July 18, 2007

John Burns: US An 'Important Inhibtor Of Violence' In Iraq

Although I have often criticized the New York Times for its bias and editorial decisions, I have often expressed admiration for John Burns, their intrepid reporter on the ground in Iraq. He has found himself in the thick of militia and insurgent action, and was one of the first to give Americans a comprehensive look at Moqtada al-Sadr -- from his experience as a hostage. He reports in the same fashion as Michael Yon, telling the story straight, regardless of whether the news is good or bad.

Last night, he appeared on the Charlie Rose Show, and he continued in that same vein. When asked about the consequences of pulling troops out of Iraq, Burns told Rose that a catastrophe would almost certainly follow:

JOHN BURNS: Well, I think, quite simply that the United States armed forces here -- and I find this to be very widely agreed amongst Iraqis that I know, of all ethnic and sectarian backgrounds -- the United States armed forces are a very important inhibitor against violence. I know it`s argued by some people that they provoke the violence. I simply don`t believe that to be in the main true. I think it`s a much larger truth that where American forces are present, they are inhibiting sectarian violence, and they are going after the people, particularly al-Qaeda and the Shiite death squads, who are provoking that violence. Remove them or at least remove them quickly, and it seems to me -- controversial as this may seem to be saying in the present circumstances, while I know there`s this agonizing debate going on in the United States about this -- that you have to weigh the price. And the price would very likely be very, very high levels of violence, at least in the short run and perhaps, perhaps - perhaps for quite a considerable period of time.

CHARLIE ROSE: This is what you said to me in January 2007. "Friends of mine who are Iraqis, Sunni, Shiite, Kurd -- all foresee a civil war on the scale with bloodshed that will absolutely dwarf what we`re seeing now. It`s really difficult to imagine that that would happen, considering we`re talking about the fallout between the Sunnis and Shiite worlds, without Iran becoming involved from the east, without the Saudis who have already said in that situation they would move in to help protect the Sunnis majority in Iraq."

Has anything changed in the six months since you said that? Five months?

JOHN BURNS: I don`t believe it has, no. I honestly don`t believe it has. You know, I don`t want to wade into the debate that`s going on in Washington because I understand that - that a very important element of that debate is weighing as everybody on both sides I think understands, the price of staying against the price of going. And there`s no doubt that the price of staying is very, very high in American blood, to begin with, and American treasure too.

But it seems to me incontrovertible that the most likely outcome of an American withdrawal any time soon would be cataclysmic violence. And I find that to be widely agreed amongst Iraqis, including Iraqis who strongly opposed the invasion. And especially amongst Sunnis, a minority who ruled here, whose power was usurped by the invasion and who now find themselves facing Shiite militias and 350,000 man and woman Shiite-led Iraqi security force, that`s to say army and police, which is overwhelmingly Shiite and would be likely, first of all, to disintegrate in the face of a civil war, but with its principal units falling on the Shiite, not the Sunni side of that war.

John Burns ended the segment with this disturbing anecdote:

And I`ll give you just one taste of that. A senior American official told me just the other night that he had been to see Tariq Al Hashimi, who - the Sunni vice president, a former Saddam army officer who never joined the Baath Party and left Iraq in the early `90s. In other words, a Sunni who - who has genuine credentials as a moderate.

Tariq Al Hashimi asked this senior American official, "is your Congress really serious about withdrawing troops?" And the American official said to him, "you`d better believe that it may be. This is a serious debate and it`s very finely balanced, and it could - it could fall in favor of withdrawing those troops and withdrawing them on a fairly rigorous, tight schedule." Tariq Al Hashimi responded to that by saying "then we will all be slaughtered," then we will all be slaughtered.

The American official who told me this, told the story in evidence of a sobering up, a beginning of a realization amongst the Iraqi leaders of just how serious is the predicament in which they find themselves. Too late? Possibly.

Be sure to catch Burns' interview at Rose's site.


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Comments (25)

Posted by TimK | July 18, 2007 4:28 PM

My level of sympathy for the Sunnis is tempered by the fact that they have done little to form a new government that did not have them maintaining their privilaged position that they enjoyed under Saddam. Further they did not have the foresight to realize that if they did not cut a deal before the US left, they would be butchered.
Now the politicians want to take off the month of August, while our politicians want to pull out of the area. Good thinking.

Posted by reddog | July 18, 2007 4:42 PM

The Bush administration started this war. They had 4 years, the unqualified support of the armed forces, trillions of dollars, and a strong majority in both houses. They blew it, bad.

It's too late now to come back to the well. Not another day. Not another dollar. Not another dead American soldier.

Bush is the man without a country. Let him go live in Dubai.

Posted by Anthony (Los Angeles) | July 18, 2007 4:53 PM

The way the Democrats (and now some Republicans) play short-term political games with this when the stakes are so high is just disgusting.

Posted by Gringo | July 18, 2007 5:06 PM

They had 4 years, the unqualified support of the armed forces, trillions of dollars, and a strong majority in both houses. They blew it, bad.
It's too late now to come back to the well. Not another day. Not another dollar. Not another dead American soldier.

Wars are not measured in finite times, like football games. Do I take it that in 1864 you would have voted for McClellan, the peace candidate, on the supposition that the Civil War had gone on long enough?

Posted by cv | July 18, 2007 5:16 PM

Gringo, yes he would have voted for McClellan. GW has always said that this war would last past his administration.

Posted by carole | July 18, 2007 5:24 PM

America started the war, and if they leave
the Iraqi people, the ones, it seems not
many Americans give a darn about, will
be slaughtered. For a very long time.

Leaving these people TWICE to being
slaughtered is a piece of the dirtest,
most cowardly action I have seen in my
long life.

I would think if you had the courage to start
it , you would have the courage to finish it.
Or are you the cowards you will be seen
as all over the world?

I can not believe you are even listening
to the democrats lying, their manipulating,
their continual bashing of your president,
the war and your country.

Please stop seeing it as a political game.
The consequences are far too huge, in
your own loss of troops and in your
loss of respect for yourselves.

Yes, I am angry, I am fed up reading the
lack of any courage on the part of the
right and I happen to respect your president,
and your treatment of him is so childish, I
really wonder why he even gives a darn
about any of you.

Posted by Del Dolemonte | July 18, 2007 6:06 PM

reddog said:

"The Bush administration started this war."

No, Saddam Hussein did. He invaded Kuwait in 1990, and when we routed him then, he signed certain papers saying he would behave. 12 years later, he still hadn't lived up to the terms. He also ignored something like 14 UN Resolutions, because he was in bed with certain UN people involved with Food-For Oil (Kofi's son and British MP George Galloway, to name two)

"They had 4 years,"

LOL. We won World War 2 in 4 years by carpet-bombing massive numbers of civilians in Europe and Japan back to the Stone Age. Even dropped a couple of big ones on Japan. You PC types would never let us fight that type of war today, so it's taking longer. This isn't an hour long TV show where everything gets wrapped up by minute 49.

And it might interest you to know that even 60 years after WW2 ended, we STILL have soldiers in the countries we defeated.

"the unqualified support of the armed forces"

The vast majority of the military still supports the war. Leftists have thrown about the debunked "Military Times" poll since last winter, and Democrat partisan John Zogby also did a cooked poll on the subject. But two polls don't make something "fact" or "the truth".

"trillions of dollars,"

Name me a war that was cheap

"and a strong majority in both houses."

Including Jean-Claude Kerry and Hillary Clinton.

If you look at the Repubs who are defecting, all of them are up for re-election. They're not worried about the war, only getting their hides back in office.

"They blew it, bad."

Keep wishing!

Posted by reddog | July 18, 2007 6:07 PM

McClellan, no.

I'm a states-righter. I'da let the South secede. They had a different culture, still do. The Civil War ushered in a strong federal government and the imperial presidency that plague us to this day.

If the South had been left to deal with their own issues, including slavery, they might not be the sanctimonious, bible thumper, hypocrites they are today.

Posted by vnjagvet | July 18, 2007 6:27 PM


Your view of American History is unorthodox, and informs your view of the future.

While it is difficult to reconstruct an alternative history had Lincoln and the North allowed secession, I think it fair to say that having a slave holding country next to the USA in the twenty first century would present interesting challenges.

Have you really imagined what the country would look like today under your preferred scenario?

Posted by Trochilus | July 18, 2007 8:01 PM

This is a profoundly sad story, but it speaks for itself in light of this post of yours.

Recently, Powerline posted a link to this May, 1999 Commentary article, "Was Kissinger Right?" by Gabriel Schoenfeld, in which the author cites to a letter the former Secretary of State reprinted in full in his memoirs.

It was from Sirik Matak, a former Cambodian Prime Minister, to the United States Ambassador in Phnom Phen, just before the fall to the Khmer Rouge.

Here is the exerpt from Schoenfeld:

With the United States reduced to the role of bystander, the fall came swiftly. Cambodia succumbed first. As he does also with Vietnam, Kissinger retells the riveting tale, recounting how, as the Khmer Rouge closed in on the capital city of Phnom Penh in early April 1975, the United States offered a number of Cambodian officials a chance to escape. The reply addressed to the U.S. ambassador by Sirik Matak, a former Cambodian prime minister, and reprinted by Kissinger in full, is one of the more important documents of the entire Vietnam-war era.

Dear Excellency and Friend:
I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we are all born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans].
Please accept, Excellency and dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.

Immediately after the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh, writes Kissinger, Sirik Matak was shot in the stomach and left to die over the course of three days from his untreated wounds.

Posted by vnjagvet | July 18, 2007 8:32 PM


And this will be repeated over and over if the same philosophies of government that were evident then carry over into the twenty-first century.

God grant that those who have the power to prevent this kind of sad episode do so.

Posted by Joe | July 18, 2007 9:05 PM

We can stay in Iraq for 100 years, they'll still fight a civil war when we leave.Maliki won't bargain with the Sunnis, he wants a Shia dominated government supported by Iran. Bush and his kool-aid drinking supporters will never admit failure,too proud.Stop with the sky will fall if we leave Iraq bs. The sky is falling nitwits.

Posted by Stephen | July 18, 2007 9:23 PM

Basically the left doesn't believe we're in a war; the right believes we are, but is unwilling to wage it the way wars must be waged--all out, annihilate the enemy, and inflict massive damage to persuade them they've lost. Notice, it's 62 years and we've had no further trouble from Japan and Germany. As John Derbyshire said "more rubble, less trouble".

Posted by mrlynn | July 18, 2007 10:55 PM

American interests, except for containing communist expansion, were not directly at stake in Southeast Asia. If we leave Iraq for Al Qaeda and Iran to divide up, we leave two enemies in positions to do us and the Western world great harm. No rational American president can allow this to happen.

Assuming that we will not elect an irrational president, and the Congress can be prevented from its often-irrational tendencies, it is clear that we will not be leaving Iraq any time soon.

If we're not leaving, then we must consider the alternative, namely an indefinite American occupation of the region, not excluding Iran and Syria. But maybe, like Nixon going to China, it will take a Democrat to set us on that course.

Won't the moonbats be surprised then!

/Mr Lynn

Posted by Tom W. | July 18, 2007 11:53 PM

The comments about how all is lost are hilarious.

The Democrats just got their clocks cleaned on Iraq, and Petraeus has only had his full surge for a month. He's now been given another eight weeks or so to continue mopping the earth with the terrorists using all the troops he said he needed, after which he will make his report to Congress.

There isn't a chance in hell now that there will be a retreat. This was the Surrender Caucus's last hurrah. Even the gutless RINOs knew this.

We've got the Sunnis on our side; we're wiping out the Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias; and al Qaeda is on the run.

There's a word for what's approaching in Iraq, and I don't blame anyone here for not using it, because our stupid, weak, corrupt politicians haven't spoken it in sixty years.

That word is VICTORY.

Posted by Hugh Beaumont | July 19, 2007 12:32 AM

Redogg said:

"I'm a states-righter. I'd a let the South secede."

If you knew your history, you'd find the Confederacy's radical "states rights" hysteria was their doom.

Hell, the Georgia governor threatened to seceed from the Confederacy when he realized Jeff Davis had to high tail it out of Richmond.

The lesson of the Civil War is that sometimes a great good comes from mass slaughter. The elimination of chattel slavery as an institution in this nation was worth the inevitable fight. The South had to have the piss vinegar bled from it's angry soul.

The Israeli's should take note: an equally bloody whooping of the "Palestinians" till they scream for mercy would be equally constructive for the progress of humankind.

Posted by Christopher Rampley | July 19, 2007 1:08 AM

I have to agree with Tom W. I sense an optimism that is so strong even the NYT and CNN can't ignore it.

Modern Americans are amongst the most protected and least realistic generations in the history of all superpowers. My grandmother survived the blitz in London - to think that it may take a generation to win this war and free the iraqis would come as no suprise to her.

We can, we will, win this war of ideas and this war on terror. Not a single critic of the war here in America would rather live amongst the enemy.

Thank's Cap't Ed.

Posted by Ray | July 19, 2007 12:22 PM

"The Bush administration started this war."

The war you speak of ended with the fall of Saddam and his tyrannical government. The war we now fight was instigated by others against the democratically elected government of Iraq who, by the way, is an ally of the United States.

Our current mission is to protect and support the new government of Iraq and it's citizen against those who seek to destroy that government and force it's own rule upon the people of Iraq by the use of force and intimidation, just as Saddam's government did.

Our military is not fighting in opposition to the government of Iraq anymore, it is fighting in support of that government. How is the continued support of an allied democratic government not worthy of American involvement? Why should we abandon the people of Iraq? Why should we quit?

Posted by Teresa | July 19, 2007 1:33 PM

I agree with most of you and with Burns that there will be slaughter in Iraq when the US withdraws. There is currently slaughter going on in Darfur but somehow your sympathies don't require us to intervene there. Frankly, I'm a lefty who thinks that our number one concern needs to be America's strategic interests. The Iraqis have zero interest in resolving their political differences. We need to start granting some visas to those who have helped the US over there to assist them in getting out and then we need to get out. There is little real support for Al Quada in Iraq. The Iraqis will eliminate them fairly quickly and then Iran and the Saudi's can get bogged down into a proxy war for the next fifty years with each other.

Posted by Trochilus | July 19, 2007 3:22 PM


Regarding your expression of concern about America's strategic interests, I would urge you to take the time to read, and if you have, to re-read all of John McCain's comments to the Senate early in the morning of the vote on the Levin/Reed amendment. Ed has posted the entire speech. In particular, you might want to note the following:

In Iraq, American soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen are still fighting bravely and tenaciously in battles that are as dangerous, difficult and consequential as the great battles of our armed forces’ storied past. Our enemies will still be intent on defeating us, and using our defeat to encourage their followers in the jihad they wage against us, a war which will become a greater threat to us should we quit the central battlefield in defeat. The Middle East will still be a tinderbox, which our defeat could ignite in a regional war that will imperil our vital interests at risk there and draw us into a longer and far more costly war. The prospect of genocide in Iraq, in which we will be morally complicit, is still as real a consequence of our withdrawal today as it was yesterday.

Posted by NahnCee | July 19, 2007 4:35 PM

They had 4 years, the unqualified support of the armed forces, trillions of dollars, and a strong majority in both houses. They blew it, bad.

Isn't this just as applicable to the damn dumb Arabs in Iraq as it is to Dubya, et al? At least Bush was *trying* to do the right thing. I can't see where the idjut Iraqi's have done a single solitary thing to help themselves, other than taking time off from bribery, extortion and theft once or twice to vote.

I'm remembering them lined up along their pot-holed roads the very next week after we rolled into Baghdad, demanding 24/7 electricity to run their air conditioners. And that's all the majority of them have done in the 3-4 years since then -- stand by the road, watch their brethren install IED's, and demand freebies from America.

If we do pull out and if they do slaughter each other, can someone explain to me how this would not be an ipso facto example of Darwinian law that the stupid shall not survive?

Posted by len | July 19, 2007 11:11 PM

Teresa and Trochilus

Trochilus, nice effort to be rational in your reply to Teresa, but she proudly self-identifies herself as a lefty. Note she does not identify herself with past liberals such Truman or Kennedy or Scoop Jackson. Lefties are those who thought that the Soviet Union was the essence of a good society that led to their oppossition to WW II until Hitler invaded Russia. Lefties were opposed to Truman's intervention in Greece to save it from a communist takeover. Lefties supported the campaign of Henry Wallace who saw the Soviet Union as a nation of peace. And now lefties have no problem with honor killings and the killings of homosexuals. So talking rationally to them is a waste of time. To think that it is in our strategic interests to have a disaster in Iraq, the 2nd largest oil producing country boggles the mnd. To think that leaving a genocidal mess after we committed ourselves is something with honor boggles the mind.

OF course, as Burns indicates we are paying a price in lives and treasure. But compared to other wars where men were drafted we are losing a miniscule of men and these men and women have volunteered. I don't think for one minute that the lefties care on iota for these men. IT is the hatred of Bush that drives them and hence your attempt to be rational and quote McCain is in vain.

Posted by len | July 19, 2007 11:47 PM

NahnCee at July 19, 2007 4:35 PM wrote the following:

If we do pull out and if they do slaughter each other, can someone explain to me how this would not be an ipso facto example of Darwinian law that the stupid shall not survive.

Well, for the sake of exposing the brilliance of this so called Darwinian law(a little bit knowledge is harmful) let us take it all the way. This implies we should get rid of all those let us say with 80 IQ,s because like the Iraq War they are a drain on our resources. And then why not follow with handicapped who also drain our resources by forcing tax payers to subsidize them thru our hard earned income as we do the Iraqi War. And of course, those suffering of dementia who by IQ definition are stupid.

I am sure the author will make disclaimers that he really did not mean to imply such. My point in even bothering to address this uneducated attempt to be appear erudite by referring to Darwin is that the level of argument is no different than to most of the anti-war people. IT is not thought out and the arguments of many are like wild men swinging out, not with arms, but with words that indicate a very low level of education and thinking. The smart ones at Moveon and Kos are able to take advantage of , let us see, the stupidity to use the word of the poster, of a great number of people.

There are no easy answers to this war, but we do not need thinking at the level of this kind of writing. Give me the Iraqi that John Burns quoted in his piece over the kind people who write such tripe.

Posted by leonard feingold | July 20, 2007 12:30 AM

We can stay in Iraq for 100 years, they'll still fight a civil war when we leave.Maliki won't bargain with the Sunnis, he wants a Shia dominated government supported by Iran. Bush and his kool-aid drinking supporters will never admit failure,too proud.Stop with the sky will fall if we leave Iraq bs. The sky is falling nitwits.

Posted by: Joe at July 18, 2007 9:05 PM

So this what we get from the educated left: nitwits and kool-aid. That is evidence of a good education and serious thinking.

Why 100 years; why not 1000. A little education for you--hope springs eternal. We fought a civil war. After Grant left office, the govt took your advice and abandoned our black citizens to the KKK etc. It took another 100 years, till the 1960's for final emancipation of 2nd class citizenship.
So, dont be so upset with 100 years. Maybe this will only take 20 years. Does that make you feel better. IT is because of thinking like yours that it took so long for legal equality of our black citizens.

So next time you see a responsible black citizen, apologize that the country took 100 years to realize the fruits of the Declaration and 14th and 15th amendments. It was because people then thought like you and quit. Your level of thinking and writing is no different than those who quit doing the proper thing after 1876. By the way, given your vocabulary of kool aid and dimmits, I will bet you don't even know what happenned in 1876 that led to the abandonment of principles. But of course, what can one expect from a level of vocabulary of kool aid and dimmwits.

you never thought of that, did you.

Posted by Trochilus | July 20, 2007 2:50 PM


Sometimes "no answer" to a question suffices. I too wondered what she had in mind when she said "that our number one concern needs to be America's strategic interests." But, alas, she has scampered away.

As a generalism, it even sounded like an arguable position, but I wanted to read what she said before asking her politely to list what she sees as the top three to five "strategic interests" she had in mind.

Of course, I agree with you that it boggles the mind that someone could believe that either a disasterous defeat in Iraq, or a bloodbath are in the strategic interests of the United States.

As to the left throughout most of the 20th Century, at least you could understand that they fundamentally embraced communist ideology, or at least incremental socialism.

They so wanted to be one of the progressive "new men."

But what in tarnation do they see in 7th Century Islam? Or, is it that they see the Islamists as the "useful idiots" who will drive out moderates and conservatives, and make way for the resurgence of the far left?