'Early Show' Cites Iraqi Progress; Host Harry Smith Skeptical

The July 31 edition of "The Early Show," just like the CBS Evening News broadcast, actually ran the news of two left leaning academics citing progress in Iraq. David Martin’s set up story featured co-author Kenneth Pollack explaining Iraqi improvements.

However, just as correspondent Allen Pizzey refused to mention any improvements, and snidely dismissed John McCain’s positive assessment on Iraq, the CBS crew is often skeptical of any positive signs. Though much more subtle, host Harry Smith displayed some disbelief to guest Michael O’Hanlon.

A skeptical Harry Smith inquired, "what is to say the Iraqis are making any progress toward being able to take it over on their own?" Smith proceeded to cite an Oxfam report noting major economic and sanitary problems and claimed that " There's such a disconnect in this country between what the American forces are doing and what's actually happening on the ground."

The transcript of the interview is below.

HARRY SMITH: Michael O'Hanlan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an "Early Show" foreign policy analyst, who was on that trip with Ken Pollack, who was a co-author of the "Times" piece yesterday, joins us this morning. Good morning, Michael.


SMITH: What was your most important take away from this most recent trip?

O’HANLON: I think the sense that the U.S. military has tactics that it really now believes in. The confidence among all the commanders we spoke to at least was quite high. The sense of rolling up a lot of the extremist elements was really there. For the first time, they felt they had enough troops to do the job. And the other piece, the Iraqi units are in many cases partnering well with us. It doesn't mean they're on the road towards self sufficiency. I don't necessarily see an end game to this any time soon, that we can leave and give the whole job to them. But they are really partnering with us in a way they haven't before.

SMITH: Now, it's important-- we need to put this into perspective. You've been-- not been shy about being critical of administration policy there.

O’HANLON: It's true. But I think that both Ken and I have long believed, as General Shinseki did and some others, that you have to do to these sorts of missions with a lot of people. Securing the population is the key way to prevail in a counterinsurgency or counterterrorist operation. For the first time, we have enough troops to try to do that. And so in a sense, the advice many of us that have been trying to offer for years has finally been heeded. Maybe it's too little, too late, but it's the right basic way to prevail in this kind of conflict if we still have a chance.

SMITH: You say the Iraqis that you saw working with Americans seem to be working well. When I was there a year ago, the Americans would pacify an entire city, hand the keys over to the Iraqi security forces, and place would be in utter chaos 24 hours later.


O’HANLON: Right.

SMITH: What is to say the Iraqis are making any progress toward being able to take it over on their own?

O’HANLON: Well two-part answer. First, we changed the tactics. So in the short term, what we do after those clear operations, we don't leave. We don't leave the city entirely to Iraqis. We try to form a partnership. That's a much better strategy than what we had before. And it does seem to work in the short term. But your longer-term question remains, what's the exit strategy for the United States? I don't really have it clearly in mind, Harry. I know that in some areas, where things are relatively stable, the exit strategy will be for us to go down to very modest numbers of troops. But in the tensist neighborhoods of Baghdad, the very ethnically charged neighborhoods, we may have to stay with at least a few tens of thousands of troops for several years if this strategy is going to play out successfully.

SMITH: You know it's interesting, because you wrote the piece with Ken Pollack in the "Times" yesterday. And at the same time there was this Oxfam piece that came out, a report on the humanitarian crisis over there. More than 4 million people displaced, deplorable living conditions, unsanitary. You have a third of the children in the country malnourished. How do you balance both of those stories? Both can be concurrent?

O’HANLON: Well, the Oxfam story I think is correct. I have no qualms about with it. I'm glad they put the brave work needed to put those facts out. But security conditions have to improve first before you're going to see much economic recovery in Iraq I believe. So that's how the two can be concurrent. I agree with-- the way Ken finished his interview with David Martin. This is not same rosy assessment of Iraq we're offering. We're offering there's a case there's enough momentum. Let's see if we can play it out and have the momentum can spill over into the economy and most of all into the Iraqi political system. And if it doesn't, we may have to conclude that despite the military progress this overall strategy can't work.

SMITH: Because on the other hand we also have had this story in the last week or so with the interior minister, in Iraq, refuses to take over these public works projects. There's such a disconnect in this country between what the American forces are doing and what's actually happening on the ground.

O’HANLON: Yes. And other problems in Baghdad are they won't provide enough neutral nonsectarian police to some of the outlying districts and they won't give them enough equipment so Baghdad is a big problem. The Iraqi politicians in Baghdad are dropping the ball. And if they keep that up, I think despite the military progress, in the end, we can't be successful. So it's a question of when you pull the plug on the politics. I would prefer giving the momentum, to see it play out a few more months.

Then the setup story.

HARRY SMITH: As soon as President Bush announced he was sending more troops to Iraq this year, his opponents predicted it wouldn't do any good. But some of them now see it differently. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

DAVID MARTIN: Is the American troop surge working and should it be continued? You'd be surprised to hear what a longtime critic of American strategy in Iraq thinks.

KEN POLLACK: This is the first time I have gone to Iraq and actually felt that the United States knew what it was doing and was actually creating some degree of progress.

MARTIN: Ken Pollack, who earlier this year published a study on Iraq titled "Things Fall Apart," has now co-authored a report headlined "A War We Just Might Win." He points to a one-third decrease in civilian casualties, to a sense of security in what used to be one Iraq's most dangerous cities.

POLLACK: I never thought I'd be walking down the streets of Ramadi without body armor on.

MARTIN: Retired Marine General Jim Jones, who was conducting a Congressionally ordered study of Iraqi security forces, also came back from Iraq saying, privately, it was better than he expected. By any measure, Iraq is still a deadly mess and no one is claiming to see light at the end of the tunnel.

POLLACK: What we saw suggests that there was enough progress being made there that we ought to allow it to play out a little while longer.

MARTIN: A little while longer, how long is a little while?

POLLACK: If you asked us, we'd let it go into 2008 before again making another judgment along those lines.

MARTIN: Which is exactly what the American commander, General David Petraeus, wants, continue the surge into next spring, and then start a gradual withdrawal back to the pre-surge troop level of 130,000 by the end of 2008. David Martin, CBS News, the Pentagon.

Iraq CBS Michael O'Hanlon David Martin Ken Pollack