[DEBATE] : Hillary Clinton: The permanent war candidate
mfleshman at aol.com
mfleshman at aol.com
Thu Mar 15 16:03:53 GMT 2007
in defense of Israeli interests, of course
March 14, 2007
The New York Times
Transcript of Interview With Senator Clinton
Following is a transcript of an interview by Michael Gordon and Patrick Healy of The New York Times with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, conducted on Tuesday at her office on Capitol Hill. A few of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity, and extraneous material omitted.
Q. If you were to be elected president, what specific steps would you take to try to bring a close to the conflict?
SENATOR HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well obviously I’ve thought a lot about this. And of course the choices that one would face are neither good nor unlimited. We’re in a very difficult situation that has been made worse by the failures of the administration. So what will be inherited is not completely clear, but likely to be:
Continuing sectarian violence; no real resolution of the political disagreements on the ground among the Iraqis; an unsettled if not unstable region, trying to figure out what the roles they want to play in regard to Iraq might be; a beachhead of Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda operatives; the Turks being concerned about what is happening among the Kurds.
There’s a long litany of very difficult challenges. What I’m hoping is that with the slight change in policy that I am detecting in the Bush administration, that perhaps some progress could be made over the next nearly two years. Certainly, the willingness to engage Iran and Syria could possibly lead to some changes that would be beneficial to the overall structure of the situation we confront.
The surge, which is ongoing, and obviously if we’re going to do it we hope it is more successful than perhaps I think it could be.
I’m going to root for it if it has any chance of success, but I think it’s more likely that the anti-American violence and sectarian violence just moves from place to place to place like the old Whac a Mole. Clear some neighborhoods in Baghdad, then face Ramadi. Clear Ramadi, then maybe it’s back in Fallujah. It’s just difficult without a consensus on the part of the Iraqis, that they’re going to deal with it in some concerted effort, that we will have any long-lasting impact on the level of sectarian violence.
So come January of 2009, of course, a lot of it depends on what is actually happening on the ground.
I think we have remaining vital national security interests in Iraq, and I’ve spoken about that on many different occasions.
I think it really does matter whether you have a failed province or a region that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda. It is right in the heart of the oil region. It is directly in opposition to our interests, to the interests of regimes, to Israel’s interests.
So I think we have a remaining military as well as political mission, trying to contain the extremists.
I think we have a vital national security interest and obligation to try to help the Kurds manage their various problems in the north so that one of our allies, Turkey, is not inflamed, and they are able to continue with their autonomy. I think we have a vital national security interest — if the Iraqis ever get their act together — to continue to provide logistical support, air support, training support. I don’t know that that is going to be feasible, but I would certainly entertain it. And I think we have a continuing vital national security interest in trying to prevent Iran from crossing the border and having too much influence inside of Iraq.
Those are all different moving pieces on the chess board. And from the vantage point of where I sit now, I can tell you, in the absence of a very vigorous diplomatic effort on the political front and on the regional and international front, I think it is unlikely there’s going to be a stable situation that will be inherited.
And so it will be up to me to try to figure out how to protect those national security interests and continue to take our troops out of this urban warfare, which I think is a loser, and I do not believe that it can be successful. If we had done it right from the beginning, we might have had a fighting chance. We did not, and I think it is beyond our control now.
But what we can do is to almost take a line sort of north of, between Baghdad and Kirkuk, and basically put our troops into that region — the ones that are going to remain for our antiterrorism mission; for our northern support mission; for our ability to respond to the Iranians; and to continue to provide support, if called for, for the Iraqis.
Q. So what you seem to be suggesting if I understand is a policy of maintaining American forces in Iraq, but redeploying them out of Baghdad and keeping them let’s say in areas where they could protect against Iranian infiltration, or stabilize Kurdistan, or possibly put them in Al Anbar — I don’t know if that’s part of your plan.
A. Well it is. Al Anbar is the likeliest candidate for the failed state scenario that will serve as the launching pad for Al Qaeda. That is their primary objective in terms of what they’re trying to achieve right now.
It would be far fewer troops. We would not be doing patrols. We would not be kicking in doors. We would not be trying to insert ourselves in the middle between the various Shiite and Sunni factions. I do not think that is a smart or achievable mission for American forces.
So I think that we will have troops.
In the legislation I’ve introduced, if we were to start the phased withdrawal now, it’ll take months to do it the right way. I’m told, Michael, that we don’t even have good plans for an exit strategy. Hopefully, Secretary Gates has turned his attention to that. But how you withdraw from the forward operating bases, how you move out of Iraq either through the north or through the south, how you don’t leave your troops to be sitting ducks — I’m not convinced we’ve even thought that through yet.
So trying to withdraw is not something you snap your fingers and tell people, do it tomorrow. It has to be done in a thoughtful, orderly, careful way that defends our troops on these routes they’re going to have to take to get men and equipment out of Iraq.
So there’s a lot of serious thinking and planning that has to go on. And I don’t think we’ve done what needs to be done to be in position to make a lot of those decisions yet.
Q. What levels of forces do you have in mind when you think of residual American presence?
A. I don’t know, I’m not going to put a number on it because I don’t know. One of the things that I would hope to be able to do is to be able to get the unvarnished, honest opinions of a lot of the people who would have to make these decisions and fulfill these missions.
I’ve had enough private conversations with enough generals and colonels and captains, that there is a lot of dissension about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and how successful we can be doing it.
And I think we’ve got to try to strip out the ideology and the particular passions of our current leadership and try to take a very unvarnished look at where we are and what it would take to try to achieve any of these missions over a reasonable period of time.
Q. One limitation of this approach might be that while Al Qaeda of Iraq and those sort of associated groups have based a lot of their operations in Al Anbar, they’re also operating extensively in Baghdad and the Baghdad suburbs, and launching operations into the capital with all of these car bombs. So if one was going to embrace a kind of counter-terrorism mission, how could you restrict it to the northern part of Iraq or the western part of Iraq, given that Al Qaeda of Iraq has made Baghdad really its primary focus at this point in time?
A. Well, they have made it a primary focus for political purposes, obviously, but I just saw reports that people in Sadr City are asking for the Mahdi Army to come back out to protect them.
If there is not any political resolution, the civil war will continue, and we need to get out of the way.
So, yes, there will still be Al Qaeda and other extremist elements operating in Baghdad, but we’re not going to be putting pressure on the Iraqi government to limit their response, or to prevent self-defense on the part of people in the neighborhoods who are being subjected to this reign of violence.
It is going to happen if we stay there a year, if we stay there five years, unless there is some resolution, and I do not yet see that. Although I am heartened that the prime minister went to the north, he went to Al Anbar province apparently on a surprise visit yesterday — they’re beginning to do some of the outreach. And I talked to Ambassador Khalilzad about the de-Baathification reversal, and they’re trying to push their oil bill through. So there is some movement on these fronts. But that is the primary condition that has to be met — their political commitment as opposed to our troops.
And at some point, if that is not in place, it doesn’t matter where we are or what we do, that civil war is going to assume an even higher visibility and go through a period of greater violence before somebody wins. They are not done killing themselves. And in the absence of a process to try to get them to that point, I just don’t see where our troops will be able to create a stable situation.
Q. Wouldn’t another limitation of this approach be, that it would put American troops pretty much in the position of being bystanders if there was to be an escalation of the civil conflict of sectarian attacks and would be sitting in their bases while civilians —
A. That’s right.
Q. — were being killed just outside the gates?
A. That’s exactly right, and that may be inevitable. And it certainly may be the only way to concentrate the attention of the parties. If we were to say, we’re out of there, we’re moving, the Sunnis act with impunity in part because they feel like we’re not going to be able to find them and prevent them at the rate that they are producing suicide bombers. The Shiites feel still somewhat constrained.
I have said repeatedly, we don’t have much leverage. We have given up a lot of our leverage. And so in the absence of leverage, which is a credible threat that “Yes, we are pulling out — we have given you the opportunity to try to resolve these matters; we have given blood and treasure; the American public is not willing to let this continue, this slow bleeding, and we’re going to look after America’s interests. And now you can decide.”
It may only be that kind of position that will get the Sunnis and the Shiites to finally say, “They really might mean it. You know what? We might be left to our own devices. We’ll have nobody there to turn to. So maybe we ought to accelerate what we need to do on our own behalf.”
I think it’s very helpful that we’ve had a Democratic Congress elected, where the Democrats are saying, “We’re going to begin a phased redeployment, we’re not staying there forever.” It actually gives more leverage to Bush and the Iraqi government to be able to say, “You know what, this is serious, these folks are trying to pass legislation. They’re talking about limiting what can happen over here. Don’t you think we ought to start dealing with some of these festering issues?”
It also helps to concentrate the attention of some of the neighbors. How long are they going to fund the Sunni insurgents or the Shiites if they really believe that they might be left naked, literally holding the bag, with nobody in between and no American forces to point the finger at?
To me, if you look at this in more of a geopolitical way, a lot of what I’m suggesting and a lot of the moves that I think would be helpful, are ones that maybe or maybe not would ever come to pass — you know, you have to do something to see what the reaction is.
And right now, what we’re doing is more of the same.
We’re putting more troops in, we’re going door to door, we are dependent upon our translators and our troops that may or may not show up, that may be giving warnings to people who are of their sectarian background, who may not be looking out for our backs. At some point, we need to concentrate their attention — that they really are the ones on the line. I think that would be a benefit to them, and it would certainly be in line with what I believe would be most likely to work.
Q. You had a front-row seat on Bosnia, on Kosovo. When the Dayton accords happen, many Americans felt a good approach was set upon. They supported NATO troops there. If the troops are outside of Baghdad and the killing was still going on, what would it take as president to convince Americans to have the patience to deal with Al Qaeda in Iraq as all of this killing and bloodshed was going on?
A. Look, I think the American people are done with Iraq. I think they are at a point where, whether they thought it was a good idea or not, they have seen misjudgment and blunder after blunder, and their attitude is, “What is this getting us? What is this doing for us?”
No one wants to sit by and see mass killing. It’s going on every day! Thousands of people are dying every month in Iraq. Our presence there is not stopping it. And there is no potential opportunity that I can imagine where it could. This is an Iraqi problem — we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves. If we had a different attitude going in there, if we had stopped the looting immediately, if we had asserted our authority — you can go down the lines, if, if, if, all of which you outlined in your book.
But we didn’t do it. So I’m just saying, let’s look at the situation we have right now. One of the things we did in Bosnia, we went in with enough troops. We went in with an international force. We divided up the country in a way where people had to take responsibility. We had a tripartite resolution that was not perfect, in any textbook sense, but has kept the peace and has led to a certain accommodation among the parties.
Even the partition idea that Les Gelb and Joe Biden and others floated, well that’s not for us to do anymore. They’re a sovereign government — we can’t walk in and say, O.K., divide it up, we’re going to move the Shiites here and the Sunnis there.
If that was ever an option, that is long gone. And so we have no good ideas. But I think a fighting chance is to make it clear to the Iraqis that we are not going to interpose ourselves in their sectarian violence. We’re going to look out for American interests, for the region’s interests, because ultimately that is our basic responsibility.
And we’re more than happy to continue to support them. As I said, I wouldn’t do away with a support role for us, I would be more than willing to do that. I certainly, if they are moving in the right direction, I would continue aid, and I would try to get the neighbors to behave and support them.
And if we have a track with Syria and a track with Iran, we might be able to create some momentum for some more stability.
It’s hard to talk about this in the abstract because what we have is a failed policy, and an administration that has been slow to learn and slow to change.
And so we’re all playing catch-up, and there are no good options. So, is it a good option that we continue to lose dozens and dozens of our young people? I don’t think the American people are enthusiastic about that. Nobody wants to see innocents die. But at some point it is their people and their country, and they’ve got to step up.
And they are making baby steps but we need to concentrate their mind on taking some bigger steps. And making it clear that if they want to fight it out, we regret it, we wish they wouldn’t, we still think there’s a chance to avoid it, but we’re not losing one more American life.
We didn’t lose a single American life in Bosnia, not one, nor in Kosovo. And a lot of what we learned there was rejected by this administration. Now they’re scrambling around trying to figure out how to do what they totally rejected. And it’s heartbreaking, this whole terrible situation is heartbreaking, and I think we have to be much more supportive of the refugees.
We have to help Syria and Jordan and all these countries that are taking in hundreds of thousands of Iraqis so that they don’t get destabilized.
There is a lot of work for us to do to try to be helpful and influential in dealing with a lot of the consequences that have sprung from the intervention that we made.
But I just don’t believe that — if we’re there 10 years, Pat, if we don’t resolve the basic disagreements between the parties — which may be irreconcilable, the Sunnis do not believe they should have to give up power, the Shiites do not believe they should have to share it — if we cannot resolve that, then we can stay 10 years or 20 years, and we will still have a slow bleed, we’ll have thousands of Iraqis dying, we’ll have hundreds of American soldiers dying, and I think that is an unacceptable stalemate.
Q. The latest unclassified National Intelligence Estimate, which was put out in January, essentially said that as bad as the situation currently is, the withdrawal of American forces over an 18 month timeframe would make a bad situation even worse. What it said was, the Iraqi security forces would be hard pressed in the next 12 to 18 months to execute increased security responsibilities, and then it said, coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources and operations, are essential, and if coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly within the term of this estimate — 12 to 18 months — “we judge this would almost certainly lead to an increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict.” Do you agree or disagree with that assessment?
A. Well, in fact, we questioned the authors of that assessment at the Armed Services Committee about 10 days ago, and we thought it was a faulty premise. They had posited what will happen with a rapid withdrawal within the next 12 to 18 months. We asked them if they had been asked to look at a phased redeployment, leaving troops for certain missions, and they said they had not. We asked them why not, they said that had not been part of their charge.
And I think positing a rapid withdrawal is the wrong premise on which to base an N.I.E. And I was very disappointed that that is exactly how they did it. And I pointed out, I think I asked — we can get the Q. & A. on this — I asked them, did they have the same kind of response if it were something other than a rapid withdrawal, and they said they hadn’t looked at that.
Q. Isn’t setting a goal for withdrawing all combat forces in a year’s time, which is the basic Democratic resolution, a fairly rapid withdrawal of combat forces?
A. Well, but it is also combined with everything else we think should be going on. It is not in some vacuum. We’re asking that we look at the political and the international and the comprehensive approach toward doing this, and that is something that is very hard to get any hard and fast response from the administration on, because they have a very ad hoc policy, as the best I can determine.
And I would argue that we’ve been on record for a phased redeployment as Democrats since November of 05 and we voted for it again in June of 06 — the so-called Levin-Reed approach. And I think that it serves a very good purpose in, as I said, sending a message to the Iraqis that maybe the Bush administration will give them a blank check, but the new Congress will not, which I think is very helpful for at least a counterpoint in trying to concentrate their attention.
But I also believe a sustained combat mission in the sectarian violence, as opposed to a counterterrorism combat mission, is not working. And, how much longer are we going to let it go one, and lose American lives, when the likelihood of success is so slight?
And so, for me, you balance a lot of things. You balance the chaos in Iraq, which certainly could get worse and more people could die in Baghdad and to the north, but you don’t know what the response will be from the Iraqi Army — which is predominantly Shiite — if they are let loose in a way that we probably wouldn’t like but may be what will end up happening. We just don’t know what the consequences will be.
What I think we do know is, we will continue to lose Americans, we will continue to see Iraqis die from suicide bombings and other attacks, and it’ll be a slow bleed and not a fast bleed. You can talk to a lot of military experts, of which you are now one, and they will tell you that if the parties have not decided to stop killing each other, there is very little you can do. And do we want to be basically in the middle of that any more? And I think the answer to that is no, for both political and military reasons.
There is no general who has responsibility for American troops right now who favors this kind of reduction at this time. Is there a reason why you differ with the generals? Aren’t you basically at variance with the generals?
A. Well, it depends upon which generals and it depends upon —
Q. Well, the generals responsible for fighting the war.
A. Well, the generals responsible for fighting the war have a mission to perform, and I have the very highest admiration for them, but there was a lot of dissension within the Joint Chiefs and within the ranks of general officers leading up to this surge policy, which I’m sure you know.
And there was a lot who said, we don’t see how it will work. Some thought it was too few troops to make a difference, and were very reluctant to support it because the numbers were not as high as they thought they needed to be.
Q. But even General Casey and General Pace at least testified that they supported it.
A. Well. I know what they testified to. I’m well aware what they testified to. But I think that they have certainly decided to do everything they can to make it as successful as possible.
I hope it succeeds. I’m not in any way rooting for the surge not to work since we’re doing it and it’s unlikely we can stop it. So let’s try to make it work if it’s going to go forward. I just do not believe — and I think I have a lot of support among general officers and military experts that it’s going to work. And so, maybe we do it for six more months, maybe we do it for 12 more months, maybe we do it for 18 more months — if that is all that happens, we will be back here talking about it in 18 months.
And I do not think that we are going to see a kind of resolution that will enable us to say there’s enough stability for us to withdraw.
Q. In January you said you favored establishing a cap on troop levels, and then a few weeks later you called for beginning a phased troop redeployment within 90 days, and now you support the goal of total withdrawal by March 31, 2008. How did you go from a cap to an actual withdrawal?
A. The cap is part of my legislation, which calls for a phased redeployment. My legislation is not just about a cap — it never was.
Q. I’m talking in terms of the goal of total withdrawal.
A. This is the Democratic position. I’m comfortable with setting a goal — not a time certain, I’m not comfortable with a time certain and I’m not comfortable with an open-ended commitment. I think an open-ended commitment is not likely to be successful. And so to me, both of those are positions that are unlikely to be supported.
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