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President Bush Discusses New Security Plan with Leaders in Iraq

June 13, 2006 at 6:35 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And now, how the president’s hours in Iraq and beyond look to the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and Joe Biden of Delaware.

Senator Lugar, how do you see the value of the president’s trip today?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), Indiana: It focused the attention of the Iraqi people and the American people, and in the most personal way, on our support for the new government, and clearly questions could be raised by the president and by the cabinet people.

I suspect that it also was a boost in morale for our Armed Forces in Iraq. Clearly, they’re cheering the president. It was resounding. They were pleased to see him. The issues, obviously, go well beyond the boost of today’s appearance, but it was dramatic, surprised, and probably very successful.

JIM LEHRER: Successful and positive, do you think, with a positive effect?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Yes. I think it was positive. I heard your correspondents indicate that the president is not popular and Americans may not be particularly popular in Baghdad. That, I suspect, is always going to be a matter of speculation as to where we stand on those fronts.

But, in any event, it must have been impressive, I think to most around the world that the president went to Baghdad and was in the Green Zone today, physically visiting with the new president, and reassuring him that we have confidence.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, do you agree, positive, successful?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: I agree, but I don’t think you should confuse an event with a strategy. And I hope, in that private meeting with the president, with Maliki, I hope the president talked about a joint plan as to how to purge the police and the military of the sectarian thugs that are a part of it.

I hope he talked about how to deal with the insurgency, how to get the Sunnis to buy in, and how to keep the neighbors out. That’s a strategy.

I think time’s going to tell whether or not this represents a new strategy or merely a reliance upon a government that has now 250,000 people in uniform, but still totally incapable of providing for their own security at this point.

Security crackdown in Baghdad

Sen. Joe Biden
D-Del.
If they're able to end the kind of carnage you see every morning, with 10 to 30 people tied with a bullet through their head, buses being pulled over, people being pulled off... then that would be impressive. That would be significant.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, based on what the president said, and also you were all briefed today, were you not, on the Hill on this?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Have you heard or seen anything today that makes you think that anything different is now going to be done by us or the Iraqi government in Iraq?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, we're not allowed to talk about what we heard in the classified briefing. I heard a few things that were a little more positive, but I don't expect we were told everything that is on the mind of the administration, at least I hope that is the case.

Because, look, everybody agrees three things have to happen for us to be able to leave and leave success behind, that is a stable government. You've got to do something about the militia, and you've got to purge the existing, trained Iraqis of these sectarian thugs.

Secondly, what you got to do, is you got to get the Sunnis to buy in. That's why our ambassador did a great job getting the constitution amended before they voted on it, to provide for the opportunity to get the Sunnis to buy in by giving them a larger piece of the action.

And, three, you've got to keep the neighbors out. And absent doing those three things, the likelihood of success is diminished considerably. So the real test will be: What's the situation on the ground on, say, September 15th?

JIM LEHRER: Yes. I want to ask Senator Lugar to respond to that, but another specific, Senator Biden. What about this security crackdown in Baghdad yesterday? Does that give you any hope?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, it does, and it doesn't. Look, Dick and I have been over there a lot. I've been there six times. Last time I was there, I was officially there -- I was the official -- one of the observers, along with Lindsey Graham, of the election on December 15th, and they were able to shut down the city.

They just stopped all of the automobiles. There was real security. You would think there was actually normality, except you didn't see any cars moving around.

If they're able to end the kind of carnage you see every morning, with 10 to 30 people tied with a bullet through their head, buses being pulled over, people being pulled off, and still allow commerce and traffic to go, then that would be impressive. That would be significant.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, what's your view of that, the crackdown? And then we'll back up to Senator Biden's points about strategy, but specifically cracking down, just on the ground, in the city of Baghdad tomorrow?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, it's certainly a constructive operation, but I would say that, clearly, the crackdown will be significant and further crackdowns, only if a couple of things happen, one of which is that, at this point, we don't know very much about the replacement of Zarqawi, whether the person who has come in is an outsider from another country or an Iraqi Sunni.

Now, this is important because Zarqawi was an outsider. He was very cruel and ruthless. He killed a lot of Shiites, and he killed a lot of Sunnis. This surely brought some resentment from the Iraqi Sunnis, but not enough, until recently, to turn him in, to cooperate with our intelligence, so that we bombed him and killed him and his cohorts.

Now, that could occur frequently again in the event the Sunnis were of a mind that they don't want outsiders. They could terminate that pretty rapidly, and that is why, conceivably, crackdowns might be helpful.

The other point, clearly, however, in regards to the Kurds, that we haven't talked about. And we might have to have more constitutional sessions to figure out how the Kurds get the autonomy that they want, plus the oil revenues that they're going to demand, or otherwise we will have some very unhappy people in the north, quite apart from those in Baghdad. So those are critical elements.

Is Nouri al-Maliki a strong leader?

Sen. Richard Lugar
R-Ind.
I think if [Prime Minister] Maliki were on this program tonight, he would say he has a strategy. He's talking about reconciliation of the country, that is how Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds can come together.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree in general with Senator Biden that there's still -- what's lacking still is a strategy for getting this thing done right and peacefully, and so the United States can, in fact, say, "We're finished here now. Iraqis, take your country back and all is well"?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, I think if [Prime Minister] Maliki were on this program tonight, he would say he has a strategy. He's talking about reconciliation of the country, that is how Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds can come together.

And he would be hoping, I think, that the Sunnis would be more cooperative in turning in the outsiders and in stopping the killing of the Shiites, so that the Shiites do not become so enraged that the militias refuse to be disarmed and continue their killing of the Sunnis.

But this is really the critical element, but he thinks that he has, I think, a strategy in which he's calling upon people to do this and probably also has a strategy for how they're going to pay for all of this, that is how the oil business is going to work again or some revenues come into the situation, because our leaving, or that of the other 33 countries we understand still have some vestige of interest there, could be a gap, without the money to pay for it and the continuity, even if they have security.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, what's your reading on Maliki himself? Is he the man to -- can he do this?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, I don't think he can do it by himself, but I think he could do it if, in fact, we are strongly supportive of this strategy.

For example, Dick said something absolutely critical. He said: Take a look at the Kurds. I mean, if the Kurds don't get their piece of the economic pie, they're going to be trouble. Well, I would argue the same with the Sunnis.

If you don't amend the constitution or pass a law in the parliament saying the Sunnis get a piece of the oil revenue, and they have none now, there's nothing going to make them, as Dick said, in my view, turn away from the insurgency.

And so, is Maliki -- does he have a plan as a Shia to be able to go to the Shia and say, "Look, I know you're not going to like this, but we've got to do something here to get the Sunnis to buy in"? Whether he's the man that can do that, I don't know. That's a tough, tough, tough order.

The impact of the death of Zarqawi

Sen. Joe Biden
D-Del.
And the question is: Does this new administration, this new unity government, have the confidence of the Iraqi Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, that the military and police they have are non-sectarian and aren't part of the death squads? That's a big deal.

JIM LEHRER: What's your reading on the death of Zarqawi and the impact that might make?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Exactly what Dick says. This could either -- as I used the phrase earlier, you can't confuse an event with a change. And, look, you know, that old Saxon expression that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, if, in fact, there's chaos on the street in Baghdad in September, it will be viewed just like it was the capture of Saddam, which was an opportunity, but that didn't result in anything.

This is an opportunity the president has to change the strategy here, like he did in Iran. I'm hopeful that it heralds that, but it's too early to tell.

JIM LEHRER: You're talking about the president of the United States.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: The president of the United States, yes, yes.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: The president of the United States. Because, look, the idea that this unity government -- you know, the president says, "We're going to stand down when they stand up." Well, they got 250,000 people in uniform now, and we can't stand down.

And the question is: Does this new administration, this new unity government, have the confidence of the Iraqi Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, that the military and police they have are non-sectarian and aren't part of the death squads? That's a big deal.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, on the American part of this, the president said today -- we ran on the tape -- he said, when America gives its word, it keeps its word. And he's talking about staying and helping the Iraqis. Is that an issue now? Is that going to resonate in this country right now, do you think?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, the president spoke, I think, for the American people. Most Americans would anticipate he would say that.

The question I think we're discussing tonight is, even if we keep our word, how effective the Iraqi government is going to be. Will they make the right decisions?

We can coach them. Ambassador Khalilzad has done a remarkable job at suggesting all sorts of alternatives, including amendments to the constitution, and we need to have amendments to begin with. So we'll continue to be very actively doing this.

But the fact of the matter is that President Maliki is going to be the determining factor, as well as the new defense minister, the new interior minister. They have a government there now. They will not have another one. And this is the last chance, in a way, and so we're quite loyal to this, but we have to count upon them to make a lot of tough calls and to make it stick.

JIM LEHRER: So you wouldn't put the emphasis that Senator Biden is on the idea of American strategy, American policy must change? You're saying it's got to happen on the ground and the Iraqis have to do it, is that right, Senator?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, I think that the strategy has got to be an Iraqi strategy that they have to carry through. Now, one could say, "Well, where do you get all of the ideas for the strategy?" Some of it may come through our president or our ambassador, or various other people, the cabinet of Iraq visiting with our cabinet.

I have no idea how all of these ideas originate, but eventually, on the ground, Iraqis will really have to make it stick, and this will be a very tough job.

The American public needs results

Sen. Richard Lugar
R-Ind.
We cannot jeopardize the fragile Iraqi situation by continuing quarrels among ourselves... We will continue to participate in the dialogue and hopefully offer at least some constructive suggestions.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, on American public opinion, there was a new CNN poll yesterday. This was after Zarqawi was found dead, et cetera, was killed, and support for the war is still way, way down there among the American public. What's it going to take to get the American public onboard for this strategy or for this policy that the president is still carrying out in Iraq?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Results.

JIM LEHRER: Results?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Results. I mean, look, again, if I pray the Lord when -- if you have Dick and I on the program in September, we're able to say, "You know, we were to Baghdad and we were able to do what we did the first time, get out of a Humvee, walk into a cafeteria, walk into the circle"...

JIM LEHRER: You were on our program after that trip. We talked about this many times.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Yes. If we're able to do that in September, it means there's real progress. But in the event that you still have the ambassador saying this is a death -- he didn't say death trap, but this is an incredibly dangerous city and the sectarian violence is increasing, and the simmering civil war is going on, then the American people aren't going to be there.

They all want the president to succeed; I want him to succeed. If he succeeds, America succeeds. But, again, I don't think they're prepared to accept an event, no matter how delighted they are, as we are, that Zarqawi is dead -- and speaking for myself, may he have a permanent place in Hell -- but that is not a strategy. That does not change the situation on the ground necessarily.

So it will be what is going on three months from now, on the ground, in Iraq. That will determine American public opinion, in my view.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Senator Lugar?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Yes. I think the results are finally the essence of it all, and I would just say that -- I appreciate very much Senator Biden's talks in our Foreign Relations Committee hearings about the unity of the American public, that this is not always perceived that way around the world, but it's important for Iraqis to know that at least our committee presents one face of America, and it's a united one.

And that's critical. We cannot jeopardize the fragile Iraqi situation by continuing quarrels among ourselves. And so, therefore, even as we wait to see how the Zarqawi situation, and the al-Qaida deal, and the outsiders, and the insiders, and how the oil comes out, this is not a standoffish affair.

We will continue to participate in the dialogue and hopefully offer at least some constructive suggestions.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, what do you say to the growing number of your fellow and sister Democrats who are saying, "Hey, it's time to set a date certain to get America out of there, get the troops out of there"? What do you say to them?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I'm saying setting a date is not a plan. I'm not suggesting that Senator Lugar agrees with the plan I put forward, but I laid out a clear, precise plan as to how I think we should proceed, by giving more breathing room to the various sectarian groups, by sharing the oil revenue, by amending the constitution...

JIM LEHRER: Three semi-autonomous regions, central government, but semi-autonomous regions, that was your idea?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Yes, exactly right. Yes. And the reason I say that is, if you take a look at what we did in the Balkans.

The idea that we were going to be able, right after the Balkan war and Milosevic essentially surrendering, bring the Serbs, and the Bosniacs, and the Croats together in a unified government was just not possible.

So what did we do? We had the Dayton Accords. I'm not even suggesting this disconnected. But we had three presidents, we had the Republic of Srpska. The militia was still there. Now, what's happening now? They're trying to figure out how to come together and become part of Europe, and not a lot of people are being killed.

So you got to give them, in my view, some autonomy in their own regions over issues like marriage, issues over divorce, issues relating to religion, issues relating to education, and, at the same time, make sure the Sunnis know they get a piece of the action.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, are you on board for the Biden plan?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Oh, I'm not asking...

JIM LEHRER: No, but I am. You don't have to ask him. I will.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I apologize.

JIM LEHRER: I'll do it. I'll ask him.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I think it should be carefully considered, but my own view is that the best option is still to try to find a unified Iraq, because I think physically trying to separate Sunnis from Shiites or Kurds from all of the rest is going to prove to be very difficult, if we attempted to do that.

This is likely to lead to a lot of ethnic cleansing in various parts of the country, as everybody separates out. And if they do, I think that Turks will be very nervous about Kurds heading toward more independence under those situations. And therefore, we have another conflict of sorts that we haven't...

(CROSSTALK)

JIM LEHRER: OK.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: ... quite apart from Sunnis that might hook up with Sunnis in Saudi Arabia...

JIM LEHRER: OK.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: ... the Wahhabi-types that could be very dangerous for the conclusion for all of this. So we may come to partition, but I would hope that would not be the first choice.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, I'm not talking partition.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, I think that was a no.

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I think so, too, but I'm not calling for partition.

JIM LEHRER: OK, all right, thank you both very much.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Thanks a lot.