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April 8, 2008 NBC Nightly News, 7:00 PM
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. The man in charge of the war effort in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, today reported to Congress on the status of the fight and what the future looks like to him. By his side was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and across the gulf of photographers two Senate committees with a full day of questions about what’s going on over there.
The war’s now five years old. That’s longer than U.S. involvement in World War II. There are currently 162,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq. The death toll is now over 4,000, and the price tag of this war for military operations alone – nearly $0.5 trillion so far. Those are the stakes. Now, the testimony and the politics of the day.
We have it all covered. Our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski starts us off live on Capitol Hill tonight. Jim, good evening.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Good evening, Brian. Gen. Petraeus has made it clear today that he thinks the yearlong surge operation has succeeded in bringing down the overall level of violence in Iraq. But he also acknowledged that any progress there is still very tenuous and that most American troops now in Iraq are there to stay.
In the seven months since he last appeared before Congress, Gen. Petraeus said today there’s been significant but uneven progress in Iraqi security. But he also warned it could still turn on a dime.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS [Commander, Coalition Forces, Iraq]: We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle’s been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Still, it’s good enough for Petraeus to say he’ll withdraw all five surge combat brigades, nearly 20,000 soldiers from Iraq by the end of July. But after that, Petraeus said, there’d be a 45-day pause before even considering further troop withdrawals. Democrats quickly pounced.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI): Could that be a month? Could that be two months?
PETRAEUS: Sir, it could be less than that.
LEVIN: But I’m just asking a direct question. Could that be as long as three months?
PETRAEUS: It could be, sir.
PROTESTER: Bring them home! Bring them home!
MIKLASZEWSKI: A protestor voiced what some Americans are demanding for U.S. troops.
PROTESTOR: Bring them home!
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE): On a scale of one to ten, how far along are we on this progress scale before we get to the point we can significantly reduce American forces?
PETRAEUS: Well, I think we’re in a six or a seven or somewhere along there, Senator Biden.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Some Republicans were frustrated with a lack of political progress in Iraq, demanding that Ambassador Ryan Crocker launch a diplomatic surge.
SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH): It’s time for you to step in and start taking some action and bringing people together. And the American people have had it up to here.
AMBASSADOR RYAN CROCKER [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq]: It is hard in Iraq and there are no light switches to throw that are going to go dark to light.
MIKLASZEWSKI: For the first time today, Gen. Petraeus revealed that Iranian special Quds forces were directly involved in a recent battle for Basra in southern Iraq, providing weapons, training and tactical command.
PETRAEUS: We should all watch Iranian actions closely in the weeks and months ahead, as they will show the kind of relationship Iran wishes to have with its neighbor.
MIKLASZEWSKI: But Petraeus acknowledged that while Iraqi security forces are taking the lead in more offensive operations, they still have a long way to go and failed in their assault against Shiite militias in Basra.
PETRAEUS: It could have been much better planned. It was not adequately planned or prepared.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Gen. Petraeus will be back up here on the Hill tomorrow. And later this week, President Bush will give a nationwide address where he is expected to accept the recommendations for troop withdrawals from Iraq from Gen. Petraeus and go one step further by reducing those 15-month combat tours for soldiers in Iraq back down to a year. Brian?
WILLIAMS: Our man at the Pentagon on the Hill tonight to start us off, Jim Miklaszweski, thanks. World News With Charles Gibson (ABC), 6:30 PM
CHARLES GIBSON: Good evening. The senior commander of forces in Iraq told Congress today that significant but fragile progress had been made in the war. And then as expected, Gen. David Petraeus called for an indefinite pause in troop withdrawals this summer. He refused to say if or when troop withdrawals might resume and he would not offer an estimate of how many American forces would still be in Iraq after the election in November. Among those questioning the general on Capitol Hill today? All the presidential candidates.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl is at the Capitol.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ) [Ranking Member, Armed Services Committee]: This success is within reach.
JONATHAN KARL: At times, the presidential candidates seemed to be debating each other –
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY) [Armed Services Committee]: Each time, Iraqi leaders failed to deliver.
KARL: – rather than questioning Gen. Petraeus.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL) [Foreign Relations Committee]: I continue to believe that the original decision to go into Iraq was a massive strategic blunder.
MCCAIN: Our goal, my goal is an Iraq that no longer needs American troops. But I also believe that to promise a withdrawal of our forces regardless of the consequences would constitute a failure of political and moral leadership.
CLINTON: It might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again.
KARL: Sen. McCain is an obvious supporter of Gen. Petraeus, but at times he challenged him.
MCCAIN: The Green Zone has been attacked in ways that it has not been for a long time, and what are we going to do about that?
KARL: Many members of the press left the room when Senators Clinton and McCain were finished. But the tougher questions came from others, particularly on the subject of when more troops would be coming home.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI) [Chairman, Armed Services Committee]: What, in your estimate, would be the approximate number of American troops there at the end of the year? Can you give us – just say if you can’t give us an estimate –
LT. GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS [Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq]: Sir, I can’t give you an estimate.
LEVIN: All right. You’re not going to give us an estimate on that.
KARL: Petraeus came armed with charts showing security progress. No senators argued with that, but they wanted to know why the Iraqis haven’t done more.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D) [Armed Services Committee]: The Iraqi government has the budget surplus and we have a massive budget deficit and yet we are paying and they are not.
SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R) [Foreign Relations Committee]: The American people have had it up to here.
KARL: Petraeus called the progress in Iraq significant but uneven, and his chart showed violence creeping back up over the past two weeks.
PETRAEUS: We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle’s been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And progress while real is fragile and is reversible.
KARL: During his last appearance here in September, Petraeus wouldn’t answer a question from Sen. John Warner: Had the Iraq war made America safer? Today, Warner asked again.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R) ) [Armed Services Committee]: Can you now just in simple language tell us, yes, it is worth it and it is making us safer here at home?
PETRAEUS: Senator, I do believe it is worth it, and I do believe the interests there are of enormous importance again to our country.
KARL: Petraeus was joined at the hearing by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. The soft-spoken Crocker had a warning for the would-be presidents in the room. He said as bad as the mistakes were going into Iraq, there’s a risk of greater mistakes on the way out. As he told the committee, Charlie, the world will ultimately judge us far more on the basis of what will happen than what has happened.
GIBSON: Jonathan Karl, reporting from Capitol Hill. Thanks. CBS Evening News, 6:30 PM
KATIE COURIC: Good evening, everyone. Seven months ago, America’s top general in Iraq went before Congress to declare the surge was working and the U.S. could start bringing some troops home. Today, Gen. David Petraeus returned to Capitol Hill, but this time he announced plans to stop those troop withdrawals in July with no timetable for resuming them.
David Martin begins our coverage tonight.
DAVID MARTIN: Battling his way through a crossfire of photographers, the rock star general gave Congress a sober assessment of the war.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS [Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq]: We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle’s been pushed to the back of the refrigerator.
MARTIN: Gen. Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee that when the surge ends this summer and troop strength comes down from its high of 170,000 to 140,000, there will be a 45-day pause. Only then will he begin to consider further withdrawals, with no guarantees any more troops will come home.
SEN. CARL LEVIN [Chairman, Armed Services Committee]: It seems to me that what you’ve given to your chain of command is a plan which has no end to it.
MARTIN: U.S. military officers say Petraeus is unlikely to recommend any more cuts until after provincial elections are held in October, and that troop strength will not go below 130,000 by the end of the year – about where it was before the surge started.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA): Is all this sacrifice bringing about a more secure America?
PETRAEUS: Well, I’ve thought more than a bit about that, senator.
WARNER: Can you now just in simple language tell us, yes, it is worth it and it is making us safer here at home?
PETRAEUS: Senator, I do believe it is worth it.
MARTIN: Petraeus displayed charts which recorded dramatic drops in violence and maps which showed al Qaeda has lost many of its sanctuaries.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Al Qaeda cannot stand the surge because you’ve been kicking them all over Iraq.
MARTIN: But neither Petraeus nor Ambassador Crocker could claim Iraqi politicians have used the let-up in violence to settle the differences which keep them from being a real government.
RYAN CROCKER [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq]: I think they’re moving in the right direction, but, yes, I also believe they’ve got an awful lot more in front of them.
MARTIN: Whoever the next president is, he or she will inherit a war with no end in sight. Katie?
COURIC: All right. David Martin, at the Pentagon tonight. David, thank you. Lou Dobbs Tonight (CNN), 7:00 PM
LOU DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.
The U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, today declared he will suspend troop withdrawals from Iraq in July. In testimony before the Senate, General Petraeus said he would not resume troop withdrawals until he is satisfied that security has been improving in Iraq.
Today's testimony gave all three presidential candidates an opportunity to headlight their own policy prescriptions for Iraq. Senators Clinton and Obama emphasizing their determination to withdraw troops quickly. Senator McCain declaring Congress must not choose to lose in Iraq.
We have extensive coverage tonight and we begin with Jamie McIntyre in Washington -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE: Lou, the question to General Petraeus today was how long will U.S. troops be stuck in Iraq? It was a question he wouldn't or couldn't answer.
Acknowledging Iraq is far from stable, America's top commander there said after the surge ends in July, he plans to halt U.S. troop withdrawals for at least 45 days and maybe much longer.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI): I'm just asking a direct question; could that be as long as three months?
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS [Cmdr, Multinational Force-Iraq]: It could be, sir.
LEVIN: Could it be as long as four months?
PETRAEUS: Sir, it is when the conditions are met.
MCINTYRE: General Petraeus came armed with a dozen charts intended to document what tenuous progress there is, but all underscored significant problems as well. One map depicting the expanding Iraqi responsibility over the country counts Basra as under government control, even though the recent fighting there showed Iraqi forces were overmatched by the Shiite militias and that as many as 1,000 Iraqi troops deserted.
A botched offensive underscored serious shortcomings in the Iraqi military that some senators, including one presidential hopeful, labeled incompetence.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): And it was not something you had recommended.
PETRAEUS: It was not something I recommended, no, sir.
MCCAIN: Suffice to say it was a disappointment.
PETRAEUS: It was, although it is not over yet, Senator.
MCINTYRE: The charts showing more than 100 Iraqi battalions ready to lead operations were undercut by CNN's direct reporting of the reluctance of units in Baghdad to engage the enemy without U.S. prodding.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): Success always seems to be just around the corner when it comes to training and equipping of Iraqi forces.
MCINTYRE: Senators were frustrated that General Petraeus could give no assurance that U.S. troops could leave Iraq anytime soon.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): Fifteen months into the surge, we have gone from drowning to treading water.
SEN. EVAN BAYH (D-IN): I guess the best answer to that is we'll know when we get there. We don't know when we are going to get there.
PETRAEUS: That's why I have repeatedly noted that we have not turned any corners. We haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottles been pushed to the back of the refrigerator, and the progress while real is fragile and is reversible.
MCINTYRE: President Bush has given General Petraeus a free hand, so even Pentagon officials are unsure when he might recommend troop withdrawal. Meanwhile, the hope for big troop cuts by the end of the year have basically evaporated. Some Pentagon officials still say privately they hope that one or two additional brigades could come home before Christmas. Lou?
DOBBS: Thank you very much, Jamie McIntyre. Special Report With Brit Hume (FNC), 6:00 PM
BRIT HUME: The top commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador there told Senate panels today there’s been both military and political progress in Iraq. Iraqi troops, they said, are strengthening their ability to fight on their own; al Qaeda now poses less of a threat. But they said Iraq is not out of the woods by any means and the decision about future U.S. troop withdrawals after July needs to be considered carefully.
National security correspondent Jennifer Griffin reports.
JENNIFER GRIFFIN: When are the troops coming home? Gen. Petraeus didn’t have an answer on Capitol Hill today. He described progress in Iraq as fragile and reversible.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS [Multi-National Force-Iraq Commander]: I recommended to my chain of command that we continue the drawdown of the surge combat forces and that upon withdrawal the last surge brigade combat team in July we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation. This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable.
GRIFFIN: Drawing criticism from Democrats throughout the day.
JOE BIDEN (D-DE) [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman]: I can’t think of any circumstance where you fellows are likely to recommend, no matter how bad things got, where you would withdraw.
GRIFFIN: Petraeus brought charts to show violence is down. Since mid-March, violence is up, but not higher than last September. Civilian deaths have fallen by nearly 80 percent since last August. Ethnic and sectarian attacks also down about 90 percent, not taking into account the uptick since the government launched attacks on rogue Shia militias.
And those political benchmarks that war opponents made so much about last September, arguing then that the surge was militarily successful but failed to bring reconciliation: 12 of the 18 benchmarks have now been met, three of them laws passed by the Iraqi parliament in February alone.
Petraeus focused less on the al Qaeda threat than on Iran, whom he blamed directly for the recent mortars fired on the Green Zone, which led to Prime Minister Maliki sending 15,000 Iraqi troops to Basra to take on rogue Shia groups called Special Groups.
PETRAEUS: The flare-up also highlighted the destructive role Iran has played in funding, training, arming, and directing the so-called Special Groups and generated renewed concern about Iran in the minds of many Iraqi leaders. Unchecked, the Special Groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.
GRIFFIN: Democrats focused on the cost of the war and asked why the Iraqis aren’t paying for it?
SEN. BEN NELSON (D-NE): When Iraq is today on the basis of the $111 barrel of oil and $3.25 and upwards gas at the pump here in the United States, when they’re adding $50-$60 billion to surplus at a time when we’re developing hundreds of billions of dollars of deficit, it just doesn’t make sense for us to be the financier of first resort.
GRIFFIN: But Iraqis are starting to spend their money. In fact, the Pentagon is budgeting less than half of the $5 billion it had been spending on Iraqi security forces next year because the Iraqis are beginning to pay.
Again today, the question Petraeus and Crocker didn’t answer last fall.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA): Can you now just in simple language tell us, yes, it is worth it and it is making us safer here at home?
RYAN CROCKER [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq]: To the extent that al Qaeda’s capacities have been lessened in Iraq – and they have been significantly lessened – I do believe that makes America safer.
GRIFFIN: Some senators said that the war in Iraq meant that the U.S. couldn’t send troops to fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan, to which Petraeus argued and quoted bin Laden as saying that Iraq is the centerpiece of al Qaeda’s struggle right now. Brit?
HUME: Jennifer, thank you.