.

Gen. Meigs: ...Iraq--there are commanders who believe very strongly that their soldiers have made tremendous progress on the ground in their sectors. Better human intelligence. Better cooperation from Sunnis. Better hit rates in going around and policing up insurgents. Better use of technology to trump what this very innovative enemy is doing. You don't read about these things in the major newspapers that should have a sophistication to cover them. You generally don't get that in the TV media.

Now, yes, absolutely the fourth estate has to cover the problem. It's got to cover the bad news as well as the good, but a lot of the really constructive stories that are coming out of this war never make it above the fold.

Mr. Russert: Is it because, in your mind, that the notion of weapons of mass destruction or major combat operations are over, or many of those things that the media had been told proved to be incorrect?

Gen. Meigs: I think we are all citizens frustrated by the fact that the precepts upon which this war were ostensibly based proved to be wrong. And I think the historians will tear that apart when the proper documents are finally declassified in a decade or two.

Mr. Russert: I want to give you each a minute and explain the best you can, based on all your experiences and judgment, what Iraq will look like one year from now.

Gen. McCaffrey: A pretty good news story. I think you'll have an active vicious insurgency going on in Anbar province. You'll have assassinations and trouble throughout the mixed Sunni-Shia areas. You'll have the economy coming along strong. You'll have some form of government operationally. You'll have a huge Iraqi security force out in the field. And you'll see a drawdown of a third or so of U.S. military forces starting in about another year.

Mr. Russert: But we'll still be at about 100,000?

Gen. McCaffrey: Yeah, probably.

Mr. Russert: What do you see a year from now?

Gen. Clark: Continuing political disagreements, strong insurgency, strong terrorist movement, a drawdown in U.S. forces, an administration that claims success, continuing concerns about the Islamization of the political process in Iraq, growing encroachments on Iraqi sovereignty from neighboring states and continuing efforts as the United States starts to pull out, other nations start to go in. Iraq's on the fault line between Shia and Sunni Islam. And we can't fix that. We've got to help fix it and we won't. I don't see this administration making the diplomatic effort required. So what I see is they're doing a minimalist job trying to put a papier-mache government together and use that with the training of forces and then try to pull out forces here in time for the 2006 elections. I think, you know, the question is five years and 10 years down the line. This would be a government that we won't be--it'll be a state that we won't necessarily be proud of having created.

Mr. Russert: General Downing?

Gen. Downing: Well, Tim, 12 of 16 provinces, which is two-thirds of the country, are going to be peaceful and are going to have great development. I think two of the three Sunni provinces are going to come around. I think Al Anbar province, which is from Baghdad on out to the Iraqi border around Al Qaim, is still going to be a pesthole, though. I think we're still going to have this link of the jihadists coming in from Syria and some of the former Ba'athists using this as a base area. I do think that in another year or 15 months, we're going to be able to start taking the U.S. forces down somewhat, because I think the Iraqi forces are going to be in strength of about 150,000 of both police and army. So I'm very, very positive. And I'm giving you this without any political motive. You know, I'm giving you this as a military analyst. But speaking from the fact that military operations are conducted for larger ends, not for ends of themselves--political, social, economic--I think this thing is going to go the right way.

Mr. Russert: A year from now?

Gen. Meigs: I am pretty much on the same ground with Barry and Wayne. I think that we'll see pol-- halting, difficult, problematic political progress. I disagree that we'll not be proud of the results. I worry that the administration will start perhaps pressuring drawdown numbers, which is why I hate to see round numbers come on the table, and try to get to a premature withdrawal of brigades.

Mr. Russert: Why? Because of the 2006 election?

Gen. Meigs: Well, because wear and tear on the Army costs and the election, obviously. I hope that doesn't happen. I think they're listening to commanders on the ground. And that's the key to this thing.

Mr. Russert: There's been a lot of discussion about the impact, the effect of this war on the U.S. military. They now acknowledge, those who are involved in recruitment, that this is a very difficult recruiting year and perhaps the next several years, not only for the Guard, Reserve but rank and file military. What has the war in Iraq done to the U.S. military?

Gen. Clark: I think it's given the people in the military a chance to really show how good they are. It's built a lot of teamwork. It's hurt. A lot of people have suffered both physically and family-wise. And we're losing junior officers. We're losing NCOs. But I never bet against the United States Army. We've got an incredible group of men and women in that force. They are going to hold with us. And they will be there as long as the country needs them.

Mr. Russert: Is the volunteer Army at risk?

Gen. McCaffrey: No, not at all. I don't think so. I think--I agree with Wes completely. This is the toughest, strongest, bravest Army we've ever fielded. When I say Army--Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard team along with it. Special Operations capability is absolutely phenomenal. The military won't be the cause of failure. Having said that, we're going to damage fatally the National Guard if we try and continue using Reserve components at this rate. Forty percent of that force in Iraq right now is Reserve component. We have shot the bolt. We've got to back off and build an Army and Marine Corps capable of sustaining these operations.

Mr. Russert: That means increase the size?

Gen. McCaffrey: Yeah. Absolutely. And get the incentives out of Congress. You know, thank God, we now hear Senator John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Jack Reed, Duncan Hunter, talking about bringing to bear the resources we need to build an adequate force.

Gen. Meigs: Well, we need to be realistic about this. The Army has to recruit 80,000 people a year. We're going to be short somewhere between 2,000 and 8,000. The Army has moved 30,000 spaces from non-combat to combat. That's a division equivalent--four or five brigade equivalent. That's new units coming out, combat units coming out. The Army's authorized to have 512,000 out until '09. We can't try to build an Army we can't afford and we can't man.

Mr. Russert: That has to be the last word. To be continued. Generals, thank you all for a most interesting, insightful discussion.

And we'll be right back.

(Announcements)

Mr. Russert: For more information on today's guests and topics, check out our MEET THE PRESS Web site where you also can download the audio of today's entire program to your computer or MP3 player. The MEET THE PRESS podcast all at mtp.msnbc.com.

That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    video Israeli ambassador: We’re trying to avoid civilian casualties

    7/31/2014 11:34:34 AM +00:00 2014-07-31T11:34:34
  1. Controversial energy drink company targets students as sellers

    Some universities are issuing warnings telling students to be careful of a company that they say targets college kids to sell its energy drink. NBC national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen reports.

    7/31/2014 11:42:52 AM +00:00 2014-07-31T11:42:52