During his recent travel to Iraq, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Erbil, Iraq, the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government, where he met with senior officials, including President Barzani, and other Kurdish leaders and where he gave interviews to several news media -- and to Fox, too.
Secretary Kerry looks over the shoulder of the pilot commanding the helicopter that flew him to Embassy Baghdad. Photo State Department
Since the question as to what military action -- if any -- the United States will take in Iraq is on everyone's mind, the following are answers Kerry gave to questions directly or indirectly referring to that issue.
SECRETARY KERRY: And the president is carefully putting together an appropriate counterterrorism strategy to deal with this, but you have to deal with it thoughtfully. And that is exactly what we're doing.
If the president were to just make some decision to strike here or there, there's no backup, there's no "there" there in the Iraqi Government, it could be completely wasted. It's not a pathway to victory. So what you need to do first is get the government formation done here in Iraq. You need to have leadership that can unify Iraq, reconstitute the military, the army itself here in Iraq, and help them to be able to push back.
There will also be a need to -- and President Barzani talked to me about this here today. He said there's no pure military victory here; you've got to have a political solution. And a political solution will involve empowering the people in the communities where they are now to push back against them... which is precisely what the President is doing.
QUESTION: You've promised sustained and intense support for Iraq's security forces, but so far that's only translated into 300 military advisors. That's not very intense.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we're setting up the joint operations command. In addition to that, we have very significantly increased the intelligence gathering that is taking place here. The President has insisted on doing what our military believes it needs to do in preparation for any contingency. But most important to the President and to me and to all of us is the government formation. If you don't have --
QUESTION: So no military airstrikes before a government formation?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I mean, barring some exigent emergency or something that predicates that the President makes a decision which he always has available to him with respect to any country or any crisis in the world. But basically, there must be a government here so that there can be a strategy going forward, because just a strike alone is not going to change the outcome. You need to have a full-fledged strategy that is being implemented which is principally a political strategy.
QUESTION: And are 300 American advisors enough to keep them at bay, and if not are you and President Obama ready to --
SECRETARY KERRY: ... America is going to help Iraqis keep them at bay. And what the President has asked me to do is try to assess what the political appetite here is to be able to put together the kind of government that can help reconstitute the army sufficiently that they have the ability to put it together, because if the President were to decide to do something abstractly and U.S. simply gauging without Iraq's capacity to support that, it's going to fail. And nobody wants that. At least...nobody... And we've already decided - the President has decided - and the American people have made clear: Nobody wants to see American soldiers coming back here in a combat role.
So you have to look to Iraq, to its government, to its military, to be able to make the decisive difference here, and we're trying to find out whether or not they're capable of doing that.
QUESTION: Opposition leaders here today said they don't want American intervention, even as our special forces are beginning to embed in small groups with the Iraqi command.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that's not intervention. What we're trying to do is help the - and I understand what they don't want, and President Obama and the American people don't want that either.
QUESTION: Doesn't it put our troops at risk to have so much opposition to them being here?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think there is actually a great desire, otherwise they wouldn't be here. The government and everybody has asked them to be helpful with respect to planning, advising, some training and assisting. But we are not here in combat role. We are not here to fight. And the President has no intention - none whatsoever - of returning American combat troops to Iraq to go back to where we were. That's not in the cards.
Finally, James Rosen of Fox.
Right off the bat, a combative Rosen latched onto a New York Times/CBS news poll that suggests that Americans disapprove of President Obama's handling of foreign policy.
Rosen, referring to the poll: "Are you humbled by that?"
To which Kerry answered, "Well, look, it's a good thing that we don't do foreign policy by polls. That would be a tragedy and a huge mistake."
To which Rosen doggedly persisted with questions such as:
"So are you doubting the verdict?"
"The American people are expressing disapproval. Are you doubting their judgment?"
"Are you doubting their judgment?"
At this point, it would have been appropriate to ask Rosen what his reaction was to Vice President Dick Cheney's answer to a question by ABC News' Martha Raddatz back in March 2008, when the Iraq War had been raging for five years -- a war that had already killed nearly 4,000 and injured more than 29,000 of our men and women in uniform, and a war that had already cost the United States roughly $600 billion.
When Raddatz asked Cheney what he thought about polls that indicated two-thirds of Americans believed that the war in Iraq was not worth fighting and that the cost in lives was not worth the gains, Cheney disdainfully responded with one single word: "So?"
Talk about doubting the American people's judgement!
When Rosen finally got to the Iraq crisis, his questions bristled with innuendoes and unfounded accusations:
"This was not an intelligence failure?"
"Obviously, whatever steps [the President] took, which you've only described vaguely, proved inadequate to prevent this current crisis from developing... So this, to a reasonable observer, will appear as either an intelligence or a policy failure, or both."
"But you saw Fallujah fall and you saw Ramadi fall, and what did you do about it to prevent Mosul from falling? It doesn't seem like very much."
What Rosen conveniently failed to mention was that pesky fact: the fact that most Americans now say that the Bush-Cheney Iraq War wasn't worth the cost.
Just 18 percent of Americans think the result of the war in Iraq was worth the loss of American lives and other costs of attacking Iraq, the lowest percentage ever recorded in CBS News Polls. Seventy-five percent do not think the Iraq War was worth it, up eight percentage points since 2011 (just before all U.S. troops were removed), and up 30 points since August 2003.
While Fox and its allies in Congress continue to attack the President, what is important is that our military forces are capable -- and they are -- to respond to whatever options the President selects. That they be "ready if called upon for Iraq," and they are.
The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush conducts a replenishment with the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Joshua Humphreys in the Persian Gulf, June 18, 2014. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previously ordered the carrier into the Persian Gulf to provide President Barack Obama additional flexibility should military options be required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Scott Barnes.
An F/A18C Hornet aircraft launches off the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf, June 17, 2014. The Hornet is assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 31. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Harry Andrew D. Gordon.
Lead photo: Secretary Kerry holds a news conference in Baghdad, June 23. Photo State Department.