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Video, Transcripts, and Analysis: National Security Advisor Jones on CBS and CNN (4 October)

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Have a good viewing of the video or read of the transcript of the interview of General James Jones, President Obama's National Security Advisor, on CBS's Face the Nation and you'll get the big story. The fight between Obama advisors who want to limit US involvement in Afghanistan and the military commanders who want escalation just went public, big-time. The decision of General Stanley McChrystal, in a speech in London, to trash Vice President Joe Biden's preference for a tightly-defined American effort against Al Qa'eda was a Take That to the Administration. That's why he got hauled aboard Air Force One, as President Obama made a special stopover en route to Copenhangen, for "consultations".

Jones, with his military background, has been Obama's chosen tough guy to face down the commanders (thus his comment this summer to the commanders in Afghanistan that, faced with a request for more troops, the President would react, "WTF?"). So, watching and reading this, how firm a line will Obama hold against the persistent demands and public pressures of his Generals?

(Below the CBS interview we've added the transcript of Jones' appearance on CNN's State of the Union, which goes over similar ground.)

Watch CBS News Videos Online

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: General, thank you for coming. More bad news from Afghanistan this morning. Eight American troops killed in this latest attack. This as the White House is debating whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. I want to begin by asking you about this meeting that the president had with General McChrystal, our top general in Afghanistan. He met with him in Copenhagen after the general basally shot down the idea of changing strategy in Afghanistan. Two questions. First, did the president feel that the general was trying to bring pressure on him in public and did he tell him not to do that?

GEN. JIM JONES, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Bob, first, thank you very much for having me on. It’s good to be back. Secondly to answer your question, I wasn’t at that meeting. And this is a one- on-one meeting between the two of them. And I haven’t really talked to the president about that. So I couldn’t answer this question except to say that the two had a good meeting and it was a good opportunity for them to get to know each other a little bit better. I’m sure they exchanged very direct views.

SCHIEFFER: Well, did the general tell the president that he thinks it’s a bad idea not to put these extra troops into Afghanistan that he is requesting? He says he needs 40,000 troops.

JONES: Well, General McChrystal and the entire military chain of command as well as the Secretary of Defense and the entire national security team is in the process of discussing this very issue. We’ve had one lengthy meeting already last week with General McChrystal on the screen from Kabul. We will have more.

This week, two more meetings this week. So all of these things are being discussed as they should be against the back drop of this unfortunate tragedy that we all regret.

But it serves to underscore the importance of the moment to make sure that the strategic issues and the strategic decisions that the president will make are fully aired and vetted and that the options that the president has are also put on the table. It would be, I think, unfortunate if we let the discussion just be about troop strength. There is a minimum level that you have to have that there’s unfortunately no ceiling to it.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just put up on the screen here what exactly the general said last week in London. When he was asked is scaling back the force as Vice President Biden wants to do was a good idea. Here’s what he said. “The short answer is no. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

That’s pretty tough bottom line there, it seems to me. For example, do you agree that that would be a short-sighted strategy, general?

JONES: Well, I think that the -- I’ve said before for many years -- and I’ve had about six years of involvement in Afghanistan in various functions -- I think it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of other elements of the strategy that were decided on in March.

We do have a strategy. What General McChrystal has done is presented his opinion, is presenting his opinion of what he thinks his role within that strategy is. Our strategy is a regional strategy. We focus on Afghanistan and also Pakistan. And I think that to not understand the value of the role that the government to play in Afghanistan and we have an election that is playing itself out is a very, very significant aspect of the strategy.

And to not fully understand how reconstruction and development play in, whether you’re adopting a counterterrorism strategy or counterinsurgency strategy, there are things that you have to do, there are common things you have to do to be successful in both.

So I think this is what we’re going to tear apart and look at and consider General McChrystal’s input. The president should be presented with options, not just one fait accompli. And we will come up with the right solution, I think.

SCHIEFFER: Well, isn’t it going to be difficult though? Because this is the man that President Obama September sent out there? He relieved the general that was in command. He sent the new man out, said you go out there and tell me what we need to be doing here. And he comes back and says we need 40,000 troops. Isn’t that a hard decision for the president to disagree with?

JONES: On that score, the president is just now receiving the -- what the ask is in terms of troops. So that hasn’t -- that has not been discussed yet.

Our process is to examine the strategy, make sure we have that right, and again it’s Afghanistan for sure but it’s also Pakistan and it’s the region which is why we reshaped ourselves to deal with this issue in that way.

There are things going on in Pakistan that are very encouraging. The Pakistani army and the government have done much better since March when the strategy was announced against the insurgents on their side of the border. The relationship between the United States military and the Pakistani military is a growing one. It’s on the ascendancy. We hope that will lead to a campaign against all insurgents on that side of the border.

If that happens, that’s a strategic shift that will spill over into Afghanistan. So I would remind just for the sake of discussion here what our goals were to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda from being able to operate inside of Afghanistan, returning to Afghanistan, and also in the so-called safe haven of Pakistan.

SCHIEFFER: General, that prompts a question. Do you believe -- I mean, the general conventional wisdom is that if the Taliban comes back in force, if we’re not there, then al Qaeda will come back. Other people are saying, you know, during these discussions at the White House, we’re questioning all these assumptions. Do you think it follows that if the Taliban comes back that al Qaeda will be back?

JONES: That’s a hypothetical that I just, you know, it just depends on the circumstances. I would prefer to think about the other side of the coin is how do we make the present government successful? How do we get better rule of law at the local, regional and national level?

How do we marshal the nation-building effort, if you will, the development effort, economic development so that people in Afghanistan have a better future? By the way, the people of Afghanistan know what life is like under the Taliban. They’re not exactly thrilled about that possibility.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you is. Officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan have told us that we are concerned that once again America is losing our resolve in that part of the world. Are you concerned that what we consider deliberating others might see as dithering?

JONES: Well, you know, I think the deliberation is important. We have not only our national deliberation but we have an international presence that is extremely impressive and important. We are working side by side with NATO, for example, as we evaluate General McChrystal’s recommendation.

So, this is something that the president had said we would always do back in March he said after the elections we will make an assessment. This is exactly what’s happening. No one has suggested that we’re about to leave Afghanistan. We are committed to the battle against the radicals, radical terrorism.

SCHIEFFER: When do you think we’ll have a decision? When will the decision have a decision, a matter of weeks, months?

JONES: No, no. I think in a matter of weeks. We’re going to -- we have time on the president’s schedule. He’s going to devote an enormous amount of his time to lead us through this. Everyone will be involved. And at the end of the day, the right way to do this is to present the president with a set of options on what he can do. And Afghanistan will be the topic but it won’t be the only topic. It will be Pakistan. It will be the region. That’s the way we should do it.

SCHIEFFER: I have to ask you before you go about Iran. The “New York Times” reports this morning that the atomic agency concludes that Iran has acquired sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable bomb. I take it we know about this. What is the significance of that? Because two years ago, of course, our intelligence reported that Iran had stopped trying to design a nuclear weapon.

JONES: You know, I don’t think, you know, whether they know how to do it or not is, you know, is a matter of some conjecture but what we’re watching is what is their intent. And we have been worried about that intent. We now have an Iran that is willing to come to the table. We have two more meetings scheduled, one in which they will announce the -- they will allow the inspectors to visit the Qom site, which has just been recently announced, and the other one to discuss methodology by which we can ship [enriched] uranium out of the country.

Those two things alone move the dial in our direction favorably. And the issue of proliferation is one that really keeps us up at night and should keep us up at night whether it’s North Korea or Iran and on both fronts, we’re seeing some positive movement in the positive direction.

SCHIEFFER: All right, well general, we have to let you go. Thanks so much for joining us.

JONES: Bob, it’s always a pleasure, thank you very much.
CNN's State of the Union

KING: Let’s start as Americans wake to this sad news. Eight more Americans killed in Afghanistan in what is described as a fierce gunfight up near the Pakistan border. Let’s start with the threshold question. Nearly eight years after that war began, how long? How long will Americans be fighting in Afghanistan?

JONES: Well, John, as you know, we have been there a while and our allies have been there with us -- 42 countries, NATO, all of the major organizations of the world, from the U.N. to NATO, the EU, 68,000 U.S. troops now closing, 30,000 allied troops and close to 100,000 Afghan troops.

So it’s a robust force. I think the strategic decisions that the president is considering right now in the wake of the March decisions and the conference that we had in the White House are really the topic of the moment and that will set the stage for what happens in the future.

KING: Set the stage. So you don’t see the end in sight now?

JONES: Well I think the end is much more complex than just about adding “X” number of troops. Afghanistan is a country that’s quite large and that swallows up a lot of people. The key in Afghanistan, as we said back in March, is to have a triad of things happen simultaneously.

Security is obviously one reason, one important thing to take care of, but the other two are economic development and good governance in the rule of law and on that score, we have a lot more work to do and a Karzai government is going to have to pitch in and do much better than they have. But underlying that is, of course, the effort to build up the Afghan national security force, the police, and the army and that will be an important part of whatever we decide to do.

KING: Let’s walk through some of the challenges. As the head of the National Security Council, you are leading these discussions. One of the big questions is, does the return of the Taliban, if the United States were to have a smaller footprint or come out of Afghanistan all together and the Taliban was resurgent, does the return of the Taliban in your view, sir, equal the return of a sanctuary for al Qaeda?

JONES: Well, I think this is one of the central issues and it could. Obviously, the good news is that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases. No buildings to launch attacks on either us or our allies.

Now the problem is, the next step in this is the sanctuaries across the border. But I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling.

We are in the backdrop of this sad news and we all of us extend our condolences to the families who are going to get some sad news. But this is a tactical situation and the strategic discussions that go on and that are going to go on involving the senior military, senior active duty military in our armed forces and in the civilian leadership are very serious, very strategic, and very comprehensive. And it would be unwise to rush to a final judgment here.

KING: Well, General McChrystal -- excuse me for interrupting, but General McChrystal said he believes there is a very strong possibility if the Taliban resurged, that that would be equal, essentially, another open sanctuary, more camps. That’s where they launched the 9/11 attacks from. Do you and General McChrystal disagree on this?

JONES: No, I don’t think so. I think that’s a hypothetical. I believe that -- and I think most of us believe that the Karzai government does have a chance of pulling this out. As I said, troops are a consideration, but the other two factors that I mentioned, bringing hope to the people of Afghanistan through economic development, good governance, no corruption, no crime, replace corrupt governors where they have to be replaced. And I think what everybody agrees on is a really robust effort to help the Afghan army and the Afghan police control their own destiny.

KING: I want to get to the political situation, but let’s stay on security for a minute. Do you believe that we could succeed in Afghanistan with a smaller footprint, as some have said? Vice President Biden once discussed vigorously, as in special forces, use of drones, not as big of a footprint on the ground, not 68,000 and certainly not 100,000, but actually fewer American troops on the ground. Could we succeed that way?

JONES: We will be examining different options, and I’m sure General McChrystal and General Petraeus and Admiral Mullen will be willing to present different options and different scenarios in this discussion that we’re having.

I want to be clear that we have agreed on a strategy back in March. That strategy still obtains. The McChrystal report is his initial assessment on how to best support that strategy. So in the coming weeks, we will have vigorous debates. There will be alternative views presented and we’ll come up, I’m quite sure we’ll come up with a right solution.

KING: If he has campaigned, General McChrystal has quite publicly, a big speech in London the other day for his plan -- if the president decides no, I’m not sending more troops to Afghanistan, you have been in that position yourself sir as a commanding general. Could General McChrystal stay on if the president said no?

JONES: Again, that’s another hypothetical that I probably --

KING: Would you?

JONES: I shouldn’t judge what General McChrystal is going to do or not do. I am absolutely convinced that General McChrystal is in it for the long haul. He has said so publicly and privately. So this is not a -- this is not -- I don’t think this is an issue.

I think the real issue here, and this is important, John, the real issue I think is how we make all of the things that have to work together function in Afghanistan. And this is a strategic moment. And I think that we have an election that we have to get through and certify, the legitimacy of which is important for the people of Afghanistan.

We have really three things that have happened since March. One is, we’ve had the election and we’re getting to the point where, hopefully, it will be certified and it will be seen as legitimate. That’s very important. We’ve had General McChrystal’s assessment, which says the Taliban is doing better than he thought, and that is good. And then the third thing that’s happened, and this is a theater impact, it’s very important, is the Pakistani army and the Pakistani government has done much better than anybody thought they would do since March.

So that changes the game a little bit in terms of the regional configuration. I’ve said earlier that the presence of the -- I’m sorry, of al Qaeda in Afghanistan is virtually, is minimal. So we have these safe havens to deal with. We’re working very closely with the Pakistani government and the Pakistani army to try to, to try to help them get rid of the insurgency problem on their side of the border. If that happens, that’s a strategic shift in the region.

KING: The president sad down face-to-face with General McChrystal the other day on Air Force One in Europe. Did he express any disappointment that the commander has been so public? Essentially many in Washington think almost putting the commander-in-chief in a box by publicly saying, I need these troops?

JONES: Well, I wasn’t there and what happened between -- the conversation between the -- and I’ve not spoken to the president since he talked to him, so I can’t comment on the conversation.

KING: Is that an appropriate -- would you act that way as a commander? Is it at all unseemly that the men in uniform, and I know sir you wore the uniform for many years, that they’re out openly campaigning for this one as an open question for the president?

JONES: Ideally, it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command and I think that General McChrystal and the others in the chain of command will present the president with not just one option, which does, in fact, tend to have a, you know, enforcing function, but a range of options that the president can consider. And as I said, and forgive me for repeating myself, troops are a portion of the answer, but not the total answer. It’s this coordination that has --

KING: But you know you have some critics. Having seen General McChrystal made his case publicly, having spoken to General Petraeus, having been to the region, some Republicans including Senator John McCain say that you, sir, and others in the White House are playing politics with this decision. I want you to listen to Senator McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It’s well known, it’s broadcast all over television, that there are individuals, including the vice president of the United States, now, unfortunately, the national security adviser, the chief political adviser to the president, Mr. Rahm Emanuel who don’t want to alienate the left base of the Democrat Party.


KING: Is that a factor in the White House, rising Democratic opposition to sending more troops to Afghanistan? Do you, sir, say, Mr. President, no more troops, because of politics, as Senator McCain says?

JONES: Senator McCain knows me very well. I worked for Senator McCain when he was a captain. I’ve known him for many, many years and he knows that I don’t play politics with national -- I don’t play politics, and I certainly don’t play it with national security and neither does anyone else I know. The lives of our young men and women are on the line. The strategy does not belong to any political party and I can assure you that the president of the United States is not playing to any political base. And I take exception to that remark.

KING: Let me ask you lastly on this subject because there’s a lot I want to talk about, but on this subject, you said you hope the government is certified soon. As you know, there have been allegations of massive fraud in the elections. Peter Galbraith is a U.S. diplomat who is part of the U.N. team there and then was removed because he says he spoke up. He wrote an op-ed piece in “The Washington Post” today where he says this. “As many as 30 percent of Karzai’s votes were fraudulent and lesser fraud was committed on behalf of other candidates.” And he again says, “The fraud has handed the Taliban its greatest strategic victory in eight years of fighting the United States and its Afghan partners.”

Was he right? Was the fraud that bad, and if so, can we have a relationship with President Karzai?

JONES: This is the first election that the Afghans have run themselves, and so it’s probably destined to be a little bit imperfect. But the important thing is that the Afghan people, however this comes out, the Afghan people feel that President Karzai is their legitimate president.

And I think the IEC, which is the Afghan Election Committee, and the ECC, the international position, international commission are reconciling in such a way that hopefully within the next week or 10 days, they’ll come out and they’ll basically certify the election.

Obviously, there is some fraud and abuses, but I think that they’ll come to a good spot and the Afghans will support -- it’s very important that they support the legitimately elected president. As to the dispute between Mr. Galbraith and Kai Eide, I know them both. They’re exceptionally able people. Unfortunately on this view, they had a sharp division of opinions. The U.N. is going to resolve it. But in the end, what’s most important is that the Afghans feel they have a legitimate president and I think it’s headed in that direction.

KING: A quick break. We’ll be back with more with General Jones, the national security adviser, in just a minute. We’ll discuss a new report suggesting Iran is closer to a nuclear bomb than you might have thought. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We’re back now with national security adviser and retired Marine Corps general Jim Jones. General, I want to start with this alarming headline in “The New York Times” today. Reports say Iran has data to make a nuclear bomb. If you read this in detail, it says essentially that Iran has cracked the code. It knows now how to make a smaller warhead. That it is closer to being able to build a bomb, a workable nuclear bomb and deliver it than the United States intelligence assessment that is public and those of some of our allies. Is that a fact? Are they closer to a bomb that has been publicly acknowledged?

JONES: No, we stand by the reports that we’ve put out. I think you’re going to get a lot of speculation, one way or the other, but I think that what’s happened with regard to Iran in the last couple of weeks has been very significant. And I think that they’ve recently announced that they will open their facility for inspection. I think on the 25th of October, as a matter of fact, in Qom. And then again when they meet again on the 19th of October, they will be discussing the methodology by which they transfer about 1,200 kilos of low enriched uranium to Russia.

KING: How do we deal with the trust issue there? The president said he wanted inspectors in in two weeks, they’ve cut this deal, they will go in three weeks from today. Are you reasonably assured, do you have verification measures in place? Can you see them if they try to move things out of there, if they try to essentially doctor the evidence before the inspectors get there?

JONES: Generally, yes. But I think there’s no substitute for inspections and verification and the fact that Iran came to the table and seemingly showed some degree of cooperation, I think, is a good thing.

Clearly, on matters of proliferation, whether it’s North Korea or Iran, the world is sending a strong message to both countries, and fortunately, we’re seeing some positive reaction to that. But this is not going to be an open-ended process. We want to be satisfied. We, the world community, want to be satisfied within a short period of time. So it’s not going to be extended discussions that we’re going to have before we draw our conclusions to what their real intent is. But for now, I think things are moving in the right direction.

KING: I’ll get you on a couple other questions. Two months ago, you were on “FOX News Sunday” and you said, “I’m confident we’ll be able to meet the deadline to close Gitmo within one year.” Since then, people -- Secretary Gates, others you’ve served with have said, probably not. Do you think you’ll meet that one year or is that going to slip?

JONES: We’re still going to -- we’re hard at work on it and we’re working not only internationally, but also nationally. And I still hope that we’ll be able to meet that deadline.

But the important thing is that the president has committed to closing the facility. It’s turned out to be harder than we thought, but ultimately, I think that -- we think that Gitmo is a symbol for what it represents, has to be closed, and we’ll find the solutions.

KING: You’re national security adviser at a time of two wars, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And there’s a big question about a promise the president made in the campaign, ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about homosexuals serving openly in the military.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid , sent the president a letter this past week in which he says, “At a time when we are fighting two wars, I do not believe we can afford to discharge any qualified individual who is willing to serve our country. Many members of Congress, like me, support the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ As Congress considers future legislative action, we believe it would be helpful to hear your views on policy.”

They want the president to get involved. Is it time now, as soon as possible, to change that policy?

JONES: The -- the president has an awful lot on -- on his desk. I know this is an issue that he intends to take on at the appropriate time. And he has already signaled that to the Defense Department. The Defense Department is doing the things it has to do to prepare, but at the right time, I’m sure the president will take it on.

KING: No idea when the right time is?

JONES: I don’t think it’s going to be -- it’s not years, but I think -- I think it will be teed up appropriately.

KING: Let me ask you, lastly. It’s our first time saying hello here on the program. Obviously, you’re worried about Afghanistan. You’re worried about Iraq. You mentioned North Korea, the nuclear issues, the Middle East.

When you go to bed at night and you look at the map, what keeps you up? Is there something we’re not paying attention to? Is it Yemen? Is it Somalia? Is it somewhere else in the world where you say, “You know what? I know we have to do all this, but this one worries me”?

JONES: There are a lot of things that keep me up at night, but if I had to pick one that I -- that I thought was most -- most alarming, it’s the question of proliferation and weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorists’ hands.

Generally, nation states, once they have the capability, can be controlled a little bit more. But if we -- if we lost, you know, track of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction and came into the hands of a radical terrorist group, they would use them. And that -- and that bothers me a great deal.

And that’s why this question of proliferation is probably central to how our children and grandchildren are going to live in this 21st century. And that we have to do a better job of explaining to our friends and allies how serious this is. And that’s why, I think, the pursuit of organizations like al Qaeda, wherever they are, has to be an international effort, and we have to be successful.

KING: General Jim Jones, the national security adviser. Sir, we thank you for your time today here on the program.

Reader Comments (1)

The Washington Post has a very interesting article about what eventually happens to those Muslim Quislings who collaborate with American Imperialism. KARZAI SHOULD PAY ATTENTION.

Key quote: As he sat with other tribal leaders who joined the American-led fight in 2006 and 2007, his reticence seemed to rival his fatalism, the sense that foes outnumber friends. "I expect I'll die at any time," he worried. "Today, tomorrow, maybe the day after."

Somewhere in Anbar there is a 7.62x39 round (AK ammo) with his name on it.

In Anbar, U.S.-Allied Tribal Chiefs Feel Deep Sense of Abandonment

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 3, 2009

RAMADI, Iraq -- There was once a swagger to the scotch-swilling, insurgent-fighting Raed Sabah. He was known as Sheik Raed to his sycophants. Tribesmen who relied on his largess called him the same. So did his fighters, who joined the Americans and helped crush the insurgency in Anbar province.

Sabah still likes his scotch -- Johnnie Walker Black, with Red Bull on the rocks -- but these days, as the Americans withdraw from western Iraq, he has lost his swagger. His neighbors now deride him as an American stooge; they have nicknamed his alley "The Street of the Lackeys."

"The Americans left without even saying goodbye. Not one of them," Sabah said in his villa in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, once the cradle of Iraq's insurgency. "Even when we called them, we got a message that the line had been disconnected."

Nowhere is the U.S. departure from Iraq more visible than in Anbar, where the 27 bases and outposts less than a year ago have dwindled to three today. Far less money is being spent. Since November, more than two-thirds of combat troops have departed. In their wake is a blend of cynicism and bitterness, frustration and fear among many of the tribal leaders who fought with the troops against the insurgents, a tableau of emotion that may color the American legacy in a region that has stood as the U.S. military's single greatest success in the war. Pragmatism, the Americans call their departure. Desertion, their erstwhile allies answer.

As the United States leaves the province, acknowledged Col. Matthew Lopez, the Marine commander here, "you're going to have individuals who are unhappy."

Sabah freely admits he is one of them.

"We stood by them, we carried out their requests, we let no one hurt them," he said in a rushed clump of words, near certificates of appreciation from the Marines and the U.S. Army that gather dust in a mother-of-pearl cabinet. "They weren't supposed to abandon us."

As he sat with other tribal leaders who joined the American-led fight in 2006 and 2007, his reticence seemed to rival his fatalism, the sense that foes outnumber friends. "I expect I'll die at any time," he worried. "Today, tomorrow, maybe the day after."

'The British Had Foresight'

Steeped in desert traditions of pride, dignity and honor, no one in Anbar, perhaps the most Arab of Iraq's Arab regions, would contend that any foreign occupation was good, and the Americans remain deeply unpopular in some quarters here. But true or not, there is a prevailing sense in this vast, arid region bisected by the Euphrates that, as far as occupations go, the British were better at it than the Americans.

There are bridges still nicknamed "British bridges," built after the British defeated the Ottoman Empire and occupied Iraq at the end of World War I. One spans the Euphrates in Ramadi. The descendants of some sheiks jealously guard pictures of their forefathers posing with British potentates. One of them bragged that Gertrude Bell, the British diplomat and adventurer, wrote about his ancestor, the powerful sheik Ali Sulaiman.

"One of the most remarkable men in Iraq," she declared in a letter to her father.

"The British had foresight and, we can't say credibility, but they had more patience than the Americans. They understood how to take time to win someone to their side," said his great-grandson, Ali Hatem Sulaiman. "The Americans, no. With them, it's either shoot you or give you money, it's either hire you or beat you up."

The Americans, he said, used a jackhammer to shape a diamond.

Deliberate Disengagement

To be fair, Lopez, the colonel in Ramadi, is no jackhammer.

His tenure in Iraq started in 2003 in Karbala, part of the Shiite Muslim heartland. He ends his latest tour, this one in Iraq's Sunni hub, next month. He dismissed the idea that allies were somehow abandoned or friends shown any disrespect.

The day after he took command, Lopez ordered the construction of a diwan, a kind of reception hall requisite in any sheik's house. Forty-eight hours later, it was done, complete with eight Persian carpets, overstuffed furniture, ample ashtrays and even pink plastic flowers in the corner. On the wall is a clock with the 99 names of Allah in Arabic.

"All the nuances," Lopez described it, "all the cultural sensitivities."

His Marines train their Army successors in the etiquette of brewing Turkish coffee, or as one soldier put it, "espresso times 10." Well-sugared tea should be served as soon as the sheiks sit down in Lopez's diwan. "You want to be Johnny on the spot every time," Cpl. Jared Jones insisted. In serving meals, put lamb in the middle, he said, chicken to the side. Take plastic silverware out of the wrapper; doing otherwise is considered tacky.

"We can't stress how much this matters," Jones lectured the impromptu class of a half-dozen soldiers. "We mess it up, we pay the price. Now, are there any questions about chow?"

But even Lopez's efforts can't rewrite the arithmetic of postwar Iraq. He acknowledged that "the sheer mathematics" of the withdrawal mean U.S. officers are simply less engaged with some of the sheiks who joined them in the fight against insurgents, a battle widely viewed as one of the crucial pivots in the American experience in Iraq. As he describes it, the military has also disciplined itself to better target which sheiks it wants to court -- the 20 or so whom they have deemed most prominent here.

"I think that's one of our institutional lessons learned," Lopez said.

The goal of what he called a responsible drawdown was "a return to normalcy."

"It's not normal for a coalition presence to be injected into the Iraqi cultural system and the sheiks' system," Lopez said, sitting in his office at Camp Ramadi. "Without extricating ourselves from the equation," he added, "it can't return to normal."

A Sheik Speaks His Mind

Postwar Anbar is anything but normal, whatever normal might mean here. By virtue of its money, arms and prestige, the U.S. military -- like its British predecessors -- has indelibly remade the province's landscape. One ally, Ahmed Abu Risha, whose clan was little known before the occupation, is on a trajectory to become Anbar's most powerful man. Other allies have gathered fabulous wealth. Yet others deem themselves dead men walking, having courted too few friends while they occupied the U.S. limelight.

The one constant is the degree to which the sheiks dislike one another. Any pledge not to speak ill about one's peers is almost always a preamble to a string of expletives. In one rant that ended only when the sheik ran out of breath, a rival was called a pimp, a prostitute, the son of a dog and, finally, "a circumciser."

Perhaps another constant is the suspicion that many of America's allies direct at their patron.

"They did the same thing in Vietnam," said the pragmatic Affan al-Issawi, a U.S.-allied militia leader near Fallujah whom Lopez called "a very dear friend of mine."

"I know their history. Just in one night, they left. They left all their agents and friends behind. I knew they would leave one day," Issawi said.

Issawi has decorated his villa with portraits of himself with then-President George W. Bush, former American military commanders and President Obama. He acknowledges the help the U.S. military gave him in the counterinsurgency, including rifles, heavy machine guns and ammunition it seized from "bad people," as well as $1.5 million in contracts to build schools and a water station. On one $450,000 school contract, he boasted, flashing a $25,000, diamond-encrusted Rolex watch, he managed to clear $300,000.

Indeed, Issawi may come out on top. He is an ally of Abu Risha, who some speculate might become the president of Iraq after next year's elections. Issawi has a seat on the provincial council, guaranteeing police protection. He carries his wealth naturally, like a rich Persian Gulf Arab, at ease with privilege to which he has grown accustomed.

"I didn't build my life with American bricks," said Issawi, who will turn 35 in November. "I knew one day they would leave, and that they would leave quickly."

A Bitter Aftertaste

In 1922, Ali Sulaiman, the sheik praised by Gertrude Bell in her letter, worried what would happen to his reputation if it looked like the British had abandoned him.

Nearly a century later, Raed Sabah and a coterie of other sheiks are the modern equivalent. At the peak of the fight against the insurgency, the United States supplied Sabah with 50 AK-47 rifles. Jassem Swaidawi, another ally, ran up a $30,000 bill one month on a U.S.-supplied phone he used to contact the military; he was reimbursed. Hamid al-Hais shows off a partial right finger and two wounds in his right leg, suffered in a fight with insurgents in 2007. They all met Obama when he was still a presidential candidate.

Some of them said they expected American citizenship. Fearful for their lives amid charges of treason, others hoped for help finding residency in neighboring Jordan or Syria. Some are clearly motivated by money, which was once abundant: They want funds to keep flowing in a region that, more than any other part of Iraq, appears wedded to kleptocracy. "The simplest thing they could have done was to keep in touch," said Sabah, who last saw representatives of the U.S. military before the provincial elections in January.

"The Americans never understood Iraqi society," added Hais, sitting in his diwan with a plaque from the U.S. military that reads, "Allies in battle, friends in peace."

"All they did was write down in their notebooks what they were supposed to have learned," he said.

The American project here was always infused with contradictions. Iraq was never as sovereign as U.S. officials insisted, never as secure as the military proclaimed. The United States called itself a partner, even as it presided over the destruction of the country's fabric. In Anbar, it proclaims a return to normalcy, amid a withdrawal it deems responsible, in a land that will long bear its mark.

Sabah and other U.S.-allied sheiks joke darkly about the accusations leveled against them: that they have served as spies and stooges for the Americans. Some call them "the sheiks of dolma," a reference to the stuffed grape leaves the allies would serve U.S. military officers for lunch. You served the Americans, some tell the sheiks, and they never served you.

"The Americans took what they wanted from them and left them behind. You can't do that in Iraq," said Col. Mahmoud al-Issawi, Fallujah's police chief. "It's shameful to the worst degree. It's not just shameful, it's actually a huge scandal."

"An easy target to be killed," he termed the sheiks.

In the interview, Lopez, the Marine commander, said he was sure that the United States would still boast of friends in Anbar in five years. Sabah, not called a sheik as often these days, was doubtful.

"They may have to come back one day, and their friends won't be here anymore," he said. "Who would stand with them again? After this? No one would accept it."

October 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

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