AC: "Let's see what the playing field is like in the beginning of next year."
February 27, 2009
Fourteen hours after his first appearance this morning, Michael talks to Anderson Cooper (as well as Ed Henry) about the announced plans for withdrawing the troops from Iraq.
ANDERSON COOPER: Let's dig deeper now with senior White House correspondent Ed Henry, and Michael Ware, who has spent more time in Iraq than just about any other correspondent alive.
So, Michael, August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end. That's what the president said today. If we still have 50,000 troops, which I assume are combat-ready, living in a combat zone and working in a combat zone, what is really different?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well...
COOPER: I mean, how -- how can you say it's really done?
WARE: Well, it isn't, quite simply.
I mean, to a degree, this is a political shell game. Fifty thousand troops, in one sense, is not enough to deter anyone who is posing a significant threat to the Iraqi state or the fragile peace that America has put together.
But those 50,000 troops will nonetheless be in a war zone. Now, we say they're going to be training Iraqis. You can get shot at doing that. They're going to be advising Iraqis in the field. You can definitely get shot at doing that. And going on counterterrorism raids, well, that speaks for itself.
COOPER: So, they can still be conducting raids...
COOPER: ... and they probably will be?
WARE: In conjunction with the Iraqis.
Now, let's remember, the Bush administration that started this war, actually ended it. It wasn't President Obama. The Status of Forces Agreement that was signed at the end of last year and came into effect on New Year's Day says that, within three years of that time, 36 months, American troops will be out of Iraq, no negotiation, no discussion.
COOPER: That's not what the Bush administration wanted, but they really didn't have much choice. That's what the Iraqis wanted.
WARE: That's it. I mean, essentially, they surrendered their war-fighting capability. And the Iraqis had the whip hand.
America didn't have any leverage to force anything different. So, while today's announcement by President Obama is enormously significant symbolically, in effect, it was already done.
COOPER: Ed, I want to play something that Defense Secretary Robert Gates told CNN's Dan Lothian today. Let's play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The president's been very explicit and was very explicit, I think, in his speech, that this remaining force will engage in counterterrorism operations.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, combat?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He's saying, yeah, combat.
So, I mean, are they all on the same page on this, the administration? How does Gates and all the others feel?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think they're mostly on the same page.
I think it essentially comes down to the language and how you define it. When you look very closely at what the president said just a moment ago, he said, our combat mission in Iraq will end. He didn't say, combat operations will end. He was very careful to say the combat mission, the broader mission.
And, so, what I think what the White House is banking on is, from talking to senior officials, is that it's not pretty, it's not perfect, it's not exactly the 16-month timeline that he laid out, but the bottom line is that, because of what he did today, following on what President -- former President Bush did, the war in Iraq is going to end.
It's going to last a little longer, and, again, it's not going to perfect. But, if you think -- if you want to go to perfection, look at where Republicans were just six months ago, where they were insisting no timeline at all. And, all of a sudden, John Boehner, John McCain, and other top Republicans are saying, we can pretty much embrace this plan.
So, nobody's perfect in their language. Nobody's perfect in their approach. At the end of the day, Barack Obama promised as a candidate to end this war. Today, he moved a step closer. It's going to take longer than liberals want, but he moved a much big step -- you know, a bigger step closer to getting that done.
COOPER: Michael, has he left any wiggle room, in case events start to unravel on the ground?
WARE: Most certainly. I mean, is any of this set in stone? Are there tablets where these commandments are written? No.
And what we're going to see, is during this year, the withdrawal doesn't really happen.
COOPER: Right. It doesn't really start until next year.
WARE: No. We have got 14 brigades there. Only two are coming home this year. They were anyway.
The rest, probably 130-odd thousand or thereabouts, will remain in Iraq for the elections at the end of the year and for what may happen after. It's only then that he intends to start bringing them home. Let's see what the playing field is like in the beginning of next year.
WARE: I mean, he doesn't want to be the president who oversees American defeat.
COOPER: Let's hope for the best, no doubt about that.
Michael Ware, thank you.
Ed Henry as well, for the reporting. Appreciate it, Ed.