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GOP Senator: 'Low grade' civil war going on in Iraq for at least last six months

RAW STORY
Published: Sunday March 19, 2006

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A Republican Senator claimed on a Sunday talk show that generals have told him that a "low grade" civil war has been going on in Iraq for the last six months to a year, RAW STORY has found.

"I think we have had a low-grade civil war going on in Iraq, certainly the last six months, maybe the last year," said Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. "Our own generals have told me that privately, George. So that's a fact. And for us to walk away from that or try to hue this up with some rosy veneer--"

Hagel, who has picked more than a few fights with the Bush Administration the last few years, also criticized a line from a column that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote and had published in the Washington Post, which compared withdrawal from Iraq to appeasing the Nazis.

"Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis," wrote Rumsfeld.

When asked by Stephanopoulos if that analogy was appropriate, Hagel said that it wasn't, though he understood "that the secretary has a difficult assignment to try to assign some credibility to the current policy," which wasn't "working."

Hagel complained about the constant refrain invoked by the Administration about how "we're not going to leave until we achieve victory." After rattling off a number of goals already achieved, such as Saddam's capture and Iraqi elections, Hagel argued that the term was too "nebulous" and could signify that "we'll never be out of there."

Stephanopoulos' other guest, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) argued that another major problem is that there was no "compliment" to the military forces in Iraq.

"We don't have the State Department people, the Department of Agriculture, the AID people to transform this military success into something that people would talk about as a stable and effective governmental structure in Iraq," Reed said.

Crooks and Liars has a video clip of Hagel's contention that generals told him that Iraq was experiencing a "low grade civil war" at this link.

RAW STORY transcript of the entire show:

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MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. Three years ago tonight, the first U.S. bombs fell on Baghdad and the first U.S. troops prepared to invade Iraq. Now, Saddam Hussein is out of power and on trial for mass murder. Iraqis have voted for a new government and a new constitution. But as we all now know, no weapons of mass destruction were found, the fighting has not stopped, and the costs have been steep. More than 2,300 American military dead and more than 17,000 wounded. Almost 34,000 Iraqis dead, more than 50,000 wounded. We spent over 225 billion dollars on Iraq. By the end of this year, that number will top 320 billion.

Here to discuss all this are two senators who have been to Iraq several times, Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Welcome, gentlemen.

And Senator Hagel, let me begin with you. A majority of Americans now look at all those costs and say the war just wasn't worth fighting. Do you agree?

SEN. HAGEL: I think history will determine that question. The fact is we are where we are, George. A lot of mistakes have been made. We've not going to go back and unwind those mistakes. We have an awful lot at stake here now, the United States, the world, in the Middle East. But I think where we must now focus our energy is to help in every way we can, and I think our options are limited here, find a political settlement. The center of gravity for the future of Iraq and the Middle East, and I say the Middle East because this is part of a larger equation, which includes Iran, is a political settlement. The sooner that we can help find that, then I think that is going to be the key to our future, certainly our involvement there, our options are limited, our influence is limited.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Reed, you said recently that the objective now has to be to redeploy our forces as quickly as possible. How and when?

SEN. REED: Well, it has to be done as quickly as possible, I pointed out. How do we do that? We do that by basically not only encouraging, but insisting that the Iraqis step up. The president's slogan, and he's good at slogans, not good on strategy, but good at slogans, is that we'll stand down when they stand up is wrong. We're standing down. They have to stand up much faster than they're doing it right now. And then we can begin to redeploy within the country and then hopefully begin to deploy our troops out of the region.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Picking up on what Senator Hagel said, two of your democratic colleagues, Senator Levin and Senator Biden, have said that basically this political solution has about six weeks and if they can't come together in the next six weeks, we have to reassess our entire presence. Do you agree with that?

SEN. REED: I absolutely do agree with that. And I think the president has to stop taking half-steps. If it's important to get this government in place, which I think is absolutely critical, it'll buy us some time. It might not buy us success, but it will buy us time. I think he shouldn't be timid. I think he should send the Secretary of State, Secretary Rice over there to convene these people, to insist that this is the highest-level priority for the people of Iraq and also for the United States.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But when you say reassess, and I want to ask you both this, does that mean that we have to use the threat, Senator Hagel, of withdrawal to get these sides in Iraq to agree?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, that's part of it, certainly. But the fact is we just can't precipitously withdraw. We have too much at stake. There are too many consequences for that action. And I suspect the Iraqis know that. I would guess everyone knows that. So what we've got to do, it seems to me, is calibrate some new thinking here, put something on the table that we haven't though through. For example, I suggested before the elections that after the elections in Iraq the United States move toward helping convene a regional security conference, because this is a regional issue. What happens in Iraq is going to affect all of the Middle East and all of the neighbors. We should continue to do that. I'm very pleased that the administration is going to start talking to Iran. I think that's something some of us felt needed to be done. The limitations that we have, the options we have, have to be factored in here. And it is up to the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people will determine the future of Iraq.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How about this issue of leverage, though? Steven Bitter in Foreign Affairs says we have to slow down our build- up of the Iraqi forces in order to convince the Shiites that they're not going to be able to get away with building up the militias going after the Sunnis.

SEN. REED: Well, there aren't many good options out there and the only leverage we have is our troop presence and I think we have to make it clear to the Iraqi political leaders that if they're not able or willing to come together with a political solution that recognizes the differences and pulls together the different factions that our presence can't be indefinite there. I don't think it's appropriate to lay out a public timetable --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But isn't that the only way that threat has some teeth?

SEN. REED: Well, the only way it has teeth is to go and communicate with them that we've not going to stay forever, we're not going to be hostage to their feuds, their factions, that we will, in fact, at some point, determine that our presence there is not helping at all, it's disabling, not enabling, and I think we have to be very clear to them. I think we have to do it publicly. The president has been very reluctant to send a strong public signal that our long-term presence there is a function of the political steps the Iraqis take and that's precisely what they have to do.

SEN. HAGEL: George, I might add one other thing. I think it's important that we stop this talk about we're not going to leave until we achieve victory. Well, what is victory? We achieved victory, Saddam's gone, the Iraqis have a constitution, they had an election, it's now up to them. If you define victory by what nebulous measure here, we'll never be out of there and you put yourself in a corner, you trap yourself when you talk that way. And that further plays right into your question about leverage of redeploying troops or pulling troops out when you say we're not going to leave till there's victory.

SEN. REED: But one of the other problems we have, you know, following up with Chuck's point about complete victory, is we don't have the compliment to our military forces on the ground.

We don't have the State Department people, the Department of Agriculture, the AID people to transform this military success into something that people would talk about as a stable and effective governmental structure in Iraq.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But as you both know, President Bush has said we're not going to leave until we have victory and just this morning in The Washington Post, Senator Hagel, Secretary Rumsfeld says, "Turning our backs on post-war Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing post-war Germany back to the Nazis." Is that an appropriate analogy?

SEN. HAGEL: I don't think it is. I understand that the secretary has a difficult assignment to try to assign some credibility to the current policy and I don't think the current policy is working. We need some new thinking here. And I think we should not be afraid to think through, which we have never done, we didn't think through this at all before we went into Iraq, but think through consequences, all right, what if we leave at some point? What if all the worst-case scenarios happen?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So we have to start thinking about a staged withdrawal?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, we always should be thinking about that. But somehow we are going to have to bring into the mix here the obligations, responsibility -- not just for the Iraqi people, but of the region. And this mindless kind of banter about, well, if we leave, the whole place falls apart, we can't leave, we can't even think about leaving. Wait a minute, wait a minute, you just showed on your screen the cost to the American people of the last three years. It's helping bankrupt this country, by the way. We didn't think about any of that. Not just the high cost of lives and the continuation of that, but our standing in the world. And I would define it this way. Are we better off today than we were three years ago? Is the Middle East more stable than it was three years ago? Absolutely not. It's more unstable. We've got to think in a big-picture way here that we haven't thought before. I think we need to talk to the Iranians. They'll be no peace in Iraq or in the Middle East without the Iranians being part of that. That doesn't mean you give up or you negotiate or you lose your sovereignty. But this is a time for some wide-view, intense thinking.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Wholesale change in strategy now?

SEN. REED: Well, I think we have to -- I agree with Chuck -- have to take a regional view. I think we have to recognize this strategy has failed. Iran has benefited from the strategic mistakes of this administration. They're much more influential in the region than they were several years ago. We have to recognize this. I believe, along with Senator Hagel, that talking to them right now about Iraq makes sense because they have influence there and we want a peaceful situation.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The former prime minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, made some news in London today, he said civil war has already broken out in that country. Take a look.

FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ AYAD ALLAWI: We are losing a day, as an average, 50-60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is. I think Iraq is facing -- is in the middle of a crisis. Maybe we have not reached the point of no return yet, but we are moving towards this point.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Hagel, if civil war break out, even beyond what Prime Minister Allawi talked about, what should the U.S. military strategy be?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, first, I think prime minister -- the former prime minister is correct. I think we have had a low-grade civil war going on in Iraq, certainly the last six months, maybe the last year. Our own generals have told me that privately, George. So that's a fact. And for us to walk away from that or try to hue this up with some rosy veneer --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But do we put U.S. troops in the middle of it?

SEN. HAGEL: That's the second part of this. We're limited. What Jack said earlier about a force structure. I mean, think of it. We invaded that country, intended to occupy it with 130,000 troops. We had 550,000 troops on the border of Kuwait and Iraq in 1991 and that was just to push Saddam back up into Iraq. We never had the force structure to be able to do the mission.

Now, we are limited three years later. I think those limitations are quite clear. So, again, what Jack said, I've said it, I think we all understand it, our options are limited here. If the civil war really breaks out, then this is all part of what we're talking about, a larger strategy strategic thinking about all these worse-case options as to what happens. Do we pull our people out? Do we just keep them there? Do we put them in the middle of a civil war?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the answer?

SEN. REED: Well, the answer is if we're in a civil war, then we have to protect our forces. If we go into a force protection mission to ensure that they're not trapped, they're not caught in that crossfire, that we retain the right, obviously, to strike at terrorists everywhere within the region, particularly in Iraq, but it might become just like Lebanon where our situation there is so tenuous that we don't -- we won't be the ones to decide whether we stay or whether we go. Events on the ground will, perhaps, force us out.

The overall situation, I think, is a combination of incompetence by this administration. I think it's interesting that Secretary Rumsfeld is referring to post-war Germany now. He should have thought about that before we sent too few troops in there to secure a country, too few civilian experts to help maintain a country. What we did in post-war Germany was a huge number of troops together with experts to help that country rebound, to stabilize, and become a contributing member of Europe.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's going to have to be the last word today. Senator Reed, Senator Hagel, thank you both very much.

SEN. HAGEL: Thank you.

SEN. REED: Thank you.

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