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Radio Interview with Secretary Gates on the Laura Ingraham Show

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
April 04, 2007
INGRAHAM: And joining us now with his first radio interview -- and we have him; it's an exclusive -- I'm delighted he's with us -- the president -- former president -- how can it really be? -- of Texas A&M, and the current secretary of defense, Robert Gates. Secretary Gates, thanks so much for being with us.

SEC. GATES: It's my pleasure.

INGRAHAM: Secretary Gates, what is your take on what's happening with this Pelosi trip to Syria? I know you don't get into the politics of any of this, and I know that's not your purview. But from what your goals are in the region, how does it affect us?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that one of the concerns that the president has expressed -- and I'd put it more broadly -- is that a significant number of people have gone to Syria to talk with the Syrians, and there's really been nothing to show for it. There -- people want to open a dialogue, but just, you know, talking for the sake of talking really doesn't accomplish very much, unless you have some kind of a goal in mind. I mean, what do we want out of the Syrians? What are we asking them to do in these conversations? And that would be interesting to know, I think.

What we have -- what many of the visitors who have gone over from the Congress and elsewhere from this country to engage in this dialogue -- what have they asked of the Syrians? Have they asked the Syrians to stop allowing suicide bombers to cross their borders into Iraq? Have they talked to the Syrians about stopping the flow of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon? So I think these are the kinds of issues -- if there's going to be a dialogue, there has to be some substance to it.

INGRAHAM: Well, it would seem to me, Mr. Secretary, also that it's just so important for us to have a unified voice when it comes to, obviously, defense policy or foreign policy, diplomatic initiatives. I mean, it's so confusing for the people of the Middle East to have all these various freelancers going over there.

SEC. GATES: Well, in principle, I agree with you. But I would have to tell you, I got into this business of national security over 40 years ago -- (chuckling) -- and I don't know that we've ever had that luxury!

INGRAHAM: (Chuckles.) Well, that's true, it's politics, right.

SEC. GATES: We've always had people traveling around the world and kind of doing their own thing -- former officials, current officials, and members of Congress, and so on. So, you know, I think it's one of the things that makes the United States such an interesting challenge for foreign governments in trying to figure out where we are on things.

INGRAHAM: I want to talk about, just briefly, developments in Iran. The Iranian government has announced they're releasing these sailors. Is there anything else you can tell us about what's happening now?

SEC. GATES: I only know what I've read on the wire services about the release. Obviously, we welcome the release of the 15 British sailors. It's too bad they were seized in the first place. It's pretty clear that they were in Iraqi waters. But I think that letting the diplomatic process work in this case was the best way forward.

INGRAHAM: So you didn't have any -- you didn't have any personal involvement, as secretary of defense, in how this whole thing went down?

SEC. GATES: No.

INGRAHAM: That wasn't in your --

SEC. GATES: No, not at all.

INGRAHAM: -- your repertoire.

SEC. GATES: No.

INGRAHAM: I want to talk about the surge in Iraq. We've heard a variety of reports. CNN's Baghdad correspondent, Michael Ware repeatedly saying that it's just a disaster in Iraq, that anyone who thinks that things are getting better is essentially smoking crack. And we had people like McCain go over there and say well, things seem to be in certain areas improving.

What can you tell us definitively about how the surge is working so far?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that first of all, it's important to realize that the -- that only two of the five brigades for the United States -- from the United States are in Iraq and participating right now. And I think that the way I've characterized it is so far, so good.

We expected that there would be dramatic terrorist attacks, attacks of -- on populated areas and so on by al Qaeda. Their -- after all, it's been part of their strategy from the very beginning of last year to try and foment sectarian violence, and I think that some of these large car bombs that we're seeing and so on are an effort to, frankly, try and counteract the positive things that have been happening as a result of even the -- just the two brigades having gone into Baghdad along with a significant number of Iraqi forces.

I think that what we're seeing is that the Iraqis are meeting their commitments to us in terms of the number of troops that they've promised, in terms of allowing us to go into -- allowing both Iraqi and American forces to go into all neighborhoods, without differentiation between Shi'a and Sunni, and not allowing any political interference in terms of the military operations. So all of those things, those commitments have been made, and I think that the general feeling is that -- is so far, so good.

The interesting thing to me is just in the last few days, looking at the news media and on some of the network news and so on -- there have actually been some pretty positive stories coming out of Baghdad. There was one on one of the networks last night about children returning to playgrounds, markets reopening, coffee shops reopening and so on, and those are obviously very positive signs.

INGRAHAM: We missed that. Oh, I missed that report. I'm -- (chuckles) -- I'm hearing things that were reported on ABC "World News Tonight," giving away what we're trying to do allegedly to destabilize the government of Iran. I don't know if you saw that report by Brian Ross.

SEC. GATES: No, I haven't seen that.

INGRAHAM: Yeah, well, have your people pull it. You might be interested to see what he said.

On the issue of Muqtada al-Sadr, he had -- it looks like he had been standing down for some period of time as the surge was getting under way, and now he seems to have re-emerged on the scene to get back to his anti-American rhetoric, and his forces seem to be out again targeting innocents. What do you make of this, and what can we expect?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think we have seen the Jaish al-Mahdi people continuing their activities in some parts of Iraq. There has been -- it does seem that there has been a stand down of some of their activities in Baghdad. As far as I know, Sadr is still -- himself is still in Iran, and there are some signs that his prolonged absence is leading to some fracturing inside the organization. So I think it's hard to tell what's going on, quite frankly.

INGRAHAM: Well, the concern obviously is the Democrats' threat, the continuing threats to withhold funding if the president vetoes this supplemental spending bill.

And again, I know you're not going to get into the politics of it, Secretary Gates, but how will withholding funds from our troops over the next couple of months affect the way things are going to go on the ground in Iraq?

SEC. GATES: Well, the chiefs of the four services yesterday sent -- or day before yesterday sent a letter to the Congress, and they indicated that -- just a few examples -- if the supplemental isn't approved by April 15th, they said in their letter that the Army would be forced to curtail or suspend the training of Reserve units preparing for rotations, to slow the training of the next deployers, stop the repair of tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and other pre-deployment training vehicles, and delay some needed upgrades and renovations to barracks and other quality of life facilities for soldiers and their families. And then, if the supplemental isn't received by May 15th, they'd clearly have to go further, and the Army would consider reducing repair work at Army depots on equipment and so on.

INGRAHAM: Well --

SEC. GATES: I mean, and training would be affected and so on.

INGRAHAM: Well, Lindsey Graham, Mr. Secretary, and John McCain have said in recent days that if that actually happened, if the funds were cut off -- and again, serious people are threatening that now -- that that would ensure our defeat in Iraq.

SEC. GATES: Well, if there were a complete cut off of the funds, I mean, there's no question that that would bring an end to the war. We would have to come home if there were no funds at all.

INGRAHAM: Would you even have money to come home at that point? I mean, coming home costs money. I mean, really.

SEC. GATES: Well, I think we'd find the money to bring them home, but --

INGRAHAM: Yeah, no, I'm just saying --

SEC. GATES: -- I mean, the consequences of a complete cut off of funding would -- there's no doubt that would be dramatic.

INGRAHAM: Well, someone like a Joe Biden will say, "Look, what we're after here is -- let's use our troops for doing the things that would be most effective at this point in time -- would fund the training of the Iraqi forces and would fund the targeting of al Qaeda, but none of this, you know, roaming the streets and securing neighborhoods block by block." That's what he is saying and others are as well. So they're saying, no, we don't want a complete lack of funds -- defunding, but we can do targeted funding.

Could that work?

SEC. GATES: Well, I don't know whether it would work. It's one of the alternatives that's been put forward. But most people agree, I think, across the political spectrum that the only way that Iraq will emerge with a government or as a country that can govern itself and defend itself and sustain itself is if there's a political reconciliation among the different parties in Iraq. And the realization was last December that -- or late last fall, that with the level of violence so high in Baghdad, the prospects for reconciliation were almost nonexistent.

And so the whole idea of the reinforcement, of the surge, is to help buy the Iraqis time to pursue political reconciliation. And there seems to be some progress in that regard.

But everybody I know across the entire political spectrum agrees that the Iraqis have to reach agreement among themselves on the way forward in their country, and that's the formula for success here. But they can't do it if the entire place is going up in flames. So the notion that -- I mean, one real possibility is, if we abandon some of these areas and withdraw into the countryside, or whatever, to do these targeted missions, that you could have a fairly significant ethnic cleansing inside Baghdad and in Iraq more broadly. So, you know, it's an interesting supposition, but it's a theory.

And what we do know is that if Baghdad is in flames and the whole city is engulfed in violence, the prospects for a political solution are almost non-existent. And so the whole point behind the president's strategy is let's buy them some time and give them a chance to come together.

INGRAHAM: Well, Mr. Secretary, we're running out of time. There are so many issues I wanted to talk to you about, including the size of our military. And I know your proposal to grow the military, which I'm so interested in.

But we have to ask you a really important question before you go. Have you found any decent barbeque in the Washington, D.C. area?

SEC. GATES: No. (Chuckles.) I have to go back to Texas for that, I think!

INGRAHAM: Well, you know, Rudy's was my favorite. When I pulled out of College Station a couple of weeks ago, giving a speech down there, I was in heaven at Rudy's.

SEC. GATES: I was a regular at Rudy's.

INGRAHAM: Were you really? What was your favorite? Were you a pulled-pork man, or were you more the beef brisket? What did you do?

SEC. GATES: I'm pork ribs, period.

INGRAHAM: Oh, pork ribs. That is a fascinating look into your psyche that you're a pork ribs person, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. GATES: (Laughs.) With the regular sauce, not the sissy sauce.

INGRAHAM: Oh, you know, I did not get the sissy sauce. They told me about the sissy sauce. I said ix-nay to that, I'm going to go for the full-bore Texas treatment.

SEC. GATES: (Laughs.)

INGRAHAM: Well, I was -- I love College Station. I went to the Dixie Chick and saw the rattlesnake, all that. So I hope I get back there soon. I know you miss Texas.

SEC. GATES: Yes, I do.

INGRAHAM: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us, and thanks for your service to this country, it’s a difficult time. And I was really glad that you were able to join us for a little bit.

SEC. GATES: Thanks a lot.

INGRAHAM: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the Laura Ingraham Show.

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