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THIS WEEK AT WAR

Iraq Study Group's Report Draws Fire From Critics, Praise From Supporters As The Analysis, Impact Continues To Unfold

Aired December 9, 2006 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: The big news this week of course the Iraq study group report. We'll talk to a couple of members of the group about the way forward in Iraq. Also, is the U.S. winning the war? The new top man at the Pentagon doesn't think so. So what to do now. THIS WEEK AT WAR is one minute away. First, a check of what's making headlines right now.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks so much, John. I'm Rick Sanchez at the headquarters in Atlanta. With a quick look at what's happening right now in the news. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld makes an unannounced stop in Iraq today. A Defense Department spokesperson saying that Rumsfeld made the trip to extend his thanks and appreciation to his troops. Rumsfeld formally steps side a week from Monday.

Amid the backdrop of escalating sectarian violence, Iraq's government plans to hold a national reconciliation meeting. Various political groups are expected to attend. Meanwhile, car bombings in Karbala, Mosul killed at least eight people today.

President Bush is about to make some major decisions on Iraq. Next week, he's scheduled to hold strategy talks with State Department officials, Pentagon leaders and outside experts on Iraq as well. We understand he's also considering recommendations from the Iraq study group. The White House said the president hopes to announce a plan before Christmas. More news at the bottom of the hour. Now let's go back to THIS WEEK AT WAR with John Roberts. I'm Rick Sanchez.

ROBERTS: Across the board this was a week for harsh reality. The Iraq study group says that stay the course isn't the answer for a, quote, grave and deteriorating situation in Iraq. They recommend the U.S. radically change the military mission and look to enemies for help.

Will President Bush see it as just cut and run?

And murder on the streets of London. Is this a new cold war? I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day. Monday British investigators arrived in Moscow looking for clues to the radioactive poisoning of a former Russian spy who accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering his assassination. Tuesday, Robert Gates appeared at a Senate hearing, the beginning of his quick confirmation as secretary of defense. When asked if he believed the U.S. was winning in Iraq he said, quote, no, sir. Wednesday, the Iraq study group issued its long-awaited report suggesting that the U.S. start talking to Iran and Syria, push Iraqis to do more and get U.S. combat troops out by the first quarter of 2008. Thursday President Bush meets with Britain's Tony Blair. Afterwards the president said he was, quote, disappointed by the pace of success in Iraq, but did not offer any hints of a change in course. Friday British, Danish and U.S. troops made security sweeps across Iraq. According to the U.S. military, 20 insurgents were killed and caches of weapons, explosives and suicide vests were found.

Among our elite THIS WEEK AT WAR troops, Nic Robertson in Baghdad on another violent week on the ground. Matthew Chance in Moscow on the spy poisoning mystery and Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks in Washington on the way forward in Iraq. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

The Iraq study group released its report. So we asked what now? The same questions remain, is Iraq in a civil war? Will the U.S. shift its policy? How much bigger could the conflict get? Joining me now in Baghdad, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is at his post and with me here in the studio, CNN military analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired.

President Bush acknowledged the problems the U.S. as faced in Iraq during a joint press conference with Britain's Tony Blair on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do know that we have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed. I do understand that progress is not as rapid as I had hoped.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: To that end, "Spider" Marks, the ISG came out with a series of 79 recommendations. One of the major ones is to withdraw most combat forces from Iraq by the first quarter of 2008. Is that possible? Is it even realistic to think about that?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): One year from now, that's what -- keep it in perspective. Certainly, we could withdraw all the forces tomorrow. It would be a flipping disaster if we did. It would be chaotic. It's not what you want to have on the ground.

ROBERTS: A bloodbath (INAUDIBLE) .

MARKS: You would certainly see that and then just in terms of the movement of that size of force. It has to be orderly. There has to be a battle handoff to Iraq units and then you have to exfiltrate those forces and then you've got to get them out of there. So that's a tall order just to get that done within a year. But then when you dig into the Iraq study group and you look at some of the recommendations, they get into some details where you sound -- you often read that they are talking out of both sides of their mouth. They talk about a withdraw of forces and then they tell the army and the military how they're going to suck the egg and that is, you're going to fight the al Qaeda with special forces. Thank you very much. I wouldn't disagree that that's not a bad way to do it, but why don't you leave that to the military commander on the ground in order to accomplish that task?

ROBERTS: One of the people who was pretty skeptical about this whole idea of removing troops was Senator John McCain. Here what he had to say about it on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R) ARIZONA: Withdraw the troops and then still have thousands of American soldiers imbedded in Iraqi units that are of questionable value or loyalty, I think, puts at risk a large number of American military advisers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Nic Robertson what about that point, the loyalty of the Iraqi military? Would this idea of embedding more U.S. forces in the Iraqi military work? What's the state of the Iraqi forces? Could they offer the level of protection that the American forces would want?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a pretty mixed level right now, John. And no, they don't have the kind of medical backup or the helicopters to fly in and pick up casualties from the battlefield which is what saves so many lives here at the moment. One senior Iraqi politician very close to the prime minister here told me, he said what are the U.S. forces thinking about here with this kind of idea? How could you have so many people embedded in such small Iraqi units and expect to get this level of support? He was very skeptical about how it could all work, John.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, President Bush seemed to dismiss, almost out of hand, the idea of withdrawing that many troops by 2008. What are the generals at the Pentagon saying about it?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting. One of the top commanders in Iraq this week suggested that this could work but maybe not for the reason you think. Everyone thinks it's dependent on the Iraqi forces being able to step up. But what he said is it really depends on the time line for reconciliation and he pointed out that when he goes anywhere in Iraq and asks local leaders what they need, they talk about jobs, getting angry men off the streets. He says, if that were to happen, along a time line, then they could look at a plan where they could withdraw many of those troops.

ROBERTS: Let's see how Iraqis are feeling about this whole thing. An Iraqi government survey polled 2,000 Shiites and Sunnis. Here's what it found, 19 out of 20 of them thought that security was better under Saddam Hussein. Nine out of 10 feel unsafe around U.S. soldiers. Two out of three will feel safer when U.S. troops leave. Nic Robertson, much of the talk around the ISG report in the last couple of days has been about what's good for America in this conflict but what do Iraqis want? ROBERTSON: It's very surprising. So many of them actually do say they want U.S. troops to pull out. They just don't feel safe. They say when they see the soldiers, U.S. troops around them, they know that those soldiers are more there they feel to protect themselves than they are to protect the Iraqis. They think they draw fire. They don't think that they manage the situation very well. Iraqi government officials think that U.S. soldiers don't know how to run checkpoints with Iraqis. There's a general perception and I've heard this from the Iraqi army and Iraqi police, that they can do the job better. They understand the Iraqis better, that it's better left in their hands. But at the same time they'll tell you, yes, but we still need that continuing support. It's like they don't want them, but they do want them close at hand John.

ROBERTS: Exactly. They'll say, when you talk to Iraqi civilians we want the U.S. forces to leave. You say, tomorrow? Well no, not tomorrow. Not until there's peace and stability. "Spider" Marks, the question has been posited among many people coming back with different answers, is the U.S. winning in Iraq? What do you think? What are your sources at the Pentagon telling you?

MARKS: John, great question. You win on many levels, first of all. So at the tactical level, I would tell you absolutely and without question the U.S. is winning the fight, every fight that they engage in. Does the enemy have a number of a asymmetric and really diabolical ways to attack U.S. forces and coalition forces? Yeah, they sure do. Are we getting better at trying to predict that and to get into that network, to disrupt it? Yes, we are. So there is great success at that level and then at the operational level where the Pete Correllis (ph) off the world are. Yes, we have a very good sense of what's going on. I think at the strategic and the policy level is where we begin to shake.

ROBERTS: And Jamie McIntyre, something is going to happen. The president has promised it, saying maybe by Christmas he'll come up with an idea. How soon until we see changes on the ground?

MCINTYRE: Could be very quickly as soon as the president decides on a course of action. But look, one thing that we saw, common theme in the Iraq study group, in briefings at the Pentagon this week from top commanders, even from Donald Rumsfeld in the last Pentagon meeting is that the U.S. military has basically done everything it can and they think that the chances of success in the future really hinge on forcing some political change in Iraq and that's just -- it's very tenuous at this point.

ROBERTS: It's really going to come down to Iraqi political leaders wanting to end this thing. And at moment, nobody seems to want to give up the fight. Nic Robertson in Baghdad, Jamie McIntyre, "Spider" Marks, thanks very much and "Spider," stay with us because we want to come back to you a little bit later on.

Up next, the inside word on the Iraq study group. My interview with members Ed Meese and Vernon Jordan about why there were matters and what should happen next. But first a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Two months ago in the life church of Mobile, Alabama, Specialist Chris Mason of the 82nd airborne testified about how his faith was getting him through a tough tour in Iraq, his faith in God and his belief in his mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPC. CHRIS MASON, U.S. ARMY: Just know that good things are happening over there, folks. And the men that I fight with are glad to be there. There's no other place they'd rather be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Late last month, Specialist Chris Mason was killed by small arms fire in Biji (ph) Iraq. He was 32 years old.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES BAKER, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIR: We do not recommend a stay the course solution. In our opinion that approach is no longer viable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Former secretary of state, co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq study group James Baker on Wednesday. The group denounced the existing war plan and called for quote a new way forward, a new approach. Will President Bush swallow the tough medicine? Joining me now two members of the Iraq study group with solid gold Washington resumes I might add. Ed Meese was attorney general in the Reagan administration and Vernon Jordan is former president of the National Urban League, Washington attorney and adviser to presidents. Here's how President Bush characterized the war in Iraq back in late October, before the midterm elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We're winning and we will win unless we leave before the job is done. And the crucial battle right now is Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: President Bush there being pretty optimistic about the war, saying we're winning, we will win, unless we leave before the job is done. Robert Gates, who is the incoming secretary of defense said in hearings on Capitol Hill earlier this week, no, he didn't believe we were winning. And then on Wednesday night, Dan Bartlett, the counselor to the president told us here on CNN, yes, we're winning the war on Iraq. Is it just that the White House doesn't get it or they are so locked in their own spin that they can't break out of it?

ED MEESE, IRAQ STUDY GROUP MEMBER: I think the situation is that Bob Gates was correct in saying we're not winning the war. I think it depends on how you define winning. We definitely are not losing the war. I think that was most important thing that Secretary-Designate Gates mentioned. And I think that's what Dan Bartlett had in mind. When he talked about winning, I think it's a matter of that we are proceeding on a course which he believes and which we as a group I think believe has great hopes of success in obtaining -- attaining the objective of the president which is an Iraq that can defend itself, sustain itself and govern itself.

ROBERTS: Vernon Jordan, do you believe that the White House has completely bungled the war in Iraq?

VERNON JORDAN, IRAQ STUDY GROUP MEMBER: I don't think that is the issue. This commission, this study group, came together like a fire truck. When a fire truck gets to the house, it does not look for the arsonist. It tries to put the fire out. Our commission is trying to put the fire out. And that's what this report addresses itself to, a way forward to put it out. We did not go around looking for who set the fire. That's not our issue.

ROBERTS: You're not the fire warden. You're the fire department.

JORDAN: We're the fire department.

ROBERTS: One of the big plans that's outlined in the Iraq study group's book "The Way Forward" is to draw down as many combat forces as you can by the first quarter of 2008, a number somewhere around 70,000. For 3 1/2 years the number of troops in Iraq has been steady in around 140,000, 150,000. There hasn't been a lot of progress made in being able to draw down those forces in that. How suddenly in 16 months, can you create the conditions to allow those troops to come home?

MEESE: The emphasis of that recommendation is not on withdrawing the troops. The emphasis of that recommendation is on training the Iraqi army. Now already improved training over last several months has shown that they can do a much better job. They've only been in this new training stance for a few months. What we talk about is accelerating and intensifying the training. Throwing in 10,000, 20,000 new troops who especially prepared trainers who would be embedded in the Iraqi defense forces and that they would accelerate this training and accompany the Iraqi forces. So by no means are we trying to say that it's the withdrawal of troops first. What we're doing is talking about improving the training and the capabilities of the Iraqi force. We're still going to be around. We're going to have logistical support forces. We're going to have special operations and force protection units. We're going to have ready reaction forces. We'll have intelligence forces. So the whole idea is to support fully the Iraqis. This is what Prime Minister Maliki has talked about, taking control of their own troops and having them have the primary responsibility. Then we will be able to withdraw combat troops as is appropriate, but don't forget that 2008 date is not our date. That was the estimate of General Casey as to when this training mission could be complete.

ROBERTS: Of course, General Casey also believed that he could draw down the number of U.S. forces in Baghdad earlier this year and found when the violence increased in Baghdad, he had to throw thousands more in. So the best laid plans sometimes aren't the way that reality turns out.

JORDAN: This is a war.

MEESE: And we accommodate that in our report. It says that 2008 was his estimate. That might hold good and it could possibly be withdrawn, provided there's no unexpected change in the security situation on the ground.

ROBERTS: Retired General Barry McCaffrey who fought as a tank division commander in the first Gulf war rang in on this aspect of it on Thursday in the "New York Times." He was concerned that if you draw down the number of combat troops and you increase the number of advisers you may be leaving those advisers vulnerable to attacks, to kidnap, other nefarious deeds. He said quote, they came up with a political thought, this is the ISG that he's talking about, but then they got to tinkering with tactical ideas that in my view don't make any sense. This is a recipe for national humiliation. How do you respond to that Mr. Jordan?

JORDAN: Well I think first of all, there's a misunderstanding in the McCaffrey statement that these people doing the training are like not soldiers and cannot shoot and cannot defend themselves. These are combat troops, but they're actually embedded to do the training. So, I think while we cannot, because we're not knowledgeable enough, deal with tactical decisions on the ground, our recommendation is an overall recommendation but the decision making is with the troops.

MEESE: And besides that, we very specify I don't think General McCaffrey has read the whole report because we specifically specify force protection units. So there are going to be plenty of combat troops in a ready reaction force to protect our trainers, whoever they might be. So I think is concerns are well covered in the report.

ROBERTS: There was an interesting perspective on what potentially lies ahead from a fellow named Quang Pham. He is a former U.S. Marine pilot. His father was a pilot in the South Vietnamese army. In the "Washington Post," he said about the ISG's recommendations, Casey's recommendations, about the troop withdrawal. In one year he said during the 2008 election year, the United States will abandon and betray Iraq as it did South Vietnam. Is this a recipe for betrayal?

MEESE: No, not at all, quite the opposite because one of our conditions is the effective training of the Iraqi force as well as a combination of continued support force protection, the other things we mentioned. This is quite different than the situation in Vietnam where the betrayal was not by the military forces. It was by the Congress of the United States which had promised assistance to the government of Vietnam to protect and continue the fight and then they withdraw that unfortunately between 1973 and '75. So the situation is different.

JORDAN: You also have to look at the other two components off this report, which is not only the transition of troops responsibly. It is also holding the Iraqi government to certain milestones. Thirdly, it is about a new diplomatic offensive. So all of these go hand in hand. ROBERTS: And we'll come back to Vernon Jordan and Ed Meese a little bit later on this hour to talk more about that diplomatic offensive and calls for direct talks with Syria and Iran.

Straight ahead though, a poisoned Russian spy is laid to rest in London. A radioactive murder mystery. Is this a new chapter in the cold war? THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Typically on the program we cover hot wars. But today we're going to take a bit of a diversion for a story that's so intriguing it's irresistible. For many off us, headlines out of London seemed like a James Bond movie or a distant echo of the cold war. Does the radioactive poisoning death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko signal a return to the bad old days of super power stand off and Kremlin tricks? Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is with us in Moscow and with me here in Washington, Alexander Konanykhin. He is a former Russian entrepreneur who claims he had to flee the KGB. He's also the author of the book "Defiance" which tells his trouble with both Russian and U.S. authorities. Matthew Chance, let's go to you first. Update us. What's the latest on the investigation? Is there any progress?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are almost constant developments in this very tangled investigation into the murder of the former KGB spy, Alexander Litvinenko. The latest is focusing on the hotel in central London where it's believed Mr. Litvinenko met a number of Russian nationals on the day he was poisoned back on November 1st and there at least seven members of staff have been confirmed to be contaminated with that highly toxic radioactive isotope, polonium 210. Also, here in Moscow, another key witness in this investigation (INAUDIBLE) is said by the Russian authorities to be suffering from severe radiation sickness as well. So it does seem that literally that contamination may have been meant solely for Alexander Litvinenko has contaminated others around it as well John.

ROBERTS: So this would seem to indicate that if the contamination occurred in England as it's believed, it might have been at the Millennium Hotel as opposed to the sushi bar (INAUDIBLE) ?

CHANCE: That's not altogether clear at this stage. Certainly, the focus at this point seems to have returned to the bar at the Millennium Hotel. But police are officially not ruling anything out. What they are doing is going from site to site trying to trace that radioactive trail and to couple that with their investigations here in Moscow, to interview these key witnesses and to try and piece together the evidence so that they can arrive at some kind of conclusion like that. I don't believe they've arrived at it yet though John.

ROBERTS: Alexander Konanykhin, Alexander Litvinenko fully believed that it was Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia who was behind his poisoning and his murder. He said so in a letter that he left. But other people have postulated that the Russian mob might be behind this. What do you think? ALEXANDER KONANYKHIN, AUTHOR, "DEFIANCE": I don't think any Russian criminal group or any Russian businessmen who might have conflict or some other issues with Alexander Litvinenko and we're not aware of such people. But even if they existed, I don't think any of them would want to become a subject of one of the most intense investigations in human history. Because by now as you know, it's not just the British authorities who are investigating the case. It's also the FBI. It's also Russian authorities, supposedly investigating it and it's also European law enforcement agencies which the British authorities invited to (INAUDIBLE).

ROBERTS: So you think this was the government that was behind it?

KONANYKHIN: I believe that the government was the only known party which had both the motivation and opportunity to assassinate a person in such a manner.

ROBERTS: On Tuesday Matthew Chance interviewed a figure who's central to this investigation as well, Italian security agent Mario Scaramella who had lunch with Litvinenko and also testified positive for the presence of polonium. Here's a little bit of that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: What kind of hostile forces do you believe were placing, were targeting you and your colleagues?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, people -- people linked with the crime scene organizations not directly under control of Russian establishment but from Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So Matthew Chance, Alexander Konanykhin believes it was the Russian government but Scaramella believes it wasn't. Where is this going?

CHANCE: Well there's a third theory as well of course, one propagated by many Russians who I've spoken to here in Moscow. It was the enemies of Russia that did this on purpose in order to discredit the Kremlin. The fact is at this stage, nobody really knows what the reality is. It is a really intriguing mystery, still so many questions yet to be answered. The fact is, John, we may never get to the truth of this. I mean it's really not in the interests of either Russia or Britain from one point of view to get to the truth of it because in fact, if it is found that it was the Kremlin that was behind this, this would have absolutely dire diplomatic consequences for relations between Russia and Britain. Already those relations have been damaged. But if it's proved that the Kremlin essentially detonated a dirty bomb in the middle of London, which is what this amounts to in terms of contamination, that would have dire consequences, John.

ROBERTS: Intriguing. That's the word for it. Matthew Chance, thanks very much as well. Alexander Konanykhin, appreciate it.

Coming up, how changes in Iraq policy might affect how U.S. military troops are deployed. General Marks goes to the mat for us.

But first, some of the fallen in THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: I'm Rick Sanchez with a look at what's in the news right now. A surprise deployment for Defense secretary; Donald Rumsfeld turned up in Iraq today. According to a spokesperson, Rumsfeld wanted to express his appreciation to American troops serving there. The secretary leaves his post in nine days, he is going to be replaced by former CIA Director Robert Gates.

NASA still plans to go ahead with a nighttime launch of Space Shuttle Discovery. That's after putting the launch on hold for the last two nights, because of, well, sketchy weather. The mission will include work on the international space station. Stay with CNN for live coverage of the Discovery's launch; it is scheduled to go off at about 8:47. We'll go on the air here, about 8:40 or so. We'll have it for you live. This will be the place to be.

I'm Rick Sanchez in Atlanta. Tonight, at 10 Eastern, I'm going to show you how difficult it is to survive in cold weather and what the Kim family really went through. What mistakes could have taken place in their place. It is a story that's captivated the nation. Join me for tips that could save your life.

Now, back to THIS WEEK AT WAR.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: How can the multiple Iraq war suggests swirling around Washington boiled down into specific, on-the-ground changes in how the war is fought? What are the dangers of changing military course in the midst of a deadly conflict? CNN Military Analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army Retired, is back with us and at the map.

What do we have, Spider?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: John, let me walk you through a few things that are in the ISG report. We'll go over them very quickly.

First of all, recommendation number two talks about securing the borders. Border with Syria is about 376 miles, border with Iran is a little over 900. That is a lot of space, complex terrain. But both of those nations need to make sure that happens.

Talks about the number of bases. How do you install bases. Do the Iraqis approve of that? We have over 50 clusters of bases. These are they -- right now, in country. How do you downsize those? Where do you concentrate?

But more importantly, recommendations 40 through 61 talk about the growth of Iraqi forces and Iraqi security forces and police forces. Let's just get into Baghdad and show the nature of the fight. You just got back from Iraq. You know what it's like in here. Let's go into Sadr City and look at a piece of terrain we've shown before, just a couple of months ago.

ROBERTS: I recall this picture, an American patrol going into Sadr City, which you done see all that often.

MARKS: Absolutely. Here you have some American vehicles going in. And the point I'm trying to make with this: the complexity of this terrain, the nature of it, narrow alleyways, what's going on in each one of these homes?

ROBERTS: With 2.5 million residents in there.

MARKS: Who are the bad guys? How do you tell friend from foe? When you put Iraqi forces in there, that have the training, have the appropriate equipment, and hopefully have the backbone, you would hope there would be some difference that would be made. Some situational awareness would lead to some differences being made.

ROBERTS: Appropriate equipment, though, is a big question mark here, isn't it?

MARKS: Absolutely. The United States and a number of nations need to cover down and make that commitment to get the Iraqi forces into the very best that they can have.

ROBERTS: Yes, that's one of the things the Iraqi generals are complaining about.

MARKS: Is the stuff they have right now. Absolutely, John.

You know, and Baghdad is not just one example. Let's go over to Fallujah, which is certainly in the news. A lot of casualties, U.S. casualties, Marines have fought valiantly. U.S. soldiers and Marines are there now. Again, you take Fallujah -- let's just wander into this a little bit, get a smell of this, get a feel of this. There's not much difference, in Fallujah, from what we saw in Sadr City and Baghdad. This is the nature of the fight. But the hope is that, with the right training, and you employ Iraqi forces here, there might be a difference that can be made.

ROBERTS: Where you come down on this idea; there's a great concern for Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Senator McCain, that if you start embedding U.S. forces to a greater degree with these Iraqi troops, they're not going to have the same level of protection as if they had stayed on American bases?

MARKS: Frankly, I disagree to a certain level with that. But in order to make a difference you've got to get the mobile training teams, the advisers, down to the lowest levels. Right now they're at the brigade level. You have some at what I would call mission critical level, at the battalion level.

Take it down an echelon, John, make it a mission enhancement level, get them into the company level, and you can start making a difference. Certainly there are vulnerabilities associated with that. But with the ability to reach back into American power, you can bring some enablers into a fight. ROBERTS: It sounds like something that's feasible and we'll see if anybody acts on it. Spider Marks, as always.

MARKS: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: Thanks, very much.

From Iraq to Washington, new hope that diplomacy can back up military muscle in Iraq. Coming up, more of my conversation with members of the Iraq Study Group and the political heat over proposals to bring Iran and Syria into the equation.

But first -- a homecoming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am so excited to be home for Christmas, see my family. I can't wait!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: In Moorehead City, North Carolina, hugs were the order of the day, as the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit came home. Lead by the assault ship, Iwo Jima, the battle group included the USS Cole on its first deployment since a terrorist bomb killed 17 of her sailors, six years ago, in Yemen.

This tour was a success highlighted by the rescue of American citizens from war torn Lebanon, earlier this year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: The Iraq Study Group report is part best-seller, part scolding by the nation's elder statesmen, and part exit strategy for the Iraq war. And it raises new questions about whether the United States can put together a new policy without bringing Iraq's neighbors into the deliberations.

Here's the second part of my conversation with Iraq Study Group members Ed Meese and Vernon Jordan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (on camera): About the new diplomatic offensive, the ISG recommends talking to Iran and Syria. Here what Senator John McCain had to say about that. He drew some red lines after reading this report.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) ARMED SVCS. CMTE.: If the price of negotiations with Iran is acquiescence to their nuclear weapons program, then that's not good enough. And if the price of negotiations with Syria is their control of Lebanon, we cannot accept that.

ROBERTS: So, how do you negotiate with Iran and Syria and still maintain hard lines you need to? ED MEESE, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: Again, one of the things these people out to do before they criticize is read report. If Senator McCain had read the report, he would know that number one, we definitely did not give up -- we would never permit negotiations with Syria to have to do with eliminating our objectives in Lebanon, a free and democratic Lebanon. Number two, we specifically say that we do not want Iran's nuclear proclivities, or desires, to be a condition for any negotiations. VERNON JORDAN, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: You know, John --

MEESE: It's right there.

JORDAN: I spent the early part of my career dealing with the enemy, they were sheriffs and chiefs of police in South, who were beating us, shooting us, putting us in jail. They were not our friends, but we dealt with them.

ROBERTS: Right. James Baker has made this point, he said after 9/11 the United States dealt with Iran and the issue of the Taliban. But that was during the Hatami (ph) regime. And this regime, with Ahmadinejad as president seems to be quite different.

MEESE: Well, again, the receptivity of the leaders would be a big factor. We have no illusions about whether Iran's going to be cooperative or Syria is going to be cooperative. But we think we ought to give them that opportunity, along with other countries in the Gulf region there, and in the Middle East. And, you know, if they don't, then they certainly showed themselves up to the world for what they are.

ROBERTS: Vernon Jordan do you --

JORDAN: There's no guarantee that if you talk to Iran and Syria, that something's going to happen. But there is a guarantee that if you don't talk to them, nothing will happen.

ROBERTS: In fact, James Baker is fatherly pessimistic about Iran, wanting to get involved.

MEESE: I think -- can I mention one other point. There is nothing in that report that would indicate that in any discussions with either Syria or Iran the United States should give up any of its bargaining positions at the present time, or any of its basic principles.

ROBERTS: Vernon Jordan do you expect that President Bush would accept any of this? He would have to walk back quite a ways in order to do that.

JORDAN: I think the president is a realistic. I think you keep in mind that the president has gotten two advisories, the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel of 10 people, five Republicans, five Democrats. He got another bipartisan advisor on November 7th, and that was from the American people.

ROBERTS: Ed Meese, fill in the blank in this statement. If President Bush doesn't act on this report -- blank?

MEESE: Well, I don't think that's the right assumption to answer a question. I think the president is going to act on the report. He gave us every reason to believe, as he went around the table, asked each one of us for a specific ideas out of the report, he gave a great deal of confidence -- to me, at least -- that he's going to carefully consider that report.

And the principal recommendation that I mentioned, in terms of the mission of the American troops changing to primarily training, and then detailed logistic, intelligence and force protection support, is not inconsistent with what I believe the Pentagon is going to recommend as well, and which has already been talked about as the United States policy.

So, I'm not really worried about the president ignoring our report. I think he will be a very thoughtful -- give it very thoughtful consideration along with the other advice, which I think is going to be quite similar.

ROBERTS: Gentlemen, it certainly is an interesting read and something that adds to the national debate. Ed Meese, Vernon Jordan, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

JORDAN: Thank you, John.

MEESE: Thank you, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: So what is President Bush's next move in the wake of the Iraq Study Group report? How does the Sunni-Shia conflict stretch across the Middle East? Let's find out from our next two guests. CNNC White House Correspondent Ed Henry and Michael Eisenstadt, he's a senior fellow and director of the Military & Securities Studies Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Ed Henry, President Bush sounding some cooperative notes on the Iraq Study Group report, speaking with Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a press conference on Thursday. Let's take a quick listen to what President Bush said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some reports are issued and just gather dust, and truth of the matter is a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody. To show you how important this one is, I read it, and our guest read it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The president saying that he read it, Tony Blair read it, didn't say that it wouldn't gather dust, though. He seems to be initially rejecting two main recommendations of this report, getting combat troops out by early 2008 and talking with Iran and Syria. ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I think the president is trying to keep the most political flexibility he can. He wants to reach out, he wants to make it appear that he's hearing all voices. He's been dragging in a lot of members of Congress this week, as well. Something he didn't do for the first six years of his presidency, frankly.

But he realizes there is a new political reality. He's just been slapped by this bipartisan group. He was slapped in the election, as Vernon Jordan pointed out. This is really the second review coming in on the war in just the last couple of months.

And looking ahead to January, just a couple short weeks away, the president has a new reality with Democrats running Congress. So he wants to show flexibility, he wants to show he's reaching out. As Tony Snow said on Friday, in the end he's the commander in chief. Remember that line, the decider? So, he's going to hear a lot, but in the end he's very likely to go his own way.

ROBERTS: Yeah, he's the guy that will make decisions on this, as well.

Michael Eisenstadt, the idea of talking with Iran and Syria: The Iraq Study Group really emphasized that point. In fact, let's take a listen to Lee Hamilton on Wednesday, saying why he thought it was so important.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIR, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: You cannot look at this area of the world and pick and choose among the countries that you're going to deal with. Everything in the Middle East is connected to everything else. And this diplomatic initiative that we have put forward recognizes that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, Michael Eisenstadt, help us out here. How is everything connected to everything else in that region?

MICHAEL EISENSTADT, WASH. INST. FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: I think, first of all there are good ideas in the report, there are bad ideas, and there are ideas whose time has not yet come. I think this might be one of those ideas whose time has not yet come.

I think it's a valid analytical insight that everything is connected, but in terms of being able to operationalize it, given realities on the ground, given problems in the Arab/Israeli arena, with the Hamas in charge of the Palestinian Authority; and given the fact that right now, Syria and Iran are part of the problem -- and not part of the solution in Iraq -- I'm not sure that this is an option that we can really go forward with, at this time.

ROBERTS: In terms of the interconnectedness of all of this. Do either Iran or Syria have the power -- if they so wanted -- to stop the violence in Iraq? EISENSTADT: My feeling is that they have the power to fan the flames, but not to stop the violence. There are enough weapons, there's enough fighters, there's enough money in Iraq, right now, to keep the violence going almost indefinitely.

ROBERTS: Ed Henry, this idea of a major diplomatic offensive, that the Iraq Study Group talks about, shows us the real stark difference between Baker diplomacy and Rice diplomacy. Who is President Bush going to be more loyal to? The man who helped him become president in the year 2000, or the woman who has been charge of foreign policy?

HENRY: That was then, this is now. The bottom line is he's more loyal now to the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice than he is to James Baker. Baker was his father's secretary of State. We have heard all of the people putting the president on the couch about whether he's going to ignore the advice of his father's advisors, or what not. The president not going to play that game, obviously.

But the bottom line is, he's loyal to Condoleezza Rice. That's who has got him here, in the last couple of years, in terms of shaping foreign policy. And while it has just gotten slapped, they want to try and rebuild this, and figure out how to move forward.

ROBERTS: Michael Eisenstadt, how much of any of this report do you think President Bush will adopt in his policies?

EISENSTADT: I think, first of all, the president will probably say that some of the ideas are things that we're already doing now -- or that we were about to do -- such as embedding of troops. That's an area where the military was heading that direction.

There will be other things that I think that they will incorporate. But I think it will be a mixed bag. I think that's unrealistic to think that he won't accept all the recommendations. There are more than 70 of them, there.

ROBERTS: Well, the president is promising something by Christmas. Next week he'll spend a few days listening so we'll see what he comes up with.

Ed Henry, Michael Eisenstadt, thanks.

Coming up, one U.S. senator defeated in the U.S. election puts his states military casualties in the spotlight during his final week in Congress.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Some U.S. politicians paid a price for support of President Bush and the war in Iraq, defeat in the November election, lawmakers like U.S. Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio. In his final hours as a member of the U.S. Senate, the war, and its toll on citizens of his own state were a heavy weight. Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash covered DeWine's parting words.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT, THIS WEEK AT WAR (voice over): Senator Mike DeWine lost the election. His time in the Senate is running out, but he's not done saying good-bye.

MICHAEL DEWINE, (R-OH): I rise to pay tribute to a young Ohioan who lost his life while serving our nation, Army Corporal Robert Webber.

BASH: More than 150 troops from his home state have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

DEWINE: On August 21, 2006, Master Sergeant Clemens died when his convoy in Iraq was hit by an improvised explosive device.

BASH: DeWine believes he owes each a final farewell.

DEWINE: If it goes into the "Congressional Record", it's a permanent record. It will always be there.

BASH: Hour upon pour, not just names, he tells their stories.

DEWINE: Marine Corporal Timothy David, rues fresh from Dellhi (ph), Ohio, avid fan of the Green Bay Packers, never had a chance to hold his new baby girl. Born just two weeks before he died.

BASH: He gathers information from newspapers, websites, family members, his meets at funerals. And the outgoing senator who started speeches back in 2002, says it's not about him, it's about saying good-bye.

DEWINE: History will judge whether that was a good decision or a bad decision this country made to go into Iraq. What I do know is that these are wonderful people who are serving our country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash.

Coming up -- as you check your holiday shopping list we'll tell you why Monday is an important date for people sending good wishes to members of the U.S. military.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: The Iraq Study Group report had barely been cracked open before critics began tearing it apart. The "same, tired old ideas," said some, "impractical" said others, "a recipe for humiliation".

The group's members have been ripped for not spending enough time in Iraq. They were there for just a few days. Only one, Chuck Robb, ventured outside the green zone. And Vernon Jordan didn't even travel to Iraq.

Believe me, the view from the green zone is not the view of the real Iraq. You can only get a feel for how bad the situation is by putting your eyes on the ground in the neighborhoods and villages that are being torn apart by terrorism, the insurgency, and sectarian violence.

Still, the ISG managed what appears to be a pretty accurate assessment of how things are going in Iraq. And while the report has drawn as many detractors as it has supporters, perhaps the most important aspect of all of this is that there is now a dialogue ongoing in this country about the way forward in Iraq.

To fix a problem you first need to admit that one exists. President Bush made that acknowledgement Thursday, about Iraq, when he said, quote, "It's bad." That was a milestone.

Now, the challenge for the president will be to digest all of the information and suggestions that will come over his transom in the next few weeks, and chart a new course forward.

A look ahead to next week, the U.S. Postal Service says Monday is the last day to send your Christmas letters to military men and women serving overseas. So get those greetings in the mail.

Thanks for us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm John Roberts. Straight ahead a check of the headlines. Then, "CNN Presents: Combat Hospital", the frantic fight to save the lives of wounded troops inside a Baghdad emergency room.

END

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