Skip to comments.Col. Austin Bay back from the Middle East, after a 51-hour return trip (Hugh Hewitt interview)
Posted on 06/28/2005 7:59:43 PM PDT by ajolympian2004
Transcript of Hugh Hewitt's interview with milblogger Austin Bay:
Tuesday, June 28
Col. Austin Bay back from the Middle East, after a 51-hour return trip.
And yet, he was still more coherent than Ted Kennedy on one of his sobriety days. You can read more of Col. Bay's adventures here, but below is the transcript on Hugh's show earlier this afternoon:
HH: Colonel, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, and welcome back to the U.S.
AB: Thanks, Hugh. It's great to be back.
HH: I heard you had quite an adventurous return.
AB: Yes. Fifty one and half hours in transit, broke my record coming back from Uganda of 46 hours, and I'm still getting over jetlag. This was a tough transition.
HH: I'd love to know how that happened, but let's...we've got two segments. I've got to cover a lot of ground with you. What did you see? And what should the American people think on the eve of the president's speech?
AB: Well, that's a complex question. I'm not sure where you want to go with it out there. I've got some thoughts about President Bush, and what he needs to do. We talked about those about three weeks ago before I left. And it seems to me since I left, we've had three weeks of accelerating demands on the president to stand up and be the war leader he needs to be. If we cover what we talked about three weeks ago, if you recall I told a story about what my mother said in December of 2001, about needing to get people involved in the war. Well, the president needs to come through with a speech tonight that affirms our effort in the Middle East, affirms the effort of the Iraqis, and the Afghani people, and states the case, beginning in the early 1990's, when Al Qaeda declared war on us, what those stakes are, and where we intend to go.
HH: Now, let's start, though, with what you saw in Iraq, Colonel Bay. Is the progress there real? Or is it static?
AB: Hugh, the progress is real. Unfortunately, in many cases, it's incremental. It's also the kind of progress that is measured in maybe three to six month bites. But I could see that. I left Iraq in September...last September. I come back in June. I can see change in Baghdad as a way I put it in a column that I wrote, really more of a letter from Baghdad about ten days ago, is that I see bricks. I mean the kind of bricks that are going up to build things. The problem is, is that the calm is fragile. It's shatterable by Zarqawi's bombs. That's what makes the headlines. The trevails continue. Obviously, they do. Are Iraqi forces more and more prevalent? Yes. I can see them. Are they picking up more and more of the security mission? Yes, they are. I mean, and that's not fake. That's real. It's hard to show on television. It's hard to make that on the above-the-fold of the New York Times, but it's real.
HH: Now, Colonel Bay, John Kerry said hours ago that all Iraqis are living in fear on a daily basis, you know, afraid that their walk to work will end up in their death. Is that something you sense? Is it palpable?
AB: I'll tell you what. Unfortunately, John Kerry is using it as a domestic, political tool. If I thought he really cared about the Iraqi people, I'd listen to him. I don't think he does. I think he cares about his own decimated, political career. And I think the same thing applies to Ted Kennedy. They're playing the gotcha game in Washington. They're not out there being warriors, the kind of counter-terror warriors that we need. Do I think the Iraqi people are afraid? I guarantee you some of them are. And they've been afraid for a long time. Fear isn't something new. Fear now is something, though, that the Iraqi people are getting the power to address. And I don't say that as counter-rhetoric to Mr. Kerry. That's what's going on. If he thinks fear is new in Iraq, then his whole statement is suspect. If he understands that they traded the fear of Saddam and the fear of tyranny for a fear of Zarqawi, yea. That's there.
HH: What's your sense of the constitution writing process? On track? Going to make it? Is it bringing the Sunnis in?
AB: Difficult, difficult, difficult. Is it bringing the Sunnis in? I remember in June of last year, actually early July, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said one of his goals was to bring in Sunni members, former Sunni members of the Baath Party. He said I was a former Baathist. Really, what's he's concerned about, we're not Baathist so much as Saddamists, people who worked for Saddam Hussein. He said incorporation of elements of the Sunni polity into the new Iraqi government is one of his goals. He made...he thought he made incremental progress, and I think that there's still a lot of fence-sitters. I think there's a lot of fear in the Sunni community, fear that their cooperation will lead to attack by Saddam's holdouts, and Zarqawi. And that's a fear I don't think that John Kerry is addressing. There's a fear there that holds people from cooperation.
HH: Just back from four days on the ground in Iraq, and side trips to Jubuti, side trips into the Gulf, and I guess you were on the ground in Afghanistan as well, Colonel, huh?
AB: Yea, about three and half days.
HH: Well, we had a tragic chopper crash today. I think sixteen soldiers involved in that. I don't know what the fatality count is there. Give us a thumbnail of Afghanistan and Jubuti while we're at it, before we go back to Baghdad.
AB: Okay. Jubuti was glancing, and our stay there...we were supposed to go see a humanitarian aid operation in Ethiopia, but we had travel issues. So basically, we got briefed on the ground by the Marine colonel who runs the operation in the Horn of Africa. Most of that actually deals with developmental aid and relief aid operations. Some training of border security for the Ethiopians, and the deal I wanted to work out with them is, if I can find a way to come back for a couple of weeks to embed with one of their humanitarian relief operations, very interested in that, because that is the long-term effort to win the War on Terror, is going to take that kind of intimate, social, political and economic engagement.
HH: You bet.
AB: Afghanistan...Afghanistan, Hugh, is a country that shows the devastation of thirty years of warfare. It is so impoverished, and yet I was traveling with...two of the people I was traveling with, one was Sally Donnelly of Time Magazine, and then Mike Hedges of Hearst newspapers, the Houston Chronicle. Mike was in Afghanistan, in some of the same places we went in November of 2001. And what Mike kept telling me was Austin, they're rebuilding this place. Austin, this place was wrecked by the Soviets, according to the Afghans he was with. Look, they're rebuilding it. And you know, these things were in such miserable condition, that any improvement is like moving from the one percentile to the 15 percentile, and there you've shot up, what? Fourteen hundred percent.
AB: That is where Afghanistan is, and yet, we were on patrol one day with an MP company, and went through a tiny, little Afghanistan village, got out with a couple of translators, chatted with some of the locals, and what they were enthusiastic about is first of all, the long drought's broken. It maybe broke last year, but they're really reaping the dividends this year. More water, that means more wheat, and they're into the long, difficult process of economic revitalization. There's certainly less war in their area. War continues, but it's been pushed off into the mountains in Southern and Southwestern Afghanistand. So, what do you say there? It's better, but they're in such a devastated situation, Hugh.
HH: Yea. In your time with the Navy, were you on any of the patrol craft down in the...
AB: Yes, yes.
HH: Because my cousin's skippering one of those things.
AB: Well, I was...we got on a PC, I was on a PC Chinook, really for just about an hour. I actually spent more time on the rigid hull inflatable boats, the rib boats that were operating off the cruiser Normandy, chasing Iranian dows. It's not that the Iranian dows were doing anything necessarily wrong, but they come up on exclusion zone that protects...
AB: ...the Al Basra oil terminal, where something like 90% of Iraq's oil exports come out of what they call the A-BOT. The Navy has an Aegis cruiser, it's not really parked. It cruises very slowly in and out of the shallows around there. But they have the cruiser there, really operating, it's impressive in an of itself. It's got a lof of surface weapons, some have been added onto it, but it's got all of those observation, surveillance and intelligence assets that come with an Aegis-class cruiser. They're simply dedicated to protecting that oil terminal. I mean it was fascinating watching this ultra, ultra high-tech piece of American military technology, dedicated really to an economic protection operation.
HH: That's interesting.
AB: And the Navy crew is quite aware of it. This isn't what we were designed for, but this is what we can certainly do, and there you've got again an intelligence platform extraordinaire, protecting what is the bank or the long-term economic prospects for Iraq.
HH: Now Colonel, this is a hard question, but I hope you got a chance to observe the Iraqi military. Are they developing the professional sort of officer class, command and control, subject to civilian leadership, that we would hope would prevent future coups...
AB: Okay, realize and hear that this time I was there for four days after four and a half months, okay?
AB: I'm a critic of parachute journalism. Could I see change? Yes. Wandering around Al-Fahd palace at Baghdad International Airport, where I served last year, I ran into Iraqi lieutenant colonels and colonels. Now these guys are English speakers, and they're in there working on the operational deck in the joint operations center with U.S. and other coalition forces. Did I get from people I know, including a couple of officers that I have known from past service, good reports on some of the Iraqi military? Yea, on a couple of cases, fantastic reports. Other cases? Mediocre. We're having to go through the process, we and the Iraqi people, of creating a competent military whole cloth, realizing, and here's the caveat that rarely gets any attention, is that in many cases, they did not have, for political reasons, a competent military to begin with.
AB: They had Republican guard, you had certain, key Iraqi divisions, and the rest of them were kept around for political purposes or oppression purposes. We're trying to produce a professional force, help them produce a professional force. And it's spotty in cases. There's no question about that.
HH: Fifty seconds, Colonel Bay. The morale of the American troops?
AB: Once again, the United States is so well-served by the quality of personnel that we have. And I'm bowled over again by the, I say the 19 through 35 year olds. I guess they're 19 through 36 now that I run into, that I ran into last year that I see again. Here is the curious effect. Why the gotcha political games back in the United States? I heard that stated by senior officers, on and off the record. I had that kind of quizzical look from several NCO's that I talk about, many of them reservists and national guard, who are really clued in because they're in e-mail contact with the home front all the time. Why all the gotcha games? And they just shake their heads at what goes on in D.C., in terms of the D.C. power games. That is corrosive in the long run, Hugh.
HH: Austin Bay, Colonel Austin Bay, great to have you. I know you're whacked out, but as soon as we can get you back, the better, Colonel. A lot more to debrief you on, and the national audience loves it. Go to Austinbay.net, America, if you want more.
End of interview.
Posted at 5:51PM PST
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