With Election Over, NBC Sees Dangers in Cut and Run

In a surprising moment on Today this morning, NBC Middle East Bureau Chief and self proclaimed pacifist Richard Engel warned of the dangers of pulling out of Iraq too soon. In his reporting, Engel warned that a premature withdrawal could be dangerous on a global scale.

Richard Engel: "As the debate in the U.S. increasingly focuses on finding an exit strategy from Iraq after the Democrats gains in congress, 7,000 miles away, U.S. Troops and Iraqis face tough questions: What will happen on the ground if U.S. Forces leave? What are the options? Analysts say staying the course isn't one of them, but neither is pulling out too quickly."

Robert Fox, Defense Editor, Evening Standard: "The military plans, many of them, are not working, but cutting and running would turn a war which is awful and local into a regional and possibly global war."

Engel has issued this warning before, notably on the September 10 Chris Matthews Show, when he startled the host by agreeing with President Bush: "I've heard the President's speeches many times, and he talks about 'If the American troops pulled out right now, the situation would get worse.' There's no doubt that would be the case. It would collapse instantly into a much more chaotic civil war."

Now NBC's Today is getting around to the downside of the "cut-and-run" prescription for Iraq, but why did they not cover this before the crucial midterm elections?

The entire transcript is below:

Matt Lauer: "Americans let congress know, loud and clear, they're not happy with the war in Iraq, but what would happen with the U.S. just packed up and left? NBC's Middle East Bureau Chief Richard Engel has been covering Iraq since before the war began. Richard, nice to have you here in person."

Richard Engel: "Thanks very much good to be here."

Lauer: "So what would happen?"

Engel: "Well, I think what happened in southern Iraq yesterday is a good example of the kind of security situation that would develop. In those provinces in the south where those Americans were kidnaped, British and Italian forces have been pulling back and handing over authority to the Iraqi security forces. But instead of having a stable environment, it was handed over to militia men and highway robbers and a probably a similar pattern would be repeated across the country."

(Begin Video)

Engel: "As the debate in the U.S. increasingly focuses on finding an exit strategy from Iraq after the Democrats gains in congress, 7,000 miles away, U.S. troops and Iraqis face tough questions: What will happen on the ground if U.S. Forces leave? What are the options? Analysts say staying the course isn't one of them, but neither is pulling out too quickly."

Robert Fox, Defense Editor Evening Standard: "The military plans, many of them, are not working, but cutting and running would turn a war which is awful and local into a regional and possibly global war."

Engel: "So what would happen if U.S. troops just left? Iraqis overwhelmingly say it would push the country deeper into chaos. Three states would claw their way into existence in a civil war, creating an independent Kurdistan, opposed by Turkey, Iran, and Syria, a Shi'ite south allied with Iran and in control of much Iraq's oil and access to the Persian gulf, and a failed Sunni state run by tribunal war lords some backed by al Qaeda."

Bob Stewart, Military Analyst: "It's quite clear that the biggest danger of all in Iraq is the, for al Qaeda to actually have a state. Iraq would be a perfect state for al Qaeda. It's oil rich. It's right in the middle of the Arab world."

Engel: "Just last month al Qaeda supporters in Iraq staged a bold daylight demonstration in Ramadi to declare their support for an independent hard line Islamic state. Just a show for the cameras for now, but clear sign of their intentions. Osama bin Laden's deputy, Iman al Zawahari, has said one of al Qaeda's goals is to find a state or part of a state as a new homeland. Leaving Iraq with a power vacuum might just give it to them."

(End Video)

Engel: "So there is that danger Matt that a quick pull out could have just the opposite effect of the entire war which is to create an al Qaeda safe haven to launch further attacks."