CBS’s Hannah Storm interviewed long-time Bush ally and current ambassador Karen Hughes on this morning’s “The Early Show,” and appeared rather testy and ready for a fight (video link to follow). Storm began by painting an incredibly negative view of Iraq leading up to tomorrow’s elections, and then hammered Hughes on why the ambassador thinks things will get better after Iraqis go to the polls for the third time this year:
“What makes you think that the elections will be a turning point? What makes you think they will make Iraq a more secure place for its citizens and the U.S. troops there?”
After Hughes’ lengthy answer, Storm came back almost incredulously:
“But Ambassador, what will happen with the violence? What happens? I mean, right now the roads are closed and traffic is stopped and shops are closed. And we sent 20,000 troops there to secure the run-up to the election. What happens when all of that goes away and the borders are reopened? Will the violence really dissipate?”
After questioning Hughes about torture issues, Storm ended by referencing this week’s Newsweek cover-story depicting the president as being in a bubble, and isolated from advisors, with a final question: “And if there’s a cabinet shakeup, do you think he'll reach out beyond his inner circle?” Like many in the media, Storm seems to be itching for such a shakeup.
What follows is a full transcript of this segment, and a video link.
Storm: Long-time presidential adviser Karen Hughes is under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. Good morning, ambassador Hughes.
Hughes: Good morning, Hannah.
Storm: There has been this ongoing devastating violence in Iraq, there’s a fear of more as Iraqis go to the poll. What makes you think that the elections will be a turning point? What makes you think they will make Iraq a more secure place for its citizens and the U.S. troops there?
Hughes: Well, Hanna, because this is a real milestone. Tomorrow the people of Iraq begin to write a new chapter. Tomorrow really is the -- as the Iraqis go to vote. Tomorrow is the end of the transition period and beginning of a new and unified and stable Iraq. This is a permanent election. It follows the temporary election to elect the transitional government which wrote the constitution and then the people of Iraq approved the constitution, which outlined the elections that Iraq will be having tomorrow. So this is a real opportunity for a turning point for a milestone for Iraq to permanently elect a government and take control of their own country.
Storm: But Ambassador, what will happen with the violence? What happens? I mean, right now the roads are closed and traffic is stopped and shops are closed. And we sent 20,000 troops there to secure the run-up to the election. What happens when all of that goes away and the borders are reopened? Will the violence really dissipate?
Hughes: Well, we unfortunately, there are people there intent on wreaking havoc. And we have to focus on whether you were for or against the decision to go into Iraq, as I tell people as I travel around the world, you have to focus on what is happening in Iraq today. And what is happening is remnants of the old regime and terrorists are engaged in indiscriminant murder of innocent civilians, many of them fellow Muslims. And I think increasingly the people of Iraq are going to be standing up against that. Increasingly we are training Iraqi security forces to take the lead. Iraqi security forces are now in the lead. I heard a briefing from a general the other day of about 28% of the patrols. The others are joint. U.S. Forces are only in the lead of 13% of the patrols today. So we're increasingly seeing Iraqi security forces stand up and take responsibility for security in Iraq. Tomorrow in the elections, 225,000 trained Iraqi troops will be providing security. That's up from a little more than 100,000 Iraqi security forces in the elections in January. So that's significant progress in less than a year.
Storm: Then who makes the call on when U.S. Troops come home? Is it the new Iraqi government or U.S. Military?
Hughes: Well, I think it's obviously -- we're there in partnership with the new Iraqi government. We have committed to the people of Iraq that we will stay until we achieve our goal, which is a unified and stable Iraq, a democratic Iraq that's able to govern itself and able to confront the threat of insurgency and terrorism within its borders.
Storm: I want to touch on a couple other issues. Torture. John McCain’s been involved in negotiations with the White House on an anti-torture policy. And then we see these reports today U.S. Army has issued a new set of interrogation methods. There are mixed messages, an ongoing debate. When’s this going to be resolved? What’s the president’s position?
Hughes: Well Hannah, the president has said he is confident that he will be able to reach an agreement with senator McCain. I've talk to the senator about this issue. The goal is the same here. The goal is to make it very clear that the United States is a nation of laws and that we operate our detainee policy within our laws, within our international obligations, and without torture. And that is the shared goal. And I know that Steve Hadley, our national security adviser, is working with senator McCain to try to reach consensus on this issue.
Storm: The cover of "Newsweek" this week shows the president in a bubble, it says that he’s isolated, it says that he doesn't take well to disagreement, he equates it with disloyalty. You've known the president and been a close confidante of his for many, many years. Is this a fair assessment? And if there’s a cabinet shakeup, do you think he'll reach out beyond his inner circle?
Hughes: Well, no, I don't think it's a fair assessment, Hannah. I saw the president the night before last. He was over here at the state department. He's in great spirits. He’s convinced in his heart he is pursuing the right policies. He's had to make some very, very hard decisions. The decision to go to war is the hardest decision a president can make. But he believes in his heart that it will lead to greater peace and greater security not only for America but for the people of Iraq and for people throughout the world. So I think the president has a great team of advisers. He does get a lot of advice. He reaches out. He's got life-long friends who he sees often, and so, no, I don't think that's a fair assessment.
Storm: Karen Hughes, we do thank you for your time this morning. We appreciate it.
Hughes: Thank you so much, Hannah.