Timing Is Everything

By Chris Ariens 

The White House has been planning President Bush’s surprise visit to Iraq for six weeks, just as long as The CBS Evening News team had been planning theirs. TVNewser has learned a 10:30am phone call to CBS’ Baghdad Bureau set in motion a chain of events that resulted in Katie Couric getting an interview with the Commander-in-Chief.

The Bureau got a call that they might want to send a crew to Al Asad Air Base as the President was paying a visit. Katie Couric, her executive producer Rick Kaplan and their cameraman got on a chopper and headed for the base. The fruit of that labor on this day: an interview with Pres. Bush. The interview will air on The CBS Evening News tonight.

Couric was to have begun anchoring the broadcast tomorrow night with a series of special reports, but will lead the broadcast tonight with her one-on-one with the President. Russ Mitchell will anchor the day’s domestic news from New York.


The full An early transcript is after the jump…


COURIC: If you continue to have these successes, that you can maintain the level of security in Iraq with fewer U.S. Troops, obviously people are going to embrace that and say what exactly did he mean by that? What did you mean?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Exactly what I said. That we’re having good success on the ground from a security perspective. And that General Petraeus and Ryan Crocker tell me that if we continue to have that kind of success–if, then we can do the same job with fewer troops. And they will report back to the country in a week. And as to what there recommendation is to me about troop levels and different aspects of making sure we succeed in Iraq.

COURIC: Are you saying that possibly some troops will be coming home by Christmas?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I’m saying that people need to pay attention to what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker say to the Congress, because they’ll say to the Congress what they have recommended to me.

COURIC: I know you said, Mr. President, this was not prompted by an agenda in Washington or by the media, but in a way does this hopefully, in your view, placate critics of the war on Capitol Hill?

PRESIDENT BUSH: You know, I don’t know Katie, that’s a good question. I would certainly hope so. In other words, if we’re able to re-deploy at some point in time…I would hope so, because the stakes are very high. Failure in Iraq could be a disaster for the United States. Failure in Iraq would empower and embolden these extremists, some of whom attacked us in the past. Success in Iraq would be a major blow in this ideological struggle. So American people have got to understand that what happens in Iraq matters in the streets. So therefore I would hope people would, you know, listen to the facts and uh…and remember that the security of the country is at stake.

COURIC: But just hearing those two words, “troop reduction;” do you think it will win some people over who are uncomfortable with this war?

Bush: That was just speculating. It’s not going to win anybody over until it becomes a reality. And what I would ask Congress to do is wait to see what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have to say.

COURIC: Having said that, Mr. President, do you think people on Capitol Hill are going to be receptive to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker or do you think people have pretty much made up their minds?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I don’t think so. I think there’s people who think that we should never have been there in the first place. In other words, there’s a group of people in Congress that said, you know getting rid of Saddam Hussein wasn’t the right thing to do nor should we be there. That’s a point of view, I think they’re wrong but…nevertheless it’s a solid point of view. I think others are saying can we win? Does it make sense and can we achieve our mission and objectives? And therefore I would ask those, before they make up their mind, to listen very carefully to what these two fine citizens report.

COURIC: Did you give the Iraqi leaders with whom you met tonight a stern talking to, including prime minister Maliki?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh yeah, they know my position and my position is that reconciliation is going to be vital. In other words, here needs to be more than just security in order for this country to reconcile —

COURIC: What did you say to them?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well I said listen; thanks for what you did two weeks ago. They came together, the five of them, and put together a good agenda. And I said now just follow through. But I am also wise enough to understand that because of years of brutality because of a dictator it’s hard…it’s hard work. They share the same goals, which is important. They share the goal of having a country that governs and defends and sustains itself.

COURIC: They just don’t share a goal of who’s going to govern it.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well that’s not true. Actually, I think they’re all very comfortable with the current government structure. What they’re having problems getting to is passing law. They did pass sixty laws last year. They passed a very significant budget. They understand that we expect them to pass more laws, but reconciliation happens from the bottom up as well as the top down, and the reason I’ve come to Anbar province is because you’re seeing reconciliation. You’re seeing local folks getting sick and tired of Al-Qaeda and helping coalition forces deal a blow to Al-Qaeda, which by the way makes this country more secure.

COURIC: The surge was designed to help the Iraqi government to move forward. Do you believe there really is tangible evidence worthy of 30,000 additional American troops?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh absolutely. First of all there’s security…you cannot move forward without security. I mean if people are sitting around saying “I’m worried about my life”, it’s difficult to get political reconciliation. Security yields political reconciliation. This example is the classic case of bottom up reconciliation. This is a province where people said “we’ve lost this to al Qaeda”. And now you and I stand in it knowing full well that Al-Qaeda’s on the run. And so it–yeah we’re making progress.

COURIC: But this is a Sunni area, and you don’t have the sectarian problems that you do in other places in Iraq.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well you do have people who’s psyche was terribly scarred by Saddam Hussein as the Sheikh told me in the meeting. He said, look you gotta understand we were brutalized by Saddam Hussein just like others were. There are mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad that are doing just fine. Listen, it’s going to take time. And the question is, whether or not the United States of America understands the consequences of failure in Iraq. And I certainly hope they do and I will continue to make the case that failure in Iraq…in other words, if we leave Iraq before the job is done, the enemy will follow us home and that’s important for people to understand.

COURIC: And if Congress isn’t receptive to General Petraeus’ message…

PRESIDENT BUSH: What do you mean if Congress, are you…

COURIC: I don’t know…

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well I don’t know either.

COURIC: But….What are your options?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I would hope that Congress would pay attention to what General Petraeus has to say. He is a…unless they really don’t care about failure. If people don’t care whether we fail or not it’s going to be a tough sell. If there are people in Congress like I think there are who are deeply concerned about the security of the United States, I think they will listen very carefully to what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have to say.

COURIC: Mr. President, thank you very much.

PRESIDENT BUSH: My pleasure.