August 10th, 2014
12:28 PM ET

Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. James Jones on CNN's State of the Union // Jones: "...they (Iraqis) need to come up with a new prime minister very quickly, and hopefully it should not be al-Maliki..."

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, General James L. Jones, former National Security Advisor (President Barack Obama Administration), and Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Iraq (2005-07) and Afghanistan (2003-05) (President George W. Bush Administration), spoke to Crowley about the effect of US airstrikes on ISIS, the reconstruction of Iraq, and the Kurdish question.

Both agree that without assistance from the US and the international community, the Iraqi citizens will perish and ISIS will continue to terrorize the region.  Khalilzad and Jones support providing the Kurdish army with weapons to combat ISIS. Yet, both share skepticism about whether the Iraqi government can reconcile the nation’s conflicting ethnic and religious divisions.

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

General Jones on aiding the Kurdish army: “The Kurds have been our best friends for years. Yet we still list them as a - three terrorist organizations, which is, in my mind, ludicrous. And, second, I have had an e-mail this morning from Kurdistan. And they need weapons. They need to be able to fight ISIS with the weapons that ISIS has, which is the weapons that they captured from us. The Kurds are our best friends in the region. We cannot let Kurdistan fall to ISIS. That would be a strategic disaster.”

Khalilizad on incorporating the international community: “we need do is to move quickly to internationalize the effort, I think, with Turkey, with some of our European allies. Even some Arabs need to be brought in. I think this is a moment for the president, for the United States to exercise leadership that has been a deficit in exercising leadership in the last couple of years in particular. This is an opportunity.”

Khalilizad on strengthening the Iraqi state: “the only way to keep Iraq together is a kind of a confederal arrangement between Kurdistan and Baghdad, where Baghdad agrees that the Kurds could export oil, they could acquire their own weapons, they could control their own airspace. And I think we began to give them some weapons. I think we need to build on that. As we are going to limit ourselves to airpower alone, we need to have people on the ground who can take advantage of the shift in balance as a result of degrading that we will do, and that's very important. Similarly, I believe we ought to start working with some moderate Sunni groups to arm them. That's what worked in 2007-2008. And we need to do that. But we also need to keep pushing the Iraqis' political forces to come together to form a central government. And internationalize the effort, exercise that U.S. leadership that has been - that is a key requirement for success.”

 

Full transcripts of these interviews are available after the jump.

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CROWLEY: President Obama becomes the fourth U.S. president in a row to intervene with military force in Iraq, although he may be the most reluctant of the bunch.

Joining me now, General Jim Jones - he was the president's first national security adviser - and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq under President Bush.

Thank you so much for joining us. You are familiar faces over all the years that the U.S. has been trying to kind of get it right in Iraq.

General Jones, first to you a military question, if you can answer, with that background, and that is, what's the risk now to the U.S. with these flights, humanitarian and missile strikes?

GEN. JIM JONES (RET.), FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think, on the humanitarian side, it's probably - probably a low risk in terms of where the refugees are.

We do have people - masses of people moving and, you know, seeking safety. And so I think we can probably do humanitarian drops pretty safely.

CROWLEY: And why are they so - it's interesting, because we were told that there were 40,000 or so people, refugees up on this mountain...

JONES: Right.

CROWLEY: ... being chased by ISIS. And we're dropping 8,200 or something MREs. Why is it so - you think of these huge planes. Why is it such a small amount?

JONES: Well, it can be more.

And I think one of the things we mastered over the years, going all the way back to Iraq in 1991 with the Kurdish refugees, we mastered the art of precision dropping, so you're not - you're not wasting a lot of food, and it's not falling into the wrong hands.

So, we can be more precise, but we have enormous capacity to drop as much as we need to.

CROWLEY: And, Mr. Ambassador, let me talk to you about the situation right now in Baghdad.

We have heard the president say over and over again, we need to have a coalition government in there, and once we have all the various factions or most of the various factions in Iraq together, we can be more useful. How realistic is that?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, the idea is a good one, obviously. If you have a unified government, led by someone who is competent and can bring the Iraqis together, great.

CROWLEY: Well, there you go.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: What could be better, right?

KHALILZAD: But I think the chances of getting that and getting it immediately is not very good.

Number one, it is possible that Maliki might go, but he could be replaced by someone who is not as competent in terms of bringing people together, not as competent as we would like in terms of leading Iraqis in a military effort. It will take him a while to put a cabinet together. It will take him a while to put the program together.

CROWLEY: Well, when you say a while, this man - as we know, Maliki has been in there for some time. The U.S. is very unhappy with him.

KHALILZAD: Right.

CROWLEY: So, what are we talking, years?

KHALILZAD: Well, definitely months that - to put - not only select someone, but he then puts a program together. He puts a cabinet together. He gets to know his job, so...

CROWLEY: Lots of waiting.

KHALILZAD: ... it's not a magical solution that tomorrow there is a government and everything will start working.

CROWLEY: And so, if you can't get this magical solution, General, then what happens? Because we heard Senator McCain say, we can't wait. These folks are on the march, this is a direct threat to the homeland.

Where are you in your thought about how much of a threat this is and whether waiting is dangerous?

JONES: Yes, I think time is not on our side. It certainly isn't on the Iraqi side.

I believe that the - they need to come up with a new prime minister very quickly, and hopefully it should not be al-Maliki.

CROWLEY: But, if they don't, is there an argument for we have got to do...

JONES: But the second thing, I think, is that new prime minister needs to reach out very quickly to the Kurds and the Sunnis and anyone else he needs to, to talk about how we're going to reconcile this country, which the current prime minister has failed to do. And you do that by giving the Kurds things that they have always wanted, Kirkuk, for one, and Sunnis their own area. And there's a lot of ways to do that quickly. And then the third thing that has to be done quickly, I think, is to start neutralizing ISIS or whatever we want to call them these days.

To me, they're terrorists and they're murderers and they're thugs, and they don't deserve a proper name, but we know who they are and we know they're growing. I think Senator McCain is correct in his estimate of over 10,000 in Iraq and 40,000 in Syria, but this is - this should not be, in my view, a U.S. battle alone.

CROWLEY: Well, back to - absolutely. That's one of the questions I wanted to ask. Where's - let's just look at the neighborhood. Where is Jordan? Where is Turkey? Where are - where are others? This is not just a threat to the United States.

KHALILZAD: Well, I think one of the things that we need do is to move quickly to internationalize the effort, I think, with Turkey, with some of our European allies. Even some Arabs need to be brought in. I think this is a moment for the president, for the United States to exercise leadership that has been a deficit in exercising leadership in the last couple of years in particular. This is an opportunity.

And I think what has happened already the last couple of days has provided a positive image of the United States again coming to the help of people in need.

CROWLEY: Dropping food, dropping water.

KHALILZAD: Dropping food, dropping water.

And also it has boosted the morale of the Kurds. Even limited as the action has been, it has had a positive effect. We need to build on that, especially with regard to internationalizing.

CROWLEY: In the time I have left, just briefly, is it possible that Iraq, as we know it, can't be put back together?

JONES: I think it's going to be hard to do. It doesn't mean that it can't survive as a state, but I think it's going to be - it's going to be a different - a different state with - with more power to the - to the regions.

CROWLEY: More autonomy for the Kurds?

JONES: Exactly.

And, if I could, Candy, I think it's absolutely critical that - that the United States come to the Kurdish aid. The Kurds have been our best friends for years. Yet we still list them as a - three terrorist organizations, which is, in my mind, ludicrous. And, second, I have had an e-mail this morning from Kurdistan. And they need weapons. They need to be able to fight ISIS with the weapons that ISIS has, which is the weapons that they captured from us. The Kurds are our best friends in the region. We cannot let Kurdistan fall to ISIS. That would be a strategic disaster.

The other group that I would say is oppressed and needs our help is the MEK, which is another oppressed minority in Baghdad that several thousand of them are stranded. And we should - we should act more compassionately towards those groups.

CROWLEY: Mr. Ambassador, to wrap it up, so it sounds as though what I'm hearing is, perhaps - we have been reluctant to give weapons to the Kurds, seeing them as part of Iraq, but perhaps this is the beginning of the splitting apart of Iraq, that Iraq as we know it is over.

KHALILZAD: Well, I think the only way to keep Iraq together is a kind of a confederal arrangement between Kurdistan and Baghdad, where Baghdad agrees that the Kurds could export oil, they could acquire their own weapons, they could control their own airspace.

And I think we began to give them some weapons. I think we need to build on that. as we are going to limit ourselves to airpower alone, we need to have people on the ground who can take advantage of the shift in balance as a result of degrading that we will do, and that's very important.

Similarly, I believe we ought to start working with some moderate Sunni groups to arm them. That's what worked in 2007-2008. And we need to do that. But we also need to keep pushing the Iraqis' political forces to come together to form a central government. And internationalize the effort, exercise that U.S. leadership that has been - that is a key requirement for success.

CROWLEY: To lead.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, thank you so much.

General Jim Jones, thank you as well.

JONES: My pleasure.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.

JONES: Thank you.

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