Use of Force in Iraq?
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, how the Iraq debate looks to four key players in the Senate, three members of the Foreign Relations Committee: The chairman, Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware; the ranking Republican, Richard Lugar of Indiana; and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska; as well as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California. Welcome to you all.
Senator Hagel, you have said that you thought many questions needed to be answered before Congress gave the president an okay to use force against Iraq. Does this resolution as drafted by the White House satisfy those questions for you?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Margaret, the president laid down a very appropriate blueprint last week before the United Nations. I think we should follow that blueprint. He appropriately laid this issue of Saddam Hussein before the United Nations. We are talking about United Nations resolutions not United States resolutions. And, as we go forward, as we just heard Secretary of State Colin Powell explain working through the United Nations with the Security Council at the same time working the parallel track in the Congress that’s appropriate. That’s timely.
I think most of us believe that at some point we need an end to this, but I don’t think we want to rush this. We’re talking about the possibility of going to war. That’s a very serious prospect, so I’m satisfied with where we are, how the president is leading this, and the continuation of the process that the president himself begun last week before the United Nations.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Senator Hagel, in this draft resolution from the White House there is no mention of what’s currently going on at the U.N. The only U.N. resolutions it refers to are the old ones and there’s also no mention if the inspectors can’t go back then, I mean, it basically, we quoted the operative paragraph at the top of this in Kwame’s piece, so it doesn’t look like the White House is referring to what’s going on at the U.N. now or feels constrained by that.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I’ve read the resolution. I think it’s a good start. I’m not satisfied with what it is today. I don’t believe this administration sent a document up here thinking it was going to be accepted in mass in total. The fact is, the Congress has a very important role to play here, an equal role to play, not just constitutionally but we represent constituents as well.
There is something else very important, whatever we do and I suspect we will have a resolution. We must keep in mind the importance of this resolution, not just for today, but for future presidents and future Congresses. We will be relying on this document; we will set a precedent for future events and possible future war. So we need to take our time, work it through.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Senator Biden, how does this resolution look to you?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, I think it’s a start. Look, the fact of the matter every administration sends up resolutions that they know are going to be negotiated. They sent up a resolution, for example, after 9/11l all of us worked on that resolution; we got a satisfactory result from that. They sent up a resolution back in ’91, we worked on it, we got a satisfactory result. I don’t think, for example, the president really thinks he’s going to take the nation to war if Saddam Hussein gave up his weapons of mass destruction but didn’t return prisoners from Bahrain. Are the American people ready to go to war over the refusal to return prisoners from Bahrain? But that’s the way you could read the language sent up to us.
So the administration and my discussions with members of the administration is that this is a starting point. And I think we should listen very closely to what — I’m not trying to be instructive– I listened very closely to what Secretary of State Colin Powell just said at the top of the piece and he said that we should be patient. When asked, about – have you sent it by Ben Gilman, have you set a timetable, do you have a drop dead date, in effect, and he said we should be patient, we should be patient, not all the time in the world but we should be patient.
And so I think this is a matter of us — so far I like – I agree with Chuck Hagel — the president is going about this the right way. Quite frankly early in the spring I wasn’t at all sure he was going to go about this the way he was. You had Vice President Cheney and you had Rumsfeld talking about we didn’t need the rest of the world. I’m paraphrasing — they didn’t say that literally but that was the effect — and now the president has come along and said, look, this is how I’m going to proceed.
One point we should keep in mind — the sole criteria for us should be what is in the best interest of the United States of America and the best interest of the United States of America and no administration official would disagree with this, if we have the active participation of the rest of the world and/or at least the consent of the rest of the world. We obviously reserve the right to move unilaterally if they don’t move.
I have faith in Powell, I have faith that this president is going to be able to get a serious resolution out of the United Nations, and I think we should be holdings hearings, I have scheduled hearings after consultation with Senator Lugar and my Republican friends for Wednesday and Thursday bringing up former Secretaries of State, National Security advisors and this Secretary of State, so we should be patient here; we should just be patient, begin the process, let the administration have a chance to make its case as well.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me let Senator Feinstein get in here. Senator Feinstein, you have expressed reservations about this entire process underway. Do you share your colleague’s view that this draft resolution will have to be changed, and, if so, what changes would you want to see?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Yes, I do share their view. I don’t believe this resolution is going to fly through the Senate. I think there are many of us that have some serious concerns about how it is worded. I think it is right. I commend the president for going to the United Nations. I commend the United Nations for at least at this point being willing to stand up and compel, hopefully, the Iraqis to conform to past resolutions. I think we need to see that process work itself out. The wording of this resolution also causes concerns, because it cites a number of past resolutions, as Joe said, not a future resolution.
But supposing some things were complied with and a few were not, would we then go to war? We’re authorizing it in this resolution. So I think there is going to have to be some, some rewriting of the resolution. I think this is an advise and consent. We do have a congressional mandate, and I am very hopeful that the administration will work with us, as Joe said, the hearings will begin and those of us that do have concerns certainly have an opportunity to exercise those concerns.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Lugar, do you share the views some changes will be required and, if so, do you see a way to somehow put into this resolution some reference to what’s going on at the U.N. now? Do you think that would be appropriate to make it a sort of two-step process in some way if this doesn’t happen, then the president is authorized?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well the activities at the U.N. now are critically important. Chairman Biden conducted a coffee meeting with the foreign minister of Russia, Mr. Ivanov, this afternoon. And the meetings that Secretary Powell will have with him this evening are very, very important. I thought that Mr. Ivanov shared our view, at least in a way – we’ll have to see the degree — that disarmament is what we are about, that we are trying to find the weapons of mass destruction — Russia and the United States and a lot of nations are very serious about that. And that is the threat.
And we really have to have the instruments to do that. Superficial inspection may not make it, so when you talk about the resolution being changed perhaps there is an area where maybe the Security Council resolution, the next one, may change materially and that maybe reflected in what we do. I think the hearings that Chairman Biden is going to have this week are very important and in due course we hope to have Secretary Colin Powell and really collect his wisdom from all of the these meetings at the U.N.
Now, at the end of the day the leadership of the Senate asked the president to send this language over. He did so. It reflects fairly accurately the resolutions of the past as my colleagues have said. It is probably going to be superseded in some respects by the events of the next few days. So all of us need to be alert and that’s the value of hearings. The American people will be heard through their Senators and their representatives and I hope they’ll be heard loud and clear.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Margaret, can I make a comment about that?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: If you listen to what Powell said a moment ago, Powell said, if the U.N. does not act and I think this is a quote, we will have to make our decision as to what to do.
MARGARET WARNER: And the president said the same thing today.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Yeah but he didn’t say what the decision was and so it’s a bit premature. We shouldn’t have the U.N. being able to veto our actions. We’re not saying that. But even the president is saying that if the U.N. does not act, then we the president and the administration will, quote, have to make a decision – our own decision. And so I think we should just let this move a little bit here, because we’re all united with the president in insisting that Saddam has to be separated from his weapons or separated from power. But it’s a big deal how we go about that and I think the administration is moving prudently right now.
MARGARET WARNER: But Senator Hagel, the White House made pretty clear they would like to see Congress act on this resolution irrespective of what’s going on at the U.N…
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Margaret, I don’t think that’s the case. I have spoken with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary Armitage and others — if that was the case, then why did the president go before the United Nations last week? I think the president himself and his cabinet are very aware and appreciate very much the importance of having our allies with us, United Nations with us. What we are doing up here today and will continue to do on the resolution that the president sent up, does not in any way interfere with what we’re doing at the United Nations. They work together, parallel tracks, and they are both very important working together.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me just interrupt you though — what are you saying in terms of the sequencing here, is there a desirable sequence in your view?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I think just listening to what my three colleagues have said, it says once again as Secretary Powell works his initiatives, begun again by the President of the United States, evidenced by the Russian foreign minister here today to meet with Secretary Colin Powell tonight, the United Nations may well end up ahead of the Congress with a resolution.
But Joe Biden said something that was very important that gets little play and little emphasis. No one in the Congress of the United States is saying we would hold the national security interests of this country hostage to the United Nations; that is not the issue. The issue here is how we do this wisely. I don’t think anybody wants to go to war, I don’t want to go to war. Maybe that’s the last alternative. Maybe that’s the last option. But in fact, it should be the last option, not the first.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Feinstein, just go back to the statements made both by Secretary Powell and the president today about if the U.N. Security Council doesn’t act the U.S. And our friends will.
One, do you see this resolution as drafted now essentially authorizing unilateral action if the president chooses and two, are you comfortable with that?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, as Senator Biden said, he’s going to begin to hold hearings and those hearings are going to flesh out some of the “what ifs.” There are a lot of questions to ask about what we do and how we do it. And both of those are very important. They’re important for my children, they’re important for my grandchildren, they’re important for the life and security of virtually every American.
And if we have to go to war, we have to win the war. And that means a consequential number of troops, probably 250,000 men and women over there and this isn’t a Desert Storm war, this isn’t on a flat pancake desert; this is in the cities. So what I’m trying to say is have the hearings, there will be consultation with the administration. I believe that the resolution as written has serious concern that many of us have about it. I do not believe it’s going to go through immediately and we should take our time.
In the meantime, we will see whether the United States… United Nations can, in fact, compel Iraq to give inspection on demand — free and unfettered access — whether there can be protection for the inspectors and whether, in fact, Saddam Hussein can be disarmed. And if he can be disarmed this way isn’t that preferable to sacrificing tens of thousands of human lives? I think so.
MARGARET WARNER: So Senator Lugar, at the end of the day, do you think that if you all get ready to go out whenever you do in early or mid October and the U.N. hasn’t acted, the United States Senate and House will want to and will be comfortable with passing a fairly open-ended resolution like this giving the president the authority to decide when it’s time for the U.S. to act?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, a vote on this won’t be comfortable for anybody and I don’t want to predict the day and the time. I think it’s so important that maybe we ought to spend more time in October as opposed to rushing out of the place.
But I hope during the hearings — you mentioned the end of the day — we talk, also about what if Saddam Hussein is replaced, what happens in Iraq afterwards? What kind of responsibilities do we have not only to stay but to work with others and the governance of a country that would make a difference in the future that would guarantee we finally get the weapons of mass destruction. Those are important issues that we have to talk about — more intelligence, more bases — more over flight — all the rest of it to be credible in this situation. We have to flesh it out. And we ought to take the time we need to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: I’m sorry we have to end it there. But thank you all four very much.