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Kissinger, Albright Testify about Iraq before Senate Panel

January 31, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: The hearing will please come to order.

RAY SUAREZ: Secretaries Albright and Kissinger agreed on this much: Both told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the road ahead in Iraq and the Middle East is going to be difficult.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Former Secretary of State: I will speak both plainly and bluntly. There are no good options. If there were, many of us, including many of you, would not have been issuing such urgent warnings for the past four years. Those warnings were ignored; the result is that every available alternative now carries with it grave risks.

A long-term strategy

RAY SUAREZ: Henry Kissinger, who served under Presidents Nixon and Ford, and has advised President Bush on Iraq, said the U.S. must focus on its long-term interests in the Middle East, not just on ending sectarian violence in Iraq.

HENRY KISSINGER, Former Secretary of State: America has no interest in the outcome of a Sunni-Shia rivalry, as long as it is not achieved by ethnic cleansing and genocidal practices.

So I would say, if we are talking about long-range strategy, we should move into a position from which our forces can intervene against the threats to the regional security that I have identified and becomes a lesser and lesser element in the purely Shia-Sunni struggle.

Troop increase debate

RAY SUAREZ: Both former diplomats said the U.S. should talk about Iraq with neighbors Syria and Iran, an idea the Bush administration has not embraced. Kissinger offered some support for the administration's plan to send more troops to Iraq.

HENRY KISSINGER: I think the surge is the better option. I do not believe we can withdraw from Iraq; that is the key question. We can discuss the kind of deployment, size of the deployment, but it should be done in relation to the conditions on the ground and to our national objectives, and not to abstract timetables.

RAY SUAREZ: But Secretary Albright, who served in the Clinton administration, disagreed. She said more soldiers and Marines in Baghdad and Anbar province would not help the situation.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: We do not have enough people; we do not speak the language; we do not know the culture well enough; and, quite frankly, we do not have the recognized legal and moral authority to go into Iraqi homes and compel obedience.

Each time we do, we loose as much ground politically as we might hope to gain militarily, and that's why the president's current policy should be viewed less as a serious plan than as a prayer.

We should 'not act impulsively'

RAY SUAREZ: Republican Senator George Voinovich expressed concern about U.S. public reaction to the president's strategy and provoked a three-way exchange.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), Ohio: Well, our problem is, I think we have a big public relations problem with the American people, because I don't think they understand what we're really doing there and how important the region is to our future. And I think that's why there's a lot of people that are taking the position that they are, that says we have to get out of there.

HENRY KISSINGER: We have permanent interests there. The situation is changing rapidly, in directions which are unfamiliar to Americans because we are not used to dealing with people who are willing to kill themselves in this manner. And we have to understand the conditions in this area and not act impulsively at a moment that will affect the next decade.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: What I gather, then, is you're presuming that there's a grand strategy and which would justify the escalation of troop levels or, at least, preclude withdrawal. And yet what I'm hearing is, is that, in fact, there's no articulation of that strategy that you're aware of right now, and you're presuming that somebody somewhere must have one.

HENRY KISSINGER: If we now act out of frustration, we may start a process that prevents a grand strategy and that will drive us into an outcome that nobody wants.

RAY SUAREZ: Tomorrow, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee continues studying Iraq policy with two former national security advisers.