MR. RUSSERT: Were we properly prepared for the peace, for the reconstruction?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think the answer is obviously–it’s obvious we weren’t. We weren’t.
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I don’t know. There’s a variety of possible explanations on this. I was concerned from the outset when I talked to people on the inside that they had done a lot of thinking about how to fight a war. They hadn’t done their homework in terms of what happens next. I got various indications. They said, “Look, we got to focus on the war first.” Some people said, “We don’t want to talk about what happens next.” I think there were some assumptions that we would be more warmly welcomed than perhaps we were in some cases. I think there was an inclination to say that if you get overly focused on what happens next, you are going to lose sight of the real problem. The problem is weapons of mass destruction. The problem is keeping the American people’s attention focused so you can do this. So I think that, for a lot of different reasons, the postwar planning, and the postwar effort, didn’t receive the priority that many of us felt that it should have.
MR. RUSSERT: How long will we be in Iraq?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Several years. But I think the extent of it is uncertain.
MR. RUSSERT: What kind of force level?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think it depends really on what happens down at the third level and how much anti-Americanism there is. At some point, if all of the Iraqi people rise up, and there are hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the streets, saying, “Please leave. Thanks a lot for getting rid of Saddam, but please leave,” I think it will be very hard for the United States to stay.
My guess is that the situation will be more ambiguous than that. There’s a power struggle that will emerge inside Iraq between the continuing leadership groups. And we’ll be there. We’ll be trying to sort that out. We’ll have other reasons to be in the region. Several years, maybe–we’d like to get the numbers down to 75,000 troops or less. It’s not clear if that can be done. Let’s see the results of this operation and of the one afterwards over the summer.
Right now the United States Army is about 70 percent committed between Afghanistan, Iraq, the remnants of that’s in the Balkans. And we’ve got another 10 percent in Korea. So, I mean, there’s not a lot of flex right here for the United States Army. They’re the people on the ground. I know there’s every effort being made to reduce that force. But the simple fact is as long as there’s a threat over there, you can’t reduce the force. So I think we’re going to be there in a substantial number for a long time.