AC: "So it's one kind of hell or another. So the real question is what kind of hell is it that the American public wishes to choose."
The longest section of the interview we've seen so far (although still far from the "full" interview we were promised all day) has General Petraeus discussing timetables, militias, and sectarian violence. Michael then discusses the shift in the Democrat's view on ending the war and what the consequences of withdrawing too precipitously would be.
CAMPBELL BROWN: The top U.S. Commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, spent a grueling two days testifying before Congress this week. He told key members of the House and Senate that the progress made remains fragile and that further troop pullouts after the surge forces leave would have to wait.
Today, President Bush backed his general, saying new troop withdrawals will be halted until further notice.
CNN's Michael Ware is standing by in Washington. He interviewed General Petraeus today and asked him how he thought the hearings went. Hi Michael.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, I sat down with General Petraeus this morning after his two days -- and that's more than 12 hours of testimony -- before Congress on Capitol Hill. Both he and Ambassador Crocker presented their assessment of the situation on the ground and provided their recommendations for the way forward. And that recommendation is that basically America has to keep fighting this war. Let's listen to General Petraeus.
WARE: General Petraeus, after more than a dozen hours of testimony in Congress, what do you think has been accomplished? Do you think they get it?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE - IRAQ: I think it was a good opportunity for a lot of back and forth. And, again, we think that that -- we hope that that was useful for them and I'll tell you, obviously we got certain messages from them as well, as you would imagine.
WARE: You think it hit home?
PETRAEUS: And I think that some of those messages will be heard in Baghdad as well and perhaps in some other capitals.
WARE: And so, for example, issues like timetables. We heard that raised perhaps less than one would have expected. Do you think that's a part of you getting your message across?
PETRAEUS: Well, one doesn't know, obviously. Again, we do believe that, again, there have been gains as we described. They're fragile, they're reversible, and we certainly don't want to unduly jeopardize those. We think therefore that having done the substantial reduction that will be complete by July, it does makes sense to let the dust settle, certainly continue in assessments during that timeframe so that we can then make judgments about when we can make additional reductions or recommendations on additional reductions.
WARE: And being perfectly frank with the view that we both share from the ground, this war is far from over, isn't it?
PETRAEUS: Well, it's tough and I think that Ambassador Crocker accurately used the word hard. He used it repeatedly and I think it's a correct description. It is very complex.
WARE: We're not coming home any time soon, are we?
PETRAEUS: I think we will be engaged in Iraq, and, again, that is the operative word, I think engagement rather than perhaps exit. But engagement will continue for some time. The question, of course, is at what level, at what cost, and in what form?
WARE: There's no real sign that those conditions are about to miraculously change, is there? There's no short-term fix to any of the conditions that you're obviously monitoring?
PETRAEUS: Well, it depends by area. I think you'd agree that, for example, the transformation of Anbar province over the course of the last 15, 18 months has really been quite substantial; really dramatic in fact. And in fact, that will allow a different footprint when the surge is drawn down than we had prior to the surge.
And more importantly, a different activity, a different focus for our forces where there will be two complete Iraqi divisions out there where there were the -- there was certainly the elements of one but a very beleaguered one back when, at the height of the ethno-sectarian violence, when the surge forces actually went in.
WARE: And that's the case, not really so much the presence of two Iraqi army divisions, it's the success of the awakening. This then is the result. The nationalist resistance and all this tribes coming --.
PETRAEUS: It is all of that. Yes it is. It is all of that, because, again, when the population all of a sudden shifts from either tacitly accepting or maybe even actively supporting Al Qaeda and seeing them cloaked in the term resistance, and then seeing them for what they are, which is the purveyors of extremist ideology, indiscriminate violence and even oppressive practices.
Again, in the Sunni Arabs of the Euphrates River Valley, on reflection, as they looked at it, when they realized what they had let into their communities, as you well know, rejected it over time. And I think now they support the legitimate forces who come from them as well, at least in the local police.
Sons of Iraq out there, thousands of them have been incorporated into local police, into the army, into other governmental jobs. And now they are also sharing in the bounty that is Iraq.
WARE: This Shia-dominated Iraqi government is very cautious about the Sons of Iraq. And the Sons of Iraq are very cautious about this Iraqi government. In fact, they're formerly anti-government forces and you and I both know when you talk to them now, they see that the government remains the main threat. So their transition to government forces is really just locally.
PETRAEUS: Again, it varies on the location. I think -- and I think by the way that that's understandable. I think those are understandable emotions on both sides. You have to -- people have forgotten pretty quickly what Iraq was like in the fall of 2006 and early 2007 which you remember very well.
But when there are 55 dead bodies a night turning up on the streets of Baghdad, your nation's capital, just from ethno-sectarian violence, not including Al Qaeda on Sunni who aren't supportive of Al Qaeda's activities or militia extremists on Shia who aren't supportive of what they're trying to do. When you have that going on, obviously it tears the fabric of society.
WARE: So with this sectarian legacy of the war, and all the competing interests, I mean, honestly, General, do you really believe that there's an interest in reconciliation in Iraq? Do you really believe it's going to happen or is it going to be some sort of forced accommodation?
PETRAEUS: Well, I do believe that there will be accommodation. It will be because of self-interest, but that's okay. That's why we all do it. That's why economies flourish. It's why capitalism succeeds. It's all about self-interest, but it is going to require leaders who are going to have to make some compromises and who will have to extend hands to each other.
WARE: Do you think those leaders are there?
PETRAEUS: Interestingly, in the last couple of weeks, along with all the other machinations and so forth connected with Basra, and regardless of questions about haste or suddenness or not setting the right conditions or a variety of other legitimate criticisms, concerns, you do see a coming together. Interestingly, one aspect of the situation that has brought them together is uniform concern -- unified concern about the role of Iran.
C. BROWN: Michael Ware is with us now live. And Michael, is there any question do you feel like you didn't have answered?
WARE: Well, no. As the interview unfolded and you've only seen the beginning of it, General Petraeus gets much more insightful, much more forthcoming as we progress through our discussion. And he just touched upon the key issue, which was Iran.
What you don't see here is how the General then outlines the true dynamic of the war in Iraq as it stands right now. Yes, he addresses the threat of Al Qaeda and that's a threat that cannot be ignored. But he then goes on to say that the existence of militias in Iraq is going to be a reality.
He also says that it's an undeniable reality that the Iraqi government is comprised of factions linked to Iran and that Iranian agents of influence have infiltrated the Iraqi government or are members of the Iraqi government at the highest levels, from the Iraqi president down.
So really, as he goes on, there's no question he doesn't answer. He goes on to explain the real dynamic of the war and it gives great insight into why this war is not about to finish, Campbell.
C. BROWN: Michael, what about the view from Iraq, do you think the Iraqis are paying any attention to this testimony, do they feel like it matters to them at all?
WARE: Well, to the ordinary Iraqi, no. I mean, they're waiting for the presidential election. And like most Americans, they have simplified the election down to a bumper sticker; a vote for the Republicans is a vote for the continuation of the war. A vote for the Democrats means that it finishes next year, which of course is not true.
Even as we spoke to senior Democrat Senator John Kerry, he gave a much more nuanced view of the Democrats' view of withdrawal. That doesn't necessarily mean disengagement.
But there very much is a public mood back here in America, they just -- people just want their sons and daughters to come home and who can blame them? But what people aren't really aware of is what the cost and consequences of that going to be.
And Iraq those people are living those costs and consequences. And they know that America, whether it stays or whether it goes, is not really delivering for them. So it's one kind of hell or another. So the real question is what kind of hell is it that the American public wishes to choose -- Campbell.
C. BROWN: All right. Michael Ware live for us tonight. Michael, as always, thank you.