(Media availability with members of Congress. Participating were Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Powell Moore and Representatives Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.)
Moore: Good morning. I'm Powell Moore, the assistant secretary of Defense for legislative affairs. We have two guests in the Pentagon this morning: the Honorable Tom Davis of Virginia, and the Honorable Peter Hoekstra from Michigan, two members who have recently led CODELS to Iraq.
We have come from a breakfast with the deputy secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where they exchanged observations about the results of their trip. We've had over 50 members of the House and the Senate visit Iraq since the 1st of May, and about half of those visited during the month of August. And these two congressmen led two significant CODELS into Iraq.
We want to encourage as many members as we possibly can to go there, and we hope to have many more members of the House and the Senate visit our troops in Iraq during the fall, when the opportunities present themselves with extended weekends and recesses.
With that, I'll turn the microphone over to Congressman Peter Hoekstra and then to Congressman Tom Davis.
Hoekstra: Good. Thank you. Let me just make a few comments and observations, and look forward to taking your questions.
We spent three days in Iraq during the middle of August. There was a bipartisan delegation of four members. We had the opportunity to spend two days in Baghdad and the area around Baghdad, and then one day in Kirkuk, Tikrit and Mosul. We went in and out of Iraq each and every day.
The first thing that became very, very obvious is that much of Iraq is functioning like a normal city in the Middle East. I've had the -- we had the opportunity to see much of Baghdad and the area around there, and a 30-minute over flight of Baghdad, and took 30 minutes of video; had the opportunity to take that back and show it to my constituents, and it was quite response -- quite interesting, their response. It was, you know: We don't see this. Our impression was that much of Baghdad was destroyed during the war; that the city was not functioning.
But if you see the video, you clearly see that the infrastructure is intact. There are cars, buses, trucks on the road. The shops are open. There are people on the streets. And Baghdad and the rest of Iraq is functioning.
That does not mean that it is not still a very, very dangerous area. Obviously, the type of conflict that we are engaged in jeopardizes our troops each and every day. We are concerned about the Ba'ath loyalists that are still active in Iraq. We are concerned about the criminal element that were released from the jails before Saddam lost power. And we're also concerned about the terrorists that may be infiltrating from the neighboring countries who are targeting U.S. troops.
The message that our CODEL came back with is that we've made progress. There is a tremendous amount of work to do in a very dangerous area. But now is the time to focus our resources and to get the job done. Now is not the time to question whether we should be there or not. It is the time to get the right resources there; to put an international face on this coalition; to involve the U.N. and to focus on restoring the basic civil society, restoring electricity and those types of things, getting health care and getting oil produced and oil flowing again; and we appear to be making progress in each of those areas. But you know, we think there is a right strategy in place.
We can argue about tactics and the implementation of certain tactics and these types of things. But the strategies that are in place are appropriate. The people that are in place, they are a very talented group. And the strategy of moving this from being a U.S.-led operation to putting the face of the coalition and putting and Iraqi face on this is exactly the right way to go and a strategy that we think is making progress.
With that, I'll turn it over to Mr. Davis.
Davis: Thank you. I agree with what Peter said. Let me just add a couple of things.
I think bringing the U.N. into this is important. It's been important, I think, from day one. I think we're getting an erroneous impression that somehow we've switched policies. I think what's changed here is the U.N.'s attitude after they had their building bombed. And there is now a willingness to come in and try to work together.
When you go out and look at some of these killing fields, where literally thousands of Iraqis, without trial, were shot down, shot, buried alive, buried dead, covered up; new group come in the next day -- in my opinion, when you see that, you don't even need to -- you don't worry about the weapons of mass destruction. This was one of the worst massacres, whatever, that I think we've seen in modern times. And I think it justifies our being there; in fact, the world stepping in and making sure regimes like this can't exist on this planet. It was massive. It was hundreds of thousands of people.
We met with a number of Iraqi leaders, and almost to a person their expression was they wanted the U.S. in charge, welcomed the U.N., but they had been -- these were people who had been petitioning the U.N. -- for some cases, 20 years -- to come in and help them and had (sic) fallen on deaf ears. It was the Americans who stepped in here at this point. And so there was, I think, some anxiety on their part that we would lose control, and I think it's going to work out just better. We are -- I think, most of the Iraqi people support what we are doing there -- a vast, vast majority.
The groups that are after us, of course, are underground. They're not overt. It's -- this is not a popular war of liberation by any means. And I think we met with enough Iraqi leaders and went through enough towns looking at these -- more marketplaces are operating in a normal fashion, like -- to see that we're on the right track. But it's still very, very tough, and I think the next few months are going continue to be tough. And to the extent we bring other forces in to help us, to the extent that we put the Iraqis out front, their faces out front, then they can get their constitution written, hold their elections, I think this thing holds great promise over the long term.
But I think, over the short term, we're going to continue to see these random acts of terror and the like as you get radicals from all over the Middle East trying to stream in there, you get the remnants of the Ba'ath Party and of course the thousands -- well, tens of thousands, perhaps a hundred thousand felons that Saddam freed from the prisons. They have set up their own little theaters of operation for kidnapping and the like within that country that add to the problems.
I'll stop there and we will take questions.
Q: To what extent do you think the U.N. should come in? How much of a role should it have, should it play, in your view?
Davis: Well, I think this is an international responsibility -- to rebuild this country and bring it back at this point. The world looked the other way for over 30 years while people were routinely shot, murdered, tortured, gassed. It's not the kind of world that we want to live in, and it shouldn't just be the U.S. It's not our sole responsibility. I think the values we share are values that our colleagues in the U.N. share. And so I think that we'd like to see multi-national involvement in all phases of this. So I'd like to see a significant role for them in terms of the manpower they're providing.
Q: (Off mike.)
Hoekstra: I don't disagree with that at all. I think there is -- you know, I think it's kind of interesting. Tom and I were talking about this before the meeting this morning. For those of us that have been over there, both with bipartisan delegations, it is amazing the kind of unanimity of opinion and vision that we get for the future after you've actually been able to experience Iraq. And there is a strong, I think, bipartisan agreement that expanding the coalition and involving the U.N. is something that needs to be done and something that we've wanted to do. And we're glad to see that we're making progress in that area.
Q: Just to make sure, you don't believe the U.N. should have operational control?
Davis: No. I don't think the Iraqis want that either. I mean, again, given the experience that they had for 20 years saying -- coming in and doing something. But should they have a say, are they part of the coalition? Absolutely.
I was there, by the way, in Old Babylon meeting with some of the Polish troops as well. They were out there fishing in the Euphrates River -- (Inaudible.) -- seemed to be on a day of about 125 degrees, knowing they were going to take over there. We're getting more of our allies taking pieces of this; the Bulgarians taking a piece here, and the like.
But an infusion of forces around the world I think adds legitimacy. I think for the U.S. to be viewed as an occupying force doesn't help us in doing the job we need to do, and I don't think it helps us throughout the Arab world. So, I think the U.N. coming in there does a lot of good things for us, and I'm just happy to see it.
I just remind you, initially we went to the U.N. We tried to make this a joint operation. And for various reasons, a number of them, I think, parochial political considerations on the part of countries that had interlocking deals, you know, we couldn't get the job done. And the question then was, given all of these resolutions that the U.N. had passed before, given the change in the world after 9/11, what, were we just going to sit there and continue to hammer this guy verbally or do something?
And, I think, after the bombing of the headquarters, the U.N. and a number of countries are beyond, you know, trying to look back and say was this right or wrong, or delegitimize what we're doing, and recognize this is a world problem. And, hopefully, now we're beyond that.
Q: Did you meet with David Kay's group? Did you get any briefing on what they have or haven't found?
Hoekstra: We had an opportunity on two separate occasions to meet with David Kay and the intel folks in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. I sit on the Intel Committee. We're eagerly anticipating the report that Dr. Kay is going to issue the middle of this month.
And I think it -- I applaud him in the way that he's moving forward. You know, he's doing all of the legwork right now. He wants -- he's approaching this as a prosecuting attorney would; not just taking a piece of equipment and saying -- say here's the proof. I mean, what he's doing is he wants to get documentation of what the programs were that were in place in Iraq. The second piece that he believes is essential for him to find to put this case together is to find actual physical evidence of what was being written about and what the strategies were. So, there's the written documentation of what the Iraqis were saying about the programs themselves on paper, the physical evidence that these programs actually existed and were underway. And then thirdly, finding Iraqis who were actually actively involved in the programs. And that's how he's going about the area in biological, chemical and nuclear. And that is the same process that he is using for determining, you know, the location or whether actual weapons of mass destruction exist.
And what he's going to do is rather than leaking information out on a piecemeal basis, he is going to do it on a periodic basis, where he collects all of the information that he has pulled together and presents them as reports that we can analyze a total analysis, rather than a single element of information.
We were very impressed with the work that he's doing and the approach that he is taking. And you know, he's believing he will find weapons of mass destruction. He holds out the possibility that he may not; he said it's a very, very remote possibility. But, you know, he will report what he has found.
Q: Some of your colleagues, when they've been over and have come back and met with him, have said that there's a likelihood of something being found soon, a surprise. Did either of you get that sense from him.
Davis: I didn't. I think he's going about this, you know, in an organized fashion. I don't think you find this without some cooperation from the Iraqis. It's a big country.
Hoekstra: Sure. That's right.
Davis: We do have, of course, documentation -- interrupted conversations and stuff about how they were avoiding things being found and stuff. But until you find the corporate -- you know, the deal itself, I don't think anybody's going to be satisfied. And I think we need Iraqi cooperation; that takes some time.
Hoekstra: I think Dr. Kay is going about it very well, in that he's talking -- he's not raising expectations. He's saying that he's going about this in a very thorough way. He's not talking or speculating about what he may or may not find. The message that he's giving us is: "I'm going about this in a very professional way, and I will report what I find on the dates that I have told you that I will report. And I'm not going to create false expectations or false hopes or speculate as to what I may or may not find." He doesn't want to get into the expectations game, other than saying, "I will report what I find."
Q: There's been some criticism of the conditions troops have been in: not enough semi-permanent facilities have been put up quickly enough, that they're not getting the hot meals that they should after the amount of time we've been there. What did you see? What did you hear?
Davis: I saw some troops that were in air conditioning, because you have some troops living in palaces -- (Chuckles.) -- and you have others that are out there in tents, depending, you know, what the mission is and everything else. I think we're trying to get, you know, air conditioning and some of the basic things out as quickly as we can. But this is a country with varying levels and degrees of infrastructure in different parts.
I found the morale to be pretty good. The one question is a lot of the Reservists called up are wondering "How long?" because they're away from their families and jobs and everything else. But the morale was amazingly good for these young men and women that were there.
Q: (Off mike.) -- about the rotation?
Davis: They're just questions about that, exactly. And you know, the sooner we get that resolved, then in their mind, I think they -- you know, having some certainty to it helps. But some of them are out there under very difficult conditions. But you have to look at the areas where they're located and the way the citizens are living there and everything else. I think there’re efforts to try to rotate them in and out.
Hoekstra: These are ugly conditions. I mean, you know --
Davis: One hundred and twenty-five degrees.
Hoekstra: One hundred and twenty-five when Tom was there. We were there one day; it was 133. We were there with cotton shirts and khakis on. They're there in full battle fatigues, and then they're also carrying a 35/40-pound body armor, okay? A three-quarter-inch, half-inch, quarter-plate of ceramic on their chest and on their back. And it's hot, it's dusty, and when the wind blows, it's ugly. But as Tom said, the morale is good.
In two of the locations that we were at, in Tikrit and Mosul, the day we were there, whether it was -- had any relationship to us being there that day or not, the civilian contractors had opened up the more elaborate mess and they were -- you know, the food conditions, they said, were noticeably the day that we were there than they were the day before. (Laughter.) But the facilities were set up so that it was not only for one day, but that they were now in place and they were going to be able to serve the troops more regular food each and every day.
Davis: But it depends where you are.
Davis: I mean, I think we're doing what -- it seemed like they were doing what they could in -- closer to cities, but some of them are still in very tough conditions.
Q: Can you each just talk about personally, the thing that struck you most on a personal level, something that you might have seen or something that surprised you?
Davis: For me, (at least), you walk out and look at one of these killings fields, one of these mass graves, and get -- describe what happens at the one near old Babylon. The clothes of some of the victims are still there. The people from the town can go by, look at the clothes and see if somehow they can identify that with one of their loved ones. Many of them have been claimed. Over 3,000 bodies and remains have already come up and been identified.
And you just wonder how in this planet, in the 21st century -- or this was in 1991 -- how could anyone allow this to happen. Is -- we like to think civilization has come so far, and you see something like that. And honestly, we had members walk away, say, "You know, you don't need weapons of mass destruction as a justification when you see something like this."
And there are over two dozens identified mass-grave sites in Iraq that we know about, and there may be others. And to me, you know, you're very moved when you see something like that.
Hoekstra: Yeah. The -- as Tom said, it's a very personal business. I mean, some people have said that as policymakers or as commanders, you know, war has become depersonalized. But when we were getting the brief from the 101st in Mosul, two things happened that show that this is a very personal business all the way to the top and the commanding generals. The first was when the general was asked about an incident where three Americans had been killed. (Pauses.) To him, it was not three of his troopers. He listed these three people by name in his answer as he started. He talked about their rank and their name, and you could tell that -- you know, that this general was concerned about each and every one of his troops.
Further on during the briefing, you know, you're sitting there and you're at the front, and you've got three rows of eight or 10 folks in back with the computers that are the headquarters as you're being briefed. And all of a sudden you could sense that something happened. There was kind of a buzz through the room, and you know, there's some activity going on in the room, and you're thinking: What happened? And you don't ask, but as you're leaving, you kind of turn to one of the military folks and say, "Hey, you know, what happened?" And they said, "Well, you know, we got word that one of our Humvees was taken out." Thing was burned to the ground. But you know, that created the buzz, but you know, what really created the buzz -- that all of our folks got out unharmed and unscratched.
So, it's still very much a war, for the folks that are involved in it, is still very much a personal issue. It is not something that, you know, they're sitting there, commanding the troops and they're not worried about the folks that are on the front lines.
Moore: I think we have time for more. I hate to bring it to the close, but I know your schedule --
Q: After listening to that, this is maybe almost trite, but a budget issue: What are you hearing from this building in terms of another supplemental? The Post reported today up to 60 billion (dollars). What are you hearing from --
Davis: I just know what I read in the papers at this point. We didn't ask for a number today at our meeting. I would simply say this; we are committed to what we're doing, and we have to be. I mean, for the U.S. to not follow through on this, to somehow pull out or try to do this on the cheap and fail would have lasting repercussions that would haunt this planet for a generation. So, we cannot afford to do that.
Q: Do you think your colleagues would -- how would -- you have a good pulse of the Republican Party, obviously. If another supplemental comes up, how will it be received?
Davis: I think it will pass overwhelmingly, as long as it's clean and they don't junk it up. I think as long as it's a clean supplemental that goes to this effort, I think it will pass overwhelmingly, as long as they don't junk it up with a lot of add-on’s. And, you know, and I think we should try to play that straight.
Look, whether you think it was a good decision or not, history will judge. And I'll just say, you know, you can go back 10 years and say, did this alter the Middle East and the war on terrorism? And I think we can't look at that today and make that decision. The president's had to, and the secretary of Defense has had to, and they've got to make decisions; they don't have the benefit of hindsight. But we're there, and the question is when you're there. Pulling out at this point would be a disaster not just for the U.S., but for the stability in the world.
Hoekstra: Yeah. Pulling out is not an option. Doing it on the cheap is not an option. Getting a number, at least a preliminary number for getting us through the next few months, from the administration I think is essential for Congress to have the discussion and the debate about the direction. Engaging the international community in the donor conference in October is absolutely essential. And getting Iraqi oil flowing again would be helpful. But now is not the time to do this halfheartedly. We're there, we need to be successful and we need to get it done.
Davis: Thank you.
I guess -- I'm in my office; Pete's in his, if you want to get us later in the day and didn't get a chance to ask a question. We've got to get back to the Hill.
Hoekstra: Great. Thank you.
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