Senate Democrats

The Iraq Accountability Project: A Wrap-Up of This Week’s Senate Oversight on Iraq

This week Senate Democrats continued to conduct oversight of the President’s conduct of the war. Senate Democrats are united in their determination to hold the President accountable for his failed strategy in Iraq and guarantee American veterans have the support they deserve. 

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Senate Armed Services Committee
“To consider the nomination of Lieutenant General Douglas E. Lute, USA, to be Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan.” 

General Lute would be tasked with duties that should have been carried out by the Bush Administration over the past several years.

SEN. REED:  My sense if, you step back, your appointment represents a devastating critique of the national security apparatus of this White House, because all you’re being asked to do was what Mr. Hadley and Dr. Rice were supposed to be doing for the last several years: identify problems, coordinate resources, bring them to the attention of the president, get presidential direction. And that has been abysmal. And I think also, too, I’m afraid that your position will be someone who’s there to take the blame, but to not really have the kind of access to the president and the resources you need to do the job. I presume you will be reporting to Mr. Hadley?

GEN. LUTE: No, sir. I’ll be reporting to the president and coordinating with Mr. Hadley.

SEN. REED: And Mr. Hadley will be reporting to the president independently?

GEN. LUTE: On matters outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, yes, sir.

SEN. REED: That I find interesting. I mean, frankly, Afghanistan, Iraq, and, related to that, Iran, are the most critical foreign policy problems we face. And the national security adviser to the United States has taken his hands off that and given it to you? Is that your understanding?

GEN. LUTE:  Sir, that’s the design, yes.

SEN. LEVIN:  Let me just clarify one thing — and your answer is so critically important here: Is there a written description of your job which states what you have just said to Senator Reed, that you are going to report to the president on Afghanistan, on Iraq, and that Hadley does not have that any longer in his portfolio? Is that in your written description?

GEN. LUTE:  It is, sir. The best written description is perhaps the response to the first policy question, which is an extract of the job description itself.

SEN. LEVIN: But it excludes Hadley reporting?

GEN. LUTE: No, sir.

SEN. LEVIN: You have the exclusive — you got that chunk of his portfolio.

GEN. LUTE: I believe that’s right. It does not exclude him from also advising, but the responsibilities for advising for Iraq and Afghanistan, if confirmed, will be mine.

SEN. LEVIN: I agree with Senator Reed. I view that as an astounding indictment and a bifurcation of the national security job. Now there’s two national security advisers to the president — one on Iraq and Afghanistan, and one on everything else. But despite all the relationship between Iraq and Afghanistan and everything else, I think that Senator Reed has put his finger on a very, very decisive point here. And I find it, with him, kind of astounding that that has been done.

General Lute acknowledges that the Iraqi government has made “very little progress” on political reconciliation, which he sees as key to improving the security situation in Iraq.

SEN. BAYH:  We had a briefing in the intel world on Iraq last week. And I’d like to share with you the consensus view of the intelligence community and get your reaction to that. Their overall consensus was that the trend in Iraq is negative, that there are occasional bright spots — for example, some developments in Al Anbar province — but that those positive developments are within the context of an overall negative trend. Do you share that assessment?

GEN. LUTE: I think, Senator, when you consider beyond simply the security setting — but also looking at the opportunities presented to the Iraqi government to make progress on important political and economic measures with the intent of reconciliation — that I share that at best the progress has been uneven.

SEN. BAYH:  …do you share the intelligence community’s assessment that the political steps toward reconciliation are likely to be marginal at best through the end of this calendar year?

GEN. LUTE: Senator, my assessment would be that they have a very full agenda and have shown, so far, very little progress.

SEN. BAYH: We were also told that the state of the insurgency — the level of violence and that sort of thing — was in all likelihood going to be about where it is today a year from now. Do you have an opinion about that?

GEN. LUTE: Senator, in the absence of the kind of political and economic steps that are before the Iraqi government now, if they don’t make progress on those sorts of reconciliation measures, I’d share the view that we’re not likely to see much difference in the security situation.

General Lute has concerns about the capacity of the Iraqi government to move forward with political reconciliation.

GEN. LUTE: I believe that we have asserted leverage to the extent that the Iraqi government officials clearly understand that we’re providing critical stability for them and critical security for them, especially in face of this five brigade plus-up in Baghdad proper. We’re giving them a golden opportunity that they must seize to make progress on the political front. I don’t think there’s any doubt in the mind of any Iraqi politician that this is an opportunity they have to seize.

LEVIN: And should there be consequences if they don’t seize it?

LUTE: I accept that that might, in some views, increase the leverage on these Iraqi officials and it ought to be a dimension of future policy considerations.

LEVIN:  When you say "in some views," is that your view?

LUTE: Senator, only to the extent that — as I just indicated, I have reservations about just how much leverage we can apply on a system that is not very capable right now.

LEVIN: Is it your view that to some extent, at least, that the leverage may be useful?

LUTE:  Senator, I agree that it ought to be considered, that it may be useful.

General Lute believes that we must accelerate initiatives to transfer security responsibility to the Iraqis. 

SEN. SESSIONS: [General Abizaid] always expressed concern — and I believe it was persuasive to me — that there was a danger in over-committing American troops in what could be perceived as an occupation mode and not a supportive role, a temporary action. Share your thoughts about that concern. Would you articulate the tension between using military force and being an occupation force?

GEN. LUTE: Senator, I think this goes right to the heart of the question of are we in the lead or are the Iraqis in the lead and are we supporting. And I think at this point in this fight, increasingly, we need to take every opportunity to put the Iraqis in the lead across the security, governance, economic dimensions of this struggle. So if we fail to do that, and we retain the lead, I think there is a real risk that we’ll be seen as occupiers.

General Lute does not believe that our commitment to Iraq should be open-ended.

SEN. LEVIN: Secretary Gates has said that the votes here in the Congress that set a timetable, while he doesn’t agree with them, nonetheless perform a useful function in that they put pressure on the Iraqi leaders to recognize that there is a diminished congressional support for the president’s policies and that the people have no longer — since at least November — supporting the policies as well.

Do you agree with Secretary Gates that there’s a useful purpose to these votes, even though he disagrees with the substance of the amendment; that when Congress does pass amendments saying we’ll begin to reduce troops as of a certain time, that that does have a useful aspect to it?

GEN. LUTE: I think that the policy debate back here, first of all, is watched very carefully by the Iraqi officials. And I agree with Secretary Gates that it helps them draw the right conclusion, which is that our commitment to Iraq is not open-ended.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

 Senate Select Intelligence Committee
CLOSED Hearing on Human Intelligence