Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Iraq After the Surge: Military Prospects

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: April 2, 2008
Location: Washington, DC

SEN. BIDEN: The hearing will come to order. Chairman Lugar and I welcome this panel. What a distinguished panel to start off our hearings. We are going to have about a week's worth of hearings in preparation for, and following on anticipated testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. And we really appreciate folks of your stature to be willing to come back time and again to this committee to give us the benefit of your judgment. And I would surely appreciate it.

Nearly 15 months ago, in January '07, President Bush announced that he was going to engage in a tactical decision to surge 30,000 additional American forces into Iraq. The following September, when Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus testified before the Congress, they told us that the surge would start to wind down this spring, at which point they would give the president and Congress their recommendations for what should come next.

And that's the context for the two weeks of hearings that we start today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and for -- and the context for several basic questions that we are going to be asking. The first of those questions, at least in my perspective, is has the surge accomplished its stated goal? Not merely what has the surge accomplished, but has it accomplished its stated goal.

And the next question obviously is where do we go from here, with the surge. Do we continue it, do we pause, do we draw down to prewar levels, but much more importantly, where do we go from here? What has it accomplished and what does it -- does it lead us closer to the stated objective of the president of a having a stable -- I am paraphrasing, a stable Iraq, not a threat to its neighbors, and not endangered by its neighbors, and not a haven for terror. Does it get us closer to that goal?

And if not, why, what do we have to do? And if it does, how much we have to continue it. And we also heard yesterday, from the intelligence community in a closed session, Senator Lugar and I have sort of, I guess, informally instituted the notion that we are on these serious hearings, and they are all serious, but these matters relating to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, points of real conflict, potential conflict we -- the whole committee participates in a closed hearing with the intelligence community to give us a context, and the most current context that the intelligence community thinks we are operating in. And that's where we began with yesterday in a closed session.

We heard about the security, political, and economic situation in Iraq, and the trend lines in the months ahead. And the new, it just so happened that even though the hearings were scheduled the national intelligence estimate for Iraq came out yesterday and we had an opportunity to thoroughly discuss that with the community.

And this morning, we are going to hear from experts on the military aspects of the surge, and what our military mission and posture should be when it ends, or if it should end. At other hearings, we are going to question experts on the political situation in Iraq.

Now, I don't mean to so compartmentalize this. I know each of the -- each of our witness has the capacity to speak for the political dynamics as well and they are welcome to do that. But we have somewhat artificially divided it today between the military and political aspects of the consequences of the surge.

And then we are going to do what I think is sort of an obligation for us to do in this, try to imagine a reasonable best-case scenario for what Iraq might look like in year 2012. I mean, what is the objective here? What are hoping to accomplish and what can we do to help us get there? And I guess parenthetically, is it worth it.

Well, look at the long-term security assurances the administration has started to negotiate with Baghdad as well in this two weeks of hearings to determine whether or not they require a congressional approval or they require a rise to the level of a treaty or they are merely just status of force agreement. It is unclear at this moment, and we are going to be going in to the depth of the matter.

And then we are going to bring back, not necessarily in this order, Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus to learn their recommendations for post-surge strategy.

Violence in Iraq has declined significantly from its peak in 2006 and 2007. Many of us in this committee have recently been to Iraq. Our staff has been there extensively and written recent reports coming back. There is no question violence is down. And it's no small measure because of our military and the job they did as they always do with incredible valor and with dispatch.

But these gains are somewhat relative; violence is back to where it was around 2005. I am always forced because all of us have to go home, they'll have to go home. I'm always forced whenever I say anything about violence being down. My wife looking at me and saying, yeah, but how many, how many are still being killed?

And so Iraq remains a very dangerous place, and very far from normal, and there are other factors that have contributed besides the valor of our military and the planning of General Petraeus, I believe, contributed to reduction in violence.

First, the Sunni Awakening movement, which preceded the surge, and which the administration helps sustain, and I agree with them, it is not a criticism by paying monthly stipends to tens of thousands of former insurgents that has had a major impact on the reduction in the violence.

Secondly, Sadr's decision to declare until last week and now again, declare and extend the cease-fire, with the Mahdi -- his Mahdi militia. The cease-fire is looking somewhat tenuous, but nonetheless it has played a major role in the reduction of the violence.

And third, and tragically, the massive sectarian cleansing that has left huge parts of Baghdad segregated along sectarian lines and reduced the opportunities for further displacement and killing over 4 million people, couple of million inside the country, couple of million outside the country.

And these are three major factors I believe and I'd like the panel to let me know whether they think I am wrong about that, that I believe have contributed significantly beyond the valor of our military to the reduction in violence, but they are all tenuous.

All of these underscore the fragility of the so-called gains that we've achieved. And it highlights that while the surge may have been a tactical success, it has not yet achieved a strategic purpose, which was to buy time for political accommodation among the Iraqi warring factions.

Thus far, that strategy appears to have come up short. Iraqis have passed several laws in recent weeks, but it remains far from clear whether the government will implement those laws in a way that promotes reconciliation instead of undermining it.

Meanwhile, from my perspective, at least in my visits, there is no trust within the Iraqi government in Baghdad, there is no trust of the government by the Iraqi people, and there is no capacity, there is very little, because I shouldn't say no, there is very little capacity on the part of the government to deliver basic security and services.

Assuming that the political stalemate continues, the critical military question remains the same as they were when President Bush announced his surge 15 months ago. What should be the mission of our armed forces? Why are they there? What is the purpose? Should we continue an open-ended commitment, with somewhere near 150,000 troops, hoping the Iraqis will eventually resolve their competing visions for the country?

Should we continue to interpose ourselves between Sunni and Shi'a and seek to create a rough balance of forces or should we back one side or the other? Should we continue to intervene in an intra-Shi'a struggle for power?

I remember, I think, I don't want to get him in trouble, but I think I remember talking with General McCaffrey sometime ago, and was both talking about how the inevitability of the Shi'a on Shi'a war.

I mean, you know, I went down a year ago into Basra with the British two-star and we sat there and one of my colleagues said, tell me about the insurgency. And the British two-star said there is no insurgency down here senator. And then he laid out what was going on, which was pretty straightforward.

He said, I think he used the phrase, the various Shi'a militia, both well-organized like the Badr Brigade and hard scrapple groups that are -- that were coming up, he said they are like vultures, like mafia dons. They are circling the corner waiting for us to leave, to see who is going to be in control.

Yet, no one wanted to hear us talk about the fact that this intra-mural war, civil war -- that will make it a civil war -- fight was inevitable. And so what should be our posture? Did it make sense for us and the British to go in and essentially pick sides in this one?

Their government is in competition with other Shi'a parties in an upcoming election, did we do the right thing? Or should we move to a more limited mission, one that focuses on counterterrorism training and over watch as the British have done in Southern Iraq. Or should we withdraw as the calls are coming a little more clearly, should we withdraw completely according to a set timetable?

What are the military and strategic implications of each of these missions? What missions can we realistically sustain and for how long given the stress of our armed forces? At least three of you have extensive experience, given the opportunity cost, this is -- this war is presenting to us.

The stress and strain, the Pentagon testified yesterday before the Armed Services Committee talking about how beleaguered our military is, and how we can't sustain this very much longer. And so there are some questions I hope this highly respected panel will be willing to address.

In the interest of time, I am going to keep the introductions much briefer than each of your public service warrants.

General McCaffrey is a former SOUTHCOM commander. He is president of BR McCaffrey Associates and one of the most decorated military people in the -- alive and engaged today, an adjunct professor of International Affairs at the United States Military Academy.

And as a measure of his courage and undaunting valor, he actually took on the job of being a drug-czar, which is may be almost as difficult as doing anything else. That's where he and I first got to know each other pretty well, and it's a delight to have him here.

Lieutenant General William Odom -- excuse me, Odom, who has served as director of the National Security Agency from '85 to '88, he is currently a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a voice that is always, always listened to and widely, widely respected.

And Ms. Flournoy, who served in the '90s as principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction. She is currently the president of the Center for a New American Security.

And General Robert Scales, he is a former commander of the U.S. Army War College, and he is the president and co-founder of the -- pronounced Colgen, the Colgen defense consulting firm. And again, we welcome all of you and look forward to your testimony.

But before I yield to the witnessed in that order, I'd like to yield to my colleague, Chairman Lugar.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. BIDEN: Thank you very much, Senator. Why don't we begin in the order I introduced you beginning with General McCaffrey and moving to his right in that order, and we will, when we get to questions, gentlemen I -- seven minutes okay -- we will do seven minute rounds.

So General, welcome back, it's a pleasure to have you here. I am anxious to hear what you have to say, I've read your testimony, but please --

GEN. MCCAFFREY: Well, let me thank you Senator Biden, Senator Lugar, and the committee members, the chance to be here and to join Michele Flournoy, and Bill Odom, and Bob Scales, all of them I've known and worked with over the years.

Let me, if I may offer -- they are already I think in the committee hands.

SEN. BIDEN: Yes.

GEN. MCCAFFREY: This presentation is sort of a summary of our joint forces command working conference, that I key-noted a couple weeks ago, and that's a shorthand way of following the arguments I've been making. I've submitted a sort of an outline of the comments that I would make this morning if I went through nine assertions and where I think we are.

Let me also sort of strike a note of, if I can compliment the two of your opening statement that says it all. Those are coherent, comprehensive, it asks the right questions. You sort of wonder how did we end up in this mess given your pretty cute understanding of the situation on the ground.

Let me, if I can, just talk generally. First of all, there is no question there is some good news here. The best news is we've got Secretary Bob Gates in the Pentagon, so the tone of the national security debate has gone from irrational and arrogant to one of cooperation. I think Dr. Rice is now empowered to begin using the tools of diplomacy.

The people we have got in the ground in Iraq, this Ambassador Ryan Crocker is an absolute consummate professional. He has changed the nature of the way we coach work with the Iraqi factions. Dave Petraeus, the general we put in the ground, I think is a national treasure; I've watched this guy since he was 25. He is probably the most talented person we've had in the uniform in the last 40 years.

And his tactics have changed the nature of this struggle dramatically. I say tactics advisedly. The whole notion of getting out of the base camps into the downtown urban areas, collocating Iraqi police and army clearly was courageous and encouraged significant casualties, it helped change the nature of the struggle.

And then finally, I think, we ought to take account, we got a fellow there, Lieutenant General Jim Dubik and a pretty good team now trying to stand up to these Iraqi security forces. So they have gone from the police being uniformed criminal organizations to -- we put on nine national brigades back for retraining, new uniforms, fired eight of the nine brigade commanders, they are starting to get equipment.

The Iraqi army is appearing now in significant numbers. We are just now beginning to build a maintenance system, a medical system, medical evacuation, command and control. We should have done that clearly four years ago. But I think that's moving in the right direction.

Now, contrast that though it seems to me and I just came out in December that the Maliki government in a general stance is completely dysfunctional. There isn't a province in Iraq from the ones that are in Kurdish North that are economically and politically doing okay to the incoherent situation in Basra where a central government holds sway for electricity, oil production, security, health care, there is no place in Iraq where that government dominates at provincial level. And it's not likely to do so.

So Mr. Maliki is a one of the few people in Iraq who doesn't have his own militia and he is not much of a power figure. Hard to know where that is going. These provincial elections, the hydro-carbon law, he's got to get consensus among competing Shi'a groups, he's got to deal with corruption, that government is incompetent but even worse. It's corrupt at a level that it is hard to imagine. And then finally, he's got to reach out to the Sunnis.

The other thing that is going is the Iranians are playing a extremely dangerous role. Particularly at this phase where we still have an enormous combat power in Iraq. They are actively arming, equipping, providing belligerent political purpose, providing money, providing out of country training to Shi'a factions.

There was some argument in the past years they provided some support to the Sunni insurgency.

If they encourage, which I don't believe they are, a general uprising among the Shi'a, in the next three months we'll be able to deal with it militarily, it'd be a disaster politically, but if -- as the months go by, as we withdraw from Iraq and withdraw we will.

We will get down to 15 brigades by July; I assume we will drop to a lower number by the time the administration leaves office. We will actually get in a militarily threatening situation, where these people, the Shi'as, set astride our lines of communication back to the Gulf. We will actually be in a risk situation.

Now added to by -- by the way the other thing, I think it's widely not talked about inside the Beltway. The other good news we've got is U.S. Armed Forces in country. I mean, I'd say -- I have to remind people 34,000 killed and wounded a tiny army in Marine Corp in special operations.

Some of these kids are on their fourth or more combat tours. I just went to the brigade of the 101st. Brigade commander and 400 of his troops were on their fourth year long deployment. So we have run this thing to the wall, and they are still out there.

I did a seminar of 39 battalion commanders in Baghdad, and what struck me listening to them for a couple or three hours was that not that they were such great soldiers which they are, but that they were the de facto low-level government of Iraq. They were trying to do health care and jumpstart industry and create women's right groups and doing call-in radio shows for the mayor to respond it was just unbelievable what these people were doing.

That army is starting to unravel. And General Dick Cody, God bless him, came over here and laid it on the line yesterday. We have a huge retention problem. Mid-career NCOs or high-IQ, competent, experienced captains are leaving us.

We got a significant recruiting problem. I say, you know, just a general order of magnitude, 10 percent of these kids coming in to the Army today shouldn't be in uniform. Non-high school graduates CAT 4B, felony arrest, drug use, psychotic medication, we got a problem.

And the problem is multiple deployments to Iraq where their dad and mom are saying don't you go in, even for the college money they'll hold you hostage given stop-loss for the next 8 years. Your Army is starting to unravel. U.S. air and naval power is not resourced appropriately.

Our Air Force is starting to come apart. The Navy is the smallest since pre-World War II, you know. Down the line, 15 years from now, when we are trying to do deterrence on the legitimate emergence of the Peoples Republic of China into the Western Pacific we better have F-22 and modernized naval forces and a new airlift fleet, or we won't be able to sustain deterrence.

And then finally, as you look at the Army globally we are now hugely relying on contractors. I don't know what the numbers really are; 120,000 in Iraq, maybe 600 killed 4,000 wounded. They do our long-haul logistics, our long-haul communications. They maintain all the high technology equipment.

We need to go back and readdress the manpower of the U.S. Army and Marine Corp to decide do we really want to be so reliant on these patriotic hard-working effective contractors who at the same time aren't in uniform and when things really go critical will not and cannot stay -- (cross talk.)

SEN. BIDEN: General when you say, if I am -- excuse me for interrupting you. When you say, "contractors" you are referring as well to personnel who are (carrying ?) weapons, not just contractors building buildings, you are talking about --

GEN. MCCAFFREY: A lot of these contractors are flying armed helicopters, they are carrying automatic weapons, they have hundreds of armored vehicles, but in addition it's Turkish truck drivers --

SEN. BIDEN: No, I got it. I just wanted to for the record to make sure we knew what that phrase encompassed.

GEN. MCCAFFREY: Some of them are egregiously wrong, some of them by the way is appropriate. I think it's good to have contractors maintaining communications gear and computers and a brigade talk, that's okay. It's hard to imagine why the U.S. Marine Corp doesn't provide external security for a U.S. Ambassador in a combat zone as opposed to a private contractor. So --

SEN. BIDEN: No, I just wanted to make sure -- I knew. I just wanted to make sure for the record everyone understood that.

GEN. MCCAFFREY: All right. Well, you hear a lot of debate about the contracting community. I've put in my remarks. Without the contractors, the war grinds to an immediate halt, because we simply can't sustain it without these civilian businesses that are supporting us.

Final note, if you will, is one to really point toward the future. Personal viewpoint, I say this as a soldier, there is no political will to sustain the current national security strategy in the United States, period. It's over.

Though we are going to come out of Iraq in the next two, three years, largely we are going to hope that our internal strategies, the two of you have already articulated allows the government to form that we have provincial elections where there is some legitimacy at lower level that the Iraqi security forces can maintain order and not us, but out of Iraq we will come.

And the jury is out on what's going to happen next in my view. I don't -- I am modestly optimistic these people are courageous, they are smart, they don't want to be Lebanon or Pol Pot's Cambodia, but certainly the events of the last week just underscore the chaotic nature inside the three major factions, never mind the current civil war between Shi'a and Sunni, and the next war that will take place which will be the struggle between Iraqi Arabs and the Kurdish north, and it will be fought over ground and oil.

And that's common. The question is can we buffer that, can we reduce that outcome. And as you mentioned, all this of course is compounded by 4 million refugees and a brain drain. The dentists, the engineers, they are leaving they are going to Syria, Iran, France, a sensible person gets out of there right now if they can.

On that note, let me again thank you for the chance to lay down some of these ideas and I look forward to respond at your own interest, sir.

SEN. BIDEN: Thank you very much. General Odom.

GEN. ODOM: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. It is an honor to be back here again. Last year I rejected the claim that the surge was a new strategy. Rather, I said, it is a new tactic perused to the same old strategic aim, political stability in Iraq.

And I foresaw no serious prospects of success. I see no reason to change my judgment today. The surge is prolonging instability, not creating the conditions for unity as the president claims.

Last year, as General McCaffrey noted, General Petraeus wisely promised that a -- declined the promise that a military solution is possible to this political problem. And he said he could lower the level of violence for a limited time to allow the Iraqi leaders to strike a deal.

Violence has been temporarily reduced, but today there is credible evidence, little or no evidence that the political situation is improving. In fact, it's the contrary, it's more fragmented.

And currently we see the surge of violence in Basra and also in Baghdad. In fact, it remains sporadic as others have said throughout other parts of Iraq over the past year, notwithstanding this drop in Baghdad, Dhi Qar and Anbar province.

More disturbing is Prime Minister Maliki's initiation of military action down in Basra, which has dragged the U.S. forces there, and again, it's something they didn't approve, to try to do in his competitors, his Shi'ite competitors. This is a political setback; this is not a political solution. Such is the result of the surge.

No less disturbing has been this violence in Mosul, and the tensions, as just mentioned, around Kirkuk over the oil. A showdown there, I think, is -- surely awaits us. The idea I think that some kind of federal solution can cut this Gordian knot is sort of out-of- touch with the realities as they are there today.

Also disturbing is Turkey's intervention to destroy PKK terrorist groups inside Kurdistan. That confronted with the U.S. government with a choice, either to support its NATO ally, or to make good on its commitment to secure the Kurdish leaders. It chose the former, and that makes it clear to the Kurds that the U.S. will sacrifice their interests to its larger interests in Turkey.

Turning to the apparent success in Anbar province and a few other Sunni areas, this is not the positive situation it has been purported to be. Clearly, violence has declined as local Sunni leaders have begun to cooperate with U.S. forces. But the surge tactic cannot be given full credit.

The decline started earlier with Sunni initiatives. What are their motives? First, anger at the al Qaeda operatives, and second, their financial plight; their break with al Qaeda should give us little comfort. The Sunnis welcomed al Qaeda precisely because they would help kill Americans. The concern we hear the president and his aides express about a residual base left for al Qaeda if we withdraw is utter nonsense.

The Sunnis will soon destroy al Qaeda if we leave. The Kurds do not allow them in their region, and the Shi'ites, like the Iranians, detest al Qaeda.

To understand why, one only need take note of the al Qaeda diplomacy campaign over the past couple of years on Internet blogs. They implore the United States to bomb and destroy this apostate Shi'ite regime.

Now, as an aside, just let me comment that it gives me pause to learn that our vice president and president and some members of the Senate are aligned with al Qaeda on spreading the war to (Iran ?).

Let me emphasize that our new Sunni friends insist on being paid for their loyalty. I have heard of one example, where the rough estimate for the cost in a -- 100 square kilometers, that is a 10 by 10 kilometer area, is $250,000 a day to pay these fellows.

Now, you might want to find out when the administration's witnesses come next week, what these total costs add up to and what they are forecasted for in the years ahead.

Remember, we do not own these people, we rent them. And they can break the lease at any moment. At the same time, this deal protects them from -- to some degree -- from the government's troops and its police, hardly a sign of reconciliation.

Now let us consider the implications, the proliferating deals with Sunni strongmen. They are far from unified under any single leader. Some remain with al Qaeda. Many who break join us and join our forces are beholden to no one else.

Thus the decline in violence reflects a dispersion of power to dozens of local strongmen who distrust the government and occasionally fight among themselves.

Thus the basic military situation is worse because of the proliferation of armed groups under local military chiefs who follow a proliferating number of political leaders.

This can hardly be called military stability, much less progress toward political consolidation, and to call it fragility that needs more time to become success is to ignore its implications.

At the same time, as president -- Prime Minister Maliki's actions last week indicate an even wider political and military fragmentation.

We are witnessing what could more accurately be described as a road to Balkanization, that is, political fragmentation in Iraq.

We are being asked for the president to believe that this shift of so much power and finance to so many local chiefs is the road to political centralization.

He describes this process as state building from the bottom up.

Now, I challenge you to press the administration's witnesses to explain this absurdity. Ask them to name a single historical case where power has been aggregated from local strongmen to a central government except through bloody violence and a civil war leading to the emergence of a single winner, almost without exception a dictator.

The history of feudal Europe's transformation to absolute monarchy is this story. It is the story of the American colonization of the west and our Civil War.

It took England 800 years to subdue the clan rule on the Scottish-English border. And this is the source of violence in Bosnia and Kosovo today.

How can our leaders celebrate this diffusion of power as effective state building? More accurately described, it has placed the United States on -- astride several civil wars not just one.

And it allows all sides to consolidate, rearm, refill their financial coffers at U.S. expense.

To sum up, we face a deteriorating situation with an over- extended army so aptly described by General McCaffrey.

When the administration's witness is before you -- will come before you I hope you make -- make them clarify how long the Army and Marines can withstand this band-aid strategy.

The only sensible strategy is to withdraw but with -- in good order. Only that step can break the political paralysis that is gripping U.S. strategy in the region today.

I want to emphasize this, you can't devise a new strategy, we cannot change the present unhappy course we are on without first withdrawing.

That unfreezes the paralysis and begins to give us choices we don't even see now. Until we get out we won't even know what they are.

The next step if -- when we get out -- is to choose a new aim, regional stability, not some meaningless victory in Iraq. And progress toward that goal requires revising our policy toward Iran.

If the president merely renounced his threat of a regime change by force, that could prompt Iran to lessen its support for Taliban groups in Afghanistan.

The Iranians hate Taliban and they support them only because they will kill Americans there, as retaliation in the event we attack Iran.

Iran's policy toward Iraq would also have to change radically as we withdraw. It cannot want instability.

Iraq's Shi'ites are Arabs, and they know Persians look down on them. Cooperation has its limits, and people have tended to exaggerate the future influence of Iran in Iraq, it has real important limits.

Even the factions in the -- that are working in -- among the Shi'ites today are divided on that issue.

No quick retaliation -- conciliation between the U.S. and Iran is likely, but steps to make Iran feel more secure could conceivably improve the speed with which we could develop some kind of cooperation with them, particularly more speed than a policy calculated to increase their insecurity.

The president's policy of insecurity in Iraq has -- reinforced Iranian determination to acquire nuclear weapons, the very thing he purports to be trying to prevent.

Now, withdrawal from Iraq does not mean, in my view, withdrawal from the region. It must include realignment of where we are deployed in the area, and reassertion of both our forces and our diplomacy that give us a better chance to improve our situation and reach the goal of regional stability.

I am prepared to comment more on that in the questions but I am going to end here because I think that answers the question I came up, to answer whether the so-called surge strategy is working.

Thank you very much for this opportunity.

GEN. ODOM: Senator Biden, Senator Lugar thank you very much for having me here and it is a pleasure to join three old colleagues who I have known for many years to testify before you.

I am going to take a little bit more of a military specific view of the situation in Iraq and talk about what the new strategy might look like from a soldier's perspective.

I don't think anyone doubts that General Petraeus, over the last year, has wrenched some military advantage out of what was about to become a catastrophic defeat, and he did it not so much by increasing the numbers to my mind but by instituting a new strategy that is focused on counterinsurgency, and he has reached what we soldiers sometimes call a culminating point, which results in a shift in the military advantage.

And when all the variables are fixed a culminating point generally works to the advantage of one side or another. The problem is that in an insurgency all the culminating point does is buy you time.

And as we have seen in Vietnam there is a teachable moment the culminating points aren't always military victories in an insurgency. So the advantage can be lost if the dynamics in the war change, and I think my concern is that the dynamics will change after the surge. And I guess that is why I am here today.

Because after the surge, and as U.S. forces begin to wind down, the Iraqis will assume the responsibility for their own defense. And this battlefield advantage that we won at the cost of over 4,000 dead Americans is in risk if we fail to manage this transition properly.

Now, first of all, let me say, sir that very little can be done to change the battlefield dynamics before the surge ends. The counterinsurgency strategy is ripe, it can be altered, the crucible of patience among the American people, as my two colleagues have just said, is emptying and is not going to be refilled.

Al Qaeda numbers are small but though small they have remained a fairly constant force in Iraq, it is sort of like a virus that is in recession. They are not going away.

And sadly and most importantly I guess to the future is that the United States has run out of military options as well. For the first time since the Civil War the number of ground soldiers available is determining American policy rather than policy determining how many soldiers we need. It is a strategy turned on its head.

And I think what is important here is that the arithmetic is telling. Beyond the surge at best we can only sustain somewhere between 13, 15 brigades without the Army unraveling.

Afghanistan will require at least three brigades and I suspect gentlemen as time goes on that number may grow sadly. So, that leaves us with no more than 12 brigades for continued service in Iran -- in Iraq over the long term.

So regardless who wins the election and we -- almost independent of conditions on the ground by this summer the troops will begin to come home.

The only point of contention is how precipitous that withdrawal is going to be. And after the surge nothing can be done without the ability of the Iraqi military to sustain the security.

So I would submit to you as a thesis that the new center of gravity for the remaining phases of this war will be the -- will be centered around the establishment of an effective Iraqi national security apparatus.

And the question you have for me I believe is can the Iraqis -- are the Iraqis up to the task? Some signs are encouraging, if you read the headlines in the last few days, the Iraqi 14th division deployed to Basra as you know to destroy the Shi'ite militias and the criminal gangs there.

An Iraqi motor transport brigade moved one national police and three army brigades on short notice from Baghdad to Basra a distance of over 400 miles.

Also, out of the news, but also of some interest is that Iraqi Special Forces were transported, some in Iraqi C130 aircraft from the northern regions of Iraq to the vicinity of Basra.

General McCaffrey talked about logistics, one Iraqi based support unit, so far at least, has managed to sustain the Basra operation with some help from the American supplied civilian contractors.

But frankly, problems remain. Some units in the 14th didn't fight well. Sectarian infiltration and desertions were present in that unit.

Now, the division hasn't lost its fighting effectiveness or cohesion that is the good news. Now, this sounds like some faint praise but remember only a year ago it would have virtually impossible to pull an Iraqi army division from one province and move it to another in shape or the willingness to fight.

A couple of other encouraging things that we have observed over the last year is that the officer leadership at the small unit level seems to be improving, and this is kind of a double-edged sword because what we have seen is the leadership has improved through this Darwinian process of self selection that allows armies to pick the right people in the crucible of battle.

That is a -- it is the most wasteful way to win the -- to build an army when it is trying to reform itself while fighting. We had this experience in the American Civil War, where we had to build our army from scratch during a war and it is a very painful process.

But the merit based promotion system on the field of battle seems to be working. The NCOs are the backbone of our Army as many of the veterans on the committee will testify but there is no tradition in Iraq for NCO Corps, it is an alien concept to them, but in the last year or so divisions, Iraqi divisions, have started to establish schools to try to inculcate the leadership culture, if you will, of the NCO ranks, and that is encouraging.

But improvements in the Iraqi tactical area are not going to occur without significant American involvement. It is the American military training teams.

These are the squad size units that are embedded in Iraqi combat battalions and brigades that are making the difference. Another important factor is partnership arrangements between American units on the ground and Iraqi combat units.

One of the things we have learned in this war in the recent years is that the most powerful tools for transforming an army are emulation and example.

Fighting side by side with Iraqis makes the Iraqis fight better -- it is wasteful, it is OJT in combat if you will but it seems to work.

The third factor is the personal relationships between the Iraqis and the Americans. General McCaffrey talked about battalion commanders and brigade commanders, many of whom I observed in my last trip, who not only are helping to rebuild the country but they are helping to rebuild the army as well.

Having said that there is some serious problems, after the surge within the Iraqi forces. Senior leaders and staffs are doing a reasonably good job of moving battalions in a -- and brigades from point to point, but their ability to do quality planning and execution frankly is very immature.

Too often senior leaders are promoted and selected based on nepotism or tribal and clan loyalty, another various -- very serious problem. Clearly sectarianism in many units still trumps allegiance to the nation.

As we have seen recently we have seen instances of soldiers deserting rather than fight against their tribal peers. General McCaffrey alluded to this but most serious is that so-called combat enablers in this army are immature at best.

Such things -- the things that make an army robust, enabled to sustain itself over time like intelligence, fire support, administration, logistics, communications, and medical support have been put on the shelf for too long and unfortunately we face the prospect of keeping these -- keeping American units of this sort in Iraq longer to begin the process of building these functions for the Iraqi army.

So several years on how will the American military help the Iraqi army transition itself as we withdraw? First is this idea of a thinning strategy.

The last thing that we can do is pull ourselves out whole cloth like we did in Vietnam. Instead of brigades withdrawing as a brigade the strategy should be to sort of thin these brigades, to leave the brain of these brigades and these partnership relationships once we begin to withdraw to help sustain the Iraqi units for as long as we possibly can, to maintain these partnership relationships.

Right now, we have 5,000 embedded trainers and 1,300 headquarters trainers but as we begin to thin our partnership and move our training teams out I just think we are going to have to increase the number of these military training teams because 5,000 just doesn't seem to be a large enough number.

So with enablers left in place, training teams left in place sadly the casualties will continue to rise and if al Qaeda is smart they will target -- sadly -- target these transition units simply as a means of getting us out of Iraq and toppling the Iraqi government.

And the next point is that if the new center of gravity is shifting from active combat operations to the advice, assist and train function then we must make these functions in the American military job one.

The Army is beginning to fray, it is very difficult for the Army and the Marine Corps to sustain these functions. But the sad part is we do it well as a military.

We have had a century of experiences in places like the Philippines, Korea, Thailand, Greece, Indonesia and El Salvador where the American trainers and advisers have done a good job of building armies in time of war.

Unfortunately, of course, after Vietnam we lost those skills but what is important I think as we begin to transition is remove -- move our focus from active combat operations to rebuilding a world-class advisory capacity within the United States military.

And this is not an organizational issue this is a cultural problem. This is graduate-level work, it involves knowledge of cultures and languages, it requires exquisite personal skills, the ability to sublimate ones ego, the ability to empathize with an alien culture.

And frankly, not all officers and NCOs are very good at this. They are -- you know those who have this cultural right stuff in the American military are a rare breed.

So what we have to do is find the means to reward the best and the brightest with -- who perform these functions during the transition with such things as fully funded civil schooling, advanced promotion, and a chance to command at all levels.

And finally let me say that the post-surge strategy should not be focused solely on creating an Iraqi army in our image. The object is to make the Iraqi army better than the enemy not mirror the United States.

And it is not necessary I believe to build a large Iraqi army. I believe that the Iraqi army, not the police, but the army is -- will be the glue that bonds together this republic that will begin to emerge in Iraq.

If the army is the only bonding agent then it is the intangibles that will eventually determine whether or not this transition is successful, and that is things like inculcating courage, adaptability, integrity, intellectual agility and leadership, and the ability -- and the commitment of this army to a cause higher than clan that will ultimately determine whether or not they will be successful.

But the greatest task we have is to inculcate into the Iraqi army the will to win rather than merely teach them how to win. Thank you.

SEN. BIDEN: Ms. Flournoy.

MS. FLOURNOY: Chairman Biden, Senator Lugar, and distinguished members of the committee, thank you very much for inviting me to speak with you today.

I am honored to be part of the discussion that you are trying to stimulate not only on Iraq but how the United States balances its strategic interests across the many national security challenges that we face.

In February, I had a chance to visit 10 of Iraq's 18 provinces over a two-week period. And even as someone who is a skeptic of the war, I observed that security in many parts of the country had improved markedly due to the many factors that Senator Biden and Senator Lugar already cited.

The Sunni awakening, the Sadr cease-fire, the sectarian separation that has occurred over the last couple of years, the shift in U.S. strategy towards counterinsurgency in protecting the Iraqi population, the surge of forces in Baghdad that enabled us to be more effective in implementing that strategy in Baghdad.

More effective operations against al Qaeda, which we are now seeing coming to a head in Mosul, and a greater professionalization of some though but certainly not all of the Iraqi military units.

And having lived through the violence of 2006 and early 2007, many of the Iraqis that I spoke to really felt like Iraq had been given a second chance.

But I think the events of the last couple of weeks have reminded us that the situation in Iraq remains highly uncertain.

The renewed fighting in Basra and the Shi'a neighborhoods of Baghdad, are a reminder that the security gains that we have made over the last several months are both fragile and incomplete.

They are fragile because they have not been underwritten sufficiently by true political accommodation, and there -- between and within the Shi'a, Sunni and Kurdish communities.

And they are incomplete because southern Iraq has been left largely under the control of competing Shi'a militias since the British transferred responsibility for that area in December 2007.

That said in areas where security has improved, public expectations have risen quite rapidly. Once you have security people want jobs, they want essential services, they want free and fair elections, they want real political reconciliation, and these expectations thus far have not been met.

Meeting those expectations will be essential to consolidating recent security gains.

We are now in what counterinsurgency doctrine calls the build phase which is the hardest part of this endeavor, where the primary objective is actually enhancing the legitimacy of the host nation government; the Iraqi government in the eyes of the population.

The problem that I saw is that to date the reason that security improvements have enhanced our legitimacy not that of the Iraq government. And herein lies the principle cause for my concern.

The Maliki government appears largely unwilling or unable to take advantage e of the space created by the security -- improved security and actually move towards political accommodation, provide for the basic needs of the Iraqi people and lay the foundation for stability, and its own legitimacy.

And our government, the Bush administration, appears to lack a strategy for getting them to do so. One of the most striking things to me when I visited was whether it was Sunni tribal leaders and business leaders in Anbar and Baghdad whether it was Shi'a mayors and governors down south, the frustration with the incompetence, the dysfunction, the corruption of the central government was not only palpable it was nearly universal.

And Iraqis are deeply frustrated by the lack of political economic progress overall. And unless this situation changes, recent security gains are going to be very difficult to consolidate and may be quite perishable, no matter how many brigades we keep in Iraq.

So the real challenge in the near term is for the Bush administration to use the leverage we have -- military, economic, political to push towards real power-sharing arrangements.

And this is a tall order, because it presumes that we will have something we have never had in Iraq and that is a political strategy, a clear and compelling political strategy, to push towards accommodation.

Unless the administration succeeds more than it has in the past on this front I fear that it will be bequeathed to the next administration in Iraq that is backsliding into civil war.

Let me just take a moment to talk a little bit about the impact on the U.S. military since you asked us to address that.

Years of conducting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously have put great strains on the force particularly our ground forces and special operations forces.

More than six years of repeated combat tours -- two, three, four and in some cases with little time at home in between have placed an extremely heavy burden on our soldiers, our marines, and their families.

The operational demands of these wars are consuming the nation's supply of ready ground forces, leaving us without an adequate pool of Army units ready for other possible contingencies and thereby increasing the level of strategic risk that we are assuming as a nation.

In my written statement I have gone into a great detail on the strains on personnel, the compressed and narrowed training time, the shortages of equipment, the costs of reset, recruitment and retention challenges.

I won't go into those all here because I don't want -- I know we want to get to the Q&A. Let me just highlight one key factor though that is very important and that is the Army's need to reduce the length of tours from 15 months down to at least no more than 12 months in the near term.

You have heard from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying that we can't sustain the current operational tempo at current force levels, getting back to a one-to-one deployment ratio of 12 months abroad and 12 months at home is actually, absolutely critical to keeping the force from unraveling as my colleagues have suggested.

As the surge comes to an end, the Army will have a total of 17 Brigade Combat Teams deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army planners have told me that they need to get that number down to 15, to be able to return to this 12-on, 12-off cycle that is so crucial to keeping the force from breaking over time.

So that is going to argue for trying to take two additional brigades out of Iraq as soon as conditions on the ground permit.

At the same time there are countervailing pressures and arguments. You will hear military folks in Iraq talk about the need to maintain higher levels of forces in order to secure the provincial elections that will come, we hope, at the end of this year.

They also talk interestingly about their concerns about our transition period and the nobody-home phenomenon between election day and inauguration day.

They are very worried about any instability in Iraq that could happen in that period and again they want to err on the side of keeping the force high and then handing off to a new president who can make a choice to bring the force down.

I think that is the argument that we are going to have in the next several months. That that competition between what do we need to do to relive the strains on the force versus what some of the commanders on the ground will argue for to give themselves more flexibility in the -- as Iraq enters a critical period.

So where do we go from here? Let me just say that I hope that as this committee begins these hearings that rather than jumping right to troop levels we -- that you will have the discussion that you are so good at having, which is what are our strategic interests in Iraq and the region and what should our strategy be. And then based on that discussion, you know, what should the troop levels look like over time?

In my view there are three fundamental premises that we should think about as we contemplate, how do we go forward. First, like it or not we are where we are, whether we were -- one was for it or against the war, we can't turn back the clock we have to move forward from the point where we find ourselves today.

Second, like it or not, Iraq involves our vital interests and we have to balance not only our interests in Iraq but our interests in the region and more globally to include restoring our moral standing and credibility in the world.

And third, how we get out of Iraq matters. I think that the next president will have three fundamental options -- Unconditional engagement, unconditional disengagement, or conditional engagement.

And I have laid those out in my testimony but just briefly, unconditional engagement is basically a continuation of the Bush administration's policy of giving the Iraqi government a fairly open- ended commitment of support for as long as it takes, whether they make progress towards political goals or not.

This is an all-in approach that is all carrots and no sticks, and it gives us -- and it gives the Iraqis very little incentive to make the hard choices they have to make on political accommodation.

It is also unsustainable for us in terms of the U.S. military, our treasury and the support of the American people.

The other the second option is unconditional disengagement, which argues for a rapid withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from Iraq on a fixed timetable, without regard to conditions on the ground, or the behavior of various parties in Iraq, or the consequences that that withdrawal might have on stability in Iraq and the broader region.

This is the all-out approach as I would call it and it is all sticks and no carrots. My concern is that this would substantially increase the risk of renewed civil war and even a regional war that would do even greater damage to our vital interests.

So the best way forward that I see for the United States is a strategy of conditional engagement, in which we use the leverage we have --- military, political and economic --- which I would argue we have never used effectively in five years that we use that leverage to push Iraqis towards political accommodation in the near term and establish the basis for a more sustainable stability over the medium to long term.

Under this approach U.S. forces would draw down gradually shifting to an overarch role that would be based on a timetable determined by the conditions on the ground and the extent of political accommodation in Iraq.

It would transition U.S. forces out of the lead role of providing for the security of the Iraqi population and instead put them in the position of, as General Scales suggested, primarily advising, training, and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in so doing.

This makes building the capacity of the Iraqi forces for the long pole in the tent, it also suggests that the U.S. forces would continue to assist Iraqi forces in certain areas like counterterrorism operations and would certainly provide for force protection and a quick reaction force for our military advisors and civilians still in country. If however the Iraqis did not make substantial progress on political accommodation the U.S. under this strategy would selectively reduce its support in terms of political, economic, military aid in a way designed to put additional pressure on the Iraqis to make the necessary political compromises while still protecting our vital interests.

What this strategy does is that it tries to make clear to the Iraqis that our commitment is not open ended, it is conditional on them making the hard choices that need to be made.

It also offers a missing link that has been present since the beginning of this endeavor and that is a political strategy to support our military strategy for achieving our objectives.

Finally it aims to enable the United States to protect its vital interests in Iraq and the region at substantially reduced and more sustainable force levels.

I would like to conclude there. Thank you very much.

SEN. BIDEN: We thank you very much.

I would ask you not to answer now but I am going to submit in writing a question to you if I may Ms. Flournoy and that is the conditional engagement strategy if in fact there is not progress, what we do we selectively reduce?

In other words how do we selectively reduce, and what would you recommend? Now, let me get there are so many questions and we are going to do seven-minute rounds so I would appreciate if you could make your answers as short as possible, and augment them with written follow up if you would like. But answer as you see fit, obviously.

Let me be a bit I guess it would have been thought to be provocative if you asked this question, you know, three years ago. I for one am beginning to -- not begin -- I have arrived at the position I think General Odom has as that this idea of quote "fighting terrorism" in Iraq.

Fighting terrorism in Iraq is fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and I find it not plausible the argument that if we left the al Qaeda will gain a foothold, if we leave my impression in my -- I don't know eight or nine trips into Iraq is that the Sunnis will kill them, the Kurds will kill them, and the Shi'a will kill them because they all have overarching reasons to do that.

That the reason why al Qaeda is able to sustain itself by moving north into Mosul is that the Sunnis will take help from anyone against what they believe is an on-coming Kurdish onslaught for Kirkuk to be occupied and Mosul to be controlled by the Kurds exclusively.

Would you, General McCaffrey, respond to that assertion which is really actually better stated by General Odom, what if were to leave -- we always talk about the upsides the downsides of leaving, we don't talk much about the downsides of staying.

The downsides of staying are overwhelming just in terms of our force structure, just in terms of the opportunity costs that exists in other parts of the world. But we have fallen into the jargon many of us of that if we were to leave not precipitously but announce we are leaving, we are going to leave over a certain period of time that these terrible things would happen.

The first of those terrible things that happen we would have moved al Qaeda west. We'd move it from Afghanistan six years ago to having this occupation and its ability to operate with impunity out of a chaotic Iraq.

Is that a reasonable assertion any longer or is the opposite true? That if we leave over time we are likely to damage not improve damage the ability of al Qaeda to sustain itself in Iraq?

General McCaffrey what do you think?

GEN. MCCAFFREY: I think that there really has been a lot of intellectual confusion on what are we doing in Iraq, we tended to move our explanation as the situation has evolved, it is hard to imagine that we went to Iraq originally to fight al Qaeda, or that we should stay there to do the same.

Al Qaeda is primarily up in Waziristan, it is in the Pak border, it is downtown London, Paris, Madrid, Indonesia, it is struggling against corrupt incompetent Arab regimes, it is hard to imagine it would be a logic that would compel us to stay there with a combat force.

At the same time I don't think it is unreasonable to say that a chaotic situation in Iraq, whether all out civil war would be a huge threat to the Iraqi people, to their regional neighbors, and to U.S. national interests, and it would be a threat to oil which is still a factor in all of this.

So I take your premise, I think you are entirely right by the way interestingly enough this is -- it will be another military history study coming out of this, we actually did extremely well in an urban campaign against AQI in downtown Baghdad.

It is the damndest thing I have seen, part of it was Petraeus' tactics, part of it was the Sunnis are sick of being pushed around by these people, and part of it was brilliant performance by particularly JSOC our special operations groups.

But I think your points are good --

SEN. BIDEN: Well, let me -- so it seems that maybe, you know, the plate we are looking for is how do we leave with a determined -- a determination to leave forcing events in the ground without leaving total chaos and full-blown civil war behind?

In which an environment arguable al Qaeda could benefit in that environment. Absent that environment it is hard for me to understand how al Qaeda benefits by us leaving or us drawing down.

But at least in your second point and you have all been -- you have as usual you have stuck to what we have asked you to talk about, and I appreciate it.

And one of the points is the point raised by you, General, you talk about a culmination point. And a military term that we become -- identify -- we have come to understand. Essentially that was the point at which the strategy was looking to accomplish.

The strategy was -- I am a little out of my league here you are using these military terms, but essentially as a culminating point we were looking the stated purpose was to get to the point where there was a change in the space on the ground how it was occupied, who was in control, in order to -- in order to give an administration an opportunity to come up with a political, political set of initiatives that were likely to enhance the prospect of bringing these warring factions together so that the need for them to continue to kill one another diminished, and the need for our presence diminished.

Now, the -- it is interesting that each of you -- none of you that I have got so far suggest that we are going to be able or should sustain American forces at surge levels in Iraq that is either not possible or not desirable or both.

But one of the things that was suggested by two of you is that we leave, in this transition period, we leave at least a sufficient number of trainers there to be able to enhance the prospects of a Iraqi military emerging that has the capacity to deliver some security.

I quite frankly, parenthetically, don't understand how that happens on a political determination, who that military should be, who controls that military.

But having said that again back to General Odom. General Odom makes the point in his statement which I read prior to the hearing that the idea of leaving behind whether it is 500 or 5,000 or 12,000 or 15,000 trainers absent a significant American combat force to protect them is not realistic.

So how do those of you who are suggesting that the training aspect of the Iraqi military be continued and beefed up in this transition period and accommodate the necessity of drawing down combat brigades -- and I note parenthetically and I have 30 seconds left so I will conclude with this.

A recent trip to where terror resides -- Afghanistan and Pakistan, along the border, John and I and Senator Hagel and we were just there and we even had the opportunity to land in the middle of the mountains and to see whether -- that wasn't intended but, you know, to see what is going on.

If you want to know where terror resides that is where it lives, you want to know where Bin Laden is, you want to know where al Qaeda is, the al Qaeda we have come to know and love, we know where it is.

Now, we sat with our ISAF commander, an American, saying that look Helmand province is -- in the southern part of Afghanistan, and you have talked about it General, is increasingly controlled and or dominated by the Taliban, which is growing in there.

And he said you want me to take care of that, he said give me two combat brigades I can take care of that. But he said you know what I have nowhere to get those combat brigades.

Then he went on to say as other commanders in the field said to us they said look even if we could get the combat brigades out of Iraq the truth is they need decompression time, which is your point, getting down from 17 to 15 to 12.

It is not like getting down from there and sending them to Afghanistan. It is drawing them down to give them actually opportunity to have that 12 months at home or whatever that number is.

So having said all that how do you deal with this notion and I like you to discuss it, and you chime in General Odom since I am sort of making your argument, and you know it better that I do, how do you transition to a training emphasis with Iraqi forces reducing combat brigades and do that without leaving those trainers exposed.

General, why don't you expand or correct my --

GEN. ODOM: Your points are well made. I mean, I agree with -- obviously I agree with them. Let me sharpen just briefly.

We don't have the moral choice for the -- we don't have the physical choice to prevent chaos in Iraq when we leave. It is going to happen, no matter how many we train, no matter what we do.

It may not be nearly as high as we've anticipated, I don't think it will be, but I am going to assume it is high, because we don't have the choice to make it otherwise.

We call -- we have the blame because we went in, we made this chaos the case. We do have the choice not to send more U.S. troops. That is the moral choice you are facing, not preventing chaos in the future. And you get that through your head you will get completely confused about this.

The other point is until there is a political consensus no matter how you train the troops they are not going to fight successfully. We trained troops in Vietnam that were very effective units. Some days they fought, some days they didn't; it was entirely a function of loyalties in the local area. That is political issue, do you solve those trainers are really beside the point.

Finally, there is no shortage of military skills in Iraq. The insurgents fight very well. They don't use the American techniques or American NCOs and training systems but I am not sure they need to.

GEN. MCCAFFREY: Sir, I -- first of all I agree with you. There is -- but in a military perspective there is one choice, there is one institution in that country as we begin to leave that will prevent what Bill Odom just said is going to happen from happening and that is the Army.

And what is so interesting is the Army is only 200,000, the police I believe is like -- something like 500,000. And it is that small band of 200,000 some 12 divisions that stand, in my opinion, should over time stand between the total fracturing and collapse of the regime and the blood bath that might well happen.

So the key, sir, is that delicate balance, if you will between pulling out American power and withdrawing American presence and increasing and adding to the effectiveness of the Iraqi forces.

You almost have to view it as a sort of as a balance beam or a teeter totter, as one begins to withdraw. This is graduate-level work, it is extremely difficult and merely looking at the facts and figures of enlisted strength, officer strength, material -- my point to you is it is not about that.

And I think Bill is right in that regard. It is about allegiance to the nation, and it is about an army that is willing to fight not just able to fight. And you don't get this by simply looking at status reports and measuring or counting the number of boots on the ground.

And -- and the final thing I will say is that it is not going to happen overnight, I am sadly --

GEN. ODOM: I think --

GEN. MCCAFFREY: Just a second Bill, sadly, because it's taken -- we have been so slow in building infrastructure, we have been so reluctant to make our advice, train, and assist function robust, and we have been -- and the numbers of American troops on the ground have been so few that that will prolong this process and make it far more difficult than perhaps it could have been.

GEN. ODOM: You know, I'll just make a brief follow-up. Tipping points or turning points or when you say the critical moment is here.

Don't just pick out a slice of the war, a war is a series, as Clausewitz said, a series of engagements. The first engagement was when we went in, we won that engagement.

What happened was the tipping point at that point, the offense had the advantage when we went in. It tipped to the defense. Clausewitz has always argued that defense is the strongest form.

We have been on the defense ever since, and if you begin to do the order of battle of what supplies the offense you must not include only all those Iraqis who are willing to kill Americans, but all of the Arabs who are willing to come from other countries there.

If you will look at the resources, you've got to consider all of the billions of petrol dollars we have sent there, which will supply and are supplying and will continue to supply.

Now, when you take 150,000 U.S. forces and a few trainers with a government of people who are not going to end up at running this country when it is over no matter what happens, they are not the winners -- the people in Baghdad right now and the Green Zone are the losers. If you want to see the winners get outside the Green Zone and see who doesn't have security guards.

Those are the people --

SEN. BIDEN: I appreciate this discussion and wish we had more time and I -- your answers have taken me much of my time and I appreciate them. Let me -- as staff pointed out, I should note that full statements that you have submitted will be included in the record, as if you presented them as well.

Now, let me yield now to -- and thank you, let me yield to Chairman Lugar.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. BIDEN: Thank you.

I just -- we're going to be -- get awful lot of volumes written in the next decade about who knew what, when, and who said what, when. And that's all legitimate. The thing that always amazes me is the context in which that vote took place was how to avoid war and not how to go to war.

Everybody now says they all knew we're going to war. That's not what the president personally assured me and the other people. That's not what he had done. He had acted rationally for six months prior in Afghanistan. There was no reason to believe he would be irrational as he turned out to be, in my view, but that debate will never be won today or, that only was --

And I predict here you're going to see our neocon friends, very prominent ones, some of the names have been mentioned. I'll bet you that in the next two years you're going to hear books coming out from some of the most prominent ones saying, you know, if the president had just listened to me, and allowed us to put in a dictator from the first -- from the get go, we would have been okay.

So there's going to be a lot of this. But let me conclude by making -- raising one point not for an answer because I've trespassed on your time much too long, but maybe if you could think about, and if you're inclined to respond in writing, if not, and I -- you all know me well, and I'll pick up the phone and call you and ask you.

One of the things that Senator Webb who has been very forward thinking on this whole area for a long time said, he gave the analogy of Vietnam. And he began going back in 1990. I would respectfully suggest in 1990 we still had credibility in the world. We still had credibility and even creditability in Vietnam.

I would respectfully suggest we have no credibility. We have no credibility in Iraq, we have no -- among the factions, we have no credibility in the region, and we have no credibility with our allies and our antagonists as it relates to Iraq anywhere in the world.

I tell that old bad joke, General Odom, about the guy who -- my baseball coach in college told me. I'm going to change the name. George was a star center fielder. In the first three innings George makes three errors. He never made the error -- he made three errors.

Coach says, calls time out, and says, "George, you're out." And he puts in Barry. And Barry goes in, play resumes, first pitch. Routine fly ball to center field to Barry, hits his glove and he drops it. Coach goes crazy, calls time out, and says, "Barry, you're out." And he's crossing the third baseline; he grabs Barry by the neck and said, "Barry, what in the devil's the matter with you?" And Barry looks at the coach and says, "Coach, George screwed up center field so badly no one can play it."

(Laughter.)

SEN. BIDEN: Well, the truth is George has screwed up center field so badly --

MS. : Every field.

SEN. BIDEN: -- we do not have, in my humble opinion, the credibility to be the catalyst to do the things you're talking about, which leads me to my parting question, not for you to have to answer now, unless you -- if you want to, you can. But I'm not asking you to.

When I put forward the plan -- General McCaffrey referenced two plans actually. I pointed out that this federal system, time worked against accomplishing it. The more time the more water over the dam, the harder it was to establish a rational political way out of Iraq.

And we might have to change our policy as we moved along, because this president squandered, in my view, so many opportunities to keep a bad thing from getting worse. But one of the things I do think is necessary; everyone talks about the need for a regional engagement.

Us engaging within the region, but also by implication the region engaging as it relates to a solution with regard to Iraq. And here's my point.

One of things, I think, we always, vastly in my 34 years, 35 years as a senator, knowing that all Congresses can do is respond to foreign policy -- the blunt instruments in the constitution just add, they are pretty blunt, is that we always underestimate the stake that the observers have in the outcome of our actions.

Case in point, as the French President told me, the previous French President told me the worst mistake you ever made was going to Iraq. The only bigger mistake would be for you to leave, because he has 14 percent of his population that is Arab, and he's worried about it being -- he was worried about it being radicalized.

The Germans know that if this thing goes as badly as it might, they are going to have somewhere between 500 and a million 500 Kurds beating the path to their doorstep if things go really badly.

The Iranians, this I find this ridiculous assertion that the Iranians and Ahmadinejad really means what he says once leaving, we will take care of it. The last thing they want to take care of is an all-out Shi'a war with Arab Shi'a and deciding who to pick. The last thing Syria needs is us to leave and leaving chaos, Saudi Arabia.

But we don't play any of those cards. And so here is what my question is. I have been proposing and I actually went and asked for a meeting with the permanent five of the Security Council.

Now it's -- how long ago? Seven months now. Actually it's last November, I think, the end of last year, and they were kind enough to meet with me for almost two hours, and I asked a question of each of their ambassadors, including our ambassador who was there.

And I said, what would you do if the President of United States came to you and said, I want the permanent five of the Security Council not us, the permanent five, to call a international conference on Iraq where the Security Council members, the permanent five invited each of the stakeholders in the region to the meeting. And ahead of time we were able to work out among the major powers, the broad outlines of a political settlement for Iraq. What would you do?

Without naming the ambassador one ambassador said the first question I'd say is, Mr. President what took you so long, literally. Then I ask each of them, including our own, would you participate? And the answer was absolutely they were certain their governments would.

So my question is if I am correct, and I may not be, that we have virtually no credibility with the players other than they'd be able to threaten to withhold Michele. That's a credible -- a credible tool we have.

But if we have no credibility or little credibility, is this the vehicle by which we begin to deal with our geo-proposal, General Odom, knowing we're going to have to stay in the region, we can't leave the region or whether it's a proposal of any of the rest of you all of whom have said you got to engage the other players.

You can't make it a boss or my staff just was down in Kuwait. We're talking about them being able to have flow through with equipment no more than one brigade every month and a half or so, just to physically get out.

So we're going to need a lot of cooperation. So doesn't it make sense or does it make sense for us to quietly initiate a proposal through the permanent five or maybe others, to call for that regional conference, to begin to set the stakes as to what the nature, the broad nature of this political arrangement is going to have to be in Iraq, because I think a lot of the players in Iraq, and I have been there as much as anybody.

I know most of them personally. I've spoken with virtually -- is there anyone I hadn't spoke with of the major consequence in either -- I actually haven't spoken to Sadr and I haven't spoken to Sistani. I think there are the only two.

And my impression just as a plain old politician is they are each looking for somebody to say, "The devil made me do it." I didn't want to make this compromise. I didn't want to have to do this. But we have no choice. So I would just raise it to you again, I'm asking -- I'll ask you not to answer it now.

But to think about whether or not there is any utility not in the sort of -- goo-goo good government feel-good internationalist environment that we're going to get the international community involved. But is there a practical benefit by having the major powers first meet and negotiate what the outcome they are looking for, generically?

And then to bring in the regional powers to put pressure on the domestic powers inside Iraq to figure out how we can more easily leave with the least amount of blood, carnage, damage, and whatever.

That's the thing I would like to, maybe be able to pick up the phone and call you all about over the next couple of weeks to see what you think. I truly appreciate it, you've been a brilliant panel, and you've added greatly to our knowledge base.

Thank you very, very much.

We're adjourned until 2:30; we'll have another distinguished panel to discuss the political ramifications as if we didn't discuss it this morning.