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 Home > News & Policies > July 2007

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 13, 2007

Interview of the National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, by NPR
West Wing Office

11:25 A.M. EDT

Q Mr. Hadley, thank you so much for having us in your office to sit down and talk to you.

MR. HADLEY: Nice to see you.

Q I'd like to begin, if I could, with the benchmarks that the President discussed yesterday; the assertion that there has been some progress made on eight of those 18 benchmarks. A number of respected analysts, including former members of the military, have looked at that, and said, they're not so sure about that; they question whether any progress has been made on any of the benchmarks. What do you say to that?

MR. HADLEY: Well, what we've published yesterday is a 23-page report that goes through, in great detail, each of the benchmarks. And what it says, it's not a sort of one-sentence conclusion. It, on each of the benchmarks, indicates what progress we see and what progress remains. On balance, some of it seems to be satisfactory progress, some of them seems to be not. I think it's all there. It was pulled together with participation from not only people in Washington, but also our commanders, ambassadors in the field.

So I think, in the end of the day, if people look at it, it's a pretty balanced snapshot of where we are. It's not where we would like to be, but it's also, I think, not a fair statement to say nothing has been done, particularly on the security side.

You may remember when this new strategy was rolled out in January, February, March, there were questions would the Iraqi forces show up -- three brigades were asked to come, they did come. Would they appoint a commander? Would they deploy the joint operations centers in Baghdad that are required in order to provide security to the local population? Would they start spending their own resources? As you know, they've identified about $10 billion for reconstruction, and they are starting to spend that through the central agencies, and also through the provinces.

So I think the fact that there has been some progress is really undeniable. Is it all we would like to be? No. These were benchmarks established by the Congress. Congress asked for a report, an interim report on July 15th what the progress has been, and we've tried to give a pretty balanced assessment, as asked by the Congress.

Q Undeniable though -- again, people who were in the military, former military --

MR. HADLEY: I don't hear that. In fact, it's, of course, people who are current military, on the ground, our commanders, who are giving -- who have looked at this report. As the report says, there are over 30 of the joint coordinating centers who are up and running. And we have the addresses, and you can go see them. In terms of the expenditures of funds, we have people in the embassy over there who can provide information on the extent to which funds have been chopped to agencies and provincial governments.

So all I can say is that we've tried to be careful; we've tried to be detailed. And I think, on balance, if you go benchmark by benchmark, I think people will assess that it's a pretty good statement of where we are. But I think the point that people have to make is -- and judge, is step back, and say, is it where we would like it to be? No. Is it all the progress we'd hoped for? Certainly not. Is there more to be done? Of course there is.

And that's why it is important for us, of course, to return to the subject again in September, which is really, if you look at the legislation, what the Congress asked us to do. July 15th was always to be an interim snapshot. What the Congress provided in the legislation was in September a series of reports, both from the government and from people outside, and of course General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker coming back, reporting to the President, reporting to the Congress. And that's, obviously, going to be an important time.

As the President said yesterday, he is going to receive the recommendations from Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, he's going to consult with Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, the Joint Chiefs. He said, very importantly, he's going to talk to members of Congress, consult with Congress, Republicans and Democrats, and then come forward with what he believes is the next step, in terms of Iraq. So what Congress has mandated is really a process in September. The President signed that legislation; thinks it's the right process. And as he made very clear yesterday, that really is the way forward, in terms of considering where we go on Iraq.

Q There is great anticipation about the official assessment in September, particularly the assessment that will come from General David Petraeus. In recent interviews, he has talked about the current insurgency, and he's said that it could be an up to 10-year insurgency. How should Americans interpret that? Is it possible that even with the potential draw down of troops that there might be tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq over the long-run, a decade from now?

MR. HADLEY: I think what General Petraeus was saying is that there is going to be a level of violence in this society for a long time, and we know that societies that have gotten to the point of this level of violence, that it takes a long time for it to get out of the system.

One of the things the President has said is, our objective has to be to help the Iraqis get a government that can provide security, that can provide services, and can be an ally in the war on terror, both for their good and for our good, because as we've said, one of the risks in Iraq is that it becomes a safe haven for al Qaeda planning against the United States, as well as disrupting Iraq and its neighbors.

So the President has talked very importantly that that really is our objective, to try and get the Iraqis in a position to do that. It's going to take a long time. And even a democratic government in Iraq that is able to provide security and serve -- be an ally in the war on terror is going to have to cope with a level of violence for a long time. And that is why, of course, the training of the Iraqi security forces that we're doing is so essential, so that they will be able to manage to keep the society going forward, and so that people can begin to return to normal life, but recognize that there will still be a level of violence there for a long time.

Q Will they be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops, though, as they try to cope with that violence over the next 10 years? Will there be tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq, yes or no?

MR. HADLEY: What the President said yesterday was that we all -- if you look at what he has said, if you look at, for example, what the Baker-Hamilton commission has said, if you look at what Iraqis have said, as well as what people in Congress, we all want to get to the point where Iraqis have the government capacity and the security forces in order to take responsibility for security.

Is there a role for the United States in helping that process after January of 2009? The President said very clearly he thinks there is; that it is a kind of role that we've talked about that we would like to transition to, where we are doing training, embedding, strengthening Iraqi forces as they take responsibility for security; being there to protect obviously our own interests, which are to go after al Qaeda and to make sure that al Qaeda can never use Iraq as a safe haven from which to plan attacks against us; help stabilize the country; reassure the government; keep the neighbors, in some sense, at bay. These are things that we can do in support of what, over time, everybody wants to be an increasing Iraqi role.

So will we be engaged in Iraq after January 2009? I think the President hopes so. And I think if you listen to people like Senator Lugar and other people who have talked about the situation in Iraq, they believe that a precipitous withdrawal would be bad for American interests, and they believe it matters to American security how the Iraq project goes, and they believe we need to find a basis for being engaged in Iraq after January of 2009.

What the President has said is, that's what he wants to do, to leave Iraq, when he leaves office, on a ground and in a place that's sustainable for Iraqis, sustainable for Americans, that we could support in terms of our resources and our men and women in uniform. That's his goal.

Q Now you talked about a precipitous withdrawal. What if we changed the adjective there, and instead talked about a phased withdrawal. The President yesterday explicitly told members of Congress not to try to dictate --

MR. HADLEY: Exactly.

Q -- for our policy. I'm wondering if the President is, in some way, asking members of Congress to abdicate their role to advise and consent and guide the President, particularly on foreign policy, and in doing so to defy the wishes of their constituents, to essentially turn a deaf ear to what they're hearing back home?

MR. HADLEY: No, I think that he said very clearly, I think in his comments yesterday and elsewhere, he hears the same voices our senators and representatives hear. He knows this is hard for the American people. It's been four years; we've lost some of our best and brightest. There is no question this has been difficult for the American people, he understands that. What he said yesterday very clearly was, issues about force levels and operations need to start with the recommendations of our commanders in the field.

That's why he said very clearly, in a structured process, I'm going to hear from Ambassador Crocker; I want to hear from General Petraeus; I'm going to consult with Secretary Gates; I'm going to consult with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He's obviously going to consult with Secretary Rice. And then he said, I am going to consult with the Congress, Republicans and Democrats, and then on the basis of that, as Commander-in-Chief, as you would expect, he will come forward with what he believes the next step is in terms of Iraq.

So I think it is an open process, an inclusive process. But it's the right process, because I think the American people expect that before making decisions to change strategy, to change policy, to make decisions on force levels, we ought to be hearing from the men and women on the ground who are actually carrying out the mission. That's what the President thinks makes sense for him, he thinks it makes sense for Congress, and of course it's exactly what Congress prescribed in the legislation last May in connection with the supplemental request.

So we think in last May the Congress got it right; that's why the President signed the bill. There is a process for doing an orderly consideration in September about where we are in Iraq. It starts with a report from General Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, but it's, as the President said, it will be a process that will be an inclusive one, and will include Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Q You spent time on Capitol Hill this week meeting with members of Congress, particularly Republicans who have a certain amount of consternation about the war. You've asked them -- the President has asked them to be patient, to wait until September. How difficult is that for them to do, to be patient?

MR. HADLEY: Well, I think it's been interesting to look at the votes. I think that we are at a position where we will get to September, because I think as people have thought about it, and you say to them, look at your own legislation, look at the orderly process we agreed upon, look at the fact that the reinforcements are now just complete, and that in many ways we're now really seeing the application of the strategy in practice, I think people are saying -- coming to the conclusion that it's sensible to wait and hear from our local commanders and our ambassador to see where we are in September. It's what the Congress set out in the legislation, and I think members and the American people think, that's right, you can't be making those kinds of operational decisions de novo in legislation in Congress, that waiting to September is the right way to go.

And I think you're seeing it in terms of the votes, and I think that was the message that Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, I and the President have been sending Congress over the last 10 days. And I think Congress got it, and they agree. And it's the right place for us to be.

Q You've been generous with your time. I just want to ask you one last question, if I can. This is a very difficult time for the American public.

MR. HADLEY: Of course.

Q And when you look at this administration, there have been a number of missed signals -- on the level of violence in Iraq after the invasion, on Saddam Hussein's weapons stockpiles, on a number of decisions about when and where to place troops, and when and where and how to replace certain people who were architects of the war.

As the American public looks at what has happened in the past, why should they trust this administration to lead us out of this conflict? Why should they believe that this administration has the vision to find the best way forward?

MR. HADLEY: We have talked about a process where the American people, through their elected representatives, and through a lot of smart people who have commented on this, have offered their views. There is a great national debate on where we should be going forward. The process I've described is that September is a way to structure that debate with the men and women in uniform and the folks in the field with the Congress and with the American people.

So I think it's -- the process the President has laid out is a good process. History will judge on the stewardship of this period, but I think we should not underestimate the challenge that came to this country after 9/11. For many people, 9/11 may seem as a blip. I think what it was an opening round of a struggle that this country is going to have to be waging well after this President, and that is against an ideological movement that is antithetical to everything we stand; that has been very active, and we've seen it do attacks in America, we've seen attacks in Europe, we see it active in North Africa, we see it in Iraq.

Q And we're told this week that al Qaeda is as great a threat now as it was before 9/11.

MR. HADLEY: No, that's actually not what you're told. What we're told is that since 2001, and particularly in the last two years, we have seen some regrouping and some renewal of operational activity and training. It is certainly not at the level of what it was before 2001. It is certainly not where it would be if we had not, as a nation, taken all these actions that we've done since.

But the reminder, and the wake-up call on those reports is, al Qaeda continues to be a threat to the United States. It is going to be a long-term threat, and the challenge, as the President said, is going to be two fold -- one, going after them operationally, overseas, so we don't have to deal with them at home; but secondly, and more profoundly, to come up with an alternative vision to the dark vision of the terrorist and extremists, and that is the freedom and democracy agenda.

We need to fight this enemy operationally, we need to fight it ideologically, in terms of our values and principles and alternative vision. And that's going to be a long-term challenge, not just for the United States, but really for many nations -- friends and allies around the world, who stand for a positive vision rather than a negative vision. And that, I think, is the thing the American people understand.

We have a major challenge that we are in some sense in the opening hours of. And what we need to do as a nation is come together and put in place the tools we need both to wage the operational war and also to wage the war of ideas. This administration has made a start at doing that. We, obviously, need the support of Congress and the American people. But it is also going to be a vocation for the administrations that come after this country [sic]. And I think it is one of the challenges our generation faces. We've started on that effort, and I'm confident the American people, as they have in the past, will rise to the challenge and will do it.

Q If you will just indulge me -- you've looked ahead and talked about the next administration. What would be your best piece of advice for the person who occupies this office in the next administration?

MR. HADLEY: There will be opportunities to do that, but that's 18 months away, and a lot of things will happen. I think what we are trying to do, and what the President has told us to do, is to make progress on all of these fronts, as much as we can in the time that is left for his presidency, and then to leave to the next administration the tools they need to deal with the challenges we face; make as much progress as we can in resolving and solving these issues, and then leave the new administration with the tools they need. That's what we're trying to do.

Q Mr. Hadley, thank you very much for talking with us.

MR. HADLEY: Thank you very much.

END 11:42 A.M. EDT