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Rice and Gates Make Case for More Troops in Iraq

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I am Robert Siegel.

The day after President Bush spelled out his new way forward in Iraq to the nation, his top two cabinet officers went to Capitol Hill. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the rounds to try to sell the president's plan to a skeptical Congress.

In a few minutes, we're going to hear about reaction from Baghdad. First, NPR's Guy Raz reports on the day's events in Washington.

GUY RAZ: If Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice drew straws to see who'd go in front of the House and who'd do the Senate, Secretary Rice drew the short straw. She had to testify in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the morning after the president's pitch for his new plan.

And it was there that she encountered particular hostility from some of the senators who should have been protecting her, like Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, who stopped Rice mid-sentence when she started describing the progress in Iraq.

Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): Madame Secretary, your intelligence and mine is a lot different, and I know my time is up here. But to sit there and say that, Madame Secretary, that's just not true.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Secretary of State): Well, Senator , if you'll -

Senator HAGEL: - that is not true.

Ms. RICE: Senator, if you'll allow me to finish, I think, you - there is a point I'd like to make about the Iraqis killings Iraqis and what that really is.

Senator HAGEL: Well, what that really is -

Ms. RICE: They are -

Senator HAGEL: - it's pretty obvious, what it really is.

Ms. RICE: They are just thoughts -

RAZ: Hagel eventually called Iraq quote, "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam." Over on the other side of the Capitol at the House Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace had an easier time. What the committee wanted to know was how long the increase in troop strength in Iraq would last. Here is Gates.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Defense Secretary): I don't think anybody has a definite idea about how long the surge would last. I think, for most of us in our minds, we're thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years.

RAZ: The chairman of the committee, Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton, opposes a troop buildup. And he asked Gates if the plan doesn't work, what then?

Mr. SKELTON: We would revisit our strategy. Is that it, sir?

Representative IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri): If the Iraqis failed to keep their commitments, I think we would have to do that.

RAZ: Gates seemed to imply that if the Iraqi government doesn't do its part, well, the administration can decide not to deploy all those troops after all. It's been widely reported, including here on NPR, that senior military commanders are uncomfortable with the president's new plan. And even though General Peter Pace wasn't asked about this directly, for some reason, he felt compelled to say:

General PETER PACE (Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff): I have been one who has said, frequently, do not send extra troops just to do what the troops there now are already doing. But if there is a defined military mission and if it is supported and supporting political initiatives and economic initiatives, then it would be useful. In that context, this plan meets those criteria.

RAZ: Speaking of extra troops, Gates said the U.S. military needs more combat troops, and he'll grow the Army and Marines by 92,000 troops over the next five years. Now, for its part, the White House is calling its Iraq plan the new way forward. Reporters here in the Pentagon recalled today that the last shift in strategy was simply called the way forward.

Guy Raz, NPR News, The Pentagon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Guy Raz
Guy Raz is the host, co-creator, and editorial director of three NPR programs, including two of its most popular ones: TED Radio Hour and How I Built This. Both shows are heard by more than 14 million people each month around the world. He is also the creator and co-host of NPR's first-ever podcast for kids, Wow In The World.
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