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Thomas E. Ricks, Pt. 2

Sunday, March 1, 2009

HH: If you missed yesterday’s show, you missed just an incredible interview, the first part of a two-hour interview with Thomas E. Ricks, author of The Gamble, best-selling New York Times book shooting up the charts, General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure In Iraq, 2006-2008. But I taped a second hour, because I wanted to make sure we gave enough time to at least teasing you into reading this. It’s comprehensive, it’s got some controversial elements in it, of course I don’t agree with everything, but it’s such a well-reported book, I want people at least to have a good grounding in what has happened. Let’s start, Thomas Ricks, and welcome back, with this line from Page 123, “Bush turned the fate of his presidency to Petraeus and Odierno. Over the next six months, he would mention Petraeus in speech and press conference at least 150 times, but he was at ease with the move.” Now I’ve had a couple of Oval Office conversations with President Bush about the war, and in each of those, Lincoln figured heavily. And I think he’s just trying to find the right general. Is that…once you put the general in, leave him to do? Is that what he did with Petraeus?

TR: I think he did. He found a commander, kind of an odd duck, in many ways, his client was, but someone who seemed to figure out the nature of this war. And Clausewitz says that is the key task, in fact the sole task of the senior commander, to understand the nature of the fight you’ve gotten your fight into. And Petraeus seemed to grasp it. And the Lincoln analogy is interesting, because Bush developed a closer personal relationship just in talking constantly with Petraeus than any American president has had with a battlefield commander since the Civil War when Lincoln would hop on a steamboat and go down to visit Grant and Sherman at City Point, Virginia.

HH: Do you think that Obama being an intellectual himself will have the same ability to forge that kind of relationship with David Petraeus now at CentCom commanding the new war in Afghanistan?

TR: You know, I think they might have irreconcilable similarities.

HH: (laughing) That’s great.

TR: They’re similar guys. They’re tough, smart, ambitious, athletic, and a little bit more remote and cerebral than a lot of their peers in their fields. And they’re both very successful men. That’s why it surprised me when Obama went out to Iraq last summer, and Petraeus essentially lectured him for 90 minutes. This is not typically what a general does with a visiting presidential candidate.

HH: Right.

TR: But Petraeus felt that Obama had kind of run roughshod over him in the hearings, the two sets of Congressional hearings on Iraq, that he hadn’t given Petraeus time to talk, hadn’t heard him out, and so Petraeus’ attitude was okay, you’re on my turf, I’m going to tell you what the facts of the case are. And I think he might have rocked Obama on his heels a little bit.

HH: A little out of order here, you revealed to me for the first time that David Petraeus was a Republican at some point in his life. Do you sense in him any political ambition after this storied career in the military uniform concludes?

TR: You know, the left hates me when I talk about this, because they always suspect he does, partly because of that relationship with Bush. I don’t think he does. I don’t think…he likes talking to politicians, I don’t think he wants to be one. I think he actually was very put off by the two rounds of hearings. In fact, he kind of quoted approvingly what Ambassador Crocker said after the first round of hearings when he turned to Petraeus and said between gritted teeth, I am never doing this again.

HH: Page 129, David Petraeus talking, “there are three enormous tasks that strategic leaders have to get right. The first is get the big ideas right, the second is to communicate the big ideas through the organization, the third is to ensure the proper execution of the big ideas.” In other words, you stay away from the details. Does he ever get down into the details? Or does he leave that for chain of command?

TR: Well, you make sure that the big ideas are being translated into the details at the tactical level. This is actually something that I really get my hats off to both Petraeus and Odierno, is I’ll be interviewing a brigade or battalion commander, and they would mention oh yeah, General Odierno or General Petraeus was down here the other day asking me about that. These guys got down, partly because I think they thought their division commanders really didn’t get it. And Petraeus and Odierno were ramming down the military’s throat a whole new approach to the war. And this is, I think, Petraeus’ great achievement. In 2007, for the first time, the whole U.S. military in Iraq was on the same page. Back in ’03, ’04, ’05, you’d go to Iraq, and different divisions, even different brigades would be fighting different wars with different rules of engagement, different ways of dealing with Iraqis. And for the first time, the war seemed, everybody seemed to get it, like platoon leaders would talk about counterinsurgency. I saw a private once sitting at L.Z. Washington, a helicopter landing spot in Baghdad, reading Galula. And this was very different, to have everybody operating the same way. I think also, they had the advantage of a generational shift. When Petraeus and Odierno took over, for the first time in Iraq, everybody running this war had fought in it. Previously, Casey, his predecessor, Sanchez, and his predecessor, Franks, none of them had actually fought on the ground in Iraq. Petraeus and Odierno had both commanded divisions, the guys around them had commanded battalions and brigades. They knew what the streets smelled like. They knew what night patrol felt like when you do it day after day after day out there.

HH: I got an e-mail yesterday from an Army captain in Afghanistan who is light army, talking about some of the interviews I’ve been doing with Barnett and Barnett’s theories about light army. You also talk about not just generational transition, but when Petraeus arrived, it was light army taking over from heavy army, although I gather Odierno’s heavy army.

TR: Odierno is as heavy army as they come. He just looks like a big old artillery guy.

HH: Explain to people what that means in terms of the culture of the United States Army.

TR: It’s very different. It was brought home to me once when I was sitting around with some tankers, and we were talking about MRE’s. And they said something about how they had loved the spaghetti and meatballs MRE, and it was the military rations from the front lines. And I said I just can’t eating them cold. And they all went ooh, you eat MRE’s cold? Tankers live a different life. When they wanted to warm up their food, they turned on the tank and the jet engine in the back of the M-1 was essentially a 70 ton microwave. They would take nice warm showers. They’d hang a bag of water off the tank barrel, the barrel of the gun, and everybody got a shower every day. I’ve been in with infantry for weeks in Somalia, and didn’t get so much as a face cleaning. The heavy guys, which is tanks and artillery and mechanized infantry, have a different approach. It’s bigger, more ponderous, somewhat less agile. Petraeus represented a light force, which had had a different experience. They were not focused during the Cold War on fighting in Europe. They tended to get a lot of the window washing jobs, they called it – Sanai peacekeeping, invading Panama, go do Haiti, go do Hurricane Andrew, go to Somalia. And I think they had learned a bit more about operating in the third world than the heavy, Europe-centered Army had over the last twenty years.

HH: We are in an information war, you quote Petraeus as telling his generals shortly after arrival in Baghdad. 60% of this thing is information. Don’t worry about getting out there much. I will tell you if you are. Now as I said in our interview yesterday, that just is hard to get the military to do, and I’ve been chasing General Maddis for a long time, and others down there. I’m hoping to get Petraeus back. Do you think that that’s a lasting change, because there’s not much to win in doing an interview for a senior officer, there’s a lot to lose.

TR: Yeah, all they can see is the downside. And Petraeus said hey, fellows, you’ve got to get out there. You’ve got to tell your side of the story. You can’t go hiding. And he also recognized that while the surge was about a lot of fighting, and I want to talk about that, it also was about talking. And in many ways, more about talking. But the ideal thing you could do with your enemy is talk. This was really brought home to me in one of my favorite parts of the book. It’s called the insurgent who loved Titanic.

HH: Yes, the captain, yeah.

TR: It was a captain named Sam Cook.

HH: Yup.

TR: Oddly enough, his father was a profession of religion in Rhode Island.

HH: He was born in Belfast, right?

TR: Yeah, raised in Belfast, but winds up in the U.S. Army, good commander in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, well-trained by H.R. McMaster, and Cook in this little town finds out that there’s a local insurgent who boasts truthfully of having planted 200 bombs against the Americans since he was radicalized by the Abu Ghraib scandal. Now two or three years ago, a smart, tough, young Army captain hearing about a local insurgent planting 200 bombs would promptly locate this guy, get his troops together, and launch a raid and either kill or capture the guy and be patted on the back for a job well done. Cook did something almost un-American. He invited the insurgent over for tea. And the guy was kind of puzzled, intrigued, shows up and says I’m here. Why aren’t you arresting me if you know where I am? And Cook said well, you’re my guest. And under the rules of hospitality, I will not arrest you. You are free to go at any time. But I’d like to talk to you. And they begin a series of conversations. And they’re also very aware of each other. And Cook points out, look, if I see you on the street tomorrow, I might shoot you. But while you’re here, you’re my guest. And he also finds out later that the insurgent has been circulating a photograph of him in case he wants to have him killed. But they continue to talk once a week, and one day the insurgent says to Cook, I hate America, everything about America, it is the Devil, nothing good can come of it. And Cook, who’s been around Iraq a while and knows that the movie Titanic is a big favorite in Iraq, and in fact the favorite ringtone for Iraqi cell phones is the theme from Titanic. He says but you like the movie Titanic, didn’t you? And the insurgent says oh yes, absolutely. I’ve watched it seven times.

HH: Cries.

TR: I cry every time when Leonardo Dicaprio slips into the water at the end. And there’s a sort of momentary understanding that hey, there is some commonality here. We’re never going to be buddies here, but let’s talk. And they continue to talk for several more weeks, and finally the guy says look, I’m going to bring myself in, I’ll bring my network in, and we’ll have a reconciliation ceremony. Now as a matter of pride, I can’t surrender to you, and he did surrender to Iraqis. But after that, put me on the payroll, and I’ll tell you some things.

HH: An amazing story. There are others, lots of them in Thomas Ricks’ new book, The Gamble.

– – – –

HH: Thomas Ricks, you mention, and I want to make sure people understand, there is a lot of compelling war reporting here, a lot of close up fighting, a lot of recognition of the thousands of Americans who did not come back, specifics on what the surge cost, 1,124 soldiers killed in the surge, 7,710 wounded, 24,000 Iraqis killed. So it’s not a political book, it’s a book about war. But it’s hard to summarize that. We can do that by talking about some of the characters. And so let’s go back to another character. He just got done talking about Captain Samuel Cook. Brigadier General John Allen is the man who loved Gertrude Bell, and there’s a line in here about Allen saying remember, there’s a thousand years in this operating system which was a takeaway for me. That’s a pretty important thing for anyone operating there or in Afghanistan to know.

TR: Allen’s an unusual guy, and I just wanted to finish a thought on Cook. When the insurgent came in, he said hey, by the way, the reason you never caught me is every time you came to my neighborhood, the Iraqi police at the checkpoint called me.

HH: Wow.

TR: So you might want to take away their cell phones. He also says, by the way, that Iraqi major, you know, he’s the guy who gave us the sniper rifle you found.

HH: Yeah.

TR: And again and again, that type of conversation took place in Iraq over the last couple of years. John Allen, the interesting Marine general, very unusual sort of guy, told me one day that if he hadn’t become a Marine general, he probably would have become an archaeologist. And he actually fought a totally unseen war. He fought a war outside Iraq in the hotel lobbies of the Gulf states of Jordan. What he would do was go meet with people with connections with the insurgency, sheiks who were running parts of the war from outside the country. And he’d sit down and talk to them. And there was a lot of this talking going on. And he would talk guys into coming back into the country and starting to work with the American effort. So he’s say one day you’d have a meeting in the lobby of a hotel in Jordan, the next day after one phone call was made, three hundred members of that sheik’s tribe would sign up in the local police force.

HH: Wow. Now let’s go back to the Petraeus headquarters operation, and to something called the brain trust. This is also a very unusual aspect of the book. I knew about it, I knew about Meese because I worked for the old AG, but I didn’t know that Col. Meese had many, many other sort of brains running around Baghdad with David Petraeus.

TR: I think this was the most elite club in the world, which is Army officers who had commanded in combat in Iraq, brigades and battalions, but also had PhD’s from elite universities – H.R. McMaster, military history from the University of North Carolina, as you mention, Mike Meese, PhD in Princeton, economics, other people, PhD in economics from MIT, or PhD’s from Stanford. They were smart like Petraeus, warrior intellectuals. I think the experience of the civilian university had made them able to look at situations differently than most Army officers. They were kind of aware of the bigger world out there. But three of the most interesting advisors they brought in were actually foreigners.

HH: Right.

TR: One is David Kilcullen, the king of counterinsurgency, kind of the Crocodile Dundee of counterinsurgency. He’s an Australian who was in infantry officer who became an anthropologist, an expert in the nature of violence in Iraq. He observed, for example, that violence against Shiites, the Sunni violence against Shiites, took place in Shiite public places during the daytime, bombing attacks on marketplaces and mosques, while violence against Sunnis took place at night when they slept. So he said your responses need to be different. Put up checkpoints outside mosques and marketplaces, and if a bomb goes off and kills two soldiers at a checkpoint rather than 70 civilians in the market, consider that a victory.

HH: Now you also, though, you indicate that there is some dispute as to his centrality to the effort, that there’s maybe a little murmuring against him, but not so much against Saadi Othman or Emma Sky.

TR: No, that’s because Kilcullen’s a pretty high profile guy, and he is so damned quotable that reporters like him.

HH: Okay.

TR: He’s profane, he’s funny, he’s witty, and he would say things that American officers couldn’t say. He turned to me one day in the Green Zone and I asked him what he was doing that day, and he said look, just because you invade a country stupidly doesn’t mean you should leave it stupidly.

HH: And now Saadi Othman and Emma Sky.

TR: Saadi, interesting character, Brazilian born, Palestinian-American, raised in Jordan, six foot-seven inches tall…

HH: Wow.

TR: The first person ever to dunk a basketball in Jordanian University competition. On 9/11, he’s a taxi driver in New York City, and he tells me he’s outraged as a New Yorker, as an American, and as a Arab, and decides to do something about it, winds up in Iraq working as an interpreter. One day he meets this little guy coming out of the latrine in Mosul just wearing a brown T-shirt and running shorts. And they begin to talk. They had an interesting conversation, and got in an argument about Iraq for about an hour at the end of which the guy says well, I want you to come work for me. Well, Othman doesn’t know who the little guy is, and says well, who are you? And he said oh, I’m Dave Petraeus, I command this division. And they become close, and in the last couple of years, Saadi Othman became Petraeus’ ambassador to the Iraqi government. Interestingly, Othman was educated in the United States by Mennonites, and is something of a pacifist, as was the third advisor they brought in, another foreigner, and perhaps the most extraordinary of all, this tiny bird-like woman. Her name is Emma Sky, British, anti-American, anti-military, pacifist, winds up as Odierno’s political advisor, although Petraeus at one point referred to her as Odierno’s insurgent.

HH: (laughing)

TR: Odierno told me later I will never go to war again without somebody like Emma Sky sitting at my side.

HH: And expand on her role. It’s fascinating. Tell people what she was doing.

TR: She was out talking to Iraqis constantly, she was working with Iraqi politicians. She had a deep distrust of the entire military briefing system. She would not, as a matter of principle, believe anything said to her in briefings, but would go out and talk to Iraqis and check it out. So she said when she came back from leave in the summer of ’07, and the briefers said you know, we’re actually turning the corner out here, violence is going down, she said well, I don’t believe it. I don’t think violence can end violence. She went out and talked to Iraqis and came back and said my God, this is working.

HH: Now to the symbol of what happened next, the Mesopotamian stampede based on Frederick Remington’s 1908 painting, The Stampede, how does that become a symbol for what happens?

TR: That was David Petraeus’ personal metaphor for the chaos that he was among. Don’t let the chaos freak you out, let’s just make sure the stampede’s moving in the right direction. Affect it as you can, understand there’s going to be lightning bolts coming in at you. Understand that we could fall off the horse at any minute and be turned into mush by thousands of hooves. But take some risk out here. It’s interesting, because when I mentioned this to Ambassador Crocker, he said oh, that’s not my self-image at all. My self-image is of two convicts chained together on the lam, which actually was a reference to that old Sydney Poitier-Tony Curtis movie whose name escapes me at the moment.

HH: Last question before the break, Ryan Crocker, Raymond Odierno, political careers for them after this war?

TR: Crocker told me he was going to disappear into the desert of Eastern Washington, but I think he’s going to end up probably writing something. I don’t see a political career. Odierno, I think, wants to be like Petraeus, a great captain, a great warrior, perhaps chief of the Army and then chairman of the joint chiefs.

HH: But not elected?

TR: No, in fact I asked Petraeus about politics one day, and he kind of almost winced. What he said is what he would really like to do is be dean of the Woodrow Wilson of International Relations at Princeton.

– – – –

HH: Let’s go to a question that David Petraeus asks a number of times, how does this end, and then April 20, 2007 memo from Major General Fastabend, how this all ends, it’s an important memo that has in it two lines I wrote down. It’s fourth and long – go deep, and if this is the decisive struggle of our time, be decisive. Explain the centrality of that memo, and of Major General Fastabend in the strategy of General Petraeus.

TR: Fastabend is a smart, profane general who the first time I sat down with him in Baghdad, began by saying you need to understand, we’ve done a lot of dumb shit out here.

HH: Oh, you can’t say that, okay.

TR: Well, you can bleep it.

HH: Okay, we’ll cut it out, go ahead.

TR: You know, this is how soldiers talk.

HH: I know, but this is how the FCC doesn’t like them to talk, but go ahead.

TR: Well, they should grow up.

HH: I agree, but you don’t pay the fine, but go ahead.

TR: (laughing) And really was saying let’s stop mucking around out here. You’re not going to make big gains without taking big risk. And actually I think Petraeus took it to heart. He goes out and he goes to the Sunni insurgents, who have been the key in this battle for years, the people fighting us, killed thousands of Americans, and he says hey fellows, what is it going to take to have you stop fighting me? How about if I pay you? They don’t surrender. They don’t even really have a ceasefire. They come over to help us out on their conditions. They remain armed, and he pays them $30 million dollars a month.

HH: Yup.

TR: This is a stunning change in how the Americans fight wars. I say to him one day, in my last interview with him, General Petraeus, one thing I don’t understand here is how did you sell the President on that deal? How did you say to President Bush, look, President Bush, I want to actually pay the Sunni insurgents to stop fighting us. And he says, well, I didn’t ask. I said wait a second, this is one of the biggest policy moves in this war, and you don’t mention it to the President and you’re talking to him once a week? He said no, it was within my existing authorities.

HH: Well…

TR: Well, that’s quite audacious of him. I think it’s the edge of perhaps what a general should be doing without checking it out with his President, but it worked.

HH: And he was talking to Bush…in fact, your discussion of the weekly telecoms with Bush is fascinating, especially the preparation cycle. But so, too, how the soldiers reacted to Bush who were not in the conversation, but were on the sidelines. Explain that to people.

TR: Yeah, they were watching him in these weekly meetings, and they actually, these were guys who had been pretty skeptical of Bush by this point, who had thought the war had really been poorly handled. As I said, there were a lot of the dissidents in the military involved in this. They came away pretty impressed with Bush, and I want to say, because you know, I’ve taken my pops at Bush through the years, I think that the surge was his finest moment. What he did between the election of November, ’06, and announcing the surge on January 10th, 2007, I think he finally rose to the occasion. In fact, in the book, I compare him to FDR giving one of the fireside chats early in World War II.

HH: The library speech.

TR: Yeah, the difference of course is that FDR got to this point three months into World War II. It took George Bush four and a half years to get up and say you know, this isn’t working, we’re getting our butts kicked, we’re going to do something different here.

HH: Now talk to me, again, I’m not debating Tom Ricks today, people want me to debate him. I’m drawing out his story. Talk a little bit, though, about the transition, the Army, the military had to make from a speed kills Army to strategic patience, because that’s one of the reasons the President isn’t going to get the advice you’d hoped he’d gotten, because it was a speed kills Army.

TR: It’s extraordinarily difficult to start fighting a war differently, especially if everything you’ve been taught all your life is one way, not the other way. And this was an Army that believed in quick dominance, a blitzkrieg warfare, coming quickly with tanks and airplanes, overwhelm the enemy, and pronounce the war over. The problem was when we buzzed into Baghdad in the spring of ’03 and pronounced the war over, that’s when the real war began when we thought it was over. And to fight this type of war required a really different skill set. You mentioned tactical patience. Patience is a really unappreciated virtue generally in American society, but especially in the military. This is one of David Kilcullen’s observations, that in this type of warfare, sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.

– – – –

HH: I’ve got to cover a lot of ground here in our last two segments, Thomas Ricks. You quote Lt. Col. Steven Mark. “First, people weren’t working with us, then they would work with us covertly, and now most people work with us openly.” But never al Qaeda. Al Qaeda was different from the Sunni insurgents who turned and went on the payroll. Who was al Qaeda? Who are they in that country?
TR: Al Qaeda was not there before we invaded. They were a lot of Iraqis and also foreigners, surprisingly a lot of them from Northern Africa, the Magreb, who came to Iraq to make big jidad. And these were people who were more or less determined to die fighting the Americans. These are not people you can pay off, they are not particularly reconcilable. And I think this is one of Petraeus’ most common sensical but also brilliant approaches, which is let’s obey the law of conservation of enemies. Don’t make any more enemies than we need to have. Figure out if we can pay off some guys just out fighting. And figure out if you pave a road for a guy, will he lay down his weapons. But he also recognized that there were some people who as General Maddis likes to say, just needed killing. And that was al Qaeda. And they went after them very hard and strong, and very effectively, partly because of an unheralded woman, a Lt. Col. in intelligence who figured out how to do a lot of good signals interception, and then get the information very quickly to the brigade level where it could be used.

HH: This is outside the scope of the book, but I’ve got to ask you while I’ve got you. Are these lessons going to be applicable in the terrain of Afghanistan and the Pakistan frontier?

TR: The recipe book won’t be. You can’t go in and say do steps 1 through 10, but I think the attitude is, and I think you’re already seeing Petraeus apply it in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is let’s bring an attitude that we don’t have all the answers, that the American way is not the only way to do things, that we’re willing to show a little humility and listen and finds ways of disaggregating the enemy.

HH: Now you talked a lot in this book, and detailed the Army, 2006 versus 2007, FOB, forward operating base-centric versus joint security stations. Do you expect the same push out into the countryside in Afghanistan?

TR: Very much. I think what you’ll see is a sense that we need to get troops out among the people for two things. First, to protect them from Taliban, second to protect them from our allies, the Afghan police and army. The Afghan police have been a real problem. I was told the other day that when you drive from the Pakistani border to Kandahar, which is only about 120 miles, there are five checkpoints at which Afghan police shake you down.

HH: Wow.

TR: Now if you get troops out there, you can stop that from happening a lot.

HH: One of the things that General Petraeus was reluctant to discuss is the Petraeus-Fallon feud, the Fox Fallon feud. I don’t think we have time to cover it, but was part of that just the Navy doesn’t, is not involved in this war except maybe in their air components in the way that the Army and the Marine Corps have been fighting it?

TR: I think so. The Army, you know, everybody in the Army and Marine Corps is basically, anybody who is a combat soldier has spent time out there. I mean, this is a very seasoned, savvy force. And I think also, Fallon was part of the problem you see in the Pentagon a lot still, which is pursuing peacetime processes and protocol, you know, you have to be polite to me because I’m officially your commanding officer. Well, sometimes the best thing to do with your commanding officer in combat is say you know, sir, you’re full of it and here’s why.

HH: And in terms of the hearings, very vivid recounting here, and pretty much a searing moment. Can the Democratic Party get back the trust that they need to have in the Pentagon after that display of sort of contempt for what was going on?

TR: I think so by providing adult leadership. I think actually the move to keep on Gates really helped with a lot of people in the military, which was to say Obama’s not a radical, he’s keeping this former CIA chief, Republican secretary of defense because he’s been very effective. One thing I want to talk about, though, is how this all ends.

HH: Yeah, let’s do that, because I also want to get the Basra gamble, or I’ll just tell people, if you want to know what happened in Basra with Maliki, it’s all in the book. Let’s talk about how it all ends.

TR: It doesn’t end, and I think this is the biggest problem that Obama’s going to have as he talks about Iraq. Obama’s going to be changed more by Iraq than he changes it. What do I mean by that? It’s what I was talking about yesterday, in that this over-optimistic approach, I can get out of Iraq quickly. No, you can’t. You’re stuck. Now I don’t think it’s Obama’s fault. I think that George Bush made a horrendous mistake in invading Iraq. The question is, how do you fix this? And my response is, and it kind of agrees with Petraeus, there is no good answer. The question is what’s the least bad answer. I think staying in Iraq is immoral. I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral.

HH: Have you read Barnett’s new Great Powers book?

TR: No, I’m not as big a fan of his work as you are.

HH: I know, I gathered from the book. You didn’t like the Esquire article, either, that became very, very famous. But I am, and of course the counterargument there is that we will not know whether you are right about what Bush did for at least ten years, and you could be, and I think you’ll probably admit this, you could be very, very wrong about that.

TR: Oh, absolutely. I totally believe in Cromwell’s admonition – Gentlemen, I beseech you to the bowels of Christ, think you may be wrong. It’s something I try to keep in mind every day as I report. But I’ll tell you, I actually think history is going to judge George Bush more harshly than we do right now.

HH: And that’s where we really disagree. But let’s go and talk about sitting on the ruins of Rome, and what you’re thinking about when you’re doing that. Are you done reporting from wars?

TR: My wife has asked me to stay out of war zones. I essentially, since 9/11, have been out and about, and this is something I understand from talking to military people as well. Being in Iraq is much easier than having a spouse in Iraq. I really feel for the deployed, for the families of deployed soldiers, for the kids of deployed soldiers. I do expect to write another Iraq book, but only when it’s over, which means I don’t expect to start writing it for another ten to fifteen years.

HH: Let me ask you, and think about this, we’ve got a minute here, Michael Yon and John Burns have been on this program a lot. They’re not in this book. Why?

TR: They’re reporters. Why should they be?

HH: Because they’ve written stuff on it, stuff I thought would help inform.

TR: Oh, lots of people have. I like Michael Yon’s stuff. I like John Burns’ stuff. I think they’ve got good perspectives on it, but there’s lots of good reporters out there who don’t show up by name in the book.

HH: All right, I’m just curious about that, because it seemed to me all the stuff is in here, and the guys I keep missing…well actually, Michael Ware’s in the book. He’s been on this program before, fairly contentious interviews.

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