AC: "'It's time for America to start dumbing down its notion of success in Iraq.'"
ANDERSON COOPER: Now, Senator Lugar's switch comes at a time when this administration, the White House, clearly seems to be trying to backpedal from the benchmarks it widely touted to win support of the so-called surge in U.S. troops.
Remember, September, that was the month. September, that was supposed to be the deadline for showing progress. We heard it from the president, General Petraeus, and others. Now the message seems to be morphing. The date no longer seems so certain, at least in the administration.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 12, 2007)
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't think anybody has a definite idea about how long a surge would last. I think, for most of us, in our minds, we're thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, APRIL 25, 2007)
MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY SPOKESMAN, COALITION FORCES IN IRAQ: As General Petraeus has said, some time in late August, early September, he plans to come back and talk to the political leadership in Washington, and give them his honest assessment as to what's possible here in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 13, 2007)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What I would suggest is, rather than -- it's sort of a pivotal moment. It's a -- it is the first opportunity to be able to take a look at what happens when you have you got it up and running fully for a period of months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 16, 2007) GATES: I think we will be some trends and be able to point in some directions by September. The full impact of the surge is really just beginning to be felt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, sounds like they are changing the tune.
Just a week ago, on the Sunday talk show circuit, General David Petraeus said that September would provide a snapshot -- that's the word he used, a snapshot -- of the situation in Iraq and the success of the surge. A Polaroid, not a portrait, in other words.
With those words in mind, I'm joined now by former presidential adviser David Gergen in Boston and CNN's Michael Ware in Baghdad, "Keeping Them Honest."
Michael, first of all, just this timeline. September clearly was the date, months and months ago, many -- we were hearing on this side of the Atlantic about when we would know. What are you hearing on the ground there from military officials? Do they already feel like they know how it's going?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No.
In fact, indeed, Anderson, it's quite the opposite. I mean, here on the ground, since the beginning of this -- of the announcement of the surge, since the first deployment of the troops, since General Petraeus and his top-ranking commanders began dealing with the journalists, with the media on the issue of the surge, they have been downplaying the notion of September.
They have been highlighting how illusory September really is. I mean, remember, bear in mind the surge troops have only now just arrived, within the last couple of weeks. The surge troops have only now just begun their first massive operation, indeed, the largest operation involving U.S. forces since the invasion itself.
So, in many regards, the surge has only now just begun. So, they have been saying from the beginning, "You have got to wait for the troops to get there. You have got to give them time to act. And then we're going to sit back and wait for the consequences to flow." So, they have been saying, September, best guess, all we will be able to say is if the strategy is on track or not, not whether it's worked or not.
So, basically, General Petraeus is going to have so many different pieces of data, so many different opinions flying into him, he's just going to be on gut instinct, quite frankly, come September.
COOPER: David Gergen, does it seem to you as if this administration, though, is trying to backpedal on this September date?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Sure. They have been trying to downplay its significance to buy themselves more time. The snapshot idea, -- you know, "We will give you a snapshot and a part of a moving picture" -- is obviously intended to give them more time, until the spring, if they can get that.
But the speech by Senator Lugar tonight is a dramatic break with the administration. Dick Lugar has been a pillar of the foreign policy establishment in this country now for a couple of decades, one of the most respected members on either side of the aisle. His voice carries enormous weight. And what he's basically saying, Anderson, it's not a question just of whether the surge may work in the short term or not.
He's basically saying, given the political fragmentation in Iraq, given the fact that the surge will take a long time, regardless, and given the fact that the politics in this country prevent us for staying for the long haul, we have to face up to the reality that if we hang in there, it's going to diminish us as a world power on all sorts of other fronts. It's really going to diminish our national security, so that we have to change course in order to preserve our strength as a great power.
He's not saying simply -- this is not simply about the surge. It's an agonizing speech, which he's obviously been thinking about a long time, that breaks dramatically with where the administration is. It has the same kind of weight as the Iraq Study Group, in the sense it comes from such a person of stature that it really begins to -- it does change the discourse.
COOPER: Michael, this September benchmark was designed to give the Iraqis cover for reconciling political differences. The whole idea of this so-called surge, or escalation, which is basically what it is, was to improve the security situation, so there could be political progress.
Have they made any political progress at this point?
We know that they have stalled. And, to be honest, here on the ground, there's absolutely no real expectation that this so-called Maliki government -- because, indeed, it really isn't a government, it's just a patchwork of opposing militias, almost none of whom are loyal to Prime Minister Maliki -- were ever going to meet these benchmarks.
Even if Prime Minister Maliki sincerely wants reconciliation or to achieve political gains on any of the other key fronts, he honestly doesn't have the power to deliver. So, the concept that the surge would buy him time, yes, that's certainly the way it was sold. But, honestly, in realpolitik, there was very little chance of that.
And the surge is one thing in achieving whatever goals it is set out to achieve. Whether America can win the war overall is a totally different question.
As a very senior officer said to me just the other day, "It's time for America to start dumbing down its notion of success in Iraq, because the picture people have back home just simply is not going to achieve." Nonetheless, pulling out is going to be such a disservice to U.S. foreign policy and national interests for generations to come, it's simply not an option.
COOPER: And, David, for this administration, there is no plan B.
GERGEN: That's exactly right.
And when you look at Senator Lugar's speech, he's not saying, let's pull out. He is saying, let's downside. And that's moving toward, in effect, a plan B. And you can talk to people privately in the administration -- I have in the last -- in recent days -- there are serious people inside who are beginning to think, yes, we do have to think through a plan B.
What would it look like? Well, we might -- if we downsize to, say, 75,000 troops, we might put one large group, one contingent in the north, to make sure the north doesn't erupt, the Kurdish area, another in the south. And Baghdad would probably be -- you know, we would be -- we would get off the streets of Baghdad, and it would probably become another Beirut, to the extent that it already isn't there. Michael knows that so well.
But I think all the signs now point even more heavily tonight that the military -- our U.S. military on the ground does -- do not think that they can come back and report in September that this has been an astonishing success. This was all along was a Hail Mary pass. And it's -- we are -- and what Senator Lugar is saying is, let's wake up to reality and get ready for that. Let's not get into a precipitous withdrawal come September, October.
COOPER: A big development tonight.
David Gergen, appreciate it. Michael Ware, as well, thank you very much, guys.