TSR: "...America is fighting this war election to election."
Wolf talks to Michael via the nightlighted (pretty sure that's the correct term, as "nightlit" would mean moonlight; whatever, he's green) broadband connection about the politics of ending the war.
WOLF BLITZER: The war in Iraq beginning its sixth year today. President Bush calls it a noble, necessary and just fight. Here's how the presidential candidates view it.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Are we safer because of this war? And that is why Senator McCain can argue, as he did last year, that we couldn't leave Iraq because violence was up, and then argue this year that we can't leave Iraq because violence is down. When you have no overarching strategy, there is no clear definition of success. Success comes to be defined as the ability to maintain a flawed policy indefinitely.
Here is the truth. Fighting a war without end will not force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. And fighting in a war without end will not make the American people safer.
So when I am commander in chief, I will set a new goal on day one. I will end this war. Not because politics compels it. Not because our troops cannot bear the burden, as heavy as it is, but because it is the right thing to do for our national security.
CLINTON: The Iraqi government has to take responsibility for its own future that we have given them: the precious gift of freedom. It is up to them to decide whether or not they will use it. But we cannot win their civil war. There is no military solution.
And as we bring our troops home, we must take care of them. Our veterans deserve our greatest efforts to fulfill our obligations to them, with the healthcare and the other services that they have so richly earned, and we've got to have a 21st century G.I. Bill of Rights for these young men and women so they can go to school or start a business or buy a home. So there's a lot of work ahead but I'm confident and optimistic that we can do this work together.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are succeeding. And we can succeed and American casualties overall are way down. That is in direct contradiction to the predictions made by the Democrats and particularly Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. I'll be glad to stake my campaign on the fact that this has succeeded and the American people appreciate it.
Now will we be able to succeed fast enough, will they be able-- al Qaeda be able to come back, that's a tough question. They're on the run but they're not defeated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now from the northern part of Baghdad, a small U.S. combat outpost, our own Michael Ware. He's embedded with the 101st Airborne right now on the scene.
Michael, five years. Who would have thought U.S. troops -- 140,000, 150,000 --would still be deployed in Iraq five years later? We got an assessment from the president of the United States today, a rather upbeat assessment. Things were definitely, he says, moving in the right direction.
You have been there since day one. Give us your five-year bottom line assessment.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first and foremost, I have to tell you that given the situation on the ground, even though there's a downturn in violence, even though the surge, so-called, has been a success -- and I'm not talking about 30,000 troops sent to reinforce the capital. I'm talking about America doing deals with its enemies, about America running its own militias and putting them on the U.S. government payroll, I'm talking about a political surge trying to batter this Iranian-linked Iraqi government.
All of these things have produced some success. Certainly less people are dying each and every month. But just last month, more than 600 Iraqi civilians still died. That's not good by anyone's measure.
So despite these successes, what I can tell you, Wolf, is that even entering the sixth year of this grinding, seemingly never-ending war, there's no way America can leave any time soon; not if it wants to retain any shred of its international standing, nor if it wants to do anything to help the Iraqi people, Wolf.
BLITZER: So when they talk about a pause in the withdrawal this summer -- it's going to go down to 140,000, 145,000, then they are going to keep it at that level for awhile -- what I hear you saying is they're going to have to keep it at that level or roughly at that level for some time to come.
WARE: Oh, absolutely. You talk to any officer here in Iraq, you even talk to the sergeants, you can even talk to the specialists, the everyday soldier. Now, as embittered as they may be, though their morale may remains high, their commitment to being a professional soldier, to protecting their brother, continues, all of them know that this problem is far from fixed, and there's only long-term solutions.
Indeed, I have had countless conversations with soldiers and officers over the past month here in Iraq where we talk endlessly about America's opponents, be it al Qaeda, be it Iran, be it others, playing a long game, a generational game, whereas the men in uniform can't help but feel frustrated by the fact that America is fighting this war election to election.
So this country is broken. America broke it. Whether you were for or against the war in the beginning is moot. Whether there was WMD is irrelevant. You have the situation you have now. America simply can't walk away, not any time soon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What would happen if the U.S. started withdrawing troops in major numbers, a brigade or two a month, over the next year and brought it down to 20,000 or 30,000 troops? What would be the immediate impact?
WARE: Well, what we would see is once U.S. forces reach a certain level where they're unable to flex real combat muscle, where they can no longer intimidate the myriad of groups and international players like Iran here in this country -- and I have to say, Iran is not intimidated right now with 160,000 troops -- but once American forces get to the point where all they can do is basically defend themselves as they withdraw, watch out.
I mean, lot of people point to the southern Iraq. Now while relatively peaceful, you see a whole rainbow alliance of Iranian-backed militias in tussles for power. Now imagine that writ large across the country, throwing in not just rival Shia-on-Shia as Iran plays its hand and dabbles, making sure no one group becomes powerful enough. Add to that Shiite versus Sunni, Arab versus Kurd, Turkey and Iran pressing their claims in the Kurdish north.
You will see that if America pulls out or if America stops paying the 70,000-plus former insurgents who are now U.S. backed militias, then other people are gonna step in; Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, even American rival Syria will step in. You will see proxy wars, something that will be far worse than Lebanon in the 1980s -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael Ware, be careful over there. Good luck. Thanks for joining us.
WARE: Thank you, Wolf.