A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
President Obama marks the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. But concerns about the security vacuum and political impasse remain. What’s ahead for both the U.S. and Iraq.
- Ret. Lt. General James Dubik, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War; former commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq and former adviser to Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Petraeus.
- Phyllis Bennis director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies; author of "Ending the Iraq War: A Primer."
- Rajiv Chandrasekaran senior correspondent and associate editor at The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMThank you for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In an address to the nation from the Oval Office last night, President Obama declared a formal end to the combat mission in Iraq. But 50,000 U.S. troops and many unknowns remain. Iraqi politicians have failed repeatedly to form a government, and the insurgents are exploiting the power vacuum. Joining me in the studio to talk about the role of the U.S. as Iraq moves forward as an independent nation, James Dubik of the Institute for the Study of War, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post and Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies.
MS. DIANE REHMI do invite you to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MS. PHYLLIS BENNISGood morning, Diane.
RET. GEN. JAMES DUBIKGood morning, Diane.
REHMJames Dubik, as a retired general, how important was it that the president spoke first to the troops at Fort Bliss?
DUBIKWell, for me, I think that was one of the strengths of the speech. It acknowledged the sacrifices made by the soldiers and their families. It acknowledged that the commitment that they made carried the day and turning things around to get us to the better place that we are today. I thought also, though, that he came too close, in my view, to equate success with leaving. And in my view, leaving is not the definition of success. His comments on continued commitment, I think, should have been more amplified.
DUBIKThe 20-year-olds, Diane, that we're recruiting now were born when the first Gulf War ended. You end the war by producing a better peace, not setting the conditions for the next war. The greatest generation paid the price for ending World War I incorrectly. We have a huge opportunity now to end this war and create a better peace, primarily through diplomatic and economic actions. No doubt about it. But there are some security tests that remain.
REHMFormer Retired General James Dubik. He is senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, former commander at the Military National Security Transition Command in Iraq and former advisor to General McChrystal and General Petraeus. Phyllis Bennis, did the president come too close to equating leaving with peace and victory?
BENNISI think that President Obama was very careful not to use any language that even implied victory. He was staying very far away from the mission-accomplished issue with President Bush. I think that the reality is that getting our troops out is only step one. It's not step last of the obligations that we have to the people of Iraq. Most of us that have been against this war from before it was waged, believe that getting the troops out now, whether it was -- we said now seven years ago, I say now today, is the first step. Before that, we can't make good on those obligations of reparations, real construction.
BENNISWhat we're doing instead, I'm afraid, Diane, is we're moving -- the transition we're seeing is not from U.S. control to Iraqi control, but rather Pentagon control to State Department control. We're militarizing diplomacy by sending in -- now it will be armored cars or armored personnel carriers, planes, surveillance drones, 7,000 armed contractor teams of what I would consider mercenaries, that will not be under the Pentagon's control. So they will legally be able to stay even after the official pull-out time because they won't be under the control of the Department of Defense, the only part that's identified in the -- in that agreement. So this is not good enough, in terms of the moves that we need towards a real end to our military engagement.
REHMPhyllis Bennis. She is at the Institute for Policy Studies, author of "Ending the Iraq War: A Primer." And to you, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, do you believe that the president accomplished what he needed to in that speech?
MR. RAJIV CHANDRASEKARANWell, he had a very difficult line to tow as a candidate who opposed the war, I should say, even before he was a candidate. As a candidate, he obviously campaigned on bringing U.S. forces home. And now, as the president, in a position of trying to sort of strike a good enough outcome -- and one line sort of struck me from his speech last night, where he asserted that the United States had met its responsibilities in Iraq and now it was time to turn the page. And that's a debatable point. You know, what are the United States' responsibilities there? There were an awful lot of promises and commitments that were made early on, some explicitly by U.S. leaders, others assumed by the Iraqi population and the Iraqi leadership.
MR. RAJIV CHANDRASEKARANThe -- you know, I think back seven summers ago, Diane, when I was in Baghdad listening to Ambassador Paul Bremer answer questions from Iraqis who asked him, how long are you going to say here? And he said, we don't intend to stay here a day longer than necessary. And -- where we had a point where, where was necessary? Is it at some point in the past? Is it today? Is it at some point in the future? And, you know, for Obama, this carries some real political risks. You know, on one hand, he's trying to say, look, this is good enough with still 49,500 troops in that country, all of whom are under some degree of danger, plus the American civilians, the diplomats and the others who are there. As noted, no political compromise, as yet, that is leading to the formation of a new Iraqi government. Still continued threats from al-Qaeda holdouts, continued meddling from neighboring Iran, a whole confluence of factors here. He's hoping, the president, that this continues on a trajectory. But there's no guarantee of that.
REHMRajiv Chandrasekaran. He is senior correspondent associate editor at The Washington Post. Do join us. Questions, comments, call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join us on Facebook. You can join us on Twitter. Turning back to you, Gen. Dubik. The New York Times this morning called Iraq a tragic, pointless war. I'm wondering what you believe were the primary objectives for the U.S. in Iraq? And were we able to achieve them?
DUBIKWell, regardless of the -- any of us who had hesitations about the war, once we're engaged, the issue becomes how to end it in such a way that our security interests are taken care of and that we have a better peace. I agree that -- with both Phyllis and Rajiv. There's no guarantee, even now, that the success is in any way guaranteed. And I think the president started off really with a theme that he should have pressed more. The future, he said, is ours to shape. And what we do now, at the end of our combat operations -- though it's not the end of the war, what we do now diplomatically, economically and security, the kind of arrangements that we make with the Iraqi government once it's formed, will go a long way to shape the future that is in our best interest.
REHMOn the other hand, Phyllis, the Iraqi government has been in place for six months since the elections. There has been no real government formed.
BENNISThere is no government. There's a caretaker government. The holdovers from the last election are still in control with far too much power. They are completely dependent, at the end of the day, on U.S. support, political, financial and ultimately military. So the question is -- and I would really disagree with the General on this. The future is not ours to make. The future belongs to Iraq. The future belongs to Iraqis. We are not Iraqis. And the notion that we are going to determine the question of when is it okay, when is there a success, isn't our judgment call.
BENNISUnfortunately, the Iraqi leaders that are now in control don't represent their country. The parliament does, but the government does not. And in that context, it makes it very difficult to say, will the government -- will act -- will have the right to say we'd like you to stay longer or whatever. That's simply not representative of what we did to that country.
REHMRajiv, how did you interpret that the future is ours to make?
CHANDRASEKARANWell, again, I think he's sort of having it both ways. He is obviously signaling that there is -- there needs to be a continued American commitment and there will be. But he also placed the onus on the people of Iraq, as he did in his two paragraphs on Afghanistan, placing the onus again on the people there. He certainly, you know, believes that there needs to be more done by the people of Iraq to step up and take responsibility for their own future. And, you know, we see it with sticking to this timeframe, the end of combat operations.
CHANDRASEKARANYou know, you think back some years ago, it would be, perhaps, inconceivable that U.S. forces would be sort of pulling out at a time with such a political vacuum. To some degree, that's a -- that is a testament to how far Iraq has come. That there is a -- at least a belief on the part of -- at senior levels, the U.S. government, that these issues can be hashed out without a full back slide into civil war. But there's still these big question marks. And this is a risk that the president is willing to take.
REHMRajiv Chandrasekaran. He is senior correspondent and associate editor at The Washington Post. We'll take a short break. And when we come back, we'll talk more about what's ahead for Iraq and the U.S. and take your calls.
REHMAnd certainly, as we were saying during the break, one of the many tragedies of this war is the loss of trust in the U.S. government, exemplified by so many of the e-mails that we've already received. This from Josephine in Silver Spring, "President Obama's remarks last night, marking the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, left me unsatisfied. We have not come to grips with the multiple lies the U.S. was told by members of the Bush administration; connection to 9/11, WMDs, Saddam Hussein. Then we were told the surge was needed to create political breathing space for Iraq to form a government, which they still have not done. This war has been a dishonest and tragic moment in U.S. history. When will we be able to admit this and mature as a country?" And I assure you, I've read that one, but every other one I've received, thus far, reflects the same sentiment.
BENNISI'm not surprised.
REHMGen. Dubik, your reaction.
DUBIKYeah, my -- well, my reaction really is twofold. First, there's significant anxiety, rightfully so, and disagreement over the entry into this war and the conduct of the war. There's no doubt about that. And ultimately, the country has to come to grips with that. But...
DUBIKYeah. But we're in a war. And once you're committed to a war, at least from the soldier's perspective, what makes the sacrifice worth it? What makes the numbers of dead, wounded and broken families worth it? Not counting the tragedy. It's producing a better peace. And we can go on for...
REHMBut what does producing a better peace mean? Does that mean we are safer as a result of this war, Rajiv?
CHANDRASEKARANWell, when you look at what transpired, in terms of the growth of -- for instance, al-Qaida in Iraq, you know, the Iranian influence that has expanded in the area, what it has done in terms of radicalization of extremists in neighboring countries and across the Muslim world. I think it's hard to say that, at this point today, that we are safer. Plus, there's a whole Afghanistan-Pakistan issue and the commitment of resources in Iraq, which took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, which has made the situation there so much worse and has helped to destabilize an already tenuous situation in Pakistan.
CHANDRASEKARANI think it's very hard to look at things and say that we are any safer today because of what was done in Iraq. But, you know, you get to a point where once you’ve gone in, once you've made that decision, what becomes not just the obligations in terms of American national security, but what becomes the moral obligations for -- I'm part of the United States with regard to the Iraqi people?
REHMAnd what about the moral obligations to the people of the United States, in terms of, number one, truth-telling, number two, the human life sacrificed, number three, the money sacrificed? I mean, there are morals on both sides when you enter a war. Phyllis.
BENNISThis was never a moral war. And I'm convinced that the lives of those soldiers that were lost, the U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi civilians that were killed in such greater numbers, were not worth it. I think that is a reality. I don't think you can declare something makes it worth it. It was a wasted, illegal war based on lies. And I think that if we look at Diane's question of how do we come to grips with this as a country, the issue is accountability. And I think it's a great failure of our governing officials on every level. Not just President Obama, but Congress in particular, that there has not been a clear effort to do what the Canadians have began to do, what the British did, what all of the coalition members have done to investigate who lied, what were the basis on which this war was waged and hold accountable those individuals who make that decision.
REHMPhyllis, you've said that you believe we should withdraw all troops from Iraq.
REHMAre you saying you believe we should do that now?
REHMWhat would be the result, Gen. Dubik?
DUBIKWell, I think there would be too much of a developmental vacuum. The security operations have been, for quite a few months, under the responsibility of the Iraqis to execute. So it's not so much a security vacuum. But when you talk to the Iraqi senior generals, the minister of defense, minister of interior, the senior leaders and the police forces, they know that they are underdeveloped in many, many -- not just skills, but the procedures that allow -- and the sustainment forces and the systems that allow a full self-sustaining force. Those don't require combat forces, but they do require a continuing maturity of systems. They want us to be there.
REHMNow, what about Phyllis's point that until you have true accountability, the American people are not going to truly be able to come to grips?
DUBIKThat is, I think, entirely the case. And over the years, we have to come to grips with the way we went to war, how we waged the war as a nation. And just as the other nations have, we have to do that, too.
REHMHow do we...
DUBIKBut I disagree with her point that the lives have been wasted and will be wasted. We can end this war with our Iraqi partners. And again, Phyllis' point about the -- writing the future is a cooperative effort. We have a role. We have a moral responsibility. It has not been met in Iraq to end this war in such a way that there is at least a more inclusive and more responsive government. At least economic situation's better now than they were 10 years ago and a security situation that allows a self-governing force in both military and police. We can do that.
REHMRajiv, what will the U.S. involvement in Iraq likely be over the next year?
CHANDRASEKARANWell, it'll be twofold, Diane. There will be an almost 50,000 strong U.S. military presence that will be focused on training and assisting the Iraqi security forces.
REHMAnd explain that more in detail for me because those 50,000 are supposed to be there solely for training purposes. But won't they also be in harm's way?
CHANDRASEKARANOh, they'll most certainly be in harm's way. There is still an ongoing risk to those forces, as well as the civilians. They're still firing rockets and mortars at the green zone where the U.S. Embassy is and the Iraqi government is headquartered. And some of those training and assistance missions do involve going outside the wire...
CHANDRASEKARAN...do involve accompanying Iraqi forces as they conduct operations. So there is a risk and U.S. forces will still be out, moving around in armored vehicles, will still be conducting operations, but they'll be conducting them in partnership with the Iraqis. So, you know, it would be wrong to assume that those forces are sitting around on bases, running classroom sessions for the next year and a half.
DUBIKBut it's the other way around.
REHMSo how can the president say...
CHANDRASEKARANBut the Iraqis will be leading, though.
BENNISWell, maybe they will. Until they've...
REHMHold on. Hold on. I want to clarify the president's point that the military portion...
REHM...of this operation is over.
REHMFrom what you all are saying...
REHM...it's not possible.
BENNISThe 50,000 troops -- we should be very clear. President Obama said that he is withdrawing combat brigades. The Pentagon uses the term re-missioning. These are combat troops that are being given a new mission. And whenever the need for combat arises, they will be there conducting combat operations. We have to look at the 3,000 troops...
BENNIS...who were just sent from Fort Hood.
DUBIKYeah. But the lead in the combat operations are the Iraqis. We can participate when asked. We do not have command and control responsibility for the execution of the missions. The Iraqis do. They advise and assist brigades to amplify -- Rajiv has said, are helping mature the Iraqis' security forces skill on the ground by working with them in planning, preparation, execution and post-operation evaluations, in combat as well as in logistics.
CHANDRASEKARANAllow me to just...
REHMAnd then, the second part of...
CHANDRASEKARAN...and let me just follow up on this real briefly.
CHANDRASEKARANEarlier this morning, Defense Secretary Gates stopped over in Ramadi on his way to Baghdad. He had a town hall meeting with some soldiers there and he was asked a question by one of them. Will we -- now that combat operations are over, will we still qualify for combat pay? This obviously is a very important issue to men and women in uniform. And Secretary Gates said, indeed you will, because it's still a very dangerous environment.
CHANDRASEKARANBut the point here is that they won't be -- the U.S. forces won't be unilaterally doing their own operations or leading them, but they will still be taking risk.
CHANDRASEKARANThe second part...
REHMAll right. Second part.
CHANDRASEKARAN...of this Diane, is this massive U.S. diplomatic presence, the build-out of the largest U.S. Embassy in the world. Thousands, literally thousands of U.S. diplomats, not all of them career foreign service officers, many of them contractors, hired to help assist the Iraqi government in a whole host of functions and then obviously guarded by thousands of private security contractors. And, you know, having spent time out there, it's a -- still a very dangerous environment. And I think it's unrealistic, just to Phyllis' earlier point, to assume that those diplomats can be out there operating and doing what they need to be doing to help the Iraqis without some degree of protection for themselves.
REHMHow many U.S. diplomatic personnel will be in that embassy? Do we know yet?
CHANDRASEKARANI don’t have an exact count...
BENNISThe announcement was for 5,000.
BENNISDiplomats and 7,000...
REHM...plus 7,000 contractors…
REHM...or military troops protecting them. General Dubik, give us an assessment of the ability of the Iraqi forces to do their job and keep that nation safe.
DUBIKYeah. On the security side, Diane, actually, I'm fairly confident that they have the technical skills to keep levels of violence at a low -- a low enough level that economic and governance can proceed. The issue, though -- part of security is not just what the military do, it's what happens with forming a government that's inclusive enough and responsive enough and creating economic conditions where people have hope. Those are also elements of security.
REHMWhy haven't -- why hasn't the government been able to come together on that basis? How optimistic are you that it will be?
DUBIKI think we will get a government that -- maybe a month after Ramadan or so, that will be more inclusive than the last malarkey. It will -- it's on a road to inclusiveness. It's a path to self-governing.
REHMSo you're optimistic.
DUBIKI'm skeptically optimistic. Yes. Yes.
REHMHow about you, Rajiv?
CHANDRASEKARANWell, I'm (laugh) I'm not gonna say I'm optimistic. I'm not pessimistic. I'm, you know, I'm keeping an open mind on this.
BENNISI'm very pessimistic. Not least because we're hearing from Vice President Biden's top national security adviser, when he told the Iraqis yesterday during his visit that the only coalition government that should be created is one that's supports a strong partnership with the U.S. Those that don’t support that, shouldn't be there.
REHMPhyllis Bennis, she is at the Institute for Policy Studies. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And we'll open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Lisa, who's here in Washington, D.C. Good morning to you. You're on the air.
LISAI have a pretty simple question and I appreciate this discussion. We've been having similar discussions at home since the president's announcement. And I have an 11-year-old daughter and to this day, I am still not able to really explain to her clearly why we went into Iraq. And I guess, without being able to explain that to her, then it's very hard to explain why we continue to stay, given the fact that there's conflict and we're still losing American lives. And I'm not convinced that, given the fact that we thought this war would end very quickly and that we could just go in and in three weeks topple everybody, why we think that we're --we should stay out of guilt and have the solution to fix the problem. I'm not convinced that we do. And so, I guess, if I could ask the people on the panel...
LISA...how would you explain to a young person in America now, who is growing up, why are we still there.
REHMAll right, Lisa. Thank you. General Dubik.
DUBIKWell, thanks, Lisa. I have...
REHMExplain it to an 11-year-old.
DUBIKYeah. I have several 11-year-old nieces and nephews that I've had similar conversations with. In my own opinion, the fact of the matter is the set of assumptions that led us into Iraq were incredibly naïve. To think that we would be able to go in, eliminate conventional forces and leave in an assumed time was just unreflective of any good reading of military history. We made, I think, a terrible set of assumptions that guided us in. That's issue one. Issue two, though, once you're there, what do you do? And do you leave and leave it worse than you started? Or do you, as a nation, have a moral responsibility to see it through to a better place? As difficult as it is, as hard as it is, as frustrating as it is, there is an obligation to finish what you started.
REHMHow do you explain it, Phyllis, to an 11-year-old?
BENNISI think we would tell Lisa's daughter that we had a government that lied to the American people. It was a very bad thing when people in power lie to the people who put them in power. And our government lied to us. They told us things that were not true, that were their reasons for going to war. The real reasons were more complicated. The real reasons were there were two countries in a very strategic part of the world, Iran and Iraq, that could have been and at times had been challenging to what the U.S. claimed was our right to be the most dominant power in that part of the world because of oil, because of military bases, because of the expansion of our power. And that was why we really went in, but we had a fake reason.
REHMAll right. That's why we went in from two separate points of view. Rajiv, why should we stay to an 11-year-old?
CHANDRASEKARANI'd like to tell the 11-year-old, like, what former Secretary of State Colin Powell noted. When you go into the furniture shop and you break it, you own it. And unfortunately...
REHMBut that was said as a warning, Rajiv...
REHM...not as a raison d'être.
CHANDRASEKARANYou know, I'm not talking about a raison d'être. I'm talking about once you go in, once you topple the sovereign government of Iraq, odious as it was, you then bear a moral responsibility to help get that country back up on its feet. I would also tell the 11-year-old that we don’t possess all the answers, but we do have a responsibility to help the Iraqis achieve those answers. We don’t have the solution to their political impasse. But does the presence of U.S. forces help to provide something of a buffer or mitigating force as the Iraqi factions try to come to agreement? Perhaps.
REHMLisa, thanks for your call and good luck in your answers to your daughter. We'll take just a short break and be right back.
REHMAnd as we talk about the president's speech last night to the nation from the Oval Office, only the second speech he has made to the country from the Oval Office, about the end of combat operations in Iraq, here's an e-mail from Peter in Tarrytown, N.Y. who says, "On so many levels, the U.S. citizens and government do not understand the culture in the Middle East. How is it possible that the general says we can influence the government in place in Iraq? They've had months to form a government. They have failed. They basically do not believe in democracy as we interpret its meaning." That's a fascinating point, General.
DUBIKWell, I can only talk from my experience in dealing with the minister's -- defense minister interior, to a lesser extent, Prime Minister Maliki and General Babakir, the chief of the Iraqi Joint Forces. There are clearly many, many aspects of the culture and history that I did not understand in Iraq. They were my teachers. We had a professional discussion, between the two of us or among several of us, about what we could do to progress the Iraqi security forces. That kind of professional discussion can take place across cultures, even if both members of the discussion don't understand each other's culture.
REHMHere is an e-mail form Mary Ann. "In response to the comment made by your guest, Phyllis, that the death of American soldiers were not worth it. As someone who lost a family member in Afghanistan, not Iraq, though I may not agree with some of the politics that brought us to war, I know my loved one believed in what he was doing in service to his country. And in that, his death had meaning. I know your guest may not have meant to cause pain in her comments. Still, while talking about the war, one should choose words carefully when speaking of the dead and their families. We are more than statistics. We live every day with a cause to the war in ways only we can truly comprehend."
BENNISI'm very sorry if I caused any pain. What I was trying to say -- and I work all the time with people who have lost loved ones, organizations like Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace in Iraq, Veterans Against the War -- is the depth of those losses are profound. And I think that it's important for those of us who do not have a personal family member to struggle to understand those losses. But I also think it's very important that we, as a country, not make those great losses and that grief into justification for something for which these soldiers were such victims.
REHMAll right. To Daytona Beach, Fla. Good morning, Thomasina (sp?).
THOMASINAYes, good morning. First of all, regarding Iraq, I believe President Obama is between Iraq and a hard place. After the president's speech, conservatives and some military said that Obama did not give Bush enough credit for the surge, since people forgot that Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr worked with the American military and held back his army from interfering with the surge. Seven years after our occupation, Iraq is still very chaotic.
THOMASINABut a week before Saddam Hussein was executed, he sent a message to the Iraqi people. He said, do not fight among yourselves or you will help our enemies. I believe some in the military-industrial complex would see chaos and instability in Iraq as justification to staying in Iraq. Condoleezza Rice was very cavalier when she said, we made thousands of mistakes in Iraq. Or could it be, as former British Cabinet member George Galloway said, America did not go into Iraq to leave Iraq.
CHANDRASEKARANWell, yes, many, many mistakes were made, from the very first days of -- from the run-up into this. I don't think there's a vast conspiracy out here to perpetuate instability so that the military and the military-industrial complex will have a continued reason to want to stay. And, you know, I'm also leery of suggestions that Sadr was somehow -- you know, he clearly wasn't working with U.S. forces. Did he make a calculated decision to step back during the surge? Yes. Did it help the surge? Indeed it did. Did the surge accomplish all that it was set out to do? No. And is the surge solely responsible for the drop-off in violence? No, it wasn't. But it helped accelerate...
CHANDRASEKARAN...a process. And so Obama had a difficult line to tow. And it would be wrong to sort of say, hey, look, the surge was solely responsible for this and so he noted his predecessor and decisions he made. But, you know, he didn't go as far as people in the Republican Party might have wanted because perhaps the, you know, the facts don't support an argument that, hey, this was all because of the troop surge.
REHMNow, President Obama, as he said last night, is looking and using the words disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaida in Afghanistan. That's quite a challenge, General Dubik.
DUBIKYeah. It's the same words he used in his West Point speech. It is a challenge. And I think the key words for me were two. One, his use of defeat. Defeating in insurgency is really difficult. And I don't know if that word, technically, is the correct word. The other one, though, is prevent the return of the Taliban and the government that would -- government in Afghanistan. That, to me, was very telling. In first sense, prevention for the last decade has meant counterterrorist operations, bombing Al Qaida, that's half of the understanding. To prevent a return of a government requires some help to that government to form. Much more difficult.
DUBIKWe have been doing for the last nine years, in my personal opinion, half of the job. Prevent is not just counterterrorist attacks. It's building the right structures into full counterinsurgency. It's worked too late in -- not too late in -- to execute it, but we were way too late to adopt the full counterinsurgency strategy.
REHMAll right. To Michael, who's in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning.
MICHAELHello. I just wanted to make a point that, you know, in a time of recession, you know, we really need to look at what we are doing in Iraq and the reasons why we are there now. You can point out a lot of different reasons why we went to Iraq. But now that we are there, you know, the reality of the matter is that, you know, the spoils of war are the same no matter the reasons of war. And if we are getting any spoils of war at all, you know, where is it going? And, you know, we should be thinking about, you know, ways to get down some of this -- our national debt and a lot of our problems at home while we're sending troops overseas, you know, for no really good explanation for why we are even over there in the first place.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Phyllis.
BENNISI think that Michael raises a very important point. And one of the things I was surprised and pleased to here in President Obama's speech last night was his recognition that Iraq has been a $1 trillion war already. I was sorry that he didn't go on to make the link, when he spoke later about jobs and the economic crisis, that the cost of just keeping these 50,000 troops in Iraq between now and the end of next year is the same cost as providing 240,000 new green union jobs. That would keep us much safer and would go much further in rebuilding our country.
DUBIKYeah. This -- his talking -- the president talking about the economy in the speech, I thought, was very appropriate. A few years ago, a book was written, "Rise and Fall of Great Powers" by Paul Kennedy. And the book talks about what it takes to stay a great power. And it takes three things, the balance and rebalance all the time; one physical security, second, economic security. third, societal security. And you have to balance all three all the time. The president has a wider scope of understanding than just the military perspective. But his rock in a hard place is ending this war in such a way that's in our interest and makes a better peace, at the same time taking the steps necessary to shore up our economic security.
DUBIKThose are both required.
REHMTo Indianapolis, good morning, Alexander.
ALEXANDERGood morning, Diane, you and your team panel there.
REHMGood morning, sir.
ALEXANDERI had a -- yes, thank you. I had a comment that -- and then, these people chimed in in the last few minutes. You had asked earlier, how do we -- you read an e-mail from someone who's writing it and it was suggesting that we need to be accountable for where we are at this time in Iraq. And my (unintelligible) I think you hadn't asked that, how do you become accountable? Or how do we hold that standard, too? I think we need to prosecute the man who has said all along during his presidency -- George Bush Sr. said, I'm the one that's accountable. Hold me accountable. Well, that's when they ended up locking up -- they threw Scooter Libby under the bus.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Rajiv, is there -- will there be any looking back as to responsibility for getting into this war?
CHANDRASEKARANWell, the moment to have done that would have been in the, you know, first two years of Obama's presidency. And the president made a calculated decision not to look back in that way, but to look forward. It's hard to imagine, after the midterms this year as Republicans make gains, almost certainly, in the House and the Senate, that there will be, you know, any appetite on Capitol Hill to do any of this. If there are investigations that likely will come next year, it'll probably be more focus on the Obama administration, unfortunately, than anything in the run-up to the Iraq war.
REHMGeneral Dubik, Rajiv, Phyllis, I want to ask each of you, what has been accomplished by the war in Iraq? General.
DUBIKWell, first, we have a government that is certainly more accountable to its people than before. We have a government that's more inclusive than before. We have people that have much more hope than before. And those are not trivial matters. We have a partner in the Middle East that is still -- there's no guarantee about the future, but we have the potential for a good partner in the Middle East. And we've set ourselves up with respect to a strategic position in the Middle East of having a government in Iraq friendly to United States, a government in Afghanistan friendly to United States. None of this is trivial. But it came at a great cost and it's not over yet.
REHMRajiv, what's been accomplished?
CHANDRASEKARANOn the negative side of the ledger, Iran has been emboldened. Al-Qaida has been able to use it as a recruiting and motivational tool. Other neighbors of Iraq have been incented to meddle and continue to meddle in that country. And so it has had a profound impact on that part of the world.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Phyllis.
BENNISAll of those negative things are true. I think also the U.S. is more isolated than ever. The U.S. meddling -- if we're gonna talk about who's meddled in Iraq, the U.S. meddling has, in my view, made thing worse for the people of Iraq who are left with 4.5 million refugees, perhaps as many as a million or more people dead. We have 4,400 dead soldiers in this country. The price has been enormous and there has been no benefit to the people of Iraq. It has not made us safer. It has made us less safe. This has been a war that was based on lies and we have not recovered from those lies that were at the root of it.
REHMAnd that is precisely in contradiction, General, to your feeling that we have left behind a better place.
DUBIKWe have left behind a better place. It's not a perfect place. It's still a developing place. I think Rajiv's comment about al-Qaida using our Operation Iraq as a recruiting and motivational tool is very important. If we leave Iraq in such a way that they can use it again to demonstrate that we've been defeated, it will be an even more recruiting and motivational tool. So it is complex situation. And it's one that deserves really hard, empirical, strategic, hard-nosed thinking, rather than thinking out of frustration. This is a very tough position we're in.
REHMNow, next year when those 50,000 troops come home, are we going to have the same discussion again? Rajiv.
CHANDRASEKARANWell, I'm not sure it's assured that all of those 50,000 troops are coming home.
REHMThough the president said he's going to stick to his own time table.
CHANDRASEKARANYes. But there's a caveat in all of that and that is if the government of Iraq requests U.S. forces to stay on to continue to train or to do other advisory and assisting tasks, that will be something that the U.S. government will seriously consider.
REHMYou know, it's been fascinating to me that on one hand you hear Iraqis say, get out. We don't want you here. It's you who are creating the problems. And then, as we get ready to leave, they were saying, oh, no, we need you to stay.
CHANDRASEKARANThere's a deep conflict among the Iraqi people. It's not an overwhelming view that they're just gonna -- there was that view early on. But then, when they slipped in the depths of a sectarian fighting over there, both sides, both principal parties in this conflict came to see, for different reasons, the United States as some degree of at least, if not an honest broker, a sort of a buffering force. And so they still, to some degree, look at the Americans and say, hey, we sort of need you here a little bit to help us slide -- and they're also look at the Americans, and say, hey, you made us a lot of promises. You need to stick around and fulfill some of them.
REHMDo you think those 50,000 will come home when the president said?
DUBIKI think we must plan for their withdrawal because that's the negotiated agreement that we're under right now. But agreement can be renegotiated and I don't think all 50,000 will leave.
REHMPhyllis, very quickly.
BENNISI think they will be renegotiated and I think they -- many of them will stay. And it depends on who you ask. The military leaders in Iraq have every interest in keeping them there. People on the street, who face the consequences of that occupation, do not.
REHMPhyllis Bennis, she's at the Institute for Policy Studies, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, senior correspondent, associate editor at The Washington Post, and Ret. Gen. James Dubik. Thank you all so much.
CHANDRASEKARANGood to talk to you, Diane.
BENNISThank you, Diane.
REHMThank you. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Several cities, including Boston and Chicago, have vowed not to participate in deportation policies championed by President-elect Trump. And lawmakers in California are moving to limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. Diane and a panel of guests discuss so-called sanctuary cities under a Trump presidency.
Donald Trump will take office with a Republican-controlled Congress and abortion opponents in his cabinet. This is likely to reopen emotional debates over abortion rights and women’s health.
Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis is known for his tough stance on Iran and ISIS. But because he's recently been active duty, President-elect Trump’s choice for defense secretary needs a special congressional waiver to take the post. A look at Trump’s Cabinet pick and what it would mean for U.S. military strategy.