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Senate Views on the War with Iraq

March 23, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And now finally tonight, Some senate reaction now, and to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: And we are joined tonight by two senators who have been receiving regular briefings from the administration on the state of the war: Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence; and Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Welcome to you both.

Both of you, of course, did vote for the Iraq war resolution and Sen. Voinovich, the young woman who spoke at the beginning of the tape – we actually didn’t run this particular bite of hers, but she said she didn’t feel anyone was listening to her. Do you think that people in positions of power now in Washington are listening to the roughly one quarter of Americans who say they do oppose this war?

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: Oh, I think that we have listened to them and we have paid attention to what they have said. Unfortunately they don’t have the same information that we have — the information that caused us to support the president going into Iraq in the event that all diplomatic means were exhausted. So we understand them, but — and I wish that they had the same information that we had and I think some of them are getting a glimpse at the kind of person he is by how this war is being conducted by the Iraqis.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Feinstein, you have been critical of the Bush administration for its preemption policy and what you’ve said is its reliance on military power. Last week however on the floor of the Senate you said, you were going to reserve those issues now for the quote appropriate time. Are you saying you think at this point it is inappropriate for people at least in public life to be questioning the president’s decision now that we’re in a conflict?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, I can have a foreign policy discussion with anybody any time, I suppose. But I think right now we have got thousands of our men and women in harm’s way. And I would hope it’s time for America to come together. I think one of the things that I want to stress is, and one of the reasons I believe there is such big support for this is that 9/11 really ripped into the psyche of America. And we are a nation that doesn’t hit first generally, except in this case I think a sleeping giant was awakened and I think there was this need in this body politic so to speak to hit back even though there was no connection directly to 9/11 or directly to al-Qaida.

MARGARET WARNER: So do you think it’s inappropriate for afternoon Americans to be demonstrating against the war?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: No, I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all. I think it’s fine for them, but I think for us those of us in a position of elective office particularly in the Senate or the House we’ve had or debates on the floor. The war is now underway. I want to us win it and win it fast and win it as bloodlessly as we possibly can.

MARGARET WARNER: So Sen. Voinovich, let’s go to the progress on the war, how you would assess it?

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: Well, I think that some of the things we were concerned about – for example the oil fields, the air bases up in the western part of Iraq where we were concerned that Scuds would be shot off into Israel are good signs. I particularly am pleased with the fact that we control the Rumalyah oil fields that we have the al-Faw Peninsula and that it looks like we’re in control of Umm Qasr. Now the real issue can we get control of Basra.

But the fact of the matter is as I asses it, after being briefed I stowed myself if they fight like they where they’re fighting right now this is going to be a much longer war than what many people anticipate. We forget that we were in Desert Storm for 43 days. We forget that in this war we’ve dropped more bombs in Iraq than we did during that 43-day period during the Desert Storm.

So I think we’re in there for a long time, and I think that we also can realize what’s coming back from Iraq today from the reporters that are there that this is going to be a bloody war, that they’re going to use every trick up their sleeve and I wouldn’t be surprised that ultimately they don’t use chemical and biological warfare.

MARGARET WARNER: Is it looking that way to you Sen. Feinstein, a long war?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I think to judge it by Desert Storm is the wrong thing. Desert Storm was never about regime change. This war is about regime change. I can say envisioned the use of force in a different way. I thought after Sec. Powell spoke to the United Nations about the camp in northeastern Iraq that that camp was going to be taken out with the alleged al-Qaida that were theoretically there that night. It wasn’t and it hasn’t been. Clearly to me this is about regime change, therefore, you know he’s going to pull back his guard, you know he’s going to deploy them around Baghdad and you know that the battle is going to be Baghdad and taking him out of office.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you share, for example, the concerns that Col. Lang just expressed just now in the discussion with Jim that given the fierceness of the resistance, albeit it’s in pockets in the South, that it’s more than apparently was expected, that the U.S. force may be too small to really do this job?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: No, because in our briefings we were told that more opposition was anticipated, that the early victories were of the lesser troops… excuse the early victories were against lesser Iraqi troops. It was anticipated as we proceeded to the North that the opposition would become stronger. So this is not a surprise. And I think when you consider the number of troops over there, now our losses because one person is too many to lose, our losses bother us, but if you consider the number, they’re still very small.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you comfortable, Sen. Voinovich, with the level of American troops there?

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: We have to rely upon our generals and Gen. Myer and our defense secretary, Rumsfeld, believes we have the number of people need and the equipment we need to win this war and there is no question about us winning the war. The question is how soon will it be over.

And I would like to remind people and particularly some of the people demonstrating around the country, I have an orange ribbon that I’m wearing. I wore this orange ribbon when I was commander in chief of the Ohio National Guard when I was governor of Ohio. I would like to remind them that the Desert Storm, the Persian Gulf War really never ended. There was a cease-fire. Saddam Hussein agreed in Resolution 678 by the Security Council that he was going to disarm. There has been 39 more resolutions since that time — 17 talking about disarming and he’s continued to thumb his nose at those resolutions. We’re just following through on something quite frankly that we should have done a lot earlier.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally on weapons of mass destruction and the search for them, Senator Feinstein, what have you been told about the search for weapons of mass destruction site? It’s been a little bit confusing what we have heard from the Pentagon.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I have been in no briefings on that subject. I think that he does have chemical and biological weapons. The biggest mistake he could make would be to use them, because that would be complete vindication for the United States position. So I would be not surprised if he did, but I think in a way that would be the dramatic end of this in our favor.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Voinovich there were reports in the New York Times today that U.S. and Australian commandos have especially in the western part of the country gone after at least suspected sites sand tried to take out the command and control and the delivery systems at those sites. Can you confirm that, have you gotten any briefings about the search for weapons of mass destruction?

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: No, I haven’t except the same stuff that you have heard, is that they’ve been at a place where they thought chemical weapons were being developed. But you know something, I don’t think we’re going to have this information even during this period of time. I think that some of this is going to be discovered and found after this war is over.

MARGARET WARNER: And, finally, what can you tell us about the latest intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s fate?

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: Well, maybe Dianne knows more than a do, but from everything that I know I think he’s still alive and well.

MARGARET WARNER: Is that your understanding from U.S. intelligence that he is still alive and is he still well?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I think it’s not known.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: My impression is that he is around.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Feinstein.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I think it’s not known at this time. I think the evidence is still equivocal. I think the assumption is made that he’s still around. Sen. Lugar said earlier today that he had had intelligence his body was removed on a stretcher after that first night. I have not heard that in direct intelligence briefings. We have one at 9:00 in the morning tomorrow and that will certainly be asked, but I think the operative decision has to be that he’s still around and one has to function as if he is.

MARGARET WARNER: Senators Feinstein and Voinovich, thank you both.