Bob Woodward vs. David Brooks on Iraq Pullout

By: E&P Staff A segment on NBC's "Meet the Press" today covered the current debate over the "surge" in Iraq vs. a phased withdrawal. Among the guests were Bob Woodward of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. At one point, Woodward challenged Brooks after he cited the Iraqis losing 10,000 a month if we pull out and attributing the number to The New York Times' John Burns and the recent National Intelligence Estimate.

Brooks admits: "I just picked that 10,000 out of the air."

Host Tim Russert had asked, "Is there any way to achieve, in Washington, a bipartisan consensus on what to do about Iraq?"

BROOKS: It's based upon this unknown: I don't think there's any possibility that within five years that we're going to see a drastic diminution of violence. So we could be losing 125 Americans every month for five years. On the other hand --

WOODWARD: I mean that's politically impossible --

BROOKS: But, so you think "OK, get out." On the other hand, if we leave....we could see 250,000 Iraqis die -- you had the John Burns quotation earlier in the program. So are we willing to prevent 10,000 Iraqi deaths a month at the cost of 125 Americans?

That's a tough moral issue, but it's also a tough national interest issue, because we don't know what the consequences of getting out are. And the frustration of watching the debate in Washington, very few people are willing to grapple with those two facts: that there's gonna -- the surge will not work in the short term, but getting out will be cataclysmic. And you see politicians on both sides evading one of those two facts, but you've got to grapple with them both....

WOODWARD: And the problem, though, is we don't know. People can say, "Oh, it's going to be a disaster." I mean, you've -- you cite numbers which are pulled out of the air -- "10,000 dying" -- I mean that's -- where does that come from?

BROOKS: Well, A, it comes from John Burns. Second, it comes from the national intelligence...

WOODWARD: Well, no, he doesn?t say 10,000.

BROOKS: Well, no, no, but it talks about genocide.


BROOKS: So I just picked that 10,000 out of the air.

An earlier portion of the transcript follows.

RUSSERT: Bob Woodward, you?ve written three books on the Bush administration, the war, and here they are on the screen: 2002, ?Bush at War?; 2004, ?Plan of Attack?; 2006, ?State of Denial.? In that trilogy did you see any change or wavering in the level of certitude about the correctness of going to war?

WOODWARD: No, no. I mean, Bush jumps in his chair when he talks about the duty to free people and bring democracy to the world. But the, the problem here is that we haven?t been getting enough of the truth about what?s been going on in the ground.

And just to step back, you know, Iraq is not just a philosophical issue, particularly for our fellow citizens who are there. It is a war, a violent war. And if you look at the precedence here, and look at Vietnam or any other insurgency, you cannot prop up a government that does not have the support of its people, or does not have some sort of process to settle the political issues without violence. Iraq is an incredibly violent place. How do you get out of this? How do you solve the political problem and?I mean, even General Petraeus says, ?Look, we don?t?we can?t solve the political problem militarily.? Well, where does this government go, the Maliki government? How do they function? How do they govern? And you get into the details of how this place works and there?s no realistic prospect. People who are in the administration say this is a five- or 10-year process to create this government, prop it up, whatever you want to call it. So we?re on a timeline for some sort of fix that is way, way in the distant future.

RUSSERT: And is there five or 10 years of patience in the American political process?

WOODWARD: No, there is not. You, you talk to lots of Republicans, what David rightly refers to as the 30 Republicans who, in their soul, are in a kind of despair?would you agree?

BROOKS: Absolutely.

WOODWARD: ...about where we are on this war. Those people are going to move at some point, and they?re going to say, ?We have to, we have to end this.? And what, what is absent in all of this is some sort of effort to achieve political consensus between the, the president and the Democrats to come up with some sort of glide plane so it?we don?t have in January 2009 helicopters leaving from the roof of the embassy.

RUSSERT: Is there any way to achieve, in Washington, a bipartisan consensus on what to do about Iraq?

BROOKS: It?s based on this unknown. I don?t think there?s any possibility that within five years that we?re going to see a drastic diminution of violence. So we could be losing 125 Americans every month for five years.

MR. WOODWARD: I mean, that?s just...

MR. BROOKS: On the other hand...

MR. WOODWARD: ...politically impossible


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