Iraq, the Vote: 'It's Going to Be Worse This Time'

J$P Instant Transcript! Gen Wesley Clark on the election day voting and what it portends.

From Fox News Live, December 15 2005:

BILL HEMMER [FOX NEWS]: Gen Wesley Clark, Fox News analyst, Supreme NATO Commander, with me now, and General, it's nice to have you here. Good afternoon to you.

GEN WESLEY CLARK: Great to be with you, Bill.

HEMMER: What's next for Iraq when they wake up tomorrow?

CLARK: Well, they have voted for an assembly, so now the assembly has to elect the government. And there are some very important issues right at the top. First of all, who's going to comprise that government? Is it going to be led by the Islamist parties, led by Mr Hakim? Or is it going to be led by Ayad Allawi, who is a secularist? And what role with the Sunnis have in that government? And then what can be done about some of the provisions of the constitution that the Sunnis find most objectionable? For example, they're very concerned that they won't have access to the oil revenues. And they're concerned that the militant islamists in the south will want to set up a sort of mini-state there that caters to Iran, and that takes away the secular freedoms that the rest of the Iraqis would like to have.

HEMMER: Last January, it took some time to get that interim government in place and set up after extensive negotiations. Can you avoid that possibility this time around?

CLARK: No, I think it's going to be worse this time. Because actually, this is when it's for keeps. And so, and this--not only is it for keeps this time, but it's also critical to defeating the legitimacy of the insurgency. So this is a time we have to link the political and the military more skillfully than we, more credibly than we have been able to do in the past.

HEMMER: So then put one and two together. The vote is today; that's one. If you're able to maneuver the political front, as you mentioned there, going into January and February, is the US military a step closer to home after this?

CLARK: It all depends on how we can bring this to a conclusion. You've got to translate the military leverage that we have into the kinds of changes in the constitution and the makeup of the government that are needed to unify the country. If it goes the wrong way it could result in a fracturing of the country. So it's a really critical moment for Iran--Iraq, and for Iran, who's looking on very anxiously from the border and wondering if they're going to maintain their influence there.

HEMMER: What does this say to you, the most democratically elected government in the history of the Arab world? When you hear that statement--

CLARK: Well, it's pretty exciting, isn't it? But the question is, here's something we all have to keep in mind. There've been a lot of elections in the Arab world. Saddam Hussein was elected by 95%.

HEMMER: 95%, we've heard every year.

CLARK: This, this is a much more fair election. The question is, can we actually get a democratic government in place? Or is it going to be a one-vote kind of a government, that after it's in charge it shuts down the trappings of democracy as we know it.

HEMMER: Can you even wade into the argument right now of what happens with this insurgency after this vote? Certainly it's not going to kill it off. Does it dampen it, and to what degree?

CLARK: It won't kill it off. It should. It depends on really the shape of the government that emerges. If we've got a government that comes out, that really can bring the Sunnis in and address their concerns and issues, so that they feel like they've got a stake in the country, then that will take a lot of the steam out of the insurgency. You'll still have the jihadists who are there, who simply are looking for a foothold in the Arab world and want to cause mischief and attack the Americans. But a lot of their support is coming from disaffected Sunnis, who see the Shiite militant Islamists take over in this interim government, and they're opposed to it.

HEMMER: We're going to have a lot to talk about. Wesley Clark, thanks. Good to have you in the studio today.

CLARK: Good to be with you.

posted: Thu - December 15, 2005 at 12:47 PM       j$p  send