Richard Engel, NBC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent, airs his views on the state of Iraq today, with reference to President Obama’s speech last night. He says nothing that those who have taken the trouble to access the truth on the Iraq War don’t already know.
What’s surprising, perhaps, is that he said it at all, given his position. But then, first and foremost, Engel is a good journalist.
For readers without access to broadband, the full transcript follows:
“RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: This is a city that’s bracing itself for a war that could come at any moment. I’m the last person standing right now at the Ministry of Information. A lot of people think that this building could be destroyed, and as soon as I finish with you, I’m going to get away from this place. I could see some anti-aircraft fire and here some explosions off in the distance. This opulent room is inside what was once Saddam’s main palace here in the city of Tikrit, a stark contrast to the hole in the ground where Saddam was discovered just 10 miles from here. I am right now on top of a Stryker vehicle. it’s a fighting vehicle. And we are with the last American combat troops in Iraq. But as soon as all 440 of these soldiers are into Kuwait, the combat mission in Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, will be over.
MADDOW: Joining us now is NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, who spent more time in Iraq than any other American I know. Hi, Richard.
ENGEL: How are you?
MADDOW: I’m all right, I think. The president’s speech tonight, I guess I just want your overall reaction to him marking the end of the war this way.
ENGEL: No mention of democracy. You talked about all the reasons that the U.S. went to war. The one that was — that we heard all the time when we were in Baghdad was democracy. That this was going to bring a new flourishing society. Nothing. Instead, it was thank you to the troops, but didn’t exactly say thank you for what they did. Just thank you for achieving what was asked.
MADDOW: Well, there was —
ENGEL: Thank you for doing what we asked you to do.
MADDOW: There was — I’ll just interrupt for just for one second. “A war to disarm a state,” he said, “became a fight against an insurgency, a war to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people, a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born.” A very —
ENGEL: What is that?
ENGEL: Thank for sort of something.
ENGEL: There was no real sense of, thank you for what you have done. Have you made the world safer? Have you made America safer?
ENGEL: He talked about thanking the Iraqis for creating an opportunity for the Iraqis to find their own destiny, emerge from the ashes and start their own society. And that’s a tough lesson, a tough message to hear. Thank you for the — for fighting. Thank you for doing what we asked. But I can’t really pin down what I’m thanking you for.
MADDOW: Yes. Let me ask you about one specific thing he said about essentially what’s going to happen in Iraq next. He said, “Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife.” “But,” he said, “ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals, Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war and they have no interest in endless destruction.” What’s your reaction to that?
ENGEL: I hope he’s right. And Iraqis themselves don’t want civil war. And they didn’t want civil war when it happened. And a lot of times, people don’t get what they want. I’m a firm believer that no people want war, yet wars happen. And they happen quite often. And Iraq right now, even if the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiites don’t want to fight each other, there are groups pushing them in that direction. And if there is a major catastrophe, a big bomb in Najaf, I don’t think the country is strong enough to prevent another round of civil war, especially if they don’t have a government. They have security forces that have been created by the United States and are pretty good, but if you don’t have anyone leading them and you have fewer American troops, then you don’t have effective security forces.
MADDOW: Right. President Maliki in — Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq today gave his own televised speech in Iraq, marking the same transition, just as Obama did.
ENGEL: Yes. He shouldn’t even be prime minister. He was not elected. He didn’t win the elections. He’s hanging on to power. We could be — we’re backing him right now. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who are involved in these negotiations. The deal is, we’ll try and reduce Maliki’s influence and weaken his post a little bit and we’ll bring in Ayad Allawi, the person who actually won the elections, and we’ll try to create some kind of power-sharing agreement. One, I think it will be a tremendously weak government that cannot handle the real problems, the people who are trying to push Iraq back into a civil war. And it’s not anything that Iraqis are used to. They had a centrally-controlled government. Now, they have no government. And if the American plan going forward is to give them some sort of weak consensus government, I don’t see how they’re going to get out of this.
MADDOW: Richard, we all know the list of justifications for the Iraq invasion, the predicted effects of the Iraq war that turned out to be bull. I went through all of those in my initial segment.
ENGEL: Yes, I heard. The blossoming of democracy across the Middle East.
MADDOW: Yes. Democracy has not broken out across in the Middle East.
ENGEL: No, it hasn’t. Actually, if the idea is to stop weapons of mass destruction, Iran has been unleashed, and Iran, by all accounts, is trying to find and create a weapon of mass destruction. So —
MADDOW: And you think Iran has been strengthened? They’re the big winner from the Iraq war?
ENGEL: Of course, they are. Of course, they are. Most Iraqis, if you ask them what they’re afraid of, they’re afraid of Americans leaving because they are concerned that Iran will be the biggest player. There are people who fought against the United States in Ramadi and Fallujah and the Sunni areas who now — and they didn’t join — not the people who join the awakening, people who were with the resistance, and who now saying, you know, maybe it’s not a good idea for Americans to leave, because we really don’t want Iran to come in and take over.
MADDOW: Wow. I mean, it is — it is amazing to think that even without a new government being formed, even without us not knowing exactly where things are going, even with, as you’re describing, the prospect of another civil war, the probably most accurate generalization we can make about what the effect on Iraq has been of this war is that we turned it from a Sunni dictatorship into the world’s only Shiite/ Arab state.
ENGEL: Shiite, failed, sectarian, corrupt oil patronage state. It has been — it is a basket case in the Middle East that is now being influenced by Turkey, by Kurdish nationalists, by Iranian religious parties, by Lebanese religious parties. It has become the world’s playground and a place where you can make a lot of money, if you’re an Iranian contractor, if you’re an American contractor. It has not been a stable state that can — that can contain itself or certainly contain Iran.
MADDOW: If people who are — who care enough about this story, not only about the war, but about the world, to know how bad things are in Iraq, how bad things are on the occasion of American combat troops leaving — do you believe that if combat troops weren’t leaving, that any of those things wouldn’t be true?
ENGEL: No. It’s the — for the last year or so, the combat troops really haven’t been doing anything.
ENGEL: So, what’s on the ground in Iraq today or two weeks ago or three weeks from now doesn’t change very much. The combat troops there were just kind of waiting to leave. A lot of them were in Iraq still to give the Iraqis a little bit more time to try and create a government, which they never were able to do. The real challenge is, if there isn’t a government, American troops are truly now confined to their — confined to their bases and the militant groups are somewhat energized by this moment.
ENGEL: They say, this is our time to try and bring this whole project down. That’s the danger going forward on the ground.
MADDOW: It is one thing to recognize that things aren’t good. It is another thing to recognize our — the limits of our ability to make them any better, essentially.
ENGEL: Well, it’s been — a lot — the troops have achieved a lot. And they’ve achieved, the speech tonight was they have achieved everything they asked for. And they were there — and we were talking about it — they’ve been going through Iraq, tour after tour, a tremendous sacrifice to their families, but they didn’t have that much contact with the Iraqi government. They weren’t asked to set up an Iraqi government.
ENGEL: But Americans were. So this idea of — well, you know, it’s up to the Iraqis now, maybe America will accept that narrative, but Iraqis won’t. And I don’t think anyone else in the world will accept that narrative.
MADDOW: Richard, let me ask you one last question, and I will — I will not hold it against you if you demure and do not want to answer this, because this is much more my bailiwick than yours, but you probably, you heard my initial statement.
ENGEL: No, I’m not answering. Sorry. That was me, actually — I stopped your audio earlier.
MADDOW: You actually cut my mike. That was great. Boy, did I not think of you.
ENGEL: I was preempting what you’re about to ask me. Now, this drama.
MADDOW: What do you have to do to be discredited as an authority on foreign policy and worse? Like, today, the headlines are full of, honestly, Paul Wolfowitz. Paul Wolfowitz who said the war would pay for itself. A trillion dollars later, he wants to give more advice about what America ought to do in Iraq. In the foreign policy world, has any American ever been kicked out for being so stupid about the Muslim world that people can tell?
ENGEL: They don’t seem to be. Because I read a lot of op-eds, I watch a lot of news channels, and people who have really very little credibility often end up being the ones quoted on television. I don’t know exactly why that is. Yes, there should be a disqualification or a blacklist for people who are consistently wrong, but I’ve never noticed one.
MADDOW: I hereby vote you, Paul Wolfowitz, off the island. That doesn’t count.
ENGEL: That was the tough question?
MADDOW: That was the tough question.
ENGEL: I thought it would be more personal. Something, you know, that would really embarrass me.
MADDOW: Well, you can come back tomorrow and do that. NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, my friend, Richard Engel– Richard, thank you. Really appreciate it.”
 The Rachel Maddow Show (excerpt) October 31st 2010
Filed under: Bush’s war