BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: "Keeping Them Honest" on Iraq,
America's top commander and all three presidential
contenders. We're going to show you what was said
today on Capitol Hill about the war and the troops.
Some of it, you may find stunning.
And then we're going to beyond and look at the facts on the ground and the "Raw Politics" at home, so you can decide for yourself.
CNN's David Gergen is here with me. Michael Ware and Candy Crowley are in Washington. And Nic Robertson is in Baghdad tonight.
BROWN: And Candy is joining us now, along with CNN's Michael Ware and Nic Robertson, each of whom has spent the better part of a career on the ground in Iraq, and then with me here tonight, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen in the studio.
Welcome to everybody.
Candy, let me start with you.
The candidates seemed to be indirectly sparring with each other in the hearings today. How do you think each of them is going to use today's testimony from Petraeus and Crocker as they try to move forward in this campaign?
CROWLEY: Oh, I think, for the Democrats, it will be definitely a part of the repertoire that they add now when they talk about the Iraq war.
I can see them saying, well, General Petraeus can't tell us when this is going to end. He can't give us any measurement as to what success would be. So, that's going to be incorporated into their Iraq speech. I think John McCain, you will see the same things, for very much the same reasons that Tom Foreman was talking about. There were things in there that you could take out and say, there is political progress being made. The Iraqi troops are beginning to stand up.
And that was what John McCain needed. So, they all come away with something from that testimony that they can use on the campaign trail.
BROWN: And that's kind of my question to you, David. I want you to follow up on what Candy said, that General Petraeus made this point, significant progress, but progress that is fragile and reversible is the language that he used.
Does that, do you think, benefit McCain, because he did talk about progress, or any of the other candidates, in terms of the way that the situation was defined today?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, certainly, General Petraeus is much closer to McCain in his perspective of the war.
But, you know, it was almost as if we were looking at two different wars today. One side, that McCain is saying the glass is more than half-full, and the other side is saying the glass is less than half-full and leaking. So, McCain comes along and says, success is within reach. That's interesting.
I mean, it had echoes about "peace is at hand." I remember that back, way back, in 1972 with Nixon in Vietnam. It took a long time to get to peace in Vietnam.
But, yet, there's a lot of ammunition McCain has. On the other side, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are very, very close together, both. What I found really interesting, though, on the Democratic side, even as they said the glass is less than half-full, there's no push for timetables in this hearing. There's no push in this.
GERGEN: And, indeed, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were talking about -- Barack saying a measured withdrawal. Hillary Clinton was saying an orderly withdrawal.
Both, I think, are now setting themselves up to be the president, the commander in chief who would push to get us out, whereas John McCain would leave us in there as long as it takes, with no real push. And I think that is beginning to become the battle line between the two.
BROWN: Everybody trying to strike a balance in their own way.
GERGEN: A balance, yes.
GERGEN: But not -- not to be irresponsible, but to have a stance.
And, clearly, the Democrats want to push, push, push to get out. But they're no longer saying we have got to do it in six months. We have got to -- don't have to do it like that. I think they're being more sensible in that sense. And I think voters will find that more appealing.
BROWN: Michael, McCain said calls for a rapid withdrawal are reckless -- that was his word -- when Clinton said it was irresponsible to continue the policy that's not produced results and called for an orderly process of withdrawing our troops.
You know, based on your time in Iraq, your knowledge of the area, and the people involved, what do you think about what you heard today vs., you know, where things stand right now?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, in terms of the military and diplomatic picture that was painted by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, by and large, subject to, you know, certain detail and different conclusions, it's a fairly accurate broad brushstroke.
Are they glossing over a lot of things? Yes. Are they failing to admit certain glaring realities? Of course. But this is the nature of warfare. What struck me, sitting in these hearing rooms today, is, if -- A, what surprised me was the lack of probing questions, really, from the members of the panel.
And in terms of the three presidential candidates, as they stand right now, I mean, obviously, today was more about their campaigns than actually about the war itself. Now, I have come almost directly from the war. I mean, some people are living this thing. It is not a campaign event.
So, to hear people and see the way people are actually using this, it really does create discomfort in me. And I don't know how the ambassador and the general feel. I mean, this is the reality of war. War is an extension of politics by any other means. But it still hits home.
Nic, let me go to you and ask you about Iran, which was the other big issue today. You had Obama arguing for diplomatic talks with Iran, Petraeus citing Iran is playing a destructive role. Are diplomatic talks realistic?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Iraqis say they are.
I asked Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this over the weekend. I said, look, what are you doing about the Iranians that are arming and training and equipping these sort of special militia groups that are firing rockets into the Green Zone, by the way, which is where the prime minister lives in Baghdad? So, he's just as vulnerable as well.
And he said, look, we recognize that Iran and the United States have historic differences. He also said, don't think that just because they're targeting some of these weapon systems against the U.S. troops here, that Iraqi troops aren't being killed as well. They are. He said, look, what Iraq is willing to do is -- is sort of try and get the United States and Iran and bring them together, because Iran has expressed -- and he says that Iran does have a role in Iraq's future. It is a neighbor.
And he sees Iraq as being able to bring Iran and the U.S. together over this issue. So, for him, it's a keenly felt issue. His troops are dying. His house is under attack, along with other houses in the Green Zone. But he sees Iraq as sort of more of a moderator in this fight, if you will.
BROWN: All right, Nic, Candy, David, and, Michael, everybody stick around.
PETRAEUS: We haven't turned any corners. We haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And the progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And that is the sound bite of the day from General David Petraeus, fragile and reversible and complicated. On the one hand, fewer insurgent attacks, but on the other hand, on the streets of Basra and Sadr City, an out-and-out war.
More to talk about from our panel tonight, CNN's Candy Crowley, Michael Ware, Nic Robertson, and David Gergen.
And let me start with you, Michael. And you touched on this a little early earlier, and I want you to expand on it. Having been at the hearing today -- because it's not a place where you normally are. You are in Baghdad -- it was -- you had a different sort of perspective than, I think, many of us. What did you think of it? Were you surprised by anything you heard or really didn't hear?
WARE: Oh, enormously. I mean, in any ways, I found it a galling experience, to see the war so dismembered and -- and so sterilized.
I mean, but, obviously, that's something that one has to deal with, and that's something that 1.6 million of your troops have to deal with when they eventually come home. That's how many have passed through Iraq and Afghanistan.
And a lot of the big issues weren't touched upon, or weren't touched upon in depth. And there's a lot of focus on side issues. I was surprised, though, pleasantly, to the degree to which Iran was discussed. But there's still a lot of things that aren't accepted. I mean, there's lots of gloss over the nature of the relationship with this Iraqi government.
The way you're hearing people talk about Maliki, that's not the reality on the ground and the nature of the American and Maliki relationship. There's all sorts of things that were jarring for me. And it's just difficult to separate the perspective of being on the ground with what you're seeing. But the grandstanding and the politics is what really hit home most. I mean, essentially, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are right. For or against this war, whether you liked it from the beginning or not, that's irrelevant, folks. This is the war you have got, and you have to take responsibility for this, either out of self- interest or out of some moral responsibility, and you have got to get on with this.
He's right. Put the champagne at the back of the fridge. You're in for the long haul. Otherwise, it's disaster for the Iraqis, who will die, and the Americans, who eventually will -- their strategic interests will suffer.
BROWN: Nic, General Petraeus brought a lot of charts, a lot of graphs with him today.
And let's take a look at one that was pretty striking, I thought. This is showing how much of Iraq is being controlled by Iraqi forces now vs. one year ago. Some senators, though, pointed to those recent battles in Basra as proof that the government there doesn't have it under control, despite what these charts are suggesting.
Let's listen to what Senator Carl Levin had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: In your judgment, was the Iraqi government operation in Basra properly and carefully planned and were the preparations adequate? Could you give me a direct answer?
PETRAEUS: Sir, the answer is, again, it could have been much better planned. It was not adequately planned or prepared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Nic, what's your takeaway from this? Does Petraeus have confidence in the Iraqi government forces to do what they need to do?
ROBERTSON: I think he has a much more realistic assessment of what the Iraqi security forces can do than Iraq's prime minister right now. Iraq's prime minister, by General Petraeus' testimony, even by what the prime minister himself has said, has really rushed into the situation in Basra.
He told me over the weekend that he didn't expect the militias there to be so strong. He had come to the conclusion that he had to do something there, because the militias were controlling the ports. He was losing control of the city. When the British pulled out a few months ago, they essentially ceded the city of Basra to the militias, who got stronger and stronger.
The prime minister freely admits now that he didn't know how strong they had become. So, I think General Petraeus is very deeply and keenly aware of what Iraq's security forces can do here in Baghdad. He knows his troops have to back them up and encourage them to get into the fight.
And he also knows the fact of the matter on the ground in Basra right now is, Iraqi security forces, whatever the prime minister says, certainly do not really control the whole city, because the militias are still there, living in houses, with their weapons under their beds or in cupboards. And, hey, nobody knows who is a militiaman and who isn't. But if they're called out on the streets, they will be there, and they will be facing off government troops who are not able to take them down.
BROWN: Candy, anything said today by the candidates that you think is going to significantly change policy on Iraq immediately? We know what their goals are, but that is a -- that -- you know, to what extent, I guess, are their hands tied?
CROWLEY: Well, their hands are tied because they're not in charge. I mean, that's the bottom line. They understand that.
I mean, you came away with two things politically from these hearings today. One is that, in fact, David Petraeus did see his next commander in chief in one of those three people. And they saw that one of them is going to be the person responsible for bringing all the troops home that were there to begin with.
Most of them do not believe there will be, beyond pulling back the surge troops, there will be any withdrawals, and, if so, they will be minimal. So, they know, when they walk in, in January -- and I think this goes to David's point -- that you are now beginning to hear not a moderating of a position, but now they are beginning to talk more about the fact that Barack Obama used to say, we need to get out as carefully as we were careless getting in.
You're hearing much more emphasis on that now, as they move toward when this just might get real for one of them.
BROWN: And that was a big point today, David, that Ambassador Crocker made, saying, essentially -- by saying, we're not giving you a timetable for when we're going to get out of there, we need to work out a long-term agreement with Iraq in terms of our presence there, this is all landing in the lap of the next president, whoever that may be.
One had the sense, Campbell, that, as opposed to the last set of hearings about six months ago, when there was a great deal of drama and there was -- Democrats still felt they could stop this, they could force -- as they had promised in the elections of 2006 -- to get out of Iraq. And there was this drama, could they do it or not do it? And, then, of course, it didn't work, and the surge went forward. And the surge then seemed to work better than anybody expected.
Today, there's very little sense of drama.
BROWN: They're all getting a reality check, aren't they?
GERGEN: There's a reality check and a real sense, you know, the next president that is going to come into office, there are going to be at least 100,000 troops still there...
GERGEN: ... probably closer to 130,000, 140,000. And the next president is going to -- especially if you're a Democrat, is going to face a dilemma, because you have promised the voters you want to get out. But, yet, as you look at it, you see, you know, if I get out too quickly, this whole thing could cave in, and you could be the president who lost Iraq.
GERGEN: And then your presidency could come unraveled.
On the other hand, if you don't get out, then you have -- you have misled your voters...
GERGEN: So, it's a bait-and-switch situation.
So, I think that reality is setting in. And I think that's why both of the Democrats, to go back to Candy's point, were echoing each other, I think, did modulate -- I'm not saying moderate -- but they did modulate their tone, and they are not promising six months, eight months, or anything like that. There are no timetables in this. And there's also a sense in the country, you know, we're really pretty stuck here right now, aren't we?
All right, David Gergen, tonight, along with Candy Crowley, Michael Ware, and Nic Robertson, our thanks to everybody.