‘A War We Just Might Win’ Authors Discuss Surge Success With Chris Wallace

As NewsBusters reported Monday, two analysts for the liberal think tank the Brookings Institution published a rather shocking op-ed at the New York Times expressing extraordinary optimism about how the surge is working in Iraq.

The pair, Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon, were Chris Wallace's guests on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, and continued to share positive sentiments about what's currently happening in the embattled nation.

After an introduction, Pollack spoke first (video available here, h/t Hot Air):

Well, you see in a few places in Iraq some very dramatic changes. The one that everyone knows about is Anbar province, where the Sunni sheiks have flipped on Al Qaida in Iraq and the other Salafi groups and are now working with U.S. forces.

But there are also some important things that we saw in other places. Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, which at one point in time required tens of thousands of troops just to keep the place from flying part, was now mostly being handled by Iraqi security forces with only a small American presence up there.

And elsewhere, in Baghdad, in the southern belts, in the northern belts, we also saw progress, important progress, on the security front, and even some progress with local economic and political developments.

O'Hanlon followed:

The way I would summarize it, Chris, we have suppressed the sectarian violence. We don't have a solution yet. That has to come, to some extent, from the politicians in Baghdad, also from the ground up.

That part is suppressed by a lot of American forces, a lot of concrete barriers and a lot of checkpoints. We don't yet have the end-game on that.

We are seeing, however, much more progress against the Al Qaida in Iraq, the other Salafist groups, some of the extreme Shia militias, and that part is going much better because Iraqis -- along with the surge, Iraqis are getting sick of the violence from other Iraqis against them, and they're getting tired of these extremist movements.

That does not solve the sectarian problem. That's going to have to be phase two of this. But the first phase is looking fairly good, on the military battleground, at least.

This set up a fascinating exchange that would likely make anti-war activists around the country lose sleep:

WALLACE: Which brings us to the bottom line of your article, and let's put it up, "The surge cannot go on forever, but there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008."

Ken, you've got to know there are a lot of people in this town who don't want to hear that.

POLLACK: We've heard that very loudly from those people over the course of the last week. But you know, the fact of the matter is that Mike and I are most interested in what's in the best interest of the country, and we're going to call things exactly as we see them.

And we felt that it was important to say that, you know, we saw some progress over there. We went to Iraq specifically to ask the question, "Is there any reason to believe that the surge is having an impact?"

We started this very late in the day. I don't think there's any question it was the right strategy. But we only started it long after civil war had descended to some very violent levels in Iraq.

And the question we wanted to ask is, "Is there any reason to think that this was having an impact on the situation?" And we found evidence that it was.

Wallace later questioned O'Hanlon about negative criticism the pair received from liberal bloggers as a result of their op-ed. O'Hanlon responded:

Well, I've had a hard time with some of the bloggers and their take. I think left-leaning politicians have been fair. A lot of them haven't liked what we've said, but they've read it and they've tried to digest it.

But the bloggers, of course, to some extent, have a business of trying to make comments somewhat more extreme. But I respect the bottom-line judgment. You can look at the facts that Ken and I tried to report, and I think they are facts.

There is military progress. We're confident of that. And that's why we wrote the piece. But you can look at those facts and still conclude, "This thing's gone on long enough. If the Iraqi politicians aren't cooperating now, why would they ever? Let's pull the plug." I can respect that argument, even though it's not mine.

What I can't quite agree with is people saying, "Your facts are wrong." We spent a lot of time looking at the facts. I'm pretty confident the facts are right.

Finally, this concluding exchange should be required reading for all members of Congress:

WALLACE: Ken, conversely, if the Congressional Democrats succeed in starting to pull most of our troops out by next spring, what do you see happening to Iraq then?

POLLACK: I am not in favor of precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. I think that could be very dangerous. I think it would lead to all- out civil war in Iraq.

And unfortunately, I think that that could have very profound repercussions not just for Iraq, but for the entire region.

Extraordinary. What follows is a full transcript of this segment.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: This week there was an op-ed column called "A War We Just Might Win" that said the U.S. troop surge is creating significant changes on the ground in Iraq.

What made it noteworthy was who wrote it, two critics of the way the Bush administration has conducted the war, Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon from the generally liberal think tank The Brookings Institution.

And, gentlemen, welcome to "Fox News Sunday." You're just back from eight days traveling all over Iraq.

Ken, why don't you start? What did you see over there that led you to believe that this troop surge might actually work?

KENNETH POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, you see in a few places in Iraq some very dramatic changes. The one that everyone knows about is Anbar province, where the Sunni sheiks have flipped on Al Qaida in Iraq and the other Salafi groups and are now working with U.S. forces.

But there are also some important things that we saw in other places. Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, which at one point in time required tens of thousands of troops just to keep the place from flying part, was now mostly being handled by Iraqi security forces with only a small American presence up there.

And elsewhere, in Baghdad, in the southern belts, in the northern belts, we also saw progress, important progress, on the security front, and even some progress with local economic and political developments.

WALLACE: Michael, what can you add to that, particularly this question that I asked Secretary Rice about, which is sectarian violence, this argument that this is trying to provide some kind of a circuit breaker in terms of the sectarian civil war?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The way I would summarize it, Chris, we have suppressed the sectarian violence. We don't have a solution yet. That has to come, to some extent, from the politicians in Baghdad, also from the ground up.

That part is suppressed by a lot of American forces, a lot of concrete barriers and a lot of checkpoints. We don't yet have the end-game on that.

We are seeing, however, much more progress against the Al Qaida in Iraq, the other Salafist groups, some of the extreme Shia militias, and that part is going much better because Iraqis -- along with the surge, Iraqis are getting sick of the violence from other Iraqis against them, and they're getting tired of these extremist movements.

That does not solve the sectarian problem. That's going to have to be phase two of this. But the first phase is looking fairly good, on the military battleground, at least.

WALLACE: Which brings us to the bottom line of your article, and let's put it up, "The surge cannot go on forever, but there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008."

Ken, you've got to know there are a lot of people in this town who don't want to hear that.

POLLACK: We've heard that very loudly from those people over the course of the last week. But you know, the fact of the matter is that Mike and I are most interested in what's in the best interest of the country, and we're going to call things exactly as we see them.

And we felt that it was important to say that, you know, we saw some progress over there. We went to Iraq specifically to ask the question, "Is there any reason to believe that the surge is having an impact?"

We started this very late in the day. I don't think there's any question it was the right strategy. But we only started it long after civil war had descended to some very violent levels in Iraq.

And the question we wanted to ask is, "Is there any reason to think that this was having an impact on the situation?" And we found evidence that it was.

WALLACE: Michael, one area about which you're not optimistic is the Iraqi central government and the moves toward national reconciliation.

Here's what you wrote, "Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps toward reconciliation or at least accommodation are needed."

Michael, do you see any signs that the Maliki -- Prime Minister Maliki and the parliament are getting their act together? And absent serious moves toward national reconciliation, does the surge make sense?

O'HANLON: I think it makes sense for a while to see if the momentum can spread from the battlefield to the political theater. Ken's the greater expert on Iraqi politics than I, but my overall impression is if you don't get even some top-level, top-down movement coming up fairly soon, this thing can't work. Politics trumps the battleground in the end.

And I think, therefore, this is an interim report from us on the surge, and it's basically saying nothing more dramatic than give it six more months or so, maybe nine more months.

If things don't start to progress in that time, I personally would be a lot less optimistic and/or in favor of trying to prod the Iraqis to dump Prime Minister Maliki. That's me, not Ken.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you, Ken, do you see any signs that Maliki and the parliament are getting their act together?

POLLACK: Basically none. The political side was absolutely dead in the water, exactly as Mike is suggesting.

You know, one thing to keep in mind is that as General Petraeus has repeatedly pointed out, the idea is that with security and local- level economic and political development, you create some space. There's an expectation that the politics is going to lag. It's going to take longer.

But this level of political stalemate is absolutely unacceptable. And I agree with Mike entirely that we can't give this much more time.

And I think that the U.S. -- the administration needs to be pushing much harder and maybe even thinking about, if the surge continues to work in terms of providing security, can we move to a different government, one that actually would be able to strike these hard bargains.

WALLACE: When you say a different government, meaning ousting Maliki and putting another man in?

POLLACK: I wouldn't necessarily suggest that the United States try to oust anyone. Our experience of ousting foreign leaders has been a very bad one.

But I think what we could do is go to the Iraqis and say, "Look, you're planning to have national elections in 2009. This government is deadlocked. It can't do it. You need to move those national level elections up and get a new parliament, hopefully one that actually can produce real results."

WALLACE: You -- and you referred to this -- have taken fire from some of your friends on the left, especially from some of the left- wing blogs, and let's put some of that up.

One of the blogs wrote, "For sheer deceit and propaganda, it is difficult to remember something quite this audacious and transparently false."

Another said your article "uses cherry-picked data to give the false impression that there is real progress being made militarily."

Michael, how much heat are you taking from the anti-war left? And is there an unwillingness on that side to even accept, even listen to new facts?

O'HANLON: Well, I've had a hard time with some of the bloggers and their take. I think left-leaning politicians have been fair. A lot of them haven't liked what we've said, but they've read it and they've tried to digest it.

But the bloggers, of course, to some extent, have a business of trying to make comments somewhat more extreme. But I respect the bottom-line judgment. You can look at the facts that Ken and I tried to report, and I think they are facts.

There is military progress. We're confident of that. And that's why we wrote the piece. But you can look at those facts and still conclude, "This thing's gone on long enough. If the Iraqi politicians aren't cooperating now, why would they ever? Let's pull the plug." I can respect that argument, even though it's not mine.

What I can't quite agree with is people saying, "Your facts are wrong." We spent a lot of time looking at the facts. I'm pretty confident the facts are right.

WALLACE: Now, am I right that both of you are supporting Senator Clinton's campaign for president? Is that correct?

O'HANLON: It's correct in my case.

POLLACK: I think that we...

WALLACE: You don't have to announce right now if you don't want to, Ken. But go ahead.

POLLACK: I was just going to say, we both work at the Brookings Institution. It's a non-partisan organization. We make our calls based on what we see.

WALLACE: Is it true that you bumped into Senator Clinton this week, Michael?

O'HANLON: Oh, nothing arranged, and nothing substantive.

WALLACE: Did she have any reaction to the article?

O'HANLON: I think she is admirable in her willingness to take in a lot of different viewpoints, and that's probably as much as I can say.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, Ken, because I talked with Democratic Senator Feingold last week before your article appeared, but I asked him why was he ignoring some signs that were out there that the surge was working. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, D-WIS.: I do not buy the notion that this surge is working. I do not buy the notion that somehow Petraeus is going to be able to tell us that things are moving in the right direction.

And in fact, he'll come back in September and he's going to say, "Let's wait till the end of the year."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Ken, what do you make of that?

POLLACK: I think Senator Feingold is a highly intelligent and honorable man. And I think that that is a perfectly reasonable position for someone to take.

Mike and I have a different perspective based on what we saw, based on our work on Iraq for many years.

Unfortunately, this is the problem with Iraq, is that it is an extremely difficult situation, and different people can read the facts and different people can read the information that they're getting in different ways.

WALLACE: Michael, we have to wrap up here. Assuming that we keep the troop surge -- you're calling for it to continue another six to nine months -- what are the chances for success in Iraq? And what would success mean?

O'HANLON: Success means less violence and a place that doesn't fall apart. That's my standard. That's good enough, as far as I'm concerned.

I, in fact, am sympathetic to the idea of a soft partition of Iraq. I think that would be good enough -- a Bosnia model. It's going to be hard to convince the Iraqis to do that, as Ken constantly reminds me when I raise this idea.

But I think that would be perfectly viable as an outcome as well. We just need a place that doesn't fall apart or export terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

WALLACE: And I hate to say this. We've got about 30 seconds left.

Ken, conversely, if the Congressional Democrats succeed in starting to pull most of our troops out by next spring, what do you see happening to Iraq then?

POLLACK: I am not in favor of precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. I think that could be very dangerous. I think it would lead to all- out civil war in Iraq.

And unfortunately, I think that that could have very profound repercussions not just for Iraq, but for the entire region.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, I want to thank you both for coming in and sharing your thoughts with us.

O'HANLON: Thank you.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.