Iraq Turmoil: Senate Reaction
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JIM LEHRER: And now, two leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: The chairman, Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and the ranking Democrat, Joe Biden of Delaware.
Senator Lugar, the president today rejected delaying the June or considering delaying the June 30 deadline for turning over sovereignty to Iraq. Do you agree with him?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, I was asked a question yesterday by a reporter about the 30th deadline and it appeared to me that this might be a subject for more study and more debate. And certainly the program you’ve had this evening illustrates some of the reasons why, namely the time frame is very small to disarm the militia, to bring about a security situation in which the governing council, the 24 Iraqis or however many others they appoint, can govern the country.
And furthermore, I added that over here on the Senate, at some point we hope to see a nominee for ambassador of the country, a very important appointment, and have the confirmation process, learn more about the 3,000 Americans who may be going to the largest embassy we’ve ever had before the 30th of June and try to figure out the security for those Americans quite apart from those folks who are out there now: Humanitarian people, construction Americans, trying to help the Iraqis rebuild their country.
JIM LEHRER: But senator, it was your statement that caused the president to be asked this very question today.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Do you interpret his answer assaying no way, Senator Lugar?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: That’s my impression. That the president gave that answer, that June 30 is it, is the deadline. Now if this be the case, then I’m very hopeful that who ever is doing the planning for the next few days as we count down to June 30, will come forward, at least to some of us in the Congress, I think that they probably in the administration will need some of our assistance in a time in which the Congress has been polarized, is fractious, as the president and others have observed. We’re going to need at least some idea, which we used to get daily when the war was going on, the hostilities in Iraq.
But now whole weeks pass without any sign really of how things are proceeding. So we’re going to have hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee on the 20th, the 21st and 22nd of this month, we are going to probe anybody who will tell us what ought to occur in Iraq, or what is occurring.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, how do you read the president’s statement today, same way Senator Lugar does?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: The exact same way Senator Lugar does, and quite frankly I think whether or not we go forward on June 30 is actually less important than whether we have a plan for success. I don’t know what the administration’s plan is. I don’t know what the plan is as when Bremer says wheels up on June 30, what happens then, to whom are we turning over sovereignty, number one.
Number two, who is going to be the referee, there’s no doubt there’s going to be some degree of chaos between June 30 and the time general elections are to be held at the end of January. Who is going to be the one that lets, if in fact Chalabi makes a deal with Sistani on diminishing the role of women in Iraq, for example, who is going to demarche them just like we did in Afghanistan when they — when the loya jirga were putting together their constitution and they diverted in a significant way?
I just don’t know what the plan is, and it is absolutely incredible me that here we are about 12 weeks out, neither the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee nor the ranking member, not that we’re so important, but institutionally we in a sense are, at least I don’t have any idea what their plan is.
JIM LEHRER: What about the president’s point today, Senator Biden, that the U.S. has an obligation to the Iraqi people to keep its word? The word was we’re going to turn it over on June 30. Yes, there’s some security problems, yes the U.S. is going to have to keep troops there.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: The answer is there’s some truth to that. The president for whatever reason picking June 30 has raised expectations considerably. And there’s two concerns about not being able to turn power over at that time. One would be that we have reneged on our word to the Iraqi populous at large. But the second is that is Sadr and his thugs or the Sunni Triangle folks in Fallujah conclude that their activity can alter our course of action — that they are succeeding.
So I acknowledge that there is a real concern. There is still time to do this the right way, in my view. But I just am at a loss to be able to understand why there hasn’t been a resolution within the administration as to whether or not they’re going to go back for another U.N. resolution, whether or not they’re going to try to get a Brahimi-like figure in –
JIM LEHRER: The U.N. special –
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Yes I’m sorry, the U.N. special envoy, essentially a high commissioner. In other words, I just don’t know what they have in mind. And as Dick said, during the war, prior to the war they consulted with us regularly. As if, and they’re acting now like as if there’s no need to consult us, as if they don’t need congressional support. And I think it’s less important that they satisfy Dick and me than they satisfy the American people. And I think the American people are beginning to wonder whether they have a plan for success.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Senator Lugar, the American people are wondering what going on over there?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Yes, they are wondering and we need to offer answers.
JIM LEHRER: We meaning the entire U.S. government, you all included as well as the president?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: That’s right — the president and Congress. And we need to see it together, so that it is even more credible. I would just add to what Joe Biden has said that clearly if I were a member of the governing council of 24 and sovereignty was passed to me, sometimes it’s said symbolically, but the Iraqis believe it’s actually, and at that point the Iraqis have virtually no army, the police forces are very small and some are being trained as we’ve just heard, they flee when there is conflict in the cities of Iraq.
If I were a member of that governing council I would wonder how do I plan to govern? The old idea is not to worry, the United States will be there. But then the idea that we’re going to have an agreement with this new government prior to June 30 has been put aside, and people have said in Iraq, you can’t do that prior to our taking sovereignty. Then we’ll make an arrangement with the United States for the troops. This is an entirely unsatisfactory, watching what we have been watching in the last few days.
JIM LEHRER: Back to the rock and the hard place issue that Senator Biden raised, that if the United States for whatever reason does not meet its obligation or meet its promise on June 30, then the al-Sadrs and the other thugs in Iraq will have won. Is that a problem in and of itself?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Of course it’s a problem. And I would just say that talking about the June 30 deadline is a difficult issue because of the promise that June 30 is it. But once again the Iraqi Governing Council is the group that is to receive the sovereignty, they’re the group that supposedly will work out the road map of how they get a constitution, how they have executive persons there, how finally the elections might be held.
And in order to do any of that, they’re going to have to have some security around themselves. We’re going to transfer authority essentially from the Pentagon to the State Department on June 30. Jerry Bremer leaves and an ambassador still to be named and confirmed and all the people to come in. This is a huge change in a very insecure situation. And all I’m saying is that we do need a road map of our own, that is the congress, the American people, to follow what kind of sacrifice, what kind of money, extra troops if that is required, or whatever, so that we are successful.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, extra troops, that issue came up today in a joint press availability in Baghdad with Paul Bremer, and they said that no extra troops were needed, but always looking at that as an issue. What do you think, where do you come down on that?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: It’s a very unpopular position I’ve been taking, I’ve been take it for the last five months, we don’t have enough troops there. The idea that you hear Bremer and others and they’re good people say that we’ve trained up 200,000 Iraqi security forces from their civil guard to their police to their army is absolutely preposterous. When Dick Lugar and I were there over a year ago almost now, we met with all our trainers, they say it’s going to take at least three years to train up an Iraqi police force, it’s going to take that long or longer to train an Iraqi army. The truth of the matter is there is no security but U.S. security, a few Brits, a few Spaniards and a few Poles. It is the United States of America.
JIM LEHRER: And that’s not going to change on June 30, right?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: It’s not going to change, it just going to get worse, so we are the game, we are the totality of the security. And it seems to me we’re not leveling with the American people here. This can be done, but remember, we made the announcement as far back as late November of last year to June 30 was the date. Here we are, in April, and they still haven’t resolved the dispute in the administration between the State Department and the vice president’s office or who ever else is arguing about this as to what is the plan.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, is that the problem here that the administration can’t get its own disagreements sorted out?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I don’t know; I frankly don’t know. I’ve asked this quietly, for a while, would you having any resolution of it. So as I’ve mentioned to you publicly – we’re going to raise these in a couple of weeks and hopefully in that period of time the administration will have plans that it can give to the public and to us and then we can then move more confidently.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Senator Biden, he said it twice now, that it can be done probably by June 30?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Yes, I think we need to focus on success. The purpose of the conversation of Joe Biden and Dick Lugar on these issues is that we have been stalwarts in a bipartisan way for the president throughout this entire period of time. We’re not harping critics, attempting to cause difficulty either publicly or privately. We want success, the president wants success. We’re going to have to begin to pull together and talk to each other, and the American people need to hear that conversation.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, have you made efforts to tell the people in the administration what you all have just been saying here tonight?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Absolutely I have. As a matter of fact –
JIM LEHRER: Who do you talk to?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, to Dr. Rice, I talked to the secretary of state, and deputy secretary. But they’re very empathetic and sympathetic. I’ve tried to talk to the president. I came back from a long meeting with President Chirac, meeting with the heads of all our NATO allies, the so-called permanent representatives in Brussels, I came back and I said this is what, and I wrote a report, I asked for five minutes to be able to see the president, he was not able to see me.
In the past, on the run up to the war, Dick Lugar and I and rights after the war were in his office frequently. I don’t often ask to see the president of the United States, it’s not that I’m so important, I wanted a report to the president on what was being said in Europe, what possibilities existed in my view, so we heard another point of view. And he wrote me a very nice handwritten letter saying Condi will be in touch. She called me and said I got your memo, got your note, thank you very much.
So now maybe you’re talking to somebody, Jim, look, Jim, if they have, if there isn’t a division within the administration, about what the plan should be, then that means there is a plan and they’re not telling us. Why? I don’t get it. I mean, I truly do not get this.
JIM LEHRER: So, Senator Lugar, same question. Have you been trying very hard also to say the same thing and who have you been talking to? Because it’s unusual, both of you have said it several times now, hey, you were definitely in the loop up until recently, why are you no longer in the loop, have you asked people that question?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: No, I’ve not asked. My own supposition is that essentially there is indecision right now as to the questions that we’re raising would be answered. And probably at least some inner circle talk within the administration that they’re not prepared really to share, and as far as their concerned, essentially they would say the administration is running this war or running the piece, we are interesting people and in due course if we can be brought together in some sort of alliance that would be useful, but for the moment not a priority.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Senators both, thank you very much.