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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
President Bush's Address to the Nation; Analysis of Bush's Speech
Aired January 10, 2007 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Larry. That's coming up right after the president wraps up. You know Paula, we're going to see the president in a different setting right now. He's going to be standing in the library, in the residence of the White House because his aides and the president himself want this to be more of a conversation, if you will, with the American public, as opposed to sitting behind a desk, the more formal Oval Office address.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And we've heard so many people within the administration saying that this is the kind of format that this president excels at, when he's in a more casual setting, where can appear to be more accessible to the American public. So there's a very important reason why they changed the venue for this speech.
What will be interesting to me is how this administration measures the success of this address tonight. If in fact, as John King just reported, that they're not really looking for a bump in the polls.
BLITZER: The president has been weighing every word very carefully. All of this has been rehearsed several times by the president. He's been going back and forth with his top advisers, his speech writers. They're trying to make sure that when he hits those major points tonight that he succeeds in getting a second chance, if you will, or a third or fourth chance, from the American public that he knows what he's doing and let him try one more time. Let's go to the White House right now.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The armed forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror and our safety here at home. The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror.
When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation. The elections of 2005 were a stunning achievement.
We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together and that, as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.
But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al Qaida terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.
They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam, the Golden Mosque of Samarra, in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate.
Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today.
The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me.
Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do.
Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.
It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq. So my national security team, military commanders and diplomats conducted a comprehensive review.
We consulted members of Congress from both parties, our allies abroad, and distinguished outside experts. We benefited from the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.
In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq. And one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow -- would go -- would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people.
On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.
The most urgent priority for success in Iraq is security, especially in Baghdad.
Eighty percent of Iraq's sectarian violence occurs within 30 miles of the capital. This violence is splitting Baghdad into sectarian enclaves and shaking the confidence of all Iraqis.
Only Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.
Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents, and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.
Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work.
Now, let me explain the main elements of this effort.
The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital.
The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi army and national police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts.
When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi army and national police brigades committed to this effort, along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations; conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.
This is a strong commitment. But for it to succeed, our commanders say the Iraqis will need our help. So America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad.
This will require increasing American force levels. So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.
The vast majority of them -- five brigades -- will be deployed to Baghdad. These troops will work alongside Iraqi units and be embedded in their formations.
Our troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.
Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not.
Well, here are the differences.
In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents but, when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned.
This time, we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.
In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence.
This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter those neighborhoods. And Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated. I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people. And it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.
Now is the time to act. The prime minister understands this. Here is what he told his people just last week: "The Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of their sectarian or political affiliation."
This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations or IED attacks.
Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering.
Yet, over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents.
When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas.
Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace. And reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.
A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities.
So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.
To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.
To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.
To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs.
To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.
America will change our approach to help the Iraqi government as it works to meet these benchmarks. In keeping with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi army units, and partner a coalition brigade with every Iraqi army division.
We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army, and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq.
We will give our commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance.
We will double the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams. These teams bring together military and civilian experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen the moderates and speed the transition to Iraqi self-reliance.
And Secretary Rice will soon appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq.
As we make these changes, we will continue to pursue Al Qaida and foreign fighters.
Al Qaida is still active in Iraq. Its home base is Anbar province. Al Qaida has helped make Anbar the most violent area of Iraq outside the capital.
A captured Al Qaida document describes the terrorists' plan to infiltrate and seize control of the province. This would bring Al Qaida closer to its goals of taking down Iraq's democracy, building a radical Islamic empire, and launching new attacks on the United States at home and abroad.
Our military forces in Anbar are killing and capturing Al Qaida leaders and they are protecting the local population.
Recently, local tribal leaders have begun to show their willingness to take on Al Qaida. And, as a result, our commanders believe we have an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists.
So I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar province by 4,000 troops.
These troops will work with Iraqi and tribal forces to keep up the pressure on the terrorists.
America's men and women in uniform took away Al Qaida's safe haven in Afghanistan, and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq.
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges.
This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq.
Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.
We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East.
I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region.
We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.
We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border.
And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
We will use America's full diplomatic resources to rally support for Iraq from nations throughout the Middle East. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists and a strategic threat to their survival.
These nations have a stake in a successful Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, and they must step up their support for Iraq's unity government.
We endorse the Iraqi government's call to finalize an international compact that will bring new economic assistance in exchange for greater economic reform.
And, on Friday, Secretary Rice will leave for the region to build support for Iraq and continue the urgent diplomacy required to help bring peace to the Middle East.
The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time.
On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life.
In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy by advancing liberty across a troubled region.
It is in the interests of the United States to stand with the brave men and women who are risking their lives to claim their freedom, and to help them as they work to raise up just and hopeful societies across the Middle East. From Afghanistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories, millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence and want a future of peace and opportunity for their children. And they are looking at Iraq.
They want to know: Will America withdraw and yield the future of that country to the extremists, or will we stand with the Iraqis who have made the choice for freedom?
The changes I have outlined tonight are aimed at ensuring the survival of a young democracy that is fighting for its life in a part of the world of enormous importance to American security.
Let me be clear: The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent. Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue.
And we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.
The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will.
Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.
But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world: a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people.
A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them, and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and our grandchildren.
This new approach comes after consultations with Congress about the different courses we could take in Iraq.
Many are concerned that the Iraqis are becoming too dependent on the United States -- and, therefore, our policy should focus on protecting Iraq's borders and hunting down Al Qaida.
Their solution is to scale back America's efforts in Baghdad or announce the phased withdrawal of our combat forces.
We carefully considered these proposals. And we concluded that to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale.
Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer and confront an enemy that is even more lethal.
If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.
In the days ahead, my national security team will fully brief Congress on our new strategy. If members have improvements that can be made, we will make them. If circumstances change, we will adjust.
Honorable people have different views, and they will voice their criticisms. It is fair to hold our views up to scrutiny. And all involved have a responsibility to explain how the path they propose would be more likely to succeed.
Acting on the good advice of Senator Joe Lieberman and other key members of Congress, we will form a new, bipartisan working group that will help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror. This group will meet regularly with me and my administration. It will help strengthen our relationship with Congress.
We can begin by working together to increase the size of the active Army and Marine Corps so that America has the armed forces we need for the 21st century.
We also need to examine ways to mobilize talented American civilians to deploy overseas, where they can help build democratic institutions in communities and nations recovering from war and tyranny.
In these dangerous times, the United States is blessed to have extraordinary and selfless men and women willing to step forward and defend us. These young Americans understand that our cause in Iraq is noble and necessary and that the advance of freedom is the calling of our time.
They serve far from their families, who make the quiet sacrifices of lonely holidays and empty chairs at the dinner table. They have watched their comrades give their lives to ensure our liberty.
We mourn the loss of every fallen American, and we owe it to them to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.
Fellow citizens: The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice and resolve.
It can be tempting to think that America can put aside the burdens of freedom.
Yet times of testing reveal the character of a nation.
And, throughout our history, Americans have always defied the pessimists and seen our faith in freedom redeemed. Now America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can and we will prevail.
We go forward with trust that the author of liberty will guide us through these trying hours.
Thank you, and good night. BLITZER: The president of the United States speaking almost exactly 20 minutes from the library in the residence of the White House. We are standing by. We will get a Democratic response from the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and we will bring that to you live.
In the meantime let's bring in Larry King. He's got a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE -- Larry?
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf. And you stay with us because we're going to check with you a couple of things as well. Let's first go to Baghdad. Arwa Damon is standing by, our CNN correspondent. Arwa, what do you gather will be the reaction there?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, it will be very interesting to see how this all does play out. In fact a lot of what President Bush outlined will probably go over well with the U.S. military here. They have been telling us that should this potential increase in U.S. troops occur, they would like to, as the president said, see more military teams embedded with the Iraqi security forces.
They really feel and see the benefits of having the Iraqis and the Americans work more closely together. We also heard the president outline a number of problems that faced Operation Together Forward, that was Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's first attempt to try to secure the capital Baghdad.
You heard the president admit that the number of U.S. and Iraqi troops are not enough to be able to maintain security at that point in time. There is the hope that if we do increase the U.S. troop levels here and this operation does go forward, the prime minister's security plan, that perhaps this time it could succeed. But, again, this is Iraq and a lot of the times, things do not go according to plan.
KING: Thanks, Arwa. And we understand we are about a minute and a half away from Dick Durbin's response. We also understand, Wolf Blitzer, that Democrats are responding ahead of Senator Durbin, true?
BLITZER: That's right, Larry. They've just issued a statement, the leadership -- the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate, led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, rejecting the president's new strategy saying, "This is not a good idea. This proposal," they say, "endangers our national security by placing additional burdens on our already over-extended military, thereby making it even more difficult to respond to other crises."
They also reiterate their call for the start of the withdrawal of combat forces over the next four to six months.
KING: Wolf, you have watched a lot of presidents give a lot of speeches. How did he do?
BLITZER: Well he had a difficult assignment tonight, Larry. There's no doubt about it, that the polls show the American public doesn't support this increase. The Democrats certainly don't and increasingly, there are more and more Republican legislators in the Senate and the House who are coming out against the president.
Under those circumstances, I suppose from his perspective, he did well. But we're only going to know in the next few weeks and months if the Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, lives up to the words he's been giving the president.
KING: Wolf, we will check back with you at the top of the hour. We will be meeting Senator Barack Obama in a couple of moments. Senator Dick Durbin is scheduled now to give the Democratic response and there is the Senator. We will hear his words and then hear from Senator Obama and Senator McCain, then former Senator Edwards and others.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: Good evening.
At the end of October, President Bush told the American people: Absolutely, we're winning the war in Iraq. He spoke those words near the end of the bloodiest month of 2006 for U.S. troops.
Tonight, President Bush acknowledged what most Americans know: We are not winning in Iraq, despite the courage and immense sacrifice of our military.
Indeed, the situation is grave and deteriorating.
The president's response to the challenge of Iraq is to send more American soldiers into the crossfire of the civil war that has engulfed that nation.
Escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election. Instead of a new direction, the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction.
In ordering more troops to Iraq, the president is ignoring the strong advice of most of his own top generals. General John Abizaid -- until recently, the commanding general in Iraq and Afghanistan -- said, and I quote, "More American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future," end of quote.
Twenty thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq and too many American lives to risk on top of those we've already lost.
It's time for President Bush to face the reality of Iraq. And the reality is this: America has paid a heavy price. We have paid with the lives of more than 3,000 of our soldiers. We have paid with the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. And we've paid with the hard-earned tax dollars of the families of America.
And we have given the Iraqis so much. We have deposed their dictator. We dug him out of a hole in the ground and forced him to face the courts of his own people. We've given the Iraqi people a chance to draft their own constitution, hold their own free elections and establish their own government. We Americans, and a few allies, have protected Iraq when no one else would.
Now, in the fourth year of this war, it is time for the Iraqis to stand and defend their own nation. The government of Iraq must now prove that it will make the hard political decisions which will bring an end to this bloody civil war, disband the militias and death squads, create an environment of safety and opportunity for every Iraqi, and begin to restore the basics of electricity and water and health care that define the quality of life.
The Iraqis must understand that they alone can lead their nation to freedom. They alone must meet the challenges that lie ahead. And they must know that, every time they call 911, we are not going to send 20,000 more American soldiers.
As Congress considers our future course in Iraq, we remain committed, on a bipartisan basis, to providing our soldiers every resource they need to fight effectively and come home safely.
But it's time to begin the orderly redeployment of our troops so that they can begin coming home soon.
When the Iraqis understand that America is not giving an open- ended commitment of support, when they understand that our troops indeed are coming home, then they will understand the day has come to face their own responsibility to protect and defend their nation.
KING: That was Senator Dick Durbin, giving the Democratic response to the president's speech tonight. And in a little while, we will be hearing from Senators John McCain of Arizona, a strong supporter of the president. Senator Barack Obama, a Democratic of Illinois, a strong critic.
And then a panel. And the panel will include former Senator John Edwards, an announced candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency and Senators Lindsey Graham and John Warner, Republican and Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat.
Let's check in before we hear from one of our senators from the Hill, either McCain or Obama, with Suzanne Malveaux, our CNN White House correspondent. Did the president do what he was out to accomplish?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Larry, the president obviously putting a lot of faith in the Iraqi government, particularly Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He is really hoping that the American people will do the same, that they will buy into his own strategy. You can hear of course protesters now outside of the White House shouting "stop the war."
They are very angry about this. Essentially you have seen in the past this kind of public relations campaigns and speeches that have been done before and there has been a failed policy that has followed. So the big question of course, whether or not this is going to be a viable strategy or if it's just going to be another pep rally.
So the president is really going to have to sell that. We'll see that tomorrow. We will head to Fort Benning, Georgia, to talk to troops. We also expect to see in front of the cameras Secretary Rice as well as Secretary Gates.
KING: Suzanne Malveaux, our CNN White House correspondent.
Let's go to Capitol Hill, the Russell Rotunda and Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, member of Foreign Relations Committee, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
What did you think?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) ILLINOIS: Well, let me say there was one area where I completely agree with the president. And that is that American troops have done everything that's been asked of them. They have done an outstanding job. And I don't doubt the president's sincerity in thinking that this third or fourth approach to the problem is the right one.
But I did not see anything in the speech or anything in the run- up to the speech that provides evidence that an additional 15,000 to 20,000 more U.S. troops is going to make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that's taking place there.
And I didn't see any political strategy in the president's remarks to get Shia and Sunni to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that I think will ultimately be necessary.
The last point I make, Larry: the one bit of leverage we have over the Iraqis at this stage are troop deployments. And there have to be some consequences for their failure to arrive at a political accommodation by actually escalating this war as opposed to initiating a phased withdrawal. I think the president is taking away whatever leverage we have.
KING: What would you have said tonight?
OBAMA: What I would have said tonight is this: that we all have a stake in making sure that we have an acceptable outcome in Iraq. And that means secure borders, a cessation of the violence and that Americans could -- should continue to work with Iraqis.
But we cannot impose a military solution on the problem. There has to be a political accommodation. I would begin a phased redeployment, take some U.S. troops, make sure that they're deployed in Afghanistan and other areas where we can fight the battle against terrorism and al Qaeda, and commit to the Iraqi government that if they arrive at the sort of political accommodations that are necessary, then we will be with them as partners. But this is not something in which we can simply impose a military solution.
KING: President Kennedy wants congressional consent for this troop increase. Do you support that? OBAMA: Well, my office is looking at a variety of options to place some conditions on the president's actions. And I had a lengthy meeting today with Secretary Rice. And the key point that I made is that after $400 billion, over 3,000 lives, after the enormous resolve of the American people and, most importantly, American troops have shown in this entire process, the burden of proof is now on the administration and the Iraqi government to show that they can now make progress.
And so what I would be looking for -- and I think that there are going to be a lot of proposals out there -- but what I'm going to be looking for is a way of setting forward some conditions that ensure that if benchmarks are not met, we are beginning the sort of phased withdrawal that I think is ultimately going to be most effective.
KING: Senator, Leslie Gelb, the famed former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says, "The worst challenge the next president will inherit will be figuring out how to lose in Iraq without the appearance of losing -- the effects of losing."
What do you think?
OBAMA: Well, look, I think when we start talking about failure and success, we throw those words around. And the reality is more complex. We know we are not going to have a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq. We have to have a more realistic and constrained view of what's possible.
What is possible, I think, is limiting the violence and allowing an Iraqi government to function, that has some set of secure borders. I think that's going to be a tough task. I don't think we advance that task -- in fact, I'm certain we don't advance it -- by putting more American troops at risk.
It is time for us to send a message to the Iraqis that they have to stand up. And we can be partners with them. We can mobilize the international community to support them. But for us to simply think that by adding 15,000 or 20,000 more troops, as opposed to beginning a phased withdrawal, that we're sending that message, I think we're making a very bad mistake. And I'm going to see what we can do here in Congress to ensure that the initial mistake of going into Iraq is not compounded by this further mistake.
KING: How much confidence do you have in the Maliki government?
OBAMA: From what I've seen, not as much as I would like.
Look, here's what we know. And it's indisputable that Maliki is in the office that he's in as a consequence of 30 votes from the Sadr militia. If it weren't for Sadr, he would not be there. It is hard to imagine that he is going to be a full-throated proponent of disarming a militia that helps prop him up into power.
And, you know, I should note that one of my colleagues, Republican Sam Brownback, who is in Iraq right now, sent out a press release today -- and this is not a fuzzy-headed liberal -- saying he did not believe that the Shia and the Sunni factions in Iraq were prepared at this point to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that would justify additional American sacrifice.
And if that's the message we're getting from the president's own party, I think that's an indication of where the American people are.
KING: And, senator, I know you're not going to announce anything tonight, but how close are you for making a decision for yourself on running?
OBAMA: You know, I think we'll have an announcement fairly soon. But I think what's important at this point is recognizing that the problem in Iraq is not a Democratic or Republican problem. And I know that's how oftentimes things are getting framed here in Washington.
This is an American problem. We have made an enormous commitment over the last three to four years. And it is time for us to acknowledge that the president's plan has been flawed from the outset. We all have a stake in jointly coming out with the best outcome. This can't be a political football. Whatever we do on both sides has to be sober and based on a realistic assessment of what's possible in Iraq. And that's the commitment that I'm going to be making as I work through this process here in Washington.
KING: And again, senator, we thank you.
And, again, you were saying fairly soon?
OBAMA: Fairly soon.
KING: Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois.
And later, we'll meet Senator John McCain.
We're going to bring in now here in Washington -- in L.A. with us is Senator -- former Senator John Edwards, who didn't wait for fairly soon. He is an announced candidate.
We'll be joined we Senators Warner and Graham and Feinstein in a couple of minutes.
What did you think of the speech?
JOHN EDWARDS, 2008 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I think what America needs from their president under the circumstances is, first, trust. They need to feel like they can trust their president. They need to have a sense of honesty and decency that the president is trying to make the right decision, the best judgment under very difficult circumstances.
What I saw was a very academic, analytical speech, making the case for putting more troops in Iraq. And I think that's now what America needed from its president right now. I think the president is profoundly wrong. I think escalating the war is a huge mistake.
But beyond that, what's happened is that the trust in the president has eroded. And America has to feel in their gut that whether he's right or wrong the president's telling the truth.
And instead of all of the statistics and information that he had in his speech, he should have said, "The situation is very bad in Iraq right now. We're doing the best we can with a difficult situation and..."
KING: Is this what would you have said?
EDWARDS: That's exactly what I would have said.
KING: It's bad?
EDWARDS: I would have said, "It's bad. The choices are bad and worse. We have to be honest. I'm going to be honest with you. I'm going to tell what you I believe is the best thing to do under these circumstances."
And I think what's fundamentally missing is an understanding that the political solution is the only solution in Iraq. The Shia have to decide that they're going to include Sunni. Sunni are going to have -- Sunni buy in for a long-term, stable government in Iraq.
And the best way -- what the president's arguing and what Senator McCain has been arguing and soon will later in the show, is that you have to squelch the violence in order to create an environment where a political solution is possible.
I think they've got it just backwards. What needs to happen is we have to shift the responsibility to them. If you think about everyday life, people are more likely to take responsibility when no one else is helping them or propping them up. It's time for the Iraqis to do this.
And the other thing America ought to be doing that I can't tell you how strongly I disagree with the president about is not just Jordan, the Saudis and the Egyptians. We ought to be dealing directly with the Iranians and the Syrians.
KING: Is public opinion going to get worse, do you think?
EDWARDS: I think it's likely to get worse. I think if we start embedding these troops in a very dangerous place in Iraq, we're going to see some horror stories...
KING: We are?
EDWARDS: We are. And you talk to anybody in our military and you hear that over and over and over. I mean, our own military analysis was in order to have enough troops to squelch the violence just in Baghdad is about 100,000 troops. And we're not doing that.
KING: We're to have joining us three of your friends, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina -- they're all in Washington -- Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, ranking member of the Armed Services; and Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and now Chairwoman of the Rules Committee. Remaining with us John Edwards. In a while, John McCain.
What did you think, Senator Graham, of the speech?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I agreed with the president before he made the speech, so I'm probably not the best person to ask. I look at it this way: what's the result of a failed state in Iraq to our future as a nation, to the region as a whole?
If Iraq fails and if we lose this war, I think the biggest winner is Iran. And the country breaks apart and the Kurds are likely to separate and you'll have Turkey very upset with that.
So my biggest motivation is not about my re-election in 2008. I support the president. He's probably not that popular in South Carolina because, I believe, that's our best chance to win.
And I would just end with this thought. No matter what I think or any of the other senators think, the president is the commander in chief and he's put General Petraeus in charge of this new mission. I met with General Petraeus today. He believes that this surge, along with the Iraqi political adjustments, can lead to victory and he will ask the Congress for the capability to perform this mission.
Will the Congress say no to General Petraeus? I, as the senator from South Carolina, will give General Petraeus what he needs to be successful. The old strategy failed. The new strategy might fail. I think it's our best chance for victory and let's give it a chance.
KING: We're going to return with our panel. We are a little out of kilter because Senator Obama and Senator McCain were in the same area. So what I'm going to do now is hold Senator Edwards here. Senator Graham, Senator Warner, Senator Feinstein remain where they are in Washington, and I'm going to bring in Senator John McCain. Spend some moments with him, take a break, and then come back with the panel. Senator McCain, your thoughts on the speech?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I thought it was an excellent speech. The president acknowledged that the strategy has failed. It's a new strategy and I emphasize strategy because before we would clear and leave and the insurgents would return and take over the neighborhoods.
Now this is the counterinsurgency strategy of clear, hold and build so that the economic and political process can move forward, Larry. So this is a new strategy. I believe those who are calling for withdrawal have the obligation to tell us what we do in the region when it descends into chaos, as my friend Lindsey Graham just said.
I'm very pleased to put it in the hands of the architect of our counterinsurgency doctrine, General Petraeus, and our new central commander, Admiral Fallon. So I can't guarantee success here, but I certainly can guarantee the consequences of failure.
KING: Senator McCain, politically, and we always have to look at that, does this not hurt you? You are not with the majority of the public. MCCAIN: Well, I don't know what's going to happen a year from now, Larry, but I can tell you I would much rather lose a campaign than lose a war.
KING: And why are more troops going to win this war? Do you -- by the way, is this winnable war?
MCCAIN: I think it's winnable in that we can establish a viable and functioning government and have political and economic development. I don't think it's going to be easy. I think it's going to be will be very difficult.
But I strongly feel that with enough troops in certain areas, including Anbar, you can provide protection. You can have what American and Iraqi troops a stable environment. Before, Larry, I called it whack-amo (ph). We would go in, clear and then leave and that never succeeds, that never works. That's why for three years I have said we have to have more troops there, otherwise, we are going to face the problem that we are facing today, which is serious.
KING: Was that the big mistake at the start?
MCCAIN: I think a lot in alluding, I think the big mistake, I think disbanding the army. I think all the consequences of not having control of the country after the brilliant military victory and in August of 2003, I came back from a visit that I was there with Lindsey Graham -- in fact I said from Istanbul that we had to have more troops over there. We're paying a very heavy price for it.
But I really believe that we can win it. I'm not guaranteeing it. And I know how tough it is on these young people. It is terrible what we are asking of them. But I think we may be asking a lot more if we fail in Iraq because I think the consequences will be widespread.
KING: A couple of other things. Senator Kennedy said Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam. Would you comment?
MCCAIN: My only comment is that I don't think there's any doubt that President Bush's presidency, to a large degree, will be judged on success or failure. My time in the Senate may also be judged to some degree by it.
KING: This idea of having Senator Lieberman and others part of an inner circle, what do you think of that?
MCCAIN: I think it's good. I hope that it also includes those, like some of your panel like Senator Feinstein and others who have differing views, so that the president can get a variety of opinions. And I think it would be a sign of the kind of bipartisanship that Americans want.
KING: But his policy is opposed by so many, senator, many in your party.
MCCAIN: Yes. KING: How long can you continue like that when have you people like Hagel and Collins and Slade (ph) and today Norm Coleman speaking out against it?
MCCAIN: I think it's going to be tough and I think that we have to show the American people exactly how we plan to do this. We have to warn them that there will probably be an increase in casualties in the short term and I think we also have to tell them the consequences of failure.
If I have an admonition to my colleagues who are saying, just withdraw in four to six months, what is plan B? What do we do then in the region? I think we ought to tell the American people that. But I understand how tough this is. We have made so many mistakes, and the price we are paying is very heavy.
But we are where we are now today and I'm very confident in General Petraeus and Admiral Fallon and I'm most of all confident in these young soldiers that Lindsey and I and Susan Collins and John Thune and Joe Lieberman visited recently. You give them a mission, they will put a gun on their shoulder. They will carry it out. They are the bravest and the best and god bless them.
KING: Thanks, senator.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
KING: Senator John McCain. We will come back with our panel right after this. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: America will strange our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels. So I have committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. The vast majority of them, five brigades, will be deployed to Baghdad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Anderson Cooper, top of the hour, what's up?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Larry, all of the angles on the president's address in Iraq. We're going to look at what he said, of course, also give you a peek at what the White House was telling the Press Corps today before the speech. You're going to be surprised.
Plus, why some prominent Republicans today said they'll not support the president's plan and how right here, Capitol Hill, is shaping up as the next key battleground over this proposal.
We'll talk to former presidential adviser David Gergen, blogger Andrew Sullivan and Joe Klein of "Time Magazine", also John Burns on the "New York Times".
And we'll look at what the president has said in the past and what he's saying tonight, the rhetoric versus reality.
A lot to do, Larry, at the top of the hour.
KING: Thanks, Anderson.
And let's check in with Senator Dianne Feinstein in Washington and we'll get the words of Senator Warner.
What did you think, Senator Feinstein?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: Oh, my heart fell, Larry, as I heard it because I see no evidence from the past that this kind of surge is going to work. From the change of rules of engagement, what I see is an escalation.
And I think it's very unrealistic to think that military and police and our people can go into a place like Sadr City and not have some form of conflagration.
I've got to say, I'm really disappointed. I don't think that you can take a country that has never known democracy and immediately stand it up as an effective democracy when it doesn't have the infrastructure to carry it out or to enforce the laws or police that are not infiltrated with militias.
There are a lot of problems, and it seems to me that there are no timelines, no real goals in the president's speech. I was very disappointed by it. If I add it all up, it is an escalation and I'm hard pressed to see how we come out of that kind of escalation as victors.
KING: Senator Warner, John, good to see you. What do you make of it?
SEN. JOHN WARNER, (R) VIRGINIA: Good to see you, Larry.
Larry, I found the speech to be credible and sincere. And it does lay down a plan that reflects a lot of study by the executive branch, a lot of advice and opinion that the president took into consideration.
I was privileged to meet with him personally twice this week on this issue. And I think it's now the responsibility of the Congress, particularly the Senate, to give equal study and objectivity to this speech and come up with our own opinions.
In this speech, it's very clear. He said in the days ahead, his team will come and brief us. Well, tomorrow the Intelligence Committee, on which I serve, will hear the top intelligence people. The next day we'll have Bob Gates, the new secretary of defense. And so I will join with my colleagues, giving a respectful, objective analysis of this program. And the president also invites in his speech here, "If you got some ideas, we'll listen and we may incorporate them." To me that's a very fair approach.
I want to go back to October. When I came out of Iraq last October, I said in a press conference to the nation and my colleagues, "The situation is not going forward. It's going sideways. And our nation has to sit down and carefully rethink its strategy in the next 90 days."
The president did just that. I thanked him. Others joined me in doing this message. And now it's up to us to make a tough but important decision because I do agree with the president: an absolute debacle over there, an imploding of Iraq is a disaster for our country and the region.
KING: Senator Edwards...
WARNER: ... he closes, "Let's get a bipartisan group."
I will try and work in that direction, give some suggestions I have about the benchmarks and not to let our troops get caught in sectarian violence predicated on a thousand years of religious differences between the Sunnis and the Shia.
KING: Senator Edwards, he is asking for your thoughts. The president, "Let's open it up. I want to hear from anybody."
Isn't that at least good?
EDWARDS: It's good. I wish he'd been doing it over a period of years instead of starting when he's in trouble, which is what he's doing now.
I think -- well, there's a fundamental threshold question. Senator McCain's been arguing for this for a long time before President Bush accepted it tonight. The argument is that you have to squelch the violence in order to create the potential for a political solution.
The fundamental question is: are the Iraqis more likely -- Shia, Maliki -- is he more likely -- he and others more likely to bring Sunni in, give them a stakeholder position in this government if they take responsibility now? Or is it more likely to happen, if we continue to stay there, send more American troops and prop them up?
I think the answer to that's very clear. What we've been doing is now working. We need to shift responsibilities to the Iraqis. We all want success.
The second thing that I would say is the Iranians, who the president is unwilling to deal with at all -- and Ahmadinejad is a very, very dangerous man. But the Iranians are not -- it is not in their interest to have total chaos in Iraq. They are part of the Shia minority. Eighty-five to 90 percent of the Muslim world is Sunni. What they want is what I would describe as managed chaos so that they can continue to have influence, so they can continue to expand their power. But it is not in their interest to have Iraq totally fall apart.
KING: Let me get a quick -- one more quick break and then a final comment from everybody. We have limited time tonight. We'll be right back.
KING: So we only have about a minute and a half.
With limited time, Senator Graham, is it going to work?
GRAHAM: I hope so. General Petraeus will come to the Congress and ask for additional capability to perform the mission assigned to him. I hope Congress is wise enough to give him what needs. If we don't, it will be a disaster.
KING: So it's up to what Congress does?
GRAHAM: We need to study it like Senator Warner. But we're not going to fight this war. General Petraeus will. I believe in the plan. The biggest mistake we've had in the past is not having enough troops. Twenty thousand troops doubles our combat capability in Baghdad. Listen to General Petraeus. Please, for God's sakes, listen to him and give him the support he needs to carry out his mission.
KING: Senator Feinstein, do you see any chance of it working?
FEINSTEIN: Not really. I'll tell you what I would have done, Larry. I would have said to the world as president, "Iraqi government, here's what we want you to do. And accomplish ti within the nest six months."
I would have gone through the debaathification changes, the oil revenues, et cetera, the five or six things that they have to do to make themselves acceptable.
And then I would go out and I would make a peace settlement with the Israelis and the Palestinians, thereby having Israel recognized by Sunni nations and changing the dynamic in the Middle East.
KING: John, quickly, is it going to work?
WARNER: Larry, I've just started my 29th year in the Senate. This is going to be the biggest challenge that the Senate has had since I've been there.
I have confidence that we will try and put our politics to the side and do what is right for the United States of America and our children and grandchildren.
KING: Out of time.
John Edwards, any time it works?
EDWARDS: The truth is we have no idea what's going to happen in Iraq.
KING: Thank you all very much.
Thank our earlier guests.
And we now turn things over to Anderson Cooper to host "AC 360" -- Anderson.
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