(Page 2 of 3)
Reason: That deadline, "summer or fall"—that
isn't the first deadline or timeline we've been told to expect
progress by. Does the administration move the goalposts when
talking about success in Iraq?
Gilchrest: Yep. The goalposts are moved on a regular basis. This football field isn't 100 yards. This football field has gotten about 3000 yards long. In 2005 the president had recommendations for the Iraqi government to reconcile the differences between the Sunnis and Shiites with the oil distributions, with elections, de-Ba'athifaction, with a whole host of things. And none of that's moved forward. You couple that with a weak Maliki government, with the Iraqi people seeing a weak government being propped up by occupying forces. Then you see the Maliki government being supported by Iran, an enemy of this country that we might invade or attack. We're looking at chaos.
Reason: Should we be talking to Syria and Iran?
Gilchrest: Yes. It's absurd that a strong country doesn't talk to a weak country. We never stopped talking to the Russians in the ‘50s, and we didn't stop talking to the Russians when they had deployable nuclear weapons in Cuba. We engaged them and worked through the process. We talked to the Chinese. We talked to the Soviets after Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the podium and said "We will bury you" to Henry Cabot Lodge. How did Ike respond to that? He invited Khrushchev to America. But who did we not talk to at that time? Ho Chi Minh. We're in a global marketplace, and it seems like some of my colleagues will endorse a global marketplace but they don't want to talk to any foreigners.
Reason: You're talking as if the people running
our foreign policy don't understand history. Does Dick Cheney not
understand it? Does Condi Rice?
Gilchrest: Condoleezza Rice compared the Iraqi situation about a year and a half ago to the stage we were in the American Revolution. I completely disagree with that. It doesn't come close. The American Revolution was between two similar cultures, it was over taxes, it was an extension of trade. This is gnarled with the intrusion of a perceived occupying force wanting oil. Some of my colleagues are comparing it to World War II or the Civil War. I disagree with that, because this is a new world. There are isolated, pathetic little situations that you can't beat with the same blunt trauma that you did in WWII. [Former Assistant Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz never liked the policy of containment; he wanted intervention. Well, the policy of containment is what kept us out of WWIII. The policy of containment is what kept Saddam Hussein confined. When you lifted that policy with direct engagement, with military force and not enough of it, you unleashed a conventional military force to fight a very committed sectarian insurgency which doesn't lend itself to the military strategy Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz tried to pursue.
Reason: Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who was a
prisoner of war in Vietnam,
closed out the debate on the surge resolution by saying, among
other things: "Debating non-binding resolutions aimed at earning
political points only destroys morale, stymies success, and
emboldens the enemy." Is that off base?
Gilchrest: It's absurd. When we do this we tell Al Qaeda that their days are numbered. The Sunnis don't want Al Qaeda there and the Shiites don't want them there. Sending the message that we're going to leave prods the Sunnis to stop fighting with the Shiites. A timeline sends signal that your days are numbered, your time is up.
Reason: And your votes don't embolden the
Gilchrest: I was in Vietnam. I was a grunt, up close and personal to what a bullet does to a human being, what a grenade does what mortars do. We craved someone in Washington who sounded like they knew what they were talking about. When I finished my first three months over there it was clear the tactics weren't working. So I don't think it hurts morale. We're not spouting off some talking point or soundbite about we're going to fight the terrorists. Those guys know what's going on.
Reason: You're a veteran and Johnson and Sen.
John McCain (R-Ariz.) are veterans. Why did you take such a
different lesson from Vietnam?
Gilchrest: I respect both of those guys. But they flew airplanes. They were in prison camps. They weren't on the ground, fighting with the South Vietnamese army, or on the ground every day in 120 degree heat, or in driving rainstorms day after day after day, in the swamps, in the rivers, in the jungles. I respect them immensely but they have different perspective from someone who saw combat on the ground. Both those poor souls were tortured. My view is that of a grunt. I'm not talking "cut and run," not "the war is lost," not "we can't win," I'm not saying that. I'm saying we need a change in policy where we're fighting the terrorists.
Reason: Why did the Baker-Hamilton report fall flat?
Gilchrest: It fell flat because the president didn't do anything with it. The conference, unfortunately, takes its lead from the president. My hope at the time was that every member of the conference would read the report and then talk with all the people on that study group about how valid the recommendations were. Unfortunately, the conference took its lead from the White House. They didn't follow up on the report, they didn't even talk about it. It was a fundamentally sound change of direction that even recommended a troop surge, as long as there was also a surge in diplomacy—although it recommended 60,000 troops.
Reason: How often do you talk to the White House?
Gilchrest: I don't. I talk to Rice, to Negroponte... I talked to Rumsfeld on a number of occasions. [National Security Advisor] Stephen Hadley called me here to have a brief conversation on my votes. I listened to him respectfully and he listened to me respectfully. I've handed the president a couple of my ideas in form of letters. They don't consult with me, and they don't say "come up here and give us your views." Neither does my leadership. I give it out at the appropriate time. I'm just a little cog in this big wheel.