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Iraq: Five Years of War [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Speaker: General Barry R. Mccaffrey (USA-Ret.), Adjunct Professor of International Affairs, United States Military Academy
Presider: Jane Arraf, Journalist
March 13, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations

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JANE ARRAF: Thank you, everyone, for coming today, and welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting.

I'd just like to remind you to please turn off your BlackBerrys or cell phones and other wireless devices. And a further reminder that this will be on the record.

Now, you all have the short version of General Barry McCaffrey's biography. It's just highlights of a very long and distinguished career in which he still managed to be the youngest four-star general ever to retire from the Army. That was after four combat tours of duty, three Purple Hearts and, later, a key role in drug strategy and national security. So he comes from a wonderful vantage point of being able to talk with us about five years of war and what happens next.

And we're also extremely lucky, because General McCaffrey is someone who we in the media tend to think of as talking with unusual candor. So please welcome General Barry McCaffrey.

(Applause.)

GENERAL BARRY R. MCCAFFREY: Jane, thank you for the introduction. I don't mean to embarrass her, but this is one of the most courageous reporters I have seen in the national sphere in the last five years.

How about a round of applause for Jane.

(Applause.)

And I thank Ari Shaw for the chance to be here and the many people in the audience I've worked with over the years.

Betty, good to see you -- (inaudible) -- shoring up my (shaky echoes ?), a strange speech I gave in -- (inaudible) -- economic forum. But I was glad to be there.

And Bob McKeon who I worked with at Veritas and learned a lot from in business.

And Dr. Mitch Rosenthal, where are you? This is one of my heroes, the founder of Phoenix House, now one of the largest nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment -- (inaudible) -- tremendous program for adolescents. How about a round of applause for Dr. Mitch Rosenthal.

(Applause.)

Let me -- Jane's directions to me and Ari's directions were talk briefly and then we'll have a conversation and I'll shape the discussion based on your own interests and your own comments. And I petitioned for a few minutes to at least lay out some ideas.

I'm in and out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cuba, Russia. Normally I'm traveling wearing the hat of a adjunct professor international affairs at West Point on military orders or for the CIA or State or whoever has asked me to go take a look at the situation. Colombia, Cuba -- I've done a lot of work in Latin America, come back, try and write a report that looks like an (academic ?) report to my department head and then go over to the Pentagon, White House, Congress to testify, try and add an objective, nonpartisan view to some of these questions that are shaping the so-called war on terror. Certainly Iraq's been a continuing interest.

I come with a lot of, you know, experience, obviously, in the national security area. I'm biased to the extent that our armed forces taking 34,000 killed and wounded. I've got a son in combat in a Parachute Infantry Brigade right now in Afghanistan. My daughter was a National Guard officer. These kids have laid it on the line. They're getting angry.

They're turning on the -- you know, when I came out of Vietnam after three combat tours, used to tell people, my wife disliked intensely U.S. politicians, reporters and generals. And she hasn't changed her mind on all three of them in the succeeding years. (Laughter.) So we've got an institution, the armed forces. The most respected institution in American society is becoming increasingly uneasy about the position they've been placed in again.

A couple of quick comments perhaps to shape the discussion. To some extent, if you look at the totality of our experience in Iraq, it's been a major disaster. There's no two ways about it. We got a burn rate now -- pick a study you believe -- and $12 billion a month. Betty just sent me a book recently titled "The $3 Trillion War." One way or the other, clearly it's become a major factor in terms of scarce assets going to the two struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A considerable number killed and wounded. And what we shouldn't talk about probably, but it deserves further discussion during the next administration, is the disastrous role of our leadership, particularly Secretary Rumsfeld and his senior team during the initial intervention. You know, that's behind us. It's history. We have to focus on now and moving ahead. But it was remarkable that we went into this giant country of 27 million people with a tiny military force, with no follow-on thinking, with some assumptions that individually many of them made a lot of sense but collectively, you know, we were on the verge of a political military disaster going in the way we did. It didn't need to turn out that way.

The Maliki government right now I would characterize as largely dysfunctional. And to wit, if you went to any one of Iraq's provinces and said, in this province, is there a federal government that is dominant in electrical energy, the oil business, health, education, security, the answer would be no. That's not to imply the country is in chaos.

And I might add, you know, I just came out in December. The change in Iraq is like night and day. The violence level is down enormously. Every indicator sort of hangs together on that. Our casualty rates, the effectiveness of attacks, the number of IEDs has gone from bordering on the edge of all-out civil war to completely different circumstances.

One of the brigades I was in in downtown Baghdad for a day, the 1st Infantry Division, their piece of the city -- by the way, the city is 6 million people, all of them carrying automatic weapons, tremendous levels of violence and hatred and disorganization and distrust with huge losses of their intellectuals, their engineers, their medical people in that city. That brigade maintains stability. They took 80 killed and 600 wounded, one of the surge brigades. Now, that's actually stiff urban fighting. The day I was with them, there were two violent incidents in the city of Baghdad. The day I was out in Ramadi driving around in an MRAP vehicle wearing 50 pounds of body armor, there was not one shot fired at me. And we moved throughout the city.

So to some extent, in a tactical sense, it's changed dramatically for the better. There's still massive unemployment, underemployment. Our allies are leaving. There is a complete lack of U.S. political domestic support to continue the war. The American people think it's a mistake. They think the intelligence was essentially spun to get them into the war. I don't think we're going to get them back.

When you ask the questions in a different sense, there does seem to be a continuing commitment, first of all, to the armed forces and, secondly, to not having a disaster engulf us in Iraq as we come out. But I think the bottom line is that political support to continue as we have done for the last five years isn't there.

By the way, the U.S. Army and National Guard are starting to come apart on us. It's the smallest active Army since 1939, the year my dad was sworn in as an Infantry second lieutenant. We called up the National Guard and Reserves en masse, thank God. Many of them are on their second involuntary 15-month or longer combat tour. Without the Reserve components, we would have failed already.

We also were forced, just by a lack of adequately resourced institution, to carry out this struggle. We now have 124,000 contractors in Iraq, you know. And they're doing all of our retail-wholesale logistics, damn near. They're doing all of our long-haul communications. They're fixing our equipment. If you go into a tactical operations center in the division up north in General Hertling's area where you're headed next, there will be 20 guys in red smocks or something running the communications and automation. So we've been forced to go to contractors to carry out absolutely what are military functions.

And then finally, I would tell you that one of the implications of the way Iraq has evolved is -- you know, yesterday I was down on Capitol Hill talking to a couple hundred congressional staffers and principals about U.S. air power. Our modernization budget for the Air Force and Navy has become a casualty to the ongoing ground war. And so your Air Force, you know, our principal fighter aircraft, probably one-quarter of them are down now, F-15s, and will never fly again. And the tanker fleet is broken. And if you want to have a global Air Force, there's no sense in buying one unless you buy the tanker fleet to sustain it.

And you know, our air lift assets are essentially being ground down by overuse and under resource. The C-5A lift aircraft are busted. They're over. And we're right on the verge of closing down the C-17 line. And you know, I tell people, you got to worry about the ongoing struggle. But 15 years from now, it is legitimate for the People's Republic of China to emerge into the Pacific reaches as a major political, economic and military power. And when they do, one aspect of our international diplomacy ought to be an Air Force and Navy that are two generations ahead of the People's Republic of China. And we're not funding that.

What are the good news? New leadership. Bob Gates has restored sanity to the national security process. The drama drained out of it. The guy's got wisdom and balance and experience and integrity. And he's trying to deal in a transparent manner with the media. He's being respectful of the different body of government, the U.S. Congress. He's got a commander on the ground in Iraq right now, Dave Petraeus, who personally, I think, may be the most talented person I ever met in my life. The Army -- very uncomfortable around the guy. He looks like a movie star. He can jump over high hedges in a single bound. (Laughter.) A doctorate from Princeton. He likes being in the public eye.

And our U.S. ambassador there, Ryan Crocker, is as good as he is. Fifteen years in the region, fluent in Arabic, first-rate leadership team.

And now, Secretary Rice, who has a lot of experience, a lot of integrity, I think, has been freed to start a dialogue with Iraq's regional neighbors. So we're talking to the Iranians, and we're trying to get the Saudis to step in and assist us in this.

And by the way, the Saudis, where Betty and I were a couple of weeks back, their reaction to all this is, you people brought the Persian Empire to our northern frontier. You left a mess. You exacerbated the Shi'a-Sunni split. And don't you dare leave as you entered Iraq, uninvited.

By the way, there's oil there. And yes, it makes a difference. It puts it in the class of a vital U.S. national interest.

Some new conditions on the ground that need to be watched. First is is there's a real growth in the Iraqi security force. Their numbers are occurring. We took the Iraqi police which are basically a uniformed terrorist organization and took the nine national police brigades, fired eight of their brigade commanders, put them back for retraining, have given them new equipment. Maybe they're now an operative national police force that can be relied upon to protect the people.

The neighborhood police in places like Anbar province, there were 800 Sunni kids in uniform a year and a half ago. Now there's 16,000 have come. The Sunni just figured out that we're leaving. And by the way, we are leaving. In the next 36 months, we're going to largely withdraw from Iraq.

The two Iraqi army divisions out in Anbar province are 60 percent Sunni. We've now got 80,000 concerned local citizens which are primarily Sunni insurgents that we're paying 300 bucks a month to guard their own village, their own neighborhood. And that has diffused an awful lot of the violent insurgency struggle that we were trying to dominate.

Another observation -- you know, the media, it was interesting to watch -- now I guess I am one of us. But they were nuzzling around the notion that Lieutenant General Stan McCrystal, a name to keep in the back of your mind, our so-called black Special Operations force, JSOC, combined with a brand new tactic by Petraeus. And Baghdad certainly makes it a prime example. We took 72 strong points around the city on the fault lines and put a U.S. Army platoon there and then co-located with them Iraqi police and Iraqi army, And it changed the nature of this struggle. And then Special Ops went after the Shi'a, out-of-control, outlaw groups. And we intimidated Sadr, or he intimidated himself.

And so I would assert that, for now, at a tactical and possibly operational level, we actually defeated AQI in urban operations. They've largely pulled out. They've headed up north toward Mosul. They're going to try and reconstitute. And there's no reason why they wouldn't be able to do that if they weren't again confronted in appropriate ways. But certainly, the battle dealing with AQI with car bombs was a desperate loss of life. Who knows? Sixty-thousand-plus Iraqis killed since we went in there. It's changed pretty dramatically.

Final thought -- where's all this going? We're going to start coming out of Iraq at fairly deliberate speed. We'll get down. By 1 July, we'll probably have 15 brigades there. I anticipate Secretary Gates and Rice both want to see a continued drawdown. I'd be unsurprised if it didn't get down to 12 brigades or so, 3,500 to 5,000 troops by the time the administration comes out on 20 January. The point of it being that hopefully the next administration will have choices to make when they take office. If you asked me to bet, I'd say that's probably what the outcome will be. But we have no clue.

Can the Iraqis actually hold this together as we disappear? And the thing that makes me most uneasy -- I had a seminar with 39 U.S. battalion commanders from around the Baghdad region, spent about four hours with them. The most magnificent people imaginable. They've got tremendous independent latitude, CERF funds where they can jumpstart economic activity, where they can develop political institutions, women's political activities.

And as I listened to them, what struck me was they're actually the government of Iraq. And so rather than withdraw the security forces, I wonder, as we take these captains and lieutenant colonels out of the district provincial leadership roles they're now playing, what will happen. And I think we're going to learn that, and hopefully it will be a good outcome.

On that note, thanks for letting me offer these opening comments. And I look forward to responding to your own interests. Thanks.

(Applause.)

ARRAF: Thanks very much for that extremely candid assessment. That's pretty grim. Basically, if we're talking about Iraq and looking at your report compiled in December, what you're saying, in your words, I think, there is no functioning Iraqi government. You've just described captains on the ground serving as the local government. You withdraw the troops, what do you think Iraq is going to look like in five years?

MCCAFFREY: I don't know. I think an outcome that might happen is that the Iraqis do not lack courage. They're the most well-organized people arguably in the Mideast. They've got tremendous -- you know, they were more secular. Women had greater rights there than any other Mideast country. I think it's hard to imagine that there's anyone that thinks that an all-out civil war to settle the political struggle is a good outcome. The Shi'a don't really know. They've got to supply a mentality that says these people have governed us for all time, they might pull it off again. And I think the Sunni are recognizing now that -- who knows? They may have only 16 percent of the population. That is one speculation.

So I think there's a fear on the part of the Iraqi leadership that all-out civil war will be a bloodbath that will yield Pol Pot's Cambodia. I actually have growing expectations that they'll, as we come out, they'll (buy in ?). Now, the problem is is democracy. Is the constitution we issued them appropriate for that people in this time? And I think there's a good argument there isn't. So I'd be unsurprised if two years from now there isn't some hot-shot, two-star general as head of government in Iraq. And I'm not too sure that that wouldn't serve the interests of the Iraqi people and their neighbors as well as some of the alternatives.

Now, that sort of runs against the notion of this country, we ought to fight for our principles, not for, you know, we're not the British Empire in the 19th century.

ARRAF: You actually were one of the first to actually recognize that this was a civil war, when people were trying to pretend that it wasn't. And what you seem to be looking at now is two potential disastrous scenarios in terms of where that civil war is going. In one, you argue that when U.S. troops withdraw, the Sunnis are arming themselves now for the civil war pending. And then on that other front, you're talking about Mosul inevitably being annexed to the Kurds. What could prevent those two things?

MCCAFFREY: The Kurdish issue is an interesting one. You go up there, you know, the Kurds have created a functional economic system, tolerance of religion, flights out of Vienna, four-star hotels. They're building suburbs around Irbil that look like Dallas, you know. These people have got tremendous energy. It's also a tourist haven where these poor Iraqis from the south whose -- the Iraqi Diaspora is unbelievable. People fleeing to Jordan, to Syria, Paris. And you can meet up in the north.

So I can't imagine in the next 75 years the Kurds will ever allow an Iraqi central government to come back in with security forces at a minimum and act as just another one or several of the provinces.

And the flash point, though, I think the next war that we need to worry about is the fault line between the Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs. But the struggle, I wouldn't think, would automatically take place in Mosul. It's a Kirkuk oil basin. It's worth fighting over. So they've got to sort out an oil law. They've got to sort out provincial governance. If they do those two things, Iraq has a chance to operate, it seems to me, with regional semi-autonomy in loose federal state. Otherwise, there's going to be a fight over Kirkuk with potential, as all of you recognize, intervention by Turks or others. You know, Syrians, Iranians and Turks all have sizeable Kurdish populations. So that's the next war that U.S. diplomacy and economic leverage has to make sure doesn't happen.

ARRAF: You seem to be saying something even wider than that in terms of Mosul being annexed as well as Kirkuk. And if it were Mosul, what would the Turkish response be, do you think?

MCCAFFREY: Well, I think Kirkuk's probably more (sensitive ?) to them. But Mosul, you know, Jane's got all of this experience here. You start peeling back the layer in a place like Mosul, do you want to want to start 10 years ago when Saddam viciously resettled populations and did an Arabization cleansing of Mosul and Kirkuk to dominate the north? Or do you peel it back a bit more when it was clearly Kurdish dominance? Or peel it back some more the Turks had a decent claim that no, this is our land? You know, there's no easy way to solve this one except to avoid answering the questions as long as possible.

I always thought it's sometimes a mistake to include in marriage counseling to lay all your cards on the table. Frequently, it's better you don't articulate the reasons why you intensely dislike the other party. (Laughter.)

ARRAF: Good advice.

MCCAFFREY: And that's probably true in, you know, dealing with the Kurdish question. Because I don't see an answer to this. But now, I think skilled diplomacy -- Turkish-Kurdish trade is enormous. I mean, it's just madness for the Turks to really want to conduct a ground counterinsurgency campaign inside the Kurdish mountain areas.

And by the way, the Kurds are pretty tough fighters, too. It's not clear to me how that would turn out. So there's a lot of reasons to argue against all-out civil war. And I hope, again, that's the outcome. This administration can't do much (less ?). They have no clout in the region, very little clout inside the country. It's widely believed we're withdrawing. So I think when we get the next president, whoever she or he may be, we will learn how we're going to deal with this.

ARRAF: I understand we have lots of questions about the next administration in the Q&A session. But let me ask you a bit about the military leadership. Admiral Fallon, you're a fan of his. You say he's acted with integrity. What does his departure as CENTCOM director do, do you think? And does it have any link, in your mind, to plans to invade Iran or otherwise?

MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, I just read last night the article in question about Fallon. He's a very experienced, sensible, experienced guy who was brought in. You know, a lot of people don't -- the U.S. Navy is by far the most warlike of all the military services. They are undeviating in their approach to things. And so I thought it was a pretty good idea bringing him in. You got two theaters of war with Army four-stars doing the joint operations. And he'd have a higher -- this is his -- I think it was his fifth job as a four-star. He's a 63-year-old, Vietnam era, Navy carrier pilot. A very experienced guy.

I think there was a concern a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, that there's a real problem with Iran. They were absolutely, unquestionably had Qods Force in Iraq. They were funneling money, arms. They were training people back in Iran. The so-called technology leverage they provided is pretty modest. But these EFPs, explosively formed projectiles, started to negate our armor advantage. We are waiting for the next shoe to drop. They have an anti-armor missile system. We've seen two of them used in Iraq. We are waiting to see if that would show up in serious numbers. That will change the nature of the war. And they've got third-generation, surface-to-air, handheld missiles which so far haven't showed up. So people were properly concerned about what these Iranians are up to.

And by the way, we plan -- we, the armed forces, have contingency plans on anything. You name it, they're getting revised, we're watching the situation. But when Rumsfeld essentially said, let's plan military options against the Iranians. When we did the normal diplomacy 101, you send two carrier battle groups offshore, and then you send your envoy in to demarche the system.

It was not good policy being driven by Rumsfeld. It worsened the situation. It horrified the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the GCC states. It wasn't a good military strategy. I mean, it was completely nuts to think you could go in with four FA-18 squadrons, start trying to find 70-some-odd nuke sites in Iran. You'd have to take down their air defense system. You'd have to take down the naval forces along the Persian Gulf. They'd close the Gulf over a radio broadcast on hour one of the intervention. They'd just broadcast that you can no longer enter the Gulf. Insurance rates would go up. Oil would go up to $200 a barrel. It was nuts. They'd cross into Shi'a-held areas in the south and interdict our lines of communication up to the 160,000 force up north.

So from the military perspective, if you had a GT score much over 90, this was not a sensible signaling of military resolve. And Fallon and others were doing their job privately along with Secretary Gates. By the way, Secretary Gates went down and told Congress, I'm not going to do this, essentially. And he had a caucus with the Democrats, and that was his first message.

At that point, Fallon needed to stay out of the media. So when I read the article, I must admit, it's inappropriate for our serving military leaders to be at odds with their constitutional authority. And that's two civilians -- the SECDEF and the president of the United States. So that article was a pretty high barrier to get over.

ARRAF: And why do you think he resigned?

MCCAFFREY: They told him to. I mean, plain and simple. I mean, you know, I don't think they sent him a note and said, you've got 48 hours. But Gates is in charge, and it's good. That's the way we want it. We want a civilian actually in charge. And I think he thought that was a public rebuke of the administration. And some of the conversations with Al Jazeera and Cairo, you can't do that.

ARRAF: You also paint a pretty grim pictures of where you think the Army is going. Ten percent, one in 10 soldiers, I guess, your assessment is that they probably shouldn't be in uniform.

MCCAFFREY: One in 10 recruits.

ARRAF: One in 10 recruits.

MCCAFFREY: Right.

ARRAF: Okay.

MCCAFFREY: Yeah. Well, we got a great new secretary of the Army, too, Pete Geren, very modest, quiet, intelligent, experienced guy. He's a Democratic former congressman, he's been around for a long time. The last guy, he had a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, didn't really have a feel for what we were up to, some would argue. And I think Geren's going to put his foot down.

The worst thing we ever did coming out of Vietnam, we started to -- take yourself back to that era. Some of you were in the military during that period of time. We wrecked the U.S. armed forces. It took us 10 years to work our way out of it. And the problem is not our equipment, our technology or even our doctrine. It's our people. So what concerns my age group, you know, class of '64 out of West Point, is we don't want to see people with felony arrests, drug problems, mental health problems. We don't want pregnant hookers coming out of basic training. And if you pump enough of those in and then run the clock for it five years, you've got the wrong people as noncommissioned officers. So we really get nervous about it.

ARRAF: (Laughs.) Sorry. I'm still stuck on the pregnant hookers coming out of basic training. (Laughter.)

MCCAFFREY: I occasionally throw one of those out to get people's attention, because this is a real problem to us, you know. And we just have some of these kids, they can't do push ups, they can't run. The most important thing, we want kids that played organized sports in high school. We want them to come out of nice families, and we'll turn them into first-rate soldiers. So the first screen is values. And so right now, we're trying to make our numbers. We got a bunch of non-high school graduates, a bunch of people lowest mental category. We're giving moral waivers.

And by the way, the worst person to ask is a serving U.S. Army general like Mike Rochelle, the Army G-1. You know, if you issue us these people, we will love them and believe in them. And that's a problem.

But by the way, it's not the Army's problem. That's America's problem. The Army is not in charge of defending the country. The American people, the U.S. Congress and those privileged to wear the uniform have a cooperative ventured to defend the country. And one of the things I talk to, the biggest challenge we have right now in recruiting -- you can never get away with absolute statements. You can never say "100 percent of the time." Let me offer you one: I have never heard, in the last seven years, the president of the United States -- or any governor, or any mayor, or any Congressman get on TV and say, our public rhetoric is we're fighting the long war, the war on terror, our country's at risk, and I want your 19-year-old son or daughter to go enlist, to carry an M4 Carbine in the Marine Corps or Army. Not a one.

And so how do you expect us to get "the best and the brightest" unless our principals, our university presidents, our political leadership steps forward and says, were at danger and we need you to go join the armed forces?

Now, independently, volunteers, we're still doing pretty well. If you look at our fighting forces, which (Jane ?) has done, they are the best people we ever had in uniform. They are near -- this JSOC capability are magical in what they're doing. There's a -- there's a parallel "dark world" out there where we've got a bunch of people who are the most dangerous people on the face of the earth prosecuting these operations.

So we're doing okay, but looking toward the future, we're at risk. Your armed forces are at risk -- Air Force (machinery ?), Special Ops, they're in a perilous condition. They're not resourced. There's no serious debate going on in Congress about this. We're under 4 percent of GNP on national defense -- Vietnam was 17 percent, World War II was 38 percent. Who's at war? The CIA, and the U.S. Armed Forces, and that's it.

ARRAF: I would love to monopolize this, but we're going to open it up for questions now. And we just have a couple of rules, and they are: If you could, wait for the microphone and then speak directly into it when it comes to you. And if you could please stand, state your name and affiliation. And I know I don't need to remind everyone to be concise.

Roman Paul (sp).

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.) Thank you, Jane.

Roman Paul, (sp) a lawyer.

General, good to see you again. This is the -- Iraq is the third war that I've listened very carefully to your views on, and admired them. We brought the violent force -- violence level way down over the last year, but now it's kind of leveled off for the last three months in a very -- at a low level. But, by all of the -- you know, by casualty rates, civilian and military, and attacks, it's kind of level.

If you were in General Petraeus' job, would you -- could you get it lower? And if so, how?

MCCAFFREY: We were running -- I get some surprising push-backs -- (inaudible) -- a year ago I would go into the White House, State Department, and even the Pentagon, and I'd say, we lose a battalion of Marines and soldiers and Special Ops, killed or wounded, every month. And they'd say, where'd you come up with those figures?

That's what was happening. There was a 1,000 killed or wounded a month. Now it's probably running 150 -- it depends on the month, but 20-30 killed in action, 100-some-odd wounded. The loss rate, per capita, by the way, in Afghanistan right now is higher than it is in Iraq -- the Taliban opium money, shiny new weapons, REI camping equipment -- so the fighting in, particularly in Kandahar Province, in the South.

(So ?) the violence is way down. I mean, we were running 3,000 IEDs a month -- half of them were successful, resulting in major damage or injury, now it's way down. So they have to try three times harder, and then they don't get catastrophic hits on us. And then they go after the Shi'a mothers in a marketplace, or local police, more so than a patrol of the 101st.

I can't imagine -- this is probably the background noise level of violence we're seeing in Iraq right now. Our concern, in my view, wouldn't be, how do we get it lower, but how do we maintain this? And how do we make sure it doesn't spiral out of control as we start out?

Right now Petraeus is so cleaver that, as he pulls out the five brigades -- (they'll ?) be gone by 1 July, if you put your finger on the map in a neighborhood of Baghdad, you're not going to see the U.S. forces suddenly disappear. But that won't work much longer. As we get down to 10, 12 brigades, then we've got to come up with a different strategy.

We'll probably be outside the urban areas. We'll be in brigade combat team fortified areas, hoping the Iraqis can pull it together themselves. They can get the violence down farther. And that's basically who's doing it right now, I think. It's intel out of the Iraqi civilian population, and it's their soldiers and their cops. But it's our 30 soldier or Marine embedded trainers that are, sort of, stiffening that process.

One of the things I've been banging away at -- General Abizaid couldn't get the attention of DOD from the start, I said, you've got to substitute Iraqi security forces for U.S. We cannot go into major Arab cities and create economic and political realities. And we didn't have enough energy behind that. Even now, there is no Iraqi air force; there's no national military medical system; there's no maintenance system.

And so I -- so, we got over 1,000 U.S. Army helicopters in Iraq. Do we want to be there five years, with 1,000 helicopters? We gave them three C-130s and there's three more coming. Come on, you're off by two orders of magnitude, stupid. You know, get a level of effort that allows us to withdraw.

And they're, sort of, patronizing, well, you know, it's going to be five years to teach these people. Come on, they were running the sixth largest army on the face of the earth a few years ago. Seven years in combat. Of course they can organize -- military forces, oil industry, et cetera.

We've got to -- we've got to accelerate the pace, is the bottom line, because I don't think we're going to have that lever much longer.

ARRAF: We had a question in the back, and then we're going to work our way around.

Over in the back?

QUESTIONER: General McCaffrey -- (inaudible) --

MCCAFFREY: By golly, the world's smartest human being.

(Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Barry. (Laughs.) I'm embarrassed.

Great to see you again. On your bullets you mention the fact that there are 900,000 drug users -- heroine addicts in Afghanistan. When Hamid Karzai was here at the Council in 2001, he looked to us and said one of the things they needed was health care, and also interruption of the heroine trafficking. And we know that traffickers, wherever you grow heroine or traffic it, become addicted. Has there been any move, or do you think it would be helpful to intervene with pharmacotherapy and behavioral treatment in Afghanistan?

And a corollary statement, you know, quietly the U.S. government, with Yale University, has introduced effective pharmacotherapy into Iran. They have over 30,000 in effective treatment -- another state which was being, really, sabotaged by heroine addiction. What are the problems in Iraq, and how much of our troops are going to come home with these added problems?

MCCAFFREY: Dr. Kreig (sp) is a internationally-renowned research scientist who's done a huge amount of work on brain function, and I'm always happy to say I learned a lot from listening to him.

The -- poor (of ?) Afghanistan is just amazing. You know, everything you say about Iraq, the opposite is true in Afghanistan. It's a bigger country, it's got more people. Iraqis, are pretty sophisticated, pretty well-organized. The poor (of ?) Afghanistan -- when we went in there, that was the most desperately poor, chaotic, cruel place on the face of the earth. There wasn't three bricks, one standing on another, when we went in there.

And now it's changed dramatically. And some Army Aviation brigade commander told me, he said, sir, I've got -- I'm on my third tour here; I've seen this country at a thousand feet up for, over the -- since we went in; and the differences are striking. The Ring Road's just about done; finally Bob Gates got here and said if you want to win the war in Afghanistan, build roads.

So we've got $10 billion headed in that direction. And you got to get -- got to get roads from -- the Ring Road, to province, to district; you've got to have a police station, a jail, a clinic, a school. The girls got to go to school. There -- you know, and this is 25 years of hard work. But none of it's possible if you're producing 4,000 metric tons of opium.

The problem with opium and morphine and heroine isn't that it's illegal, it's that it has this powerful impact on brain neurochemistry. You're going to like it. And you're going to develop tolerance and dependence. And by the way, the numbers who are using -- 50 percent of GNP in Afghanistan is coming out of the opium crop.

How can you create a nation of laws if you don't confront that? And one piece of it, clearly -- the credibility piece, in the international community is, we're not just here with DEA, and to do interdiction, we care about your widows and children also, and the fact that you have drug-addicted governors, and police chiefs. It's a huge problem.

Mr. Rumsfeld absolutely refused to allow the question to come up. And so -- he said, we're not there to do the drug issue. Let the Brits do that. It's their problem. So the Brits had some nonsensical 70 SAS guys there. There were tiny raids. It was all great fun. But it was irrelevant.

You know, I had some Brit two-star tell me, wow, you know -- of tiny crops enmeshed in legal cultivation. I said, are you crazy? When you fly into Kandahar Air Force Base it looks like Kansas wheat fields of opium. There are opium fields 20 by 40 kilometers in size. And it's addicting their kids and public servants -- never mind the mayhem it's doing in Pakistan; the Central Asian republics; 3-4,000 Iranian police officers killed -- that's the traffic going out through Iran, up into the Balkans.

So, we have to take it all on. Nobody's helped Karzai. The Europeans have said: Hey, you know, the poor farmer needs to live -- come on; once you've solved the economic problem in Afghanistan, then you can go after drug production. (The ?) U.S. wasn't there.

I now think we are going to have a sensible policy. Dr. Rice has come aboard. INL's now got a sizeable effort. But we ought to do more of what you're talking about. We ought to say, step one: Look, we're as worried about your 900,000 substance abusers as we are about our -- pick a number, you believe, in the U.S., 16 million, counting alcohol, most dangerous drug in America.

Thanks for being here.

ARRAF: Who are you pointing at?

MCCAFFREY: Oh, whatever. I forgot about it --

ARRAF: Okay, that's all right. No, no, no. (Laughs.)

MCCAFFREY: (Inaudible.)

ARRAF: (Inaudible.)

MCCAFFREY: I always take charge (whenever you ?) --

(Laughter.)

ARRAF: Sir, you're first?

QUESTIONER: Touching on Iran, the Israelis are in a total state of panic about Iran. And if you were advising them what to do, and whether as to continue to be in a state of panic, what would you tell them?

MCCAFFREY: Well, one thing, you know, you can always start with the easiest things first. The Israelis, thankfully, have some -- I'm not a big fan of Prime Minister Olmert, but the Israelis have terrific military leadership, generally speaking. They made a terrible error in that whole Lebanon thing, but they've got pretty smart cookies.

The worst thing you could do is try and go after -- and forestall Iranian nuclear development using your tiny, conventional air force. And if you went after it using what are allegedly 300-plus Israeli nukes, it would be the end of Israel. So there are the ones you can take off the table.

I think what they -- what they're trying to do -- their dilemma, of course, in Gaza and West Bank's a story in and of itself. Israelis must be allowed to defend themselves. So I -- you know, I tell people I never met a fence I didn't like. I cannot imagine why we were objecting to putting a fence between angry and bitter Palestinians, and the Israeli population.

But, you know, in the larger sense, I think what you're going to see happen in the coming 15 years, and it's an appropriate thing to do, we're not going to go -- the Iranians are going nuke -- period. They're going the -- 10 years from now, they'll have 35 nukes, missile systems that'll change the reality. You've already seen the Saudis, GCC states, talk about peaceful nuclear power. That's step one to a Sunni-Arab bomb to counter the Persian-Shi'ite bomb.

And so -- and nobody's safe when that happens. -- (inaudible) -- arms control guy, along with Paul Wolfowitz and Steve Hadley, during Bush 41, and our argument was if you get nukes you will not be safer, sir. Let me explain why you're not going to be safer. The Iranians don't know that. So I think what you're going to see the Saudis play a pretty positive role, and the Israelis, is build a coalition to wait them out.

But I think the other thing -- and one of the things I like about Senator Obama -- and this will reveal me as a naive fellow on the international affairs, I think we need to start talking to the Iranians the first day of the next administration -- along with the Cubans, along with the -- you know, I cannot imagine why dialogue isn't preferable to, step one, being confrontation -- as you do in business, as you do in your family, as you do in -- but we need dialogue with the Iranians.

And, by the way, we're not at risk from the Iranians. The region is. Now, we got 6,000 nukes still, and the most powerful Air Force on the face of the earth. And we could -- Fallon's, one of Fallon's comments in that article, it was an interesting one, he said, come on, they're ants. If we actually went after the Iranians, we'd do them in in six months. It'd be a terrific war.

Now, it would be a disaster for the United States and international diplomacy for the next 100 years, but they're not a military threat to us. They're a threat to the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the -- We need a lot of diplomacy and engagement.

ARRAF: Sir?

MCCAFFREY: That's a nuanced opinion I have.

(Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: I'm Donald Shriver (sp), Union Theological Seminary. Thank you for the candor of this presentation.

If I were a young soldier accused of violating the rules of engagement in the treatment of prisoners, I can speculate that one of my defenses might be that the commander-in-chief has given permission to the CIA to act differently, why not to me?

This double standard, it seems to me, is blatant, and I'd like to know how the military is dealing with it?

MCCAFFREY: Well, the military -- by the way, this is what, I think, one of the most painful things we encountered. I actually believed that, for a period of time there, we issued a series of illegal orders in violation of U.S. criminal law and international law. We ended up mistreating hundreds of people under our control and we murdered some of them. And we disgraced ourselves but, more importantly, we created huge problems for ourselves in the battle zone.

And it was astonishing to me that that happened. We've always -- we always have criminal behavior, you know, among -- 120 soldiers, two or three of them are sociopaths; you don't know who they are. So we've always had that. We've never had systematic abuse of people. And we did, for a couple years. We've now cleaned it up. Your armed forces are back where they're supposed to be.

And, by the way, we don't need to beat people to death hanging from the ceiling in Bagram Airfield detention center to get intelligence out of them. It's nonsense. The DEA -- this terrific law enforcement outfit, breaks Chinese triad criminals, who all grew up together in the same village, and they do it in 30, 60, 90 days, and they're not physically abusing their people; and (have to ?) let defense attorneys in, and et cetera. So, it was nonsense.

Now, secondly, the agency is not the NYPD. The agency ought to have -- operate with different legal environment. An example: If we go after a terrorist organization, one thing the president can direct -- we'll go to cooperative governments and say, here's the threat; we want you to deal with it. If they won't deal with it, we'll go kill them. And, occasionally it hits the Press. We've nailed people in third-nation countries, from Predator aircraft, and killed them. And it's appropriate.

And we ought to be able to probably "disappear" international terrorists for periods of time -- so they don't know, who's got them, where'd they go? -- until we unravel their net; something that would be inappropriate for the NYPD.

Now, having said that, it seems to me we should never deal with anyone under our control in an abusive manner -- period. It ought to be against the law. And why the president decided to confront the Congress over the waterboarding thing is bad policy, shameful. It's going to immediately get removed by the next president of either party. It was a huge mistake in judgment, and it caused us immense damage in the international community.

We had too many people in high office who never got punched in the face. -- (Laughter.) -- I think that was part of the problem. They never heard a shot fired at them in anger.

Excuse me, Jane -- (inaudible) --

(Laughter.)

ARRAF: (Laughs.)

MCCAFFREY: (Laughs.)

ARRAF: Please, go ahead. And then we're going to take a question from Evelyn -- (inaudible) --

MCCAFFREY: No, no, I just -- just opening it up for whoever you want to select for the next one. Pick the best looking -- (inaudible).

(Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Rod Nichols (sp). What's your take on what's happening with al Qaeda, worldwide?

MCCAFFREY: Well, I think part of the challenge -- you know, you can go to the State Department website and, by law, the secretary of State has to identify foreign terrorist organizations; and sponsoring states who, acting in violation of international law, represent a threat to U.S. interests. I think there are 64 terrorist organizations on that.

There were seven nations -- I haven't looked at it in a couple of months. They're all the normal suspects, in terms of nation states: Sudan, Syria, Cuba, North Korea, Iraq was on it, Iran, Libya. And the original ones that struck us -- that murdered more people going about their daily business than any fight since Antietam -- Antietam was on History Channel last night, terrific presentation, thousands of us murdered going (into that ?) -- that group we've confronted in a very cleaver way. I'd say two-thirds of them are dead or behind bars.

They're trying to reconstitute and they're doing it in the uncontrolled areas of Pakistan, primarily. But they've been, sort of, in trouble. Mostly the Saudi wealthy class now understands they're at risk -- the royal family, so it's not the major source of funding. I think it's drugs, primarily, is funding AQI -- or al-Qaeda, not in Iraq, but world wide, and some criminal activities.

Our problem is, though, the threat's now morphed. And so you've got -- you've got, you know, look at our allies -- Indonesians, Saudis, Brits, French, Spanish suffering disastrous domestic attacks. You know, if you asked me to identify the capital of international terrorism, I'd be more likely to say London than Damascus; and more likely to say Paris or Hamburg than some place in -- than Tehran. So we've got a much more sophisticated problem to deal with.

Up to now, one of the -- by the way, we've done a lot of things right. We ought to remind ourselves occasionally. We did construct Department of Homeland Security; we did have a huge international attempt -- with law enforcement, and intelligence and the military, to confront these people where they are. We've done a lot of very sensible things.

But I -- one of the things in my slides that I passed out was, in the first term in the next administration there will be a significant attack on the United States. If I was in charge of al-Qaeda, we'd be in trouble. And part of what's helped us is, you know, Richard Reid, "the shoe bomber" -- this is not exactly James Bond we're dealing with recently -- (laughter) -- and I think we're still at risk.

And thank god for the CIA, we're hiring all these smart kids -- 30-year-olds, really courageous people. And they're making a difference. The FBI's gone overseas -- 40-some odd nations, the most elite law enforcement institution on the face of the earth. You meet them all the time and they're -- they've actually changed -- one of the reasons we won the tactical battle of Baghdad is we got law enforcement teams at battalion level. I thought it was silly at first, to be honest. I didn't get it. But we now treat attacks on U.S. forces as crime scenes -- and we get fingerprints off fragments of an IED; and we get biometric data on everybody living in the area; and we get GPS, we follow people for 90 days at a time with a Predator, and watch where they go, and right down to -- So we combine all these things with police investigation techniques, and then start rolling them up.

And when you get visited by JSOC at two o'clock in the morning, not only will we kill you in the dark, but we'll get your laptop computer, your telephones, et cetera, and within two hours we'll be rolling up your net. So it's -- (inaudible) -- but there's FBI agents there, and carrying an M4 Carbine, teaching our soldiers how to do this.

ARRAF: I'm really sorry. I know there's a ton of questions out there, but I'm afraid we've run out of time.

One more. And I know Evelyn has been waiting.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. If the Democrats win the presidency they are bound to accelerate the draw down because they've promised to do so. What advice would you give them? And -- sorry, I'm Evelyn Leopold, a journalist and, until recently, the Reuters bureau chief at the United Nations. What advice would you give them, including what the Republicans say is a big threat from al-Qaeda-Iraq, in their draw-down?

And secondly, we haven't heard much about Senator Biden's proposal a long time ago about federal -- a federal system in Iraq. Is that still alive? Is that still viable?

MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, that's probably an easier one to start off with. I worked with Senator Biden for years. I have great respect for him. The problem with the, you know, the "divide us into three pieces" is, we don't get a vote. Plus, it's a bad idea.

(Laughter.)

But mostly we don't get a vote. And, you know, the notion that you could -- the center of the country, 20 percent of the population's in Baghdad. It's the crossroads of the lines of communication. How are you supposed to divvy up Baghdad? Now, ethnic cleansing's already created some ethnically-purified zones, but I don't think we -- They got a constitution. They've got an operative government. I don't think we have an oar in the water on this thing.

As we draw down, our military influence will be less and less effective. By the way, the big challenge to us is, are we going to have $3 to $5 billion a year of economic leverage -- yes or no? If we won't fund another dime of Iraqi economic reconstruction, that's the day we lose the war, because that seems to me the "lever" we need to give to the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to stay in there for 10 years and help them get through this coming period.

I don't think we know how this is going to come out. But I'm not too sure -- you know, I was astonished -- remember the Democratic debate when both Edwards, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, not one of the three would commit to total withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of their first term in office, four years.

I was very proud of Senator Clinton, who has really, until recently, stayed in language with which she expected she'd have to govern. And nobody is going to step into office -- not Senator Obama, not anybody, and announce on January 21st, this thing's over; we're coming out.

If you told the military, we'll get you out easily in a year; do it under emergency conditions in 90 days -- you know, set fire to our stocks, head back to the Navy and the safety of the sea, we could withdraw from there. But the question is, what will happen? I actually don't -- not sure I know.

But you'd have to anticipate. Potentially, we'd create a disaster -- not just for Iraq, but for the region and our own national interests. I don't think the Democrats are going to -- Unless it's gone sour. If it's all-out civil war on 21 January -- not likely, not bloody likely, the next guy that's going to take command, apparently, from Petraeus is General Chiarelli.

You know, my dad -- this wonderful Halberstam book on Korea, my dad was, sort of, the last guy out before they closed off the first Marine division, the 7th Division, up on Yalu. There's a 1 percent chance that we'll have to fight our way out of Iraq in the coming 36 months. I don't think it's going to happen, but it would be an ugly sight if it did. If the Iranians intervened; severed the lines of communication; 15,000 people, civilian clothes -- ambushes, peaceful resistance, the Iraqi security forces break up into ethnic warring factions; and we're down to six, seven, 10 brigades. It would be some kind of fight.

I actually don't think it's going to happen. But, again, that's -- that's the concern all of us as Americans ought to have going forward. We can't just walk out of there, I don't think -- (inaudible) -- nature of it.

On that note, Jane, thanks very much for moderating it.

(Applause.)

ARRAF: Thank you very much.

Thank you, General McCaffrey.

You must be an absolute breath for fresh air to your students at West Point.

MCCAFFREY: Thanks, Jane.

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