Gizzi on Politics: Gen. Lute and Helen Thomas

What Does Gen. Lute Mean By ‘Generational Continuity’ in Iraq?

In an on the record briefing to reporters on November 26, National Security Council Director for Iraq Brett McGuirk told HUMAN EVENTS editor Jed Babbin that, “…a generational commitment” will be required in Iraq.  Reporters and other participants in briefings conducted by Gen. Doug Lute, the President’s “Iraq czar,” say that he has frequently has made repeated references to the United States having “generational continuity” with Iraq.

What we don’t know is what McGuirk and Lute mean. The terms  seem to contradict the current trend of the U.S. military presence, with nearly 5700 troops scheduled to come home by the end of the year.

Although it doesn’t use either term, a statement from the White House November 26 outlining the U.S. and Iraqi "Declaration of Principles" is a guideline to what Lute is talking about, a National Security Council staff source told me.  The “Declaration,” which Lute expounded on at a press briefing that day, "is a shared statement of intent that establishes common principles to frame our future relationship.  This moves us closer to normalized, bilateral relations between our two countries.  With this declaration, leaders of Iraq and the United States commit to begin negotiating the formal arrangements that will govern such a relationship."

This is also something that Iraq has requested.  But if one senses that this is some avenue toward keeping U.S. troops, the Declaration makes clear that it “requires fewer Coalition forces." In fact, the Declaration is "consistent with Iraq’s sovereignty." It’s a second step in the process are "the renewal of the Multinational Force-Iraq’s Chapter VII United Nations mandate for a final year, followed by the third step, the negotiation of the detailed arrangements that will codify our bilateral relationship after the Chapter VII mandate expires."

Although there is no definition of “generational continuity” and the term was not used in the White House statement November 26 or by Lute at his briefing that day, my source insists that this is what the “Iraq Czar” means and by no means refers to protracted troops and permanent bases.  “We have the same kind of relationship with Afghanistan and the former Soviet bloc countries,” he added.                     


Since George W. Bush became President in 2001 and his four press secretaries held twice-a-day briefings for reporters, they have almost always let White House Press Corps grande dame Helen Thomas sit in her front row seat and ask whatever she wants — no matter how virulently anti-Bush her invective gets.  Last Friday, however, current Press Secretary Dana Perino made it clear she was not going to stand there and take it. 

The 87-year-old Thomas went on about whether the President “want[s] no troops out from Iraq on his watch” (Perino pointed out that 5700 will be home by the end of the year, asked “why can’t the American people have a say?” (They did when they re-elected Bush as commander-in-chief, replied Perino), “why should we depend on him[Bush]?”, and finally, “you mean how many more people we kill?”  That was it for Perino, who fired back: “Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements.  It is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room, and to suggest that we, at the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive.”

When Perino pointed out that the Administration has expressed regret for any innocent Iraqis who have been killed, Thomas said dismissively: “Oh, regret.  It doesn’t bring back a life.”  That was it for Perino, who finally snapped: “Helen, we are in a war zone, and our military works extremely hard to make sure that everyone has the opportunity for liberty and freedom and democracy, and that is exactly what they are doing. I’m going to move on.”