ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Meanwhile at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Gates acknowledged that the public is looking for signs that the situation in Iraq is getting better and he counseled patience.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Department of Defense): We think there are some positive things going on. I think we’re being very careful not to indulge in happy talk or to be optimistic when there are grounds not to be. I think we’re trying to be honest and realistic about how things are going.
And it’s just going to take some more time, and that’s why I think General Petraeus basically decided that September would be a good time, early September, thereabouts, a good time for him to do his report for the president.
SIEGEL: Well, that report in September is about the only timetable that seems certain in Iraq right now, though there’s plenty of talk about others. Many war policy critics say the troops should start moving out sometime early next year. Military commanders seemed to want troop levels to remain high through the end of next year. Iraqis tell us that Iraqi time operates differently from Washington time.
Joining us to talk about this now are Peter Rodman, who is senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. Welcome once again, Peter Rodman.
Mr. PETER RODMAN (Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings Institution): Good evening.
SIEGEL: And Marina Ottaway, director of Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Good to see you.
And I’d like to hear from both of you starting with Marina Ottaway, a little reality check here, from what you see happening in the war in Iraq. Come September, what progress, conceivably, might General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker plausibly report?
Ms. MARINA OTTAWAY (Director, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): I don’t think very much because there is agreement that there cannot be a military solution or a purely military solution to the situation in Iraq. And what the current plan does not contain is a political strategy other than the one that has been tried for over a year and has failed repeatedly.
So that it’s very unlikely whatever happens on the military front that we are going to see any change on the political front, and that is any agreement among the various factions of the Iraqi government and of the Iraqi population.
SIEGEL: Peter Rodman, are you equally pessimistic about what can be accomplished come September?
Mr. RODMAN: Well, Marina has a good point. There’s no reason to build up September as some kind of magical, you know, a climactic moment in the war. It’s an artificial date. And my guess is that it will be a mixed picture. I think there will be some positive things to report and some things that aren’t positive. And we shouldn’t expect some binary moment, a pass-fail grade where, you know, the whole war, yes or no, is decided. It certainly will not relieve our political leaders of the need to make their own decisions.
ISIS is also keen to target Italy now because it’s one of the few major European countries it hasn’t yet struck. They’re hoping to inspire violence there so that they can say, in effect, 'we’ve already attacked your capitals in London, in Paris, and in Barcelona, and now we’ve attacked Rome. There’s nowhere we can’t reach.'