Michael Ware


AC: "America is mortgaging the future...to bring these numbers down"

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Soledad O'Brien subs for Anderson and talks to Michael as well as Peter Bergen and Gloria Borger about John McCain's latest trip to Baghdad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Also, we're talking about Iraq tonight, another massive bombing today. John McCain, Dick Cheney says things are better. Democrats are promising to change policy.

John King is on the ground with Senator McCain. He's got a fact check for us. Michael Ware joins us, too, along with Peter Bergen and Gloria Borger.

O'BRIEN: While John McCain was talking to reporters in Baghdad, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were taking jabs at each other over Iraq.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama holds up his original opposition to the war on the campaign trail. But he didn't start working aggressively to end the war until he started running for president. So when he had a chance to act on his speech, he chose silence instead.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With all due respect, she spoke about Iraq today, and she tried to suggest that, well, my opposition was just a speech in 2002, and since that time I've been inconsistent. Let me be absolutely clear here. I opposed this war in 2002. I opposed it in 2003, '04, '05, '06 and '07.


O'BRIEN: Barack Obama, in fact, then an Illinois Senator, was against authorizing the war back in 2002. Senator Clinton supported the bill.

Now, both senators have said the surge in troops last fall has helped reduce violence in Iraq, and both have outlined plans to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible.

Joining us this evening to discuss all that, CNN's Michael Ware and CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Also, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger is joining us.

Let's begin with you, Peter. John McCain has said that he thinks, in fact, that al Qaeda might increase the number of attacks to tilt the election against him. First of all, do you think that that is a realistic scenario?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Al Qaeda doesn't care who wins the presidential election. Al Qaeda wants to change American foreign policy in the Middle East, and there is bipartisan consensus about that foreign policy. All candidates envisage a strong U.S. presence in the Middle East going forward, strong support for Israel. Al Qaeda wants to change all that.

So, you know, bin Laden himself came out with a videotape before the last presidential election, in which he made it clear, "Look, I don't care if it's -- who wins the election. I want the American people to change American foreign policy." Obviously, that call did not work very well.

But the notion that al Qaeda wants to swing the election for or against John McCain, I'm afraid, is simply ludicrous. That is not the way these people think.

O'BRIEN: Michael, let me ask you a question about the surge. If the position is the surge is working -- and John McCain has said that before -- one, would you agree with it? And, two, does it continue to work if those troops are moved?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, in a sense, yes, the surge is working. But one thing I'd be very keen to do is ask Senator McCain just what exactly does he think the surge is? Violence is currently down. Back to levels of about 2005. Now, that still means a lot of Iraqis are dying every month. It still means 30 or 40 or more Americans are dying every month. That's completely unacceptable.

But this thing called the surge has brought those levels of horrific violence down from last year. But the surge isn't just about 30,000 troops sitting here in Baghdad. That's not what's really done this.

What's really done this is cutting a deal with the Ba'athist nationalist insurgency. What's done this is Muqtada al-Sadr calling a truce. What's done this is segregating this country into Sunni and Shia enclaves, walling them off with massive blast barriers, and arming local militias to protect themselves.

Now will this survive if 30,000 troops go? Those troops are just in Baghdad. What this is happening and the levels of violence is across the country. So there's much greater things at play here than just 30,000 troops. And in many ways, America is mortgaging the future of this country and America's interests to bring these numbers down by building these militias -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Gloria, let me ask you a political question here, and I think John King kind of raised it for us the first time, where he said if you ask the question in the polls about who's better off, you know, handling Iraq, John McCain does well.

But if the public spins from that and starts connecting him to sort of supporting a war that the country doesn't necessarily support, that could be problematic for him. How big of a risk do you think that really is?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is difficult for John McCain. But, you know, if John McCain has been anything, he's been consistent about the war in Iraq. He's always supported it. He was for the surge in Iraq before President Bush was for the surge in Iraq, and so he's being completely consistent here.

And what you see is John McCain acting as a commander in chief.

And I think he was careful to point out to John King in John's piece that there are things he does not like about what's going on in Iraq, just as General Petraeus pointed out last week to the "Washington Post."

So both of them, and they're very close, are saying, "Look, there are things we don't like. But here's what we can take credit for." And as you know, politicians are pretty good about taking credit for things when they're going well.

O'BRIEN: Really? I'm shocked to hear that, Gloria. You're absolutely surprising me.

BORGER: I know.

O'BRIEN: Let me give the final question to Michael Ware tonight. Michael, a year ago when you and I spoke, you told me that the Iraqi troops were a disaster. I mean, they were just -- it was just a mess. Do you see improvement there or do you see improvement, but slowly, or no improvement at all?

WARE: Well, look, on an ad hoc local level, depending on which American unit you're dealing with, they may be dealing with a much better Iraqi counterpart than you'll find elsewhere.

But I have to tell you, overall, the numbers of Iraqi troops, the numbers of Iraqi police are growing. But the building blocks of these forces are still essentially militias or the insurgents. There really is no national coming together, certainly within the police. Absolutely fractured. Riddled with Iranian-backed militias.

And now America is putting Sunni insurgents in police uniforms to counterbalance that. You cannot walk away from this country and leave it to anything like the Iraqi security forces, and that's the sad reality.

America broke this place. This place is on its knees, yet America cannot walk away without enormous cost to itself and its own interests -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Michael Ware joining us tonight. Also, Peter Bergen and Gloria Borger. Guys, thank you very much. I appreciate it.