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CNN BREAKING NEWS
President Bush Surprises U.S. Troops in Iraq
Aired November 27, 2003 - 12:27 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, we have learned that the president of the United States slipped away from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and managed to pull off a visit to troops in Baghdad, Iraq. For more on that, we take it over to Baghdad and CNN's Walt Rodgers with details -- Walt.
WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Miles. Well, this is a strange place to confirm what the White House said, but the White House has now confirmed that President Bush did, indeed, secretly fly to Iraq this Thanksgiving Day.
A short while ago, he is said to have had dinner with Ambassador Paul Bremer and the entire 25-member Iraqi Governing Council. The president -- little is known about what he may have said or done there. We're not even clear whether he is still in-country, that is, whether he's still in Iraq, or whether perhaps he's left the country, or whether, indeed, he may be visiting U.S. troops around the country.
Regardless of the circumstances of the visit, it was still an extraordinarily intrepid thing for the president to do, because this remains a very, very dangerous place. And it took some rather clever execution to get the president in here so quietly and be able to allow him this visit with the Iraqi Governing Council and Ambassador Bremer, who is the chief U.S. administrator here, all this on Thanksgiving day. And no one here knew it was happening -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Walt, it comes less than a week after a cargo plane was struck by apparently a shoulder-launched, heat-seeking missile at that airport. Do you know much about the security precautions they took when bringing Air Force One in there?
RODGERS: Well, we don't even know that he came in on -- that the president came in on Air Force One. All we know is that he came to Iraq. We know he came to Baghdad.
Whether he came on Air Force One or on a military plane, we can't answer that at this point. I should tell you, because you raised the question of that SAM-7 missile, a shoulder-fired missile which hit a DHL airbus last week, those missiles are only effective, for all intents and purposes, in daylight. That's when the DHL plane was hit.
The Iraqi insurgents' surface-to-air missiles are not very effective at night. And so, consequently, if indeed the president came under cover of night, it would have been much more wise that he came in that way.
There are more than a few choppers going over here. And you have to wonder if, indeed, one of those may not have the president on it. That's unusual helicopter activity at this moment -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. So, Walt, then without violating any security issues here, do we know the president's whereabouts right now?
RODGERS: No, we couldn't violate any security issues, Miles, because we really don't know that much. All we know is that the White House has confirmed that President George W. Bush did, indeed, come to Iraq this Thanksgiving, that he had dinner with the chief U.S. administrator here, Ambassador Paul Bremer, and the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council.
Now, that's a real boost, a morale boost for those people. But as to the president's whereabouts now, we really cannot say where he is, whether he's gone to Baghdad Airport, whether he's out visiting troops, or whether indeed he may be airborne back to the United States.
We just don't know. And the reasons for that are obvious. No one wants to broadcast at this point the president's whereabouts. And we couldn't because we really don't know -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. And as far as we know right now, he hasn't met with troops, but might.
RODGERS: I can't even say that. All the White House is confirming is that he was here, and we have independent confirmation that he met with the Iraqi Governing Council. Where the president is at this moment we cannot say.
Look, the one thing you have to remember is that what the president did was extraordinarily intrepid. Anybody who will tell you about this place will tell you that this is a very, very dangerous place. As the president moves about, he's moving about on a helicopter. Helicopter get shot down here with a fair amount of frequency.
So, again, anything that's -- that pertains to the president's movements is going to be extraordinarily classified for security reasons -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right, Walt Rodgers, stand by there. I can only imagine what the meeting was like with the Secret Service when this idea was broached.
Dana Bash is in Crawford, Texas where we thought the president was. Where she thought the president was, I think.
How did he pull this off, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's pretty amazing, Miles. As you said, we of course all were told and thought that the president was spending a quiet Thanksgiving here at the ranch, and that is exactly what they wanted us and everybody to think for the security reasons that you and Walt were just talking about. But we are told that the president has left Baghdad. We do not know where he is at this point, where he is headed. But we are told from the small group of so-called pool reporters who are traveling with the president, that he has left Baghdad.
We're also told he left from Andrews Air Force Base last night at about 8:00 Easter Time, arrived about 9:30 a.m. today in Baghdad. And that is the little bit of information that we have.
But as you were mentioning, we were told the president is here with his family. And we were even given a pretty extensive dinner menu for the president and his extended family that were gathering here at his 1,600-acre ranch. So there were great pains taken to tell the press, tell the media, tell the world, that the president was going to be here, certainly not wanting to tell anybody that he is going -- was going to be taking this trip to Baghdad.
Obviously, his first trip of any U.S. president to Iraq at all. You remember, when he was coming back from the Middle East in the spring, he did fly over Baghdad in Air Force One, and he and his aides said that they got close enough that they could see the various landmarks on the ground. But that is as close as he has gotten to Iraq, certainly as close as any president has gotten to Iraq. As soon as we get any more information, we will be giving that to you momentarily -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Now, Dana, you said there was a press pool with the president. Obviously, they had some pretty strict ground rules as to when they could file their reports.
BASH: That's correct. The way it works is, there is a pool, a limited number of reporters that traveled with the president. Obviously, they were not able to tell us or anybody that they were going, when they were going, or where they were going.
They were obviously given the OK to call us and give us this limited information, which is why we're able to give it to you at this point. And we are going to rely on them for whatever information we get in the next coming hours about the president's visit, who he is meeting with, and where he's headed next -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Of course, George Bush the senior back in 1990 famously visited troops in Saudi Arabia, the run-up to the first Gulf War on Thanksgiving Day. It sort of harkens back to that a little bit. But this even, perhaps, more bold, I think, Dana?
BASH: Yes, absolutely. And we were told just a short while ago that the president was going to be making phone calls to troops, that he would be on the phone from his ranch, talking to troops. They wanted to let us know that he is going to be connecting to the servicemen in and around the world.
But little did we know he was going to be connecting that close, that he was actually going to actually be headed to Baghdad. At this point, we believe that he is obviously going to be meeting with troops. That is our understanding, that is the purpose of his -- one of the many purposes of his trip there.
But we don't exactly know who he is meeting with, and what the particular details are. But we do know that he has left Baghdad again, and we're waiting to see what his next stop is. Whether he's heading back here, we're unsure.
O'BRIEN: All right. Dana Bash, stand by there.
Let's turn it over for just a few minutes to General Don Shepperd, our military analyst, retired, Air Force, joining us from Tucson.
General Shepperd, good to have you with us. And happy Thanksgiving to you.
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Same to you, Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. Now, first of all, there's a report here from somebody who is in that tight pool we were just talking about, who said that the president actually arrived at Baghdad International Airport on the 747 that he normally uses as Air Force One. They closed up all the windows and darkened it. Obviously came in under darkness.
How risky is that maneuver?
SHEPPERD: It's not real risky. They -- first of all, Baghdad Airport is a very large airport. I flew in there about a month and a half ago. They stay close to the airport, and they spiral down over the airport. But you still have to make a long approach with a 747. But at night, the risk is minimal from the shoulder-fired, heat- seeking weapons.
O'BRIEN: Explain that to me. I've never understood there. If the weapon seeks the heat of an engine, why does it matter if it's nightfall or not?
SHEPPERD: Yes, because you have to point it at the engine. So if you can't see the airplane, if it's totally black and you can't see the airplane, you have no idea where to point the weapon. And it's like looking through a soda straw in the sky, Miles.
You can't look everywhere at once. If you can find out where the airplane is, then indeed it will. But you have to keep the dot, if you will, on the airplane all the way. So at night, it's almost impossible to do it with a heat-seeking weapon.
O'BRIEN: So these heat-seeking missiles don't like an infrared site that allows you to hone in at night?
SHEPPERD: They do, but you have to lock it on. You have to hold it on and then lock it on, and then it will follow the target. Of course, if you have night vision goggles, that would help you see airplanes. So it's somewhat risky, but not a real high risk. O'BRIEN: And give us a sense of what this would mean for the troops. We don't know it's for certain, but we're presuming he's going to spend some time meeting with the troops, as long as he made it all the way over there. What kind of morale boost does that afford?
SHEPPERD: Well, let me tell you, it's a big morale boost. It's a big deal to the troops. It doesn't make any difference what the party, as long as a president or a high-ranking member, such as Secretary Rumsfeld or anybody of that sort shows up, all politics goes aside and they really appreciate the visit. It's a big deal, Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. Major General Don Shepperd, retired in Tucson, watching it, enjoying his Thanksgiving and weighing in.
Let's send it back over to Walt Rodgers, who is in Baghdad.
Walt, as I said here, this report coming out of the so-called White House tight pool that went with the president indicates he flew right in there in the 747 that we're accustomed to seeing as Air Force One. But as General Shepperd points out, not that risky a maneuver as long as it's under darkness.
RODGERS: Well, that's true. But the most important thing is that the president and has gone, according to the pool reports we've been getting now. President Bush was only on the ground 2.5 hours here. He went to Baghdad International Airport. And the latest information we have is that he met with several commanders out there.
So he really did not get about the countryside where U.S. troops are exposed to any great extent. The president did have this message for his top commanders, those who met with him at the Baghdad International Airport. His message was, "We will stay until the job is finished."
As it was pointed out, Air force One came in under the cover of darkness, which is a very wise security measure, because the shoulder- fired missiles, which the insurgents have and have used near the airport recently, are almost ineffective in nighttime operation. So consequently, the president was able to come in just as the sun had set here.
He met for 2.5 hours with some of his generals, and then he left again. Very few of the troops -- and there are 130,000 troops here in Iraq -- ever got to see him this Thanksgiving Day. Still, the president sent the message that he wanted to send, which is to say the United States and its coalition partners are in Iraq until it's all -- until the job is done.
Back to you, Miles.
O'BRIEN: So Walt -- all right, just to clarify, the president has left Baghdad, probably cleared Iraqi airspace by now, on his way back. And his exposure -- in other words, the amount of time he spent with troops, was somewhat limited. But nevertheless, all the troops would hear about this, and I'm sure that would be a morale boost for everybody in the country there.
RODGERS: Well, everyone's going to hear about it. And as for the morale boost, let's wait and see and talk to some soldiers tomorrow to see how they feel about the president's visit.
He has come and gone. Again, judging by the watch at this point, he's probably still in Iraqi airspace or on his way soon to leave. We don't know his route.
So he could have left Iraqi airspace if he flew south to Kuwait. But if he's flying west to Jordan, he may still be over the country. Or, if he's going over Turkey, he may have just entered Turkish airspace.
It's kind of totally speculative to guess where Air Force One is at this time. But as I say, the president has been here in Iraq 2.5 hours. He met with some of his top commanders at the airport and presumably Ambassador Bremer here, chief U.S. administrator, was there as well -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right, Walt Rodgers, stand by there.
And let's check in with one of our presidential historians we check in with from time to time and put this one in perspective. Douglas Brinkley joining us on the line. He's at home. He's in New Orleans. Is that where he is?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, I'm in New Orleans.
O'BRIEN: Doug Brinkley, good to have you with us, as always.
BRINKLEY: Happy Thanksgiving.
O'BRIEN: Same to you. Now, we were talking just a few moments ago, back in 1990, the run-up to the first Gulf War, George Bush Sr. spent some time, Thanksgiving with the troops there. How many times have we seen presidents make such risky moves to get close to the troops?
BRINKLEY: Well, this one's extraordinarily risky. And it's, I think, a very smart move by President Bush. He's been under a lot of criticism lately for not going to some of the memorial services, some of the funerals of our soldiers who have been killed in the war in Iraq. And I think this is a real show that he cares about our troops, the fact that he went on Thanksgiving.
You can imagine the joy and surprise of many of our men and women of the armed forces when the president of the United States finally made an appearance there. And it's a wonderful morale boost.
About a year ago, I wrote an essay for "The New York Times," talking about when general -- or President Eisenhower went to Afghanistan, which many people didn't realize. And I was thinking that -- arguing that President Bush should go to Afghanistan to visit the troops. That if you're going to win the war on terror, you need to show that you're not afraid.
And of course we've had so many difficult moments in the last six and eight months. And I think the secrecy of this visit had to be of the utmost concern to the White House and the Secret Service and our Defense Department, but apparently they pulled it off. President Bush went. And now, as you're reporting, he's leaving Iraqi airspace. So I think it's a wonderful moment for our troops and for this Bush administration.
O'BRIEN: President Nixon went to visit troops near the front lines in Vietnam in 1969. So it isn't unprecedented, as you point out. Eisenhower, Nixon...
BRINKLEY: No. Lyndon Johnson, also. I mean, he would constantly in Vietnam -- both Johnson and Nixon wanting to constantly show the troops we were behind the efforts in Vietnam.
But as you rightfully said, I think this is more in tune with the visit that his father made, a Thanksgiving visit before. We don't have all the photographs, and I'm sure there are going to be some incredible photographs of Bush with our men and women there. And you can imagine the e-mails that are going on right now and the calls home to America, saying, mom and dad, guess who I just had turkey dinner with?
O'BRIEN: Can only imagine those.
All right. Let's go over to Dana Bash in Crawford, Texas.
Dana, you, as much as anybody else, knows how the Secret Service operates, and how much of -- the restrictions they place on the president of the United States. Dana's not there? No?
All right. Kelly McCann, I'll ask you the question. The Secret Service and its restrictions -- and sometimes you get the sense the Secret Service is the boss when it comes to security, and in some sense can overrule the wishes of the commander-in-chief. It's kind of a tug-of-war that goes on there, right?
KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Oh, there definitely is, Miles. And, by the way, happy Thanksgiving.
O'BRIEN: Same to you.
MCCANN: The bottom line is that the president is well aware of the risk to his life when he goes into a situation like this. And there's been a little bit of heat labeling on him on visiting the families of casualties, et cetera. So I'm sure not only because he felt compelled because they are Americans and they're serving abroad, but also because it's the right thing to do in many ways. He basically put his foot down and said, I understand and appreciate your concerns for my security, but I'm going.
O'BRIEN: All right. So put yourself in the role of the Secret Service at this meeting. What would you say to the president and how would you tell him to pull this off safely? MCCANN: After the panic, I'm sure what they did was they spent as much advance through the appropriate channels who were very secure into Iraq to try to develop this into a safe journey. I'm sure they were met with military aircraft who could basically run on either side of the president's plane and take out targets that, you know, might engage the plane.
But the biggest thing that they did was they used a ruse. And that's a military acceptable tactic. They basically said, look here, and went there, which is a very, very good tactic to use, especially in protective services operations.
O'BRIEN: It's just hard to imagine in this day and age, with the amount of coverage that a president receives, you know, round-the- clock attention, that he could pull something like this off.
MCCANN: That, and the other thing is that they figured that the risk or (ph) reward formula worked, even when the ambient threat level is as high as it is around (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or Baghdad International Airport. That's the -- military calls that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) region.
The bottom line is that a lot of aircraft, with no one near as important as the president, have been attempted to be engaged. So it was a risk. But I'm sure that the troops dearly appreciated it.
O'BRIEN: And as far as arriving there and the risk of these heat-seek missiles, General Shepperd just a few moments ago was saying, you know, really under cover of darkness, with the plane blacked out, as Air force One was in this case, no running lights and all the windows shut, the risk isn't as great as you might think.
MCCANN: Well, that's true, because remember that a lot of these aircraft will be engaged by opportunistic people who have the missiles, are in the field. They know there's no Iraqi aircraft in the area. So virtually those people who are operating against the United States, anything in the air is fair game as far as they're concerned. So in the daylight hours, if you see a plane, then there's no reason not to shoot it. But at night it's much more difficult.
O'BRIEN: All right. Kelly McCann, stay close. We're going to go -- I think we do finally have Dana Bash located in Crawford, Texas. At least we know she's there. She didn't secret her way out of there.
Dana, they start -- is the White House -- now that the president is safely on his way back, I assume we're getting some more details.
BASH: We are. We just got some more details from, as I told you, the pool reporter who is in -- who was with the president. Just quickly, he said that this was incredibly secret, an incredibly secret trip. He slipped out of Crawford in unmarked cars last night. And even...
O'BRIEN: All right, we lost Dana Bash. We'll try to get back to her as soon as we can. Hopefully she hasn't spirited herself out of Crawford as well. Major General Don Shepperd, in Tucson, enjoying his Thanksgiving meal, or about to do that. It's a little early out there still.
General Shepperd, the risk to benefit analysis that goes on, for the Secret Service, they're just interested in the risk, obviously. I'll have you continue that line of reasoning that Kelly McCann was going through when the president and his people kind of broached this idea. And I guess one of the key things to keep this ruse a ruse was not to let many people know about it at all.
SHEPPERD: Miles, one thing is certain, America still can't keep a secret, as we've seen here. We kept the stealth secret for many years. Many people knew about the stealth secret until President Carter, I believe, broke the news.
And this had to be handled with the utmost secrecy, because the danger is not flying in, because the aircraft is equipped with the latest of the diversion devices and what have you, and going in at night and minimize it. But of course, rockets, mortars, that type of thing, can be launched at anytime into many areas there.
You have to keep the fact that he's going to arrive, who it is, where he's going very, very secret. So it was risky from that standpoint, from the obvious point that if anything happened to the president of the United States it would be a huge feather in the cap to those of us who wish us evil in this whole endeavor.
O'BRIEN: Of course Washington leaks like a sieve. Now, we have to presume that there was a fairly significant advance party in security that went to Baghdad International Airport to check it out. Keeping that a secret has to be tough.
SHEPPERD: It is. But you know, we have a lot of practice moving the president around the world on a regular basis. And security concerns are everywhere, wherever he goes.
If you've ever been in the middle of one of those things, you think that, man, you have really been violated, because they go through everything in the vicinity. So they're well schooled at doing this. And as Kelly said, this was all done over secure communications.
So it was kept very, very secret. Only the people that needed to know (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and then the rest was on the spot.
O'BRIEN: If you were in the position of advising the president to do something like this, from the role of a Secret Service type person, would you recommend it?
SHEPPERD: Go, man, is what I'd say. The troops need it, the nation needs it.
Yes, the fact that he has been criticized for not attending some of the funerals may have played in this, although I think that's been highly overblown out there. But definitely, I would have recommended that he go. You can always provide for security in the way that we've seen here.
O'BRIEN: All right. And General Shepperd, it's good to know the president is safe and on his way back, obviously. And that's right about the time we found out about this. Obviously, that's not a coincidence.
SHEPPERD: No, not a coincidence at all. I mean, they weren't going to -- until he was safely out of the area, they weren't going to break the news for obvious reasons. Didn't want to give anybody on the ground warning that he might be there, because you might set off the rockets or mortars that we've been talking about.
It's a dangerous neighborhood over there, Miles. And it's going to be a tough, long stay. As long as we're there, we're going to get shot at, probably be shot at the day we're leaving. It's just a fact of life.
O'BRIEN: All right, Major General Don Shepperd, stay close.
Getting a few of the pool report dispatches from Air Force One. Give you a little bit of tick-tock here.
The president left Crawford, Texas, at 7:25 p.m. Central Time -- excuse me, 8:25 p.m. Eastern Time, Wednesday. He flew to D.C., Andrews Air Force base. They were told they were just switching planes.
He switched planes and then flew to Baghdad. He arrived at 5:31 p.m. local time, 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time this morning. The president -- let's see. Now he's en route to Washington now, about 12 hours out.
The president will go to Crawford from D.C. He also met with some commanders in the Iraqi Governing Council, as we told you. And he gave a speech there. I'll read just a little bit of it.
"I can't think a finer group of folks to have dinner with," said the president. "I'm especially thankful for those who defend us. They are testing our will, hoping we will run. We didn't charge hundreds miles into Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualty, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people, only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins." And that brought a standing ovation, we're told, by this pool report.
Dana Bash back on the line. We don't have pictures of her right now. We had a little transmission problem there. But she's here to shed a little more light on this as the details come out -- Dana.
BASH: Well, Miles, as I was saying before, we have a little bit more information of how this all went down. Essentially, the president was -- he slipped out of Crawford last night in unmarked cars. And we are told even some member of the Secret Service weren't informed about this. This is how tightly held a secret this was.
And as you said, he flew to Washington and took Air Force One into Baghdad. We're told that Air Force One flew in, in the dark, absolutely no lights. And they didn't use Air Force One's call letters for security reasons. Then the plane landed in a remote corner of the airport.
Now, you mentioned the fact that the president did have Thanksgiving dinner with troops. We're told that he had dinner with about 600 troops, members of the 1st Armored Division and 81st Airborne. Now, we're told that troops were gathered there, and we're told they were going to have dinner with Paul Bremer, the administrator there, and General Ricardo Sanchez.
And Bremer came out and started to speak and he said, "Well, perhaps you want somebody more senior than I to speak to you." He began to read a message from the president, a Thanksgiving message. Then he said, "Maybe you want somebody more senior to speak to you."
And then from behind a curtain, we are told, the president came out and that is when he got a rousing round of applause, a standing ovation from the troops there, who were, as you can imagine, quite surprised to see the commander in chief standing before them, there in Baghdad.
We're also told that this was so tightly held, even the first lady didn't know about it until just a few hours before the president left here in Crawford. And you said -- as you mentioned, the president did make a speech. He didn't necessarily eat, but he gathered and discussed the issues with the troops there.
And in his speech, he did say how thankful he was for all their service, how proud he was and America was for their service. And, as you said, he said the United States didn't charge to Baghdad and pay the bitter cost in casualties and defeat a dictator only to retreat, making it clear to them he needs them to stay, he needs the U.S. to stay, in order to continue doing the job.
That is something that we've heard from here back in the United States, time and time again. And as you said, Miles, we are expecting the president at some point later today to come back to Crawford after that stealth visit into Baghdad -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Now Dana, we're expecting -- we're getting some reports that we're going to get some tape of this fairly shortly. It will show that speech you referred to, and this whole scene, where Ambassador Bremer said, I'm going to read the president's proclamation, perhaps I should get someone more senior, as you say. And he appears.
Apparently he was spooning out some sweet potatoes and corn at one point or another during all this. The troops that were there, did you get a sense of how many were actually present?
BASH: We were told there were about 600 troops present at that particular dinner. And you're right, we are told he didn't eat, he was simply serving them and sort of talking to them and discussing the mission and other things with them. He didn't actually sit down and eat. And he was only there for about two hours, we are told. And we are going to get more details later. As you said, there was a camera crew with the president. And we should get all this on tape in the next hour or two.
O'BRIEN: Two and a half hours, not even enough time to get jet lag on this trip, right? That's something. Dana, I'm not questioning whether you're doing your job or not, but how did he slip away from you?
BASH: Well, it doesn't make us feel as bad now that we know members of the Secret Service and even his wife didn't know about it. This was incredibly tightly held. Only a few members of the senior staff in the White House, we are told, knew about it.
And they did a good job, as I mentioned before, of letting us know some pretty specific details of what they said he would be doing here in Crawford, including a pretty lengthy menu of the food he was going to be eating with his relatives here. So they -- this was clearly carefully planned so that there weren't any questions raised -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Interesting, right down to the sweet potatoes on the menu.
All right. Walt Rodgers is in Baghdad. Walt, we know about some 600 troops, 1st Armored 82nd Airborne, guys that you have been spending a lot of time with. What do you think this means to them?
RODGERS: Well, to the 600 soldiers who were in that hangar with the president it probably means an extraordinary amount. It's very flattering for the president of the United States to undertake a very intrepid mission. He was very bold, coming to a dangerous environment.
All of Iraq is very dangerous. The airport, of course, is under a fair amount of security. But still, it was an intrepid thing for President Bush to do.
What was very interesting, however, is in addition to seeking to meet with the troops to the extent that he did, what was very interesting was that he also met with members of the Iraqi Governing Council. He's clearly courting their support.
Ambassador Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator here in Iraq, was hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for the Iraqis, and suddenly he produces from behind the curtain the president of the United States. There was a fair amount of dissension on that Iraqi Governing Council as recently as today.
The chairman of the council had to go down to try to soothe the injured feelings of the leading Shiite cleric here, the Ayatollah Ali al-Sustani (ph). So perhaps the president's visit may even have a spillover effect, and at least temporarily damp down the internal dissension among the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds here in Iraq. It's, again, very flattering to have all this happen. If I may add just one footnote to what you were saying earlier, Miles. There is a tradition in the U.S. military. I saw it last year in Kuwait with the 3rd Infantry Division. On Thanksgiving Day, the soldiers of the U.S. Army, at least, are served their Thanksgiving meal by their officers. And so here you have the commander in chief coming in.
And if the video is as it's described, that the president was shuffling out the sweet potatoes and the corn, that's a lovely gesture, in that it's on Thanksgiving Day, usually done by the officers of the unit. Now the president steps in, does it for a short while. A nice gesture, nice touch.
Long-term effects of this visit, we can't say at this point. This is Iraq. The president comes and goes in 2.5 hours. The Iraqis, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have a very real agenda of their own, quite apart from a presidential visit -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: And that's a good point. The president of the United States certainly has persuasive powers when he meets with a group like that. But that's a group with some deep-rooted problems that probably can't be fixed in that time frame.
Nevertheless, do you think he was able to move them forward toward some sort of consensus on what happens in Iraq?
RODGERS: Listen, what the president did was very important from the point of view of his administration. He came to Iraq, took a personal risk, and showed that he is committed to the future of what he calls a democratic Iraq. That is a very bold gesture by the president of the United States.
An I suspect it's -- it bespeaks a commitment. Indeed, it bespeaks a commitment. The problem is, Iraq is racked with internal problems, economic, social. The country is divided among its Shiite majority, 60 percent. The Sunnis, the next largest group, and then the Kurds.
And you know, the president of the United States visiting here for 2.5 hours is not going to resolve the ethnic divisions in this country. And it's a given here in Iraq that if the American troops were not here, this country would dissolve into civil war.
So, again, a 2.5 hour visit is not going to resolve those kinds of issues. But it does -- and it's very important to point this out -- when the president of the United States comes to Iraq, meets with some leaders of the American-appointed Governing Council, Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis, what the president is doing is saying, I am committed.
Indeed, at the airport, President George W. Bush said, "We will stay until the job is finished." And that's important. But it is not going to do the job. That's going to take week, months, years, perhaps -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Walt Rodgers, stand by there. As details dribble in, we'll get back to him.