Michael Steele on War & Peace
A: The war in Iraq right now stands with a mess that we need to fix. We are at a point right now where there is no clear strategy. Going forward, what is the strategy? Put in place the benchmarks, put the pressure on the Iraqi government to lay out very clearly and very forcefully that they're committed to democracy.
Q: Did the Bush administration help create this mess?
A: The Defense Department did not give the president the kind of strategy that he needed to prosecute this war. From the beginning we didn't have enough troops on the ground, from the beginning there was no clear decision to win the peace here.
A: I think the war has been worth it to the extent that what we're trying to establish there is a beachhead of democracy. When we walk out of Iraq, what do we want? Do we want an Iraq that's an ally of the US, or do we want an Iraq that is an enemy of the US? We want an ally, so it's been worth it to us to establish this beachhead of democracy and an ally in an area where we've had some trouble in the past.
A: What we need to make sure we leave behind in Iraq is an ally, not an enemy. What we need to do is make certain that, whether it's looking at the Biden plan in terms of a trifurcation or looking at a whole Iraq, this is the conversation we need to get into right now that we haven't. What we have done, ostensibly, for the last three years, is slowly march towards nothing. A few weeks ago, the Iraqi government took control of its military. That is a notable benchmark. But there are so many others that we need to reach, and so many others that we have to do, that together will move us in a direction towards putting in place a stable Iraq that we can rely on as an ally, and not just sort of, "Well, we withdraw the troops or we don't fund them." That is not the strategy. What is your, what is your goal to put the pressure on the Iraqi government?
STEELE: We applaud you for that vote against the war, but.
Q: You applaud him for that vote?
STEELE: No, I think it was a wrong-headed vote.
Q: But you said you applaud him.
STEELE: I applaud that he stood behind his vote, but that was the only time we've heard from him. You put out a plan that said "Let's have a plan." Where's your strategy to bring our boys and girls home and leave behind a more stable and stronger Iraq?
Q: What's your plan?
STEELE: I think we need discernible benchmarks. We need clarity of mission, and what we should show as progress of the Iraqi government taking control.
CARDIN: Would you have voted for war four years ago?
STEELE: Yes, I would have authorized the use of force, to deal with the terror that was there.
Because Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, Israel's strong reaction is justified, he said. "You don't give them any leverage or any upper hand in any conflict you have with them," Steele said. "Your goal should be to take them out. Period. As quickly as you can."
A: It is imperative we improve conditions on the ground so we can bring our troops home as quickly as possible and have the Iraqi people take control of their own destiny. At the same time, we should not publicly state a timetable for implementation. I do not support a "cut and run strategy." Any politician out there talking about timetables and timelines is playing into the hands of our enemies who have an enormous capacity to wait. It would be a disaster for us to cut and run, as it would destroy our credibility in the region for at least a generation. At the same time, it is the Iraqis themselves that will ultimately have to make democracy work in their country. We should stay there only long enough to give the Iraqi people the tools they need to secure the very democracy they voted for three times. After that, it's up to them.
A: To lay out for the people exactly what the strategy is. OK, you won the war, now how do we deal with the peace? Our military is not a police force. It is a military. It blows up things, it breaks things. The American people feel that we've not been very clear about the direction in which we're going.
Q: You don't favor immediate withdrawal?
A: I think a precipitous withdrawal is dangerous.
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