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Week in Review: Democrats Struggle Over Iraq


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

CARL LEVIN: They must make a choice. Do they want a nation or do they want civil war? And to maintain this open-ended commitment, which we now have, is contributing to a dependency of the Iraqis on us, rather than forcing them, prodding them, to do what only they can do, to build a nation.

JOHN CORNYN: Are we going to base our military strategy in Iraq on an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal, based upon defeatism, a policy of retreat, a policy of surrender?

SIMON: Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and John Cornyn Of Texas, disagreeing on the floor of the Senate on Thursday, as lawmakers debated U.S. policy in Iraq.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.


SIMON: Two Democratic amendments calling on the President to submit a plan...

SCHORR: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: ...for withdrawing troops were introduced in the Senate. One would have required a plan for troop reductions by the end of the year, the other, sponsored by John Kerry and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, called for most U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by July of next year. Both amendments failed. Did Democrats miscalculate?

SCHORR: I think so. I think that if they believed that because Americans, on the whole, would really like the United States to be out there, that it means that they would vote to get them out of there, I think that was a mistake. And they Republicans, under the whiplash of the White House, worked very hard to make sure that they would get their majority. They all had 74-page prep books provided by the White House.

And I think the Democrats, I think, on the whole, think they have found their voice. But I don't think that they have yet. They don't have one consistent thing, where, as John Murtha of Pennsylvania had, saying let's go and let's go now. They're afraid to say that. And until they really say, let's get out of there all together, they're going to find this version and that version, and it will be defeated.

SIMON: In Iraq, this week, of course, the tortured remains of two kidnapped U.S. soldiers were found.


SIMON: Yet another one of Saddam Hussein's defense attorneys, Khamis al-Ubaydi, was abducted from his home and he was assassinated.


SIMON: A state of emergency was declared in Baghdad because of heavy fighting very near to the Green Zone.

SCHORR: Yes. And I don't think that the curfew that they tried to institute has worked. The violence apparently still goes on. Kidnapping has now apparently become one of the weapons of choice of these people. It used to be we just shoot them. Now it is kidnap them and kill some of them, and kill some of them in the most grisly possible way.

SIMON: I want to ask about, there are at least three incidents that are under investigation, in which charges have been made that U.S. service people, men and women, have been charged with kidnapping, murder or conspiracy in the death of Iraqi civilians. Of course, Haditha is probably the best known, other incidents at Hamdania and at Balad.

What do you make of the number and nature of these incidents, and the response of the U.S. military?

SCHORR: The response of the military is most encouraging, especially after Haditha. Marines were exquisitely trained to follow rules of war, didn't, or possibly didn't. That's still under investigation. I shouldn't jump to any conclusions. But at stake here is not only what happens in this war, but the status of the military for many, many years, how people come to view our military people. And I think that the military command is taking this very, very seriously.

SIMON: I want to ask you about the story that broke towards the end of the week. As you folks you to say at the - during the times of Watergate, or at least in the movie, follow the money.



SIMON: Reports this week that the Treasury Department, in conjunction with the CIA, has been monitoring millions of financial transactions since shortly after the attacks of September 11th, mostly wire transfers and other methods of moving money across borders. Does the government have the legal right to do this?

SCHORR: Well, I don't know. And apparently, the Treasury Secretary, John Snow, believes they do have the right. At least they've been doing this for five years and they say it's a very, very effective thing they can do it. It may well be that this outside of the jurisdiction of the United States, because there are more than 200 banking groups around the world who are members of this - now stay tuned - Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. For short, SWIFT. And...

SIMON: I think they used to be one of James Bond's nemeses, if I'm not mistaken.

SCHORR: In any event, there doesn't seem to be an urge on the part of anybody to make an issue of it.

SIMON: Thursday, seven men arrested in Miami and accused of plotting terror attacks against the United States, mostly notable against Sears Tower, the tallest building in the United States. Federal prosecutors say five Americans and two Haitians have pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden, but had no contact with anyone in al-Qaida. And apparently, no weapons or explosives were found.

SCHORR: No weapons. No explosive. A whole lot of talk that, over a period of two years, the FBI listened in on, and found these young, feverish men talking about loyalty to Osama bin Laden. Oh, let's bring down the Sears Tower in Chicago, that's the tallest building in America. Wouldn't it be great to bring that down?

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: I think that one of the results of the age we live in is that some young people growing up surrounded by pictures of violence, and by pictures of great civilizations clashing with each other, and they sort of say, well, can't we do something like that? Now, I don't want to acquit these young men...

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: ...who've just been arrested, but I suspect there is a lot of that.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. On the other hand, if they'd gone ahead and made some plans and something had happened, the government would have been criticized for not doing anything.

SCHORR: Oh, yes. I don't for a minute want to suggest that they shouldn't have been investigation and arrested, and all of that. I mean, you can't assume that because somebody seems to be a little dumb, that when he says I'm going to bring down this tower, that you shouldn't take it seriously. This is not the age we live in. All threats are taken seriously.

SIMON: President Bush met with European leaders in Vienna this week, and there were tough questions, again, from European reporters about Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay detention center. At the same time, of course, the United States and the European Union and Western states are coming together on a mutual policy towards Iran and North Korea, opposing the development of nuclear weapons in each of those countries.

What do you make of the state of that relationship now, and its effectiveness in, let's say, perhaps, deterring Iran or North Korea?

SCHORR: Well, when you make - if you look at the figures that Andrew Kohut assembles for you, you find out America is no longer very popular in large sections of the world, starting with Europe. Young kids grow up in any European country, and they are told, look at the savage Americans who torture people in Guantanamo. And that's the way they are brought up now. It is very sad, but I think is what we live with.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. What about the amity that the United States and Western Europe have right now, about opposition to both Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs?

SCHORR: Yeah, it's a very interesting, very sad commentary, that although we have in common with all the European countries in the past and most of the world that we don't want to face either a North Korean or an Iranian bomb, and that therefore we have to be brought together. Yet outside of the military needs, you talk simply about how the people in these countries regard the United States. It is now almost uniformly negative. And I guess that's the way it's going to be. We will cooperate on the threats and go back and say nasty things about Americans.

SIMON: Former administration official David Safavian is the fifth person to be convicted to plead guilt to charges of corruption in the investigation that started with the lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Where do you think this investigation is going now? How is it affecting lawmakers?

SCHORR: I think it's going to be more of same. I think that there an awful lot of people ready to return one contribution or another at this point because I think they're running scared for a while. But we're dealing with a wave of corruption that has just almost taken our government apart. And it becomes part of your daily diet to know what awful thing has been done by people claiming to be public servants.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr passed away on Friday, July 23, 2010. See an obituary, photo gallery and an archive of Schorr's commentaries for NPR.