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South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint briefs us on his briefing with General David Petraeus earlier today.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

HH: Joined now by United States Senator Jim DeMint of the great state of South Carolina, and who has this very day been briefed by David Petraeus, General of the Army at work there in Iraq. Senator, welcome, what did you hear from General Petraeus?

JD: Hey, Hugh, it’s good to be back with you.

HH: Thank you.

JD: It’s…well, the briefing was good, it was complete. There are some things that we’re not supposed to talk about, but those will probably be on the news tonight, just when you’re dealing with Congressmen and Senators. But this was a briefing for Senators only, and really, what I came away with is that the General and his troops will be able to significantly improve the security in Baghdad. They’re moving that way, they’re putting some barricades around markets so it’s harder for the car bombers to get into the markets and kill lots of people. A lot of the sectarian violence has subsided, most of the explosions now are just al Qaeda trying to keep disrupting the process, and keep the Democrats talking about withdrawal. I’m convinced in my own mind that if the Congress was speaking in one voice that we were going to stay until we’re finished, a lot of this violence would already be subsiding, because there’s no reason for them to fight if they know we’re going to stay, because they know we can eventually get them. But the security is one issue, and what Petraeus and the other experts are telling us now is that we can increase security, but unless the Iraqis come together and agree on how their government should work, and how they divide the oil revenues, and how the different provinces are going to be run, unless they do that, then we’re not going to be able to leave Iraq a stable democracy. And so the whole idea of our military surge at this point is to give the Iraqis some time and space to come together, make the agreements they need, so that they can move ahead. So the big concern now is not that we can create security, although it’s not going to be perfect. Al Qaeda’s there, they’re going to be able to pull off explosions periodically, but we’ll be able to give the people in Baghdad a much better sense that they can go out and shop and work with reasonable chances of being safe. But unless the government comes together in the next three to four months, and decides how this oil revenue’s going to be divided, I’m afraid our chances of success are going to be greatly reduced.

HH: Now Senator DeMint, I also want to ask about if General Petraeus touched upon the Iraqi army, and particularly, the Iraqi special forces. I’ve been reading a lot about them from these returned journalists. Three of them were there this week, Kagan, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Max Boot, and they had high praise for many elements in the Iraqi army. Did the General touch on that?

JD: Oh, yes he did. And I think what we’ve got now is that the American troops, along with Iraqis, are actually moving into different sections of Baghdad, and they’re getting better intelligence, because they’re living there, the people are feeling more secure knowing they’re not going to leave, and the key there is the Iraqi troops. Their special forces have helped us knock off some key al Qaeda operatives, so they are getting better and better. And I think what Petraeus and others have been telling us is that you know, we keep training, we keep upgrading. If we show the Iraqis that we can win, and that we’re going to stand with them, they’ll fight, and they’ll fight well in many cases. It’s a long way from being perfect, and we can’t expect perfection. But the reports we’re getting now from Petraeus is the Iraqis are keeping their commitment militarily, they’re standing up behind us, they’re taking more casualties than we are, but they’re staying with us. And the key now is can this government, can the Sunnis and the Shias come together and make the basic agreements they need to live together in some way. Otherwise, the whole situation will deteriorate, and the military can’t sustain security if the government is not operative.

HH: I am talking with United States Senator Jim DeMint, who has just come from a briefing with David Petraeus, General in charge of our efforts in Iraq. Senator DeMint, how many Senators attended today? And what was the breakdown, Republican/Democrat?

JD: It was most of the Senators. I imagine a few missed, but it was just about all of the Democrats and Republicans. I didn’t count, but the room was full, and that generally means we’re pretty much all there. So I know a few missed, because a few were in Baghdad last week, and felt like they had already gotten a briefing. So I don’t think we had any boycotts on the Senate side, because Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell kind of led the discussion, or the question and answers. So we all heard the same thing, and I think we heard that we think militarily, we’re making progress, but at right now, the government is not active enough in pulling together kind of a political solution.

HH: If you believe what you heard from David Petraeus, I’m sure you do, can you hold the opinion that Harry Reid announced earlier this week, that the war is lost?

JD: No, I could never hold that opinion, because the war is not lost as long as we intend to stay there until we win. The question is, are we going to pull out in the short term? If they’re talking about the next 90 days, I mean, there’s no way we can succeed. There’s no way we can call it success if we leave the country in chaos, and leave America as disgraced, and really, our word will never mean anything again. We might as well come home and forget foreign policy, unless we come away from Iraq with a reasonable success.

HH: Now Senator DeMint, the one Democrat who gets this is Joe Lieberman. Was he at the briefing today?

JD: He was, and he got up, asked some good questions, and he is very tuned into this, and very supportive of Petraeus’ effort, and no one there was trying to sugarcoat the situation and be overly optimistic, because we know that we’ve got a tough fight ahead of us. But we know the more we stick behind our troops as a country, the harder it is for al Qaeda to recruit and stay in the fight, because we’re killing a lot more of them than they are of us.

HH: I’ve written a new column for on Joe Lieberman’s unique role right now, because he could stop this nonsense if he did a Jeffords, and I think he knows the war seriously enough that it’s got to be weighing on him, Senator DeMint, when he sees his party acting so irresponsibly.

JD: Well, I know it does. I mean, Joe is one of the most thoughtful people in the Senate, but he’s also, I think, very loyal, and he…I think he’s always been a Democrat. But the fact is, he was elected as an independent, so his constituents know that he is not necessarily wedded to the Democratic Party when they are against him on his issues of conscience. And I think you’re right. I mean, his conscience tells him he’s going the right direction, and the Democrats are going in the wrong direction. And the more outspoken Harry Reid gets with crazy things like telling the enemy we’ve lost…I mean, can you imagine a leader in this country during the Revolutionary War say that when it looked our hopes were dim, getting up and saying we’ve lost?

HH: No…actually, I can’t. It’s extraordinary. I think he is feeling a gale of criticism, and he went a bridge too far. But let me ask you, even if he’s apologizing and injured politically, when do the troops get the money they need, because they have not got that Supplemental even to the President’s desk where it’ll get vetoed yet.

JD: No, no, we’ll probably get that to him at the end of the week so he could veto it. And then we’ve got to start all over again and try to get the money to him without all the strings attached, and all the pork. But it’s a very risky political game the Democrats are playing. I just hope the American people will catch on, and turn on them, because they certainly don’t deserve support in this.

HH: Now Senator DeMint, I’ve got about a minute and a half. I do want to do some politics with you. I’m in Colorado on a book tour for A Mormon In The White House? You’re a big backer of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, as is Wayne Allard, your Senator colleague from Colorado. How do you think the campaign is going?

JD: Well, I spent Saturday with Mitt Romney in South Carolina. We went to three of the largest Republican county conventions, and Greenville County, which is my hometown, and it’s the big percent of the Republican vote in South Carolina, Mitt won the straw poll handily in Greenville, and in Columbia, the two largest markets. And McCain was close to the very bottom, so he seems to be really sliding. So if people had any questions whether or not Romney can win, they need to look at the people who get in front of him, and decide that he’s the guy who looks like the President, and has the vision to lead. So I think it’s going really well, and the way he’s organized his campaign to raise money all over the country. And folks need to realize that money didn’t just come from Utah. He raised more money in South Carolina than McCain or Giuliani, too.

HH: He raised a lot of money in my state of California.

JD: Yeah.

HH: And I was doing a poll in Colorado last night, and the room of very active Republicans was equally divided between Romney, Giuliani and Fred Thompson, but one sole hand up for John McCain. I think that campaign’s over, Senator DeMint.

JD: Well, it sure looks like it to me, but you never know here. But I think one thing. We’ve found a winner in Mitt Romney, and he can lead, but you can also sit next to him and look him in the eye, and feel like you’re talking to a real person. And he’s a genuine article, so I’m very proud of my choice, and I’m going to continue to fight for him, because I think he’d make a great president.

HH: Jim DeMint of South Carolina, thank you, Senator. Always a pleasure.

End of interview.

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