Counselor to the President, Ed Gillespie, on the surge, threat level approaching 9/11, and the maneuvering of Senator Larry Craig.
HH: Pleased to welcome now to the Hugh Hewitt Show Ed Gillespie, Counselor to the President. Mr. Gillespie, welcome, good to have you on.
EG: Hugh, it’s great to be back. Thanks for having me.
HH: Well now, it’s been about three months since you joined the White House staff. Are you going to stick around for the duration, Ed? Or are you going to go out the door before the President’s term is done?
EG: Well, if I have my way, I’m going to stay through the duration, but I serve at the pleasure of the President. But when I came on board three months ago, it was with the intention and the commitment to stay through the end of the President’s term.
HH: That’s excellent. Now tell us what you saw when you made the trip to Iraq with the President. Then, he went on to Australia, you came home.
EG: Well, the most remarkable thing I saw was our troops, and they are inspirational, and I can’t tell you how proud we all should be of them, and how proud they are to be serving there, and their commitment and their expertise. And it was very moving. And when the President came in, and the roof came off, and they heard his remarks, it was a special time. Of everything I’ve done here, Hugh, obviously that was the most special moment for me to see that kind of bond between the Commander-In-Chief and the troops.
HH: Do the troops believe that they are being effective, Ed Gillespie?
EG: Oh, yeah, and they are. The fact is that they are on the offense over there, routing al Qaeda and other terrorist enemies, and that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing the progress that we’re seeing in Iraq today. The surge is working. And these brave men and women are out there every day making sure, that as the President said in his remarks, we’re keeping our enemies on their heels over there so that we’re not hearing their footsteps here in America. And he thanked them for making us safer as a country, and told them that their fellow countrymen appreciate their service, and the their Commander-In-Chief certainly does.
HH: Let me play for you a quote from Senator Chuck Schumer earlier today, the New York Senator saying this about the surge:
CS: The violence in Anbar has gone down despite the surge, not because of the surge. The inability of American soldiers to protect these tribes from al Qaeda said to these tribes we have to fight al Qaeda ourselves.
HH: Your reaction, Ed Gillespie?
EG: Well, you know, if you talk to…we met with not only the troops, but the tribal leaders in the Anbar Province, the Sunni sheiks, and they were clear that they, many of these people had been, or the people that they lead had been fighting side by side with al Qaeda against American and multi-national forces, are now fighting side by side with American and multi-national forces against al Qaeda. And it is a remarkable turnaround. The surge is very much responsible for the stability, the greater stability in Anbar, but so too is the change of heart of the people there. You know, it’s interesting, the Sunnis in Anbar Province were the first to kind of get a taste of al Qaeda’s dark vision, and they didn’t like it. They rejected it. And so the fact is the surge has made it possible for there to be greater stability in the Anbar Province. And now we’ve got, you know, pretty much every city in Anbar, Hugh, has elected a mayor, and they are opening stores, and life is returning to normal there, and the people that we talked to, the governor of Anbar Province, and the deputy governor there, and the civic leaders, all said that we are committed to making this work, and to bringing about democracy here in Iraq?
HH: Let’s get the second part of the Schumer critique from earlier today, last part of it.
CS: The surge, by the President’s own stated goal, is failing. The central government is weaker. The fundamentals on the ground continue to deteriorate. There continues to be no loyalty to a central government in Iraq, and no loyalty to Maliki, who seems to almost revel in his incompetence. The bottom line is very simple. We are worse off, not better off, not even the same in Iraq today than we were six months ago.
HH: Now Ed Gillespie, I’d like to go through that piece by piece, but by beginning by asking you, this strikes me as a replay of the Kennedy’s attack on Diem that led to the destabilization of South Vietnam. What are the Democrats doing attacking Maliki? He’s a freely-elected prime minister.
EG: Well, I’m at a loss. You know, this is…Iraq is not a dictatorship any longer, and it is a sovereign nation, and Maliki is the duly elected leader of the government there. And he is trying to be responsive to the demands of the Iraqi people. Things are better, if Senator Schumer would listen to some of his own Democratic colleagues who’ve been over to Iraq and returned, and saw for themselves what’s actually going on the ground there. Or perhaps more importantly, Hugh, if he were just to wait until General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, the two people who know most about this, and who were required to come back and report to Congress by Congress’ own vote, I don’t know how Chuck Schumer voted, but I suspect that he voted for this requirement to have this report by September 15. At least wait to hear what the facts are from the commanders on the ground, and the ambassador there responsible for helping to foster this government taking root. You know, it’s awfully premature to be drawing conclusions when you haven’t even had a chance to get the report from the people who know most about it.
HH: I know you weren’t…you’ve been around D.C. a long time, Ed Gillespie, I know you weren’t there in 1962 when Diem was overthrown through the orchestration of the Kennedy’s, but doesn’t it strike you that we’re going down the same path that led to such a disaster forty five years ago?
EG: Well, I think that we need to be fostering stability in Iraq, and trying to help a freely elected government take root. And I think that what the President said when he was over there is right, which is that you know, after 35 years of brutal dictatorship, you know, it’s hard enough for us, Hugh, as you know, 218 years of democracy, to pass a budget. The Democrats still haven’t, they’ve still not sent a single appropriation bill to the President’s desk in this Congress, and yet they’re critical of Maliki. You know, they’ve passed sixty pieces of legislation over there. Maliki and other national leaders met two weeks ago, they issued a communiqué where they said that they were going to move forward with provincial elections, that they were going to get distribution of oil money out to the provinces, and that they were going to do a number of other steps that would help that government take root. And here are people second guessing them here in the United States. I don’t think it’s in our national security interest, or productive for us to be doing that right now.
HH: A lot of speculation that the President’s destination in Iraq was intended to signal a Sunni tilt, and an alarm bell for the Maliki and the Shia elements in the government. Your reaction, Ed Gillespie?
EG: Well of course, he invited Prime Minister Maliki to join him in Anbar Province, which the Prime Minister did. The reason that he went to Anbar is because Anbar was reported only a year ago, Hugh, as having been lost, and it was cited by those who were opposed to our efforts in Iraq as a reason that we should get out, because we can’t win, and if we’ve lost Anbar, it’s not winnable, and al Qaeda was in control of the province, which is a huge chunk of the country, by the way. Anbar Province makes up a third of Iraq, territorially. It’s where some of the biggest cities are, the cities that a lot of us have heard of here in America, Fallujah and Abu Ghraib and Ramadi and others. And so to go into Anbar and to point out here’s an area that was given up for lost to al Qaeda a year ago, where al Qaeda has been routed, and where the local governments are forming and in these cities we have elected mayors now as a result of the stability that’s been brought by the success of the surge. And so Anbar Province was a good example of the kind of progress that we can make across the country of Iraq, and that the Iraqis can make, and to reinforce the fact that it is very, very winnable there. And not only is it winnable, but we must win it, because this is, while obviously having a free and stable Iraq is important to the Iraqi people, it is important to the American people, and it’s important to remind them of that, and the President did that while he was there.
HH: I’m talking with Ed Gillespie, Counselor to the President, made that lightning trip to Iraq with him, back in D.C. now. Let me ask you, Ed, about the General Petraeus report. Have any specific plans been made for the optics surrounding his presentation of that report? Will he meet in a way that will allow him to deliver unmediated his message of what’s going on there?
EG: Well, that’s up to General Petraeus. He is drafting his own testimony, as is Ambassador Crocker. We’ll wait to hear…the President was briefed on things while he was in Iraq. That was one of the reasons he went was not only to see the troops and to thank them, but to meet with Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus without them having to leave their posts in Iraq. And I think it will be informative. If people will actually listen, I think it will be very informative. But I don’t know what the presentation is likely to be like.
HH: Is the White House making any effort to arrange for him to speak to the press directly and not through the committee structure?
EG: The Department of Defense and Department of State, I think, are reaching out and making them available to media requests, yeah.
HH: And will that be before or after their testimony to the Hill committees?
EG: Well, they testify on Monday and Tuesday, and I suspect they wouldn’t be in the media before they begin testifying. Whether or not they wait until after Tuesday’s testimony is over, or if they’re going to do something Monday night, I don’t know.
HH: All right, we look forward to getting those details. I want to switch to a couple of other subjects while I have you, Ed Gillespie. First of all, you know, we’ve got these arrests in Germany and Denmark over the last two days. To your knowledge, did the U.S. participate in providing intelligence that were helpful to the authorities in either Germany or Denmark?
EG: I don’t have knowledge of that, Hugh. I’m sorry I can’t be helpful there.
HH: All right, it’s a week until the 9/11 anniversary. In the past, that’s been a very sensitive time. Are there discussions on raising the alert level?
EG: That would be up to the Department of Homeland Security. I haven’t seen any indication of that, but that’s not to say that there won’t. Obviously, as you’ve noted, the terrorists that were picked up in Germany apparently were tying, or intending to tie their plans to the anniversary of September 11th.
HH: Last week, Admiral Redd, who’s the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, for the benefit of the audience, retired now, warned that the United States is tracking some very specific concerns that they’ve picked up, didn’t want to elaborate on that. Have you heard of this concern that Admiral Redd has?
EG: I don’t know if I’ve heard about that specific one. I do know that it’s very important that people understand that we are in a war on terror, and it’s not a war of our choosing, and it’s important that we be ever vigilant, that we have the tools necessary to prevail, that this so-called FISA bill, the terrorist surveillance authorization that Congress passed before leaving for the August recess, only goes six months. The terrorists don’t work on a six month cycle. We know that. So we need to get that made permanent, because that is one of the things that allows us to intercept communications between foreign terrorists and preempt their plots. So I do think it’s important for your listeners to understand that while we are safer as a result of the policies that the President has, and Congress have enacted since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, we are not yet safe. And we do need to have the tools necessary to keep us safer. And one of the most important ones we can have in this world of communications in which live, wireless communication and internet has the capacity and the ability, to intercept communications between terrorists.
HH: And to close out this one, is it any sense, though, of a heightened period of danger because it is early September of ’07?
EG: I have not seen DHS increase the level.
HH: And nothing around the halls of the White House?
EG: The threat level…I have not heard anything, but even if I did, I’m not sure I’d be at liberty to say.
HH: All right, do you expect that you will be able to hold onto the sixty votes necessary to renew the FISA renewal that was opposed by Senator Clinton, Senator Obama and 26 other Democrats?
EG: I hope so, because it is very important, if you listen to the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral McConnell, he is clear that without that kind of tool, we are at greater risk of attack. And so I hope that there’s been a huge reaction, adverse reaction, form the ACLU and the MoveOn.org crowd, and these Democratic candidates in the primary are being pulled that way. But I hope there are enough Democrats who aren’t running for president in the Senate who will weigh the importance of this when the reauthorization is required in February.
HH: A couple of final political questions. Do you think Senator Craig should resign?
EG: Well, Senator Craig said he intended to resign, and somewhere here at the White House asked to respond to that announcement said that they believe it was the right decision for himself and his family, and for the people of Idaho, and for the United States Senate, and you know, continue to believe that today.
HH: Have you or anyone on the senior staff been in touch with the Senator or his staff about his next plans?
EG: No, not that I’m aware of. I have not talked to the Senator or his staff, even before he announced his intent to resign.
HH: When that first White House statement came out, had that been cleared with the President?
EG: The statement that was given by his spokesman?
EG: I don’t know that he cleared it. I know I cleared it, and felt like it reflected the point of view of the White House.
HH: And last question, you were pretty thick with Fred Thompson before you…and by the way, thanks for going into the government and doing this during this period of time.
EG: Thank you.
HH: Did he wait too long?
EG: You know, I don’t know. It’s a pretty fluid situation. I am happy to say I am friendly with all of the…there’s not anybody who is seeking our nomination that I don’t know personally, and that I’m not fond of. And so I’ll be for whoever our nominee is. I’m not involved, and Fred is a friend. But I don’t know what the situation is in terms of the early primaries and things. Clearly, his people believe that getting in now is the right time, and that it’s doable. I just have not been paying enough attention to all the filing deadlines and things, Hugh, that I used to.
HH: I understand. If you have to go to Iraq, it kind of gets in the way. Ed Gillespie, Counselor to the President, thanks for spending some time with us today.
EG: Thanks for having me on, Hugh. I really appreciate it.
HH: Thank you.
End of interview.