BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Linda Robinson, why did you want to write a book about David Petraeus?
LINDA ROBINSON, AUTHOR, ”TELL ME HOW THIS ENDS: GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS AND THE SEARCH FOR A WAY OUT OF IRAQ”: Well, I’d been spending, as you know, Brian, a lot of time in Iraq since the war began. And I’d met David Petraeus when he was writing the counterinsurgency manual – and in fact, even before that.
And retired General Barry McCaffrey said, ”This is an officer you need to take a good, hard look at.” He was very high on Barry McCaffrey, even though – I mean very high on David Petraeus – even though he was against the war.
So, I had numerous indications that Petraeus was one of the generals in the Army to take a good look at.
LAMB: Where did you get the title for your book, ”Tell Me How This Ends”?
ROBINSON: That, in fact, is his phrase. He said this to Rick Atkinson, who was an embedded journalist with him in the major combat phase at the outset of the war. And around about April, Petraeus turned to Rick and said, ”You tell me how this ends.”
And he began repeating that phrase to other journalists. It kind of showed his skepticism early on that this was going to be a quick war.
LAMB: Why did you compare General David Petraeus to General Matthew Ridgway?
ROBINSON: Well, there were two comparisons as we got started on this book project. One of them was the possibility that this war would go the way of Vietnam, and ”Abe” Abrams – Creighton Abrams – would be the general that Petraeus would most be compared to for having been a bright man with some good ideas, but coming along way too late to apply them successfully.
The other one, Ridgway, was, of course, one of Petraeus’ heroes, a fellow airborne soldier. But he was credited with getting the Korean War at least to a steady state, pushing the North Koreans back. And I think that was the closest historical parallel that some of the historians I talked to could find.
LAMB: What’s General Petraeus’ current job?
ROBINSON: His current job is, for about two weeks longer, to finish his tour in Iraq as the MNFI commander. And …
LAMB: Say that – what’s MNFI?
ROBINSON: Multi-National Force-Iraq. The four-star general who is in Iraq and in charge of the war effort there.
His job really, I think, is to continue bringing this to a soft landing, and then transition out. He’s going to become the Central Command chief, the four-star commander who is in charge of all of the Middle East. He will take on, then, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan.
But he’ll also be continuing to keep an eye on Iraq, while the new four-star, Ray Odierno, moves in there mid-September.
LAMB: What’s he personally like?
ROBINSON: Petraeus is an interesting man. He’s got a Ph.D. from Princeton. His academic credentials and his intellectualism I think have been written about a lot.
But as I got to know him and watched him over this last 18 months, what really struck me was his informality and his approachability, both with Iraqis just coming up to him on the street – he very rarely wore the body armor or the helmet, to try to level the playing field a little bit and make him seem more approachable – and also his engagements with the company commanders, captains, lieutenant colonels – you know, these younger officers.
He tried to make them feel very at ease about telling him exactly what they felt was going on, because he wanted to use these people as sensors, so that he would get a realistic view of what was going on in these neighborhoods, because obviously, he couldn’t be everywhere every day.
And he told the battalion commanders in a crucial phase, ”Don’t let our Army bureaucracy stop you, and don’t let the Iraqi government stop you.”
So, he was really trying to empower these younger officers to get out there and, in essence, make peace on the streets of Baghdad.
LAMB: One of the first things I noticed in the book was a list of people that are in the military, or have been in the military, who he chose to be around him. And the thing that kept popping out of the pages, they all have Ph.D.s.
And you told me that he has a Ph.D. from Princeton.
Who is Colonel Pete Mansoor, who has a Ph.D. in military history from Ohio State?
ROBINSON: Pete Mansoor was his executive officer through much of the time period of the surge. And he is a military historian, but also an Army officer.
LAMB: In the corner of this picture, is he right behind the general?
ROBINSON: Yes, that’s right, with the glasses on. Yes.
And he is one of a number of Ph.D.s that formed Petraeus’ inner circle.
Pete Mansoor was in East Baghdad at the outset of the war as a brigade commander with the 1st Armored Division. So, he certainly had his teeth-cutting in the major combat phase of the war, but also a very smart man, who had actually written about the task of enlarging the U.S. Army for World War II. So, he had done some research on the tasks of actually building and creating an army, making an army bigger and better.
But he was just one of them. Bill Rapp – there were quite a few guys that he drew on with serious intellectual credentials.
LAMB: Well, first of all, Pete Mansoor finished first in his class at West Point. And then you say, Colonel Bill Rapp, I believe that he’s that one that finished first in his class. But then you say Colonel Bill Rapp is a Ph.D. from Stanford.
ROBINSON: Yes, that’s right.
LAMB: What’s he do? Is he still around?
ROBINSON: Yes. He has also moved on. There’s been a turnover just in the recent months. But Bill Rapp was the youngest Colonel ever promoted to brigadier general.
You also had Mark Martins, who was his legal adviser, who was a Rhodes Scholar, also a Ph.D. And both of these guys also were very physically fit, as well. So, you didn’t get just the brains. They would run with Petraeus on these sort of contests.
LAMB: You had Derek Harvey (ph), who is a retired military intelligence colonel, who had a Ph.D. in Islamic political thought?
ROBINSON: Yes. A very key individual. He has been in and out of Iraq from the beginning, really part of the brain trust that tried to analyze the multitude of groups that were part of the so-called insurgency.
So, you really had a lot of fire power. And, of course, H.R. McMaster, who published a very well received book, critical of the Vietnam War, called ”Dereliction of Duty.”
And he was the co-leader of the Joint Strategic Assessment Team, which was a study group that Petraeus brought together, right when he got to Iraq, to in essence do a graduate level study of the problem of Iraq, the current situation of the war, and come up with the joint campaign plan.
It was an interdisciplinary team, and I think that was also very critical. He brought in diplomats, a number of people from our State Department, also British diplomats – people with a range of experiences, so it wasn’t just a military look at the problem.
LAMB: When were you last in Iraq?
ROBINSON: Well, yesterday. I just left yesterday and flew back.
LAMB: And this is being taped Friday afternoon.
ROBINSON: That’s right. Yes. I came out from Iraq via Kuwait, and then the 14-hour flight home from Kuwait.
LAMB: When did you get off the airplane?
ROBINSON: Six a.m. this morning.
LAMB: What’s that like? I mean, are you just – you need some sleep?
ROBINSON: Well, it was 125 degrees in Baghdad the day I left. And riding the various buses to get to the airstrip pretty much left me drenched and exhausted. So, by the time I got on the plane in Kuwait, I was ready for a long night’s sleep.
LAMB: What was the purpose of this trip, and how long were you there?
ROBINSON: This trip was a five-day trip, and I went in order to try to get updated on the very latest political and military aspects of the situation, so that I’d be ready to talk about the book.
I was able to report right up until the end in June, when we went to press. But the situation there is constantly evolving, so I felt like it would a good idea to go over, see Petraeus in his last few days there, but also, critically, get out and about.
I went around Baghdad, revisited some of the neighborhoods that I focus on in the book. And I also went down to the Sunni – largely Sunni area south of Baghdad that was once called the ”triangle of death.”
LAMB: Now, I know we’ve talked about this forever, but the difference between the Sunnis and the Shia in Iraq – who’s the bigger?
ROBINSON: The Shia are the majority in the country. The Sunni represent about 20 percent, a little shy of 20 percent of the population. The same with the Kurds. So, the majority are the balance, the Shia.
And they were generally under-represented. There were Shia in Saddam Hussein’s regime. Sometimes people think it was all Sunni. There were Shia, part of the Saddam Hussein regime, but far fewer. And they’ve generally been oppressed and attacked for the duration of that dictatorship, as were the Kurds.
So, you basically had an inversion of the system when we came in.
LAMB: Did you see General Petraeus?
ROBINSON: Yes, I did. Yes.
LAMB: What did you learn this time?
ROBINSON: Well, he has just given his recommendations up to the White House in terms of what further troop reductions may be made. And they’re minimal, because of a variety of factors we can talk about.
But I think the most surprising thing I learned from him was that Prime Minister Maliki has committed to him to hold the provincial elections by the end of the year, by December. And this is very critical, because at least in my view, the political steps that have to be taken are really going to determine the success or failure ultimately of what Petraeus and the U.S. troops did over the last year-and-a-half.
LAMB: Now the latest figures I read, 146,000 American troops left there, 15 brigades. Is that what you have?
LAMB: Also, the report this morning in the papers is that the earliest that somebody will come out of there again would be 7,000 troops – what is that, roughly a brigade – next January or February?
ROBINSON: Yes, in late January or early February. But there are a couple of Marine battalions that will go without replacement. So, there are small reductions. And one of the reasons is, with these provincial elections occurring, which are so critical that they enfranchise people who boycotted – primarily Sunnis – who boycotted the last provincial elections. So, you need to have a climate of, you know, tranquility for those to occur.
Also, the Georgian brigade left, because of the events with Russia’s incursion into Georgia. Those troops left and weren’t – unexpectedly – so they left without replacement.
And you also have a dicey situation, I would say, frankly, with no U.S. bilateral accord yet agreed. The U.N. mandate for the U.S. troop presence expires at the end of December. You have the new commander, General Odierno, coming in.
And you have some questions about how faithfully Prime Minister Maliki has been implementing his agreement to incorporate some of these Sunnis who have come in from the cold, come in from the insurgency. He’s agreed to incorporate them into the police, but that’s going pretty slowly. There’s some foot-dragging going on.
LAMB: Let me ask you. And I know there are people being killed and injured, and all that, and they probably don’t care about this next question.
But at the same time your book is coming out, so is Bob Woodward’s. And a lot of the same things that you have in your book, some of the leaked stories so far, I see in his book.
What’s that going to do to your book? Help you or hurt you? Or does it matter?
ROBINSON: Generally, I am glad that publishers are continuing to publish on Iraq, because it’s the biggest war we’ve had in a quarter of a century, and I think everybody can contribute to the reporting on it.
I don’t see our books, frankly, as that competitive, since his is largely a Washington book, and mine is largely an Iraq book. But they do intersect, I believe, on one key point, which is I, in my view – and I haven’t read his book yet, so I’ll speak for myself.
But I think that the White House did not realize how sectarian Prime Minister Maliki and some of the people around him were. And that’s a conclusion that I reached after interviewing many of the people who had to deal with that inner circle, as well as interviews with them myself.
And I think that that really was a key thing, because at a critical point in ’06, in the year 2006, when we were heading into civil war, I think the White House didn’t realize the degree to which Maliki was fostering and fomenting some of the sectarian violence that was going on.
LAMB: Well, part of what he writes in his book is about how the American government just followed everything that Mr. Maliki did over there, that they knew every step, every move that he made. And you talk about in your book this whole relationship between George Bush and Prime Minister Maliki, and the teleconferences that they had all the time.
What is that relationship? And you said something about a trap being established, because they were so close via these teleconferences.
ROBINSON: Right. Well, there is a certain diplomatic style that President Bush has had, which is to befriend a world leader, and then hope that he can talk him into doing things the way the U.S. would like them done. And I think that, in the case of the Iraqis and some other cases, has not proven to work.
And I think that having the very regular video teleconferences with Maliki in essence put the U.S. in a position of asking for things from the Iraqi government.
And if you’re so ready to engage with a world leader, rather than saying, you know, we need to see certain things happening, you know, deal with my cabinet members, deal with the people on the ground, Ambassador Crocker, then, once certain agreements are reached, the president will come on the horn and you can iron out the last details.
But I think the frequency of that contact, combined with the lack of understanding of how much some of these Shia players at the top levels of the government were intent upon playing winner-take-all is what I call it.
So, there was a failure, I think, to bring pressure to bear at critical points on that government and to pin on them responsibility for reining in some of that violence.
LAMB: The last word for your book was written what date?
ROBINSON: June ’08. I can’t give you the exact date.
LAMB: The reason I ask that is, you say in here that the war had cost $607 billion by that time. Is that figure – do you have an updated figure on that?
ROBINSON: I don’t. But it’s continued at – I think $10 to $12 billion a month is the rough rate.
LAMB: If you were to find the highest ranking military official in Washington that dislikes General Petraeus the most, where would you go?
ROBINSON: Well, there’s been a lot of angst within the Army and the people who are responsible for the health and welfare of the Army institution. And they see the toll that having 15 – and once 20 – combat brigades over in Iraq, they see the toll that that’s taken on the Army.
And that set up a kind of institutional struggle – the demands of fighting the war in Iraq versus the demands of maintaining rested, ready and re-enlisted troops for the Army. So, I think that’s the essential tension.
There are personality differences. There are stylistic differences. And I think one of the differences that I point out in my book is that General Petraeus is very proactive about his public relations. You know, he’s always willing to go out and talk. And a lot of, I would call them sort of ”old school Army” Army officers are less comfortable and less willing to be proactive on that front.
And you hear people who say, oh, he’s looking for attention, you know, sort of characterizing Petraeus as the attention-seeking general. But it’s really, for him, a way of trying to shape what he calls the ”information environment.” He certainly does mind his career and his public profile. But I think there’s a real substantive purpose to why he does what he does.
And there are, I think, people in the Army who have had some heartburn over that.
LAMB: Now, what’s the relationship between General Petraeus and the man he replaced in Iraq, General Casey, who is now the chief of staff of the Army?
ROBINSON: Right. Well, I think the relationship per se is a respectful one. But I think the history is that General Casey presided over a phase of the war that did not go well. And that is, unfortunately, how he is going to be remembered. And the contrast with the past 18 months inevitably puts General Petraeus in a better light.
So, I think that’s one of those contrasts that’s just inevitable, even though I would say General Casey has probably been less of the media general, not giving nearly as many interviews as General Petraeus.
LAMB: Do I understand that the brigades that were sent over there for the surge are back?
LAMB: Five of them.
LAMB: So, the surge is over.
How would you rate the success?
ROBINSON: Well, I think that it’s half – a glass half full situation. I think they accomplished what no one really had expected they could. But I am quick to say it wasn’t just the numbers.
The surge – you know, there are two narratives out there. One is that the troop increase did it. Another one is that Sunnis and Shias somehow spontaneously decided to stop fighting. And neither of those versions is really correct.
The troops were used in a way that helped bring the Sunnis in from supporting the insurgency. They were fanned out into the neighborhoods into these combat outposts in joint security stations.
And from there – on General Petraeus’ orders – went out to seek contact among the Sunni population – with the imams at the mosque, the population and the insurgents themselves – with the message that, if you come in from the cold, come into our side, we’ll protect you from the raging sectarian violence that was then underway with the Shia militias, who were really conducing sectarian cleansing throughout a large swath of Baghdad.
And so, it was a moment at which the Sunnis were amenable to hearing that argument. But there were also a number of other measures undertaken.
You may recall there was a big controversy when Petraeus started having walls, concrete walls put up in various parts of the city. And this was both to protect the population, keep some of the markets that were being bombed by the car bombs from being bombs. Also to keep the insurgent safe havens in the city from having such easy access to their target areas.
They began running checkpoints, so you had to pass through a frisking checkpoint to get in or out of those neighborhoods. They also did biometric identification of a lot of the young military age men.
That, for the first time, enabled them to create a shareable database of people who were possibly insurgents, because this is what a counterinsurgency is about, is you have to identify the people before you can then target them accurately.
So, there were a lot of technical means that were used to target insurgents, once they were identified. But that’s half your battle, is separating the insurgent from the innocent person in the population.
LAMB: What is the Anbar – or was – the Anbar Awakening?
ROBINSON: The Anbar Awakening was the first experiment with this tribal engagement. And the term tribe is, I think, a good one for Anbar. But I use, in the book, I use the word clan, because in the urban areas you have these familial clans. In some cases you could call them tribes, but I think it gives a mistaken impression of Iraq as a less cosmopolitan country than it is.
But in Anbar, in 2005, actually, was when the very first outreach to some of these tribes occurred. And the al Qaeda affiliated extremists attacked those tribes, decapitated a number of the sheikhs who had come in to talk with the U.S. soldiers. And that derailed that initiative.
It was tried again in Anbar in ’06. It began to take hold then. But during the Petraeus period, he added three key ingredients that I think cemented the Anbar success.
LAMB: Let me interrupt you just …
LAMB: General Petraeus was in Iraq the first time, what years?
ROBINSON: In 2003, 2004. Left in early ’04.
LAMB: And then came back as the head general there at what date?
ROBINSON: He came back in February, 2007.
In between those, he also had another 14-month tour as the commander of the train and equip command in ’05, to build the Iraqi army. So, he’s had three tours in Iraq.
LAMB: So, the Anbar Awakening, how much of that was paying these Sunnis, these tribal leaders money? And if there is money being paid, is it continuing? And will it have to go on forever?
ROBINSON: Yes, well there is about – the figure that Petraeus gave me just a couple of days ago, when we sat down to talk, was $25 million. That’s what’s being paid on a monthly basis for 100,000 of what’s now called the Sons of Iraq.
LAMB: How much per individual?
ROBINSON: About $300 a month. About $10 a day.
LAMB: They’re paid to do what?
ROBINSON: Most of it is standing guard at checkpoints, traffic control points. Some of them are doing more kind of patrolling activities. But now it’s all lashed up with the Iraqi army or Iraqi police. There’s no unilateral operations going on.
The big push now is to integrate about 20,000 of these into the Iraqi police and army. And that has been very successful in Anbar. That is a key thing.
And also, Maliki agreed that Anbar volunteers could join the Iraqi army brigade there, and would not be sent, deployed elsewhere. And that led to a lot – a successful recruitment there.
He also allowed some of the Sunni sheikhs to come onto the provincial council government there, so they had a role in the local government. And he gave a lot of money, not only to regular budget, but a huge supplemental funding, so giving some economic resources to Anbar.
So, I think all those things together, the Iraqi government clearly has decided they can allow Anbar to be governed by Anbaris, largely. They still, of course, control the purse strings. But that’s been, I think, a key ingredient of the success there.
What we still don’t know is whether Maliki is going to incorporate the Sunnis from – especially in the Baghdad area, where the greatest intermixture is – whether he will incorporate them into the security forces and into the economy. Because if they don’t incorporate them, these people could very well go back to the fight.
So, I think it’s less whether we continue to pay them – which we are going to pay them at least until next spring, especially if the Iraqi government dawdles, as it has been, in picking these people up.
LAMB: So, would that – supposedly, the Iraqi government has something like a $79 billion surplus sitting there.
ROBINSON: Yes. Plenty of money.
LAMB: We, Americans are paying $25 million a month – among all the other money they spend – on these individuals, these 100,000 individuals in Anbar Province.
Basically, is that $300 enough for them to live? It covers their living costs?
ROBINSON: Yes, it is. And I should make clear. This 100,000 is actually all over Iraq, but centered in Baghdad, greater Baghdad, and some still in Anbar, although the transition in Anbar is very well along.
A lot of these former insurgents and supporters of the insurgency have joined the police and have joined the army.
So, Anbar is quite far ahead. The key really is what’s going to happen in Baghdad. South of Baghdad, which I called the ”triangle of death,” that’s what it used to be known as, because it was a heavily Sunni area where a lot of insurgent attacks were.
And this area, they still have 20,000 Sons of Iraq, these volunteers. But they are now under the control of the local Iraqi army division and the U.S. brigade there.
I went to visit the brigade commander in some of their outposts. They are drawing down from 21 patrol bases to, I think it’s five by the end of November. So, they are doing a radical pullback.
They feel it’s safe enough there to hand this thing over to the Iraqi army and let them partner with these Sons of Iraq volunteers and keep the place secure. So, it’s an amazing turnaround in that part of the – it’s a rural area.
LAMB: You write in your book about this program called CERPS, C-E-R-P-S, this money that the military has to give away.
LAMB: And you say that – at the time you wrote this – that David Petraeus has given something like $57 million away? Is that correct?
ROBINSON: That’s right, when he was up in Mosul. He really pioneered the use of this program, which originally came from frozen Iraqi funds. But once that money ran out, he petitioned the then-CPA, Coalition Provisional Administrator, Jerry Bremer, for more funds to continue to do this.
LAMB: The ”Washington Post” did a piece a few days ago, which talked about, so far we’ve spent $2.5 billion in this program, and given away money – everything from $48,000 was spent on 6,000 pairs of children’s shoes, $50,000 bought 625 sheep for people described in records as starving poor locals in a Baghdad neighborhood. Soldiers ordered $100,000 worth of dolls, $500,000 in action figures.
I can go on. But what’s your sense? Is that kind of thing working for someone over there?
ROBINSON: Well, it’s – the philosophy behind this program, which the CERP stands for Commanders Emergency Response Program. And it is literally that – a way of injecting funds down to the grassroots, so you can get a local clinic built, a sewer repaired, hire these – these funds have been used largely to hire the Sons of Iraq volunteers. There’s not a lot of red tape associated with it.
And I think that there’s – the feeling of the commanders in the field was this was crucial to their efforts, both at peacemaking and the economic reconstruction, rather than these massive projects, where you’ve read there have been huge problems with the mega projects that some contractors have undertaken.
And Stuart Bowen, who is this special inspector for Iraq, he testified, and I quote him in the book, that this was, in his view, the most effective program and the most effective use of money. But it is a kind of Band-Aid.
And you are right. I mean, Iraq’s government is awash in oil money. And the obvious need is for them to take on more and more of this, which they have been doing.
And when you look at the figures, it’s fairly dramatic. And I saw evidence – I was quite surprised actually. We did an aerial tour, got in General Petraeus’ helicopter and flew over the city. And there were so many rebuilding projects going on in every part of the city – parks, streets, dredging the Tigris River, building all kinds of things.
And I was most – to me, the symbol of Iraq, Baghdad coming back to life was the Sarafiya Bridge, which a truck bomb had collapsed into the river. It’s right in central Baghdad. And it’s now rebuilt with – Iraqi Construction Ministry did it.
So, I think the Iraqi government’s getting traction in terms of spending money.
What’s not clear is that it’s evenhanded spending, again, with the disparity with the Sunni areas. Amariyah, the neighborhood I visited, that I’ve chronicled in the book, they’re still getting, they say, their two to six hours a day, where the Baghdad average is 12 hours a day for electricity. So, they feel at least like they’re getting shorted.
LAMB: You’ve been to Iraq how many times?
ROBINSON: This was the eleventh trip.
LAMB: Over what period of time?
ROBINSON: Since 2003. And I tried to go every six months until I started the book. The trips then were more frequent.
But I usually would spend two to three weeks at a time there, so I would be able to get around, see a lot of people, and really get a sense of the current situation, so that my series of snapshots, you know, could be lined up and hopefully provide some fairly rigorous chronicle of the different phases of the war.
LAMB: How long were you with U.S. News and World Report?
ROBINSON: Seventeen years.
LAMB: Have you left permanently?
ROBINSON: Yes, yes.
LAMB: And what have you – where have you – who’s been paying the bills while you’ve been trying to write this book?
ROBINSON: Well, my publisher, Public Affairs, gave me a generous advance, which has been seeing me through the full-time work on this book. And when we decided to publish in September ’08, precisely so that we could be part of the conversation about whither Iraq, I really had no choice but to go at this full-time.
And I have to say, it was a challenge to be over there reporting and writing, so that we could get the book put to bed and come out at this time.
LAMB: There is a presidential election going on in the United States. And sometimes on television, you wouldn’t know there was a war going on still. I mean, it’s all conversation constantly, daily, about the presidential election.
So, I’ve got a couple of clips I want to show of Barack Obama and John McCain.
But before I do that, Bill O’Reilly, in an interview that he did with Barack Obama on Thursday, pushed him to say one way or the other that the surge is working, has worked, was successful. And in effect – and I don’t have the quote in front of me, but he basically said it was much more successful than anybody ever dreamed.
The politics of all this, as you – I read that the Defense Department does not want General Petraeus to testify between now and the election about what he recommended to the president.
What do you know about that? And will he testify?
ROBINSON: I don’t believe there are plans at this time for him to testify. And I think that he’s, frankly, tired.
This is a man with legendary energy. But the problems of Iraq and the intensity of his focus – I mean, he’s someone who kept all the plates spinning at once. And this involved, you know, major engagement with the Iraqi leadership while traveling out also several times a week to see the situation on the ground.
So, I think that he’s going to get a little bit of a break before he takes up his duties at Central Command, which is based down in Tampa, but then he’s going to be off and running.
But I think that the – in my view, both parties, or at least the seasoned advisers of both parties, realize the troops levels in Iraq do need to come down, but they can’t come down precipitously.
And if you just look at the logistical footprint over there, I mean, we have massive amounts of equipment and things that we’re not going to leave behind. So, it’s just a huge job to manage that drawdown.
So, I think that everyone is roughly on the same page, that you need a gradual drawdown and a gradual transition of the troops’ mission.
But to me, what’s not part of this debate and is so critical is, what are the political conditions that have to be created in Iraq for this to succeed? Because it could still unravel.
I mean, I do not take anything away from what has been accomplished, and at a very high price. This cost almost 1,000 American soldiers’ lives to accomplish this.
LAMB: What did? The surge?
ROBINSON: The surge, yes. And having spent time with units that paid a very, very high price for this, I tried to convey what that toll was, so that people don’t take lightly and feel the temptation to check the box and say, ”Iraq’s now done. Let’s go on to the next thing.”
It may be done largely in the military sense, but it’s not done in the political sense. And the stakes in Iraq are still what they are. I mean, Iran, major player, has great interest in Iraq. Iraq has been the traditional counterweight to Iran. Huge oil country.
I mean, you know, there are just – it’s a big player in the Middle East, and it’s going to affect the Shia-Sunni balance in the Middle East. So, the idea that our attention could be diverted entirely from Iraq is one that sends chills down my spine.
But I think it’s clear that whichever administration is elected, you will get a drawdown and a transition underway.
LAMB: Let’s look at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where Barack Obama questioned General Petraeus back in April. And then we’ll have another clip after that of John McCain at the Armed Services Committee.
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SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILLINOIS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Should we be successful in Mosul, should you continue, General, with the effective operations that you’ve been engaged in, assuming that in the narrow military effort we are successful, do we anticipate that there ever comes a time where Al Qaida in Iraq could not reconstitute itself?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER OF MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE – IRAQ: Well, I think the question, Senator, is whether Iraqi security forces over time, with much less help, could deal with their efforts to reconstitute.
I think it’s …
OBAMA: That’s my point.
PETRAEUS: I think it’s a given that Al Qaida Iraq will try to reconstitute, just as any movement of that type does try to reconstitute. And the question is whether …
OBAMA: I don’t mean to – I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I just want to sharpen the question, so that – because I think you’re getting right at my point here.
I mean, if one of our criteria for success is ensuring that Al Qaida does not have a base of operations in Iraq, I just want to harden a little bit the metrics by which we’re measuring them.
At what point do we say they cannot reconstitute themselves? Or are we saying that they’re not going to be particularly effective, and the Iraqis themselves will be able to handle the situation?
PETRAEUS: I think it’s really the latter, Senator, that again, if you can keep chipping away at them, chipping away at their leadership, chipping away at the resources – that comprehensive approach that I mentioned – that over time – and we are reaching that in some other areas already, as I mentioned.
We are drawing down very substantially in Anbar Province, a place that I think few people would have thought would be at the situation we’re in at this point now, say, 18 months ago. And again, that’s what we want to try to achieve in all of the different areas in which Al Qaida still has a presence.
OBAMA: I just want to be clear if I’m understanding. We don’t anticipate that there’s never going to be some individual or group of individuals in Iraq that might have sympathies toward Al Qaida.
Our goal is not to hunt down and eliminate every single trace, but rather to create a manageable situation where they’re not posing a threat to Iraq, or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq. Is that accurate?
PETRAEUS: That is exactly right.
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LAMB: What did you see there, both from General Petraeus and kind of the dynamic? And what was actually being said about Al Qaida?
ROBINSON: Well, I was at those hearings, actually, and I’ve watched on a number of occasions where I think that Senator Obama has tried very thoughtfully to define success in Iraq, what is the endpoint that we’re actually aiming to get, and putting some real meat on the bones of that definition.
There they were talking about specifically Al Qaida in Iraq. But I think he’s been asking that question in a variety of ways.
How do we know when we’re done in Iraq?
LAMB: I’m going to show the John McCain clip in just a second. But if you’re either Barack Obama or John McCain, one of you is going to be president, and you’re looking at General Petraeus. He’s going to be at Central Command, in charge of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Where do you think he’ll end up in the eyes of either Senator McCain or Obama, if they’re elected? What do you think they think of him? And will he get credit for a successful surge?
ROBINSON: I think he will get credit, because I think the facts really do, in my view at least, are indisputable. I mean, there have been a lot of controversies over the past 18 months about who’s taking credit for what.
And I think that, in particular, this idea that the Sunnis and Shias somehow spontaneously decided to stop fighting, just has – bears no connection to what’s actually happened on the ground.
And I just, you know, read the chapter about Muqtada al-Sadr. I mean, there was a lot going on behind the scenes that led to that August cease-fire, which is now – Sadr has renewed for an indefinite amount of time. But that came about through a lot of pressure and essentially as a wedge being driven in between Maliki and Sadr.
So, I think, yes, when the full history is known, people will give Petraeus credit. But I think what is not clear – and Al Qaida in Iraq is only one of the dangers in Iraq, their possible resurgence, which I think the Sunni population has largely rejected. And I do think the Iraqi security forces are on a slow, upward curve in terms of their capability.
To me, it all comes down to the intentions of the Iraqi government, the civilian leadership. Do they intend to use the security forces in a sectarian way? Do they intend to use the resources of Iraq for their own gain, or for the entire country?
And there’s an opportunity with the national elections due by next December, according to the Iraqi constitution, for a more representative government to come into existence. And that’s really, I think, the key moment for Iraq’s future.
LAMB: Here’s Senator McCain’s question around the same time on a different committee.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZONA, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The Green Zone has been attacked in ways that it has not been for a long time. And most of that is coming from elements that leave Sadr City, or from Sadr City itself. Is that correct?
PETRAEUS: That’s correct, Senator.
MCCAIN: And what are we going to do about that?
PETRAEUS: Well, we have already taken control of the area that was the principal launching point for a number of the 107-millimeter rockets into Baghdad, and have secured that area.
Beyond that, again, Iraqi security forces are going to have to come to grips, both politically as well as militarily, with the issue of the militia, and more importantly, the special groups.
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LAMB: There have been reports in the last 24 hours that Americans are about ready to turn over Baghdad to the Iraqis.
Any truth in that?
ROBINSON: No. I think it came from one interview in which Petraeus said, yes, conditions permitting, we could see troops pulling back from Baghdad by July of next year.
The scheme that’s in place – and I did actually do a number of interviews with the Baghdad Division Command to find out the plan. By the end of this year, the U.S. troops in 60 percent of the city will be back into what they call ”tactical overwatch.”
They’re going to be letting the Iraqi police and military take the lead. They’ll be there to help if needed, but they’re really going to put them out front.
And then, if things go well, the other half of the city will follow suit by next summer. So, it’s a gradual process of letting them take over while we’re still kind of in the wings to help, if needed.
LAMB: Reportedly, the U.S. is spending at least $650 million, maybe more, on a new embassy of 21 buildings and 1,000 personnel and 1,200 security people around it – the largest embassy the United States has in the world.
Has it opened yet?
ROBINSON: They’re going to move in at the end of the year, is the current planning. It’s been delayed several times, because of construction. It’s a mammoth complex, as you say, sitting there right on the banks of the Tigris.
LAMB: Have you been inside it?
ROBINSON: I have not. No, I haven’t taken the tour. But it’s supposedly going to be such a secure facility, that they’re talking about having the press actually meet officials at a different location. So, we’ll see how it’s going to work. It sounds like it’s going to be a fortress.
But I have to say – and we – I had neglected, as we’ve been talking about this – Petraeus has had a great partnership with Ambassador Ryan Crocker. And so, it is very important to give Crocker a good deal of the credit, especially as they’ve worked through the issues, as far as government spending, the legislative achievements that they have managed, because there have been some laws that they have very painstakingly forged compromises on and got through the Iraqi parliament.
And he and Petraeus would go together to meet Maliki. So, they very much did a tag team. I call it the good cop, bad cop routine.
But you have Petraeus and ambassador with tremendous knowledge of the region – Arabic speaker, five-time ambassador. And he pulled together a high-level team of diplomats to work for him, who are also – I’ve written about in the book – three ambassadors, three DCMs, deputy chiefs of mission. He had a crack team working alongside Petraeus’.
Now, of course, we don’t know what the shape of the future is going to be, since December 31st, the U.N. mandate expires. And it’s really up to the Iraqi government to say what kind of assistance they want from the U.S., and go forward.
So, we’re kind of screeching up to a crisis here with that not being defined.
LAMB: So, the next president walking into the Oval Office on January 20th has what decisions in front of him right away?
ROBINSON: Well, I think the critical ones are the political ones. What conditions, if any, is he prepared to put on continuing assistance to the Iraqi government? Until now, it’s been largely a condition-free arrangement.
And I think that there’s the obvious one. The Sons of Iraq have to be incorporated into the body politic of Iraq, or the insurgency will resume. It’s that simple. The same thing with services and infrastructure in Sunni areas that have been starved of power and other resources.
There is a massive number of displaced Iraqis – two million Iraqis displaced internally, two million displaced externally. Many of those are Sunnis. They need to be allowed to vote in these next two rounds of elections.
And you still have a series of legislative issues that have to be dealt with. And that, I think, frankly, won’t be resolved until a new parliament is elected next December, a year from now.
LAMB: Is it possible – a year from now?
LAMB: The parliament – what’s the election this year?
ROBINSON: This one is provincial elections, this December. And that’s critical, because you have a chance now for these new groups to come in. There are Sons of Iraq political parties forming.
You have a chance for the Sunnis to band together, find a political path and be part of the government – also, other secular groups, because a lot of people don’t want to have an identification as being a religious this or that.
LAMB: Will the new president of the United States have Mr. Maliki to deal with?
ROBINSON: He will at least until next December, when there are new elections.
LAMB: If you’re Mr. Maliki, prime minister of Iraq, would you rather have Barack Obama or John McCain?
ROBINSON: That’s a good question, and I don’t think I know the answer.
But I think, again, I see both candidates being driven toward some of the same positions, because we must impress upon Maliki the need to govern for all Iraqis. That’s been part of the rhetoric until now. But I think what’s really needed is to put some teeth into the policy. And that’s not at a Petraeus level, that’s at a White House level.
LAMB: How much should Americans expect, no matter who’s elected, to spend on Iraq for the foreseeable future?
ROBINSON: The big cost is the troop presence. And as that comes down, I mean, the cost will come down commensurately. And I think that is what people can look forward to.
And if the Iraqi government sees itself interest is in maintaining this calm, they will cooperate with this.
They’ve got plenty of money. They are, I think, increasingly able to fund their own military. We are agreeing to a foreign military sales program with the Iraqi government, but they’re purchasing things from us.
So, I think fairly quickly we can have the costs coming down dramatically as you go from 15 to as little as five brigades over the next two years.
LAMB: What’s your favorite chapter in your own book?
ROBINSON: Oh, that’s tough. That’s like asking which of your children is the favorite.
But I have to say, the chapter on the Blue Spaders, which is a unit that was based in Adhamiya, which was the toughest neighborhood of Baghdad. And what those individuals went through and what they accomplished, that’s where my heart is.
LAMB: Eleven trips. Did you ever come close to being fired on?
ROBINSON: Well, with that unit, I was at the outset of the war. There was a period of time in Baghdad where you literally felt driving down the next street you were taking your life in your hands. It was just such an unpredictable environment.
And these bombs create kind of a constant neurosis, because you literally have no warning. You don’t know where it’s coming from. And as they were just building more and more powerful bombs, frankly, it would get to anyone.
LAMB: Do you have a family? And if so, do you have children?
ROBINSON: I don’t have children. I do have a husband. And he’s very glad that this project has reached completion.
But I felt that my reporting career in war zones, that it was probably not a good thing to subject a family to that.
LAMB: How much of the media is still left there, American media?
ROBINSON: There are still media representatives, but they’re drawing down. Where you used to have bureaus of several people, they’re now onesies and twosies. And I’m sure that will radically contract, because the expenses are so great.
And another thing that no one’s talking about yet, given that the Iraqi government does not want to allow U.S. contractors to be subject to U.S. law instead of Iraqi law, you could find many contractors are unwilling to work in Iraq, because frankly, to subject oneself to the Iraqi courts and justice system at this point is not something too many people are going to be eager for.
LAMB: What about the contractors and all the stories that come dribbling out of there about corruption and payoffs, and all that stuff? Are we in store for years and years of these kind of stories, where America can’t find where billions of dollars have been spent?
ROBINSON: Well, I think there’s going to be investigations for years to come. But I think that will be largely into the early phase of the war, where lots of money was being handed out and there wasn’t a big infrastructure.
I mean, I happen to think that Stuart Bowen did a terrific job. And the reports are all online, and there was a lot of good investigation.
But where there’s big money to be made – and Iraq is awash in money, and the corruption also touches the Iraqi government, as well. It’s not just the contractors.
So, it’s a perennial issue.
LAMB: Of the 146,000 American troops still there, where are most of them located?
ROBINSON: Well, they are largely out of the south. The Polish – which is the last major piece of the Coalition, Polish in the east, southeast of the country, and the British down in the south – they’re going to be leaving soon. And that leaves us primarily Baghdad, Diyala, Mosul, the north of the country, excepting the Kurdistan region.
But the north is where there’s still this continuing fight with Al Qaida in Iraq and these remnants that have continued to fight. But it’s largely, I think, turning into a peacekeeping mission.
And for my money, I mean, we talk about the Balkans and Kosovo, we’re still there. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are troops that continue there as trainers and a kind of security blanket for some time, but at much, much lower levels.
LAMB: How would you characterize the attitude of a lot of American soldiers you came in contact with at this point, including the leadership?
ROBINSON: It’s a very professional organization, but people were tired. And I have this sentiment myself when I leave Iraq each time, and especially in these brutally hot months. You know, you want a shower, and you’re happy to be on the plane.
LAMB: And when you were over there, where did you stay?
ROBINSON: I’ve stayed with different units, in the Rashid Hotel, down in the Green Zone, and out in some really hellish, blown-up holes in the beginning of the war.
But the accommodations now are pretty decent.
LAMB: So, if Al Qaida were to come back and there’d be a lot more car bombings and a lot more people killed, what do you think the American people would do in the future about spending money over there?
ROBINSON: Oh, I think that it would be very hard for the American people to agree to any kind of ramp-up now. It’s clearly going to be over to the Iraqis to take it from here. An opportunity has been provided for them.
And I do believe there’s enough leverage the U.S. has, if it uses it wisely, to impose the right conditions – not onerous conditions, but reasonable conditions – that the Iraqi government should be able to keep the lid on the situation, keep the continuing security climate going, and get to these next elections, where you will get a new parliament that can then tackle the key issues of what’s the nature of the Iraqi state, the federal structure, the share of resources, the oil resources, the law that’s going to govern that.
All of these core issues still have to be dealt with. But I think that trying to force this very sectarian government and very sectarian parliament to deal with it now would be premature. The job for the next 10 months is going to be keep things calm, get to elections that truly will represent all Iraqis.
LAMB: So, going back over it – and we don’t have much time – some of the personalities.
What happened to Don Rumsfeld? Was he fired?
ROBINSON: He was asked for his resignation. So, I think that’s tantamount to firing.
LAMB: Would he have gone for the surge and put General Petraeus in charge?
ROBINSON: I think that he was more with the crowd of – and his memo that he penned right before he left government suggested he was not in favor of the surge. I don’t know personally what he thought about Petraeus.
LAMB: Would Dick Cheney have approved of the surge and General Petraeus?
ROBINSON: I think so, and I think his office was involved in some of those discussions, and his national security adviser.
LAMB: So, what are you going to do next?
ROBINSON: I am going to travel around speaking about the book, and see what happens next.
But I do feel, I guess, very passionate about all that’s been expended in blood and treasure in what is, frankly, this is my generation’s Vietnam War. Right? We haven’t been engaged in such a massive conflict since then.
So, I feel that it’s really important for this country to take ownership of where we are and what’s left to be done, and how to do it.
LAMB: So, if you read your book, ”Tell Me How This Ends,” what’s, in your opinion, the primary thing people will learn about either the American military or our efforts in Iraq?
ROBINSON: I hope they will learn that, as Clausewitz said, war is politics by other means. And the only way you can get to a resolution of this conflict is by looking at the political motivations of those who are fighting, and use the military and other resources to address those motivations.
We have to engage in the politics of Iraq to get to the solution.
LAMB: You quote Holly Petraeus in this book, the wife of General David Petraeus, as saying there’s not a chance that he’ll ever run for president. Do you believe her?
ROBINSON: I do, absolutely, and subsequently had a conversation with General Petraeus also about that. And electoral politics is the furthest thing from his mind.
I have no doubt, though, that after his military career, which I think will continue for some years, he will find something to do that will put him on the national stage.
But frankly, I think he felt very roughly treated over this last tumultuous year-and-a-half.
LAMB: Linda Robinson, just off the plane from Kuwait and Iraq, thank you very much.
ROBINSON: Thanks so much, Brian.