TOPICS > Politics

Debating Iraq

October 3, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, more on the Senate side of this debate, and to two members of the Armed Services Committee. Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan, as you just saw, introduced his rival resolution today; and Republican Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who supports the White House version. Welcome to you both.

Senator Levin, let’s zero in right away on the two main points of difference –one of the two main points of difference between yourself and the White House on this — and that is that you do not want the President to be able to go it alone without the U.N. authorization, without coming back to Congress again. Explain why.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: I think it’s important that we focus all our energies on getting the U.N. to adopt a very stiff resolution, which is unconditional, which requires not only inspections but disarmament and a U.N. resolution, which also will authorize member states to enforce that resolution with military force. My resolution also authorizes the President of the United States to use U.S. military forces pursuant to a U.N. resolution. What it does not do at this time is authorize a “go it alone” approach on the part of our military forces because I think if we do go it alone, there are very significant additional risks to doing that.

If the world community is not behind the use of force, there are very large risks in going it alone and before the President is authorized to do that, I think we should come back to the Congress and my resolution would make it easier for him to do that because I would not recess the Congress at this point.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Bunning, what’s wrong with that approach?

SEN. JIM BUNNING: Plenty. The fact that the U.N. has in the past ten or eleven years passed sixteen resolutions, Saddam Hussein has thumbed his nose at every one of those resolutions. We have a resolution that he must stop making weapons of mass destruction. We have a resolution that inspectors must be allowed in his country.

The U.N. is a paper tiger. It never enforced one of those resolutions — until the United States of America under the leadership of George H. Bush got a resolution passed in regards to Iraq invasion of Kuwait and then and only then did we make and take action. I believe we should get as much support from the international community as we can get.

But in fact we will have support of certain nations and we have to give the President of the United States the authority. When I came up to this Senate and to this House of Representatives, one or the other, I swore allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, not the constitution and the rules and regulations of the United Nations. My gracious! We owe a debt to our people to defend them from all evil, foreign and domestic. So this is a big, very big, resolution.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Levin, go ahead.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: That’s a given that we owe our people the obligation to protect the security of this country. We are much more secure if force is used, if the world community supports that force — just as they did in the Gulf War because as Senator Bunning points out, the U.N. was behind the use of that force and made a huge difference. We had Muslim countries with us, for instance, at that time.

It made a big difference in terms of the response of the world to the use of force that we had a U.N. authorized coalition. Nobody is going to give a veto to the U.N. over the American use of force. This isn’t doing that. What we’re doing is saying we want the power of a world community authorizing force and if we can’t get it, then the President before he goes it alone should come to the Congress to seek that authority. So there’s no veto here given to the U.N.; the United States can always act in self-defense.

My resolution is very clear on that issue as well as the fact that we’re not giving the U.N. veto. We’re seeking support from the world community, not giving them a veto, and it makes a difference when you use force as to whether or not you’ve got the world community behind it or not.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Bunning, do you think a war against Iraq and the aftermath would be as successful, by whatever terms, if the U.S. doesn’t have U.N. backing?

SEN. JIM BUNNING: Well, I think we will have U.N. backing. I think that there will be a resolution. I don’t know what it will look like, but there will be a resolution. But I know this: In 1998 Carl voted and the Senate voted and the House voted for a change of regime in Iraq. And now the President of the United States wants to enforce that Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, and we shouldn’t be muddying up the water with other kinds of resolutions. We should give the President of the United States exactly what we gave him in 1998.

And that was to liberate the Iraqi people from the suppression of Saddam Hussein and he continues to oppress and subdue his people. I think it’s unbelievable that we would have a debate– and I’m glad we are because it’s good for the American people to see the differences between those of us who support the President and his ability to do what the American people think is very important and those who want to do it some other way.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Senator Levin, that brings up the other big difference. You think this authorization should be confined to dealing with weapons of mass destruction, not regime change or anything else. Make your argument.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: That should be our purpose at this point. We’re going to get much greater support across the world if our purpose is to go after that which threatens us, which is the weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant — a tyrant who has repressed his people. That’s the given. That’s the beginning point. He is threatening. That’s the beginning point.

The question is: how do we address that threat? Whether we do it with the support of the world community, whether or not when he looks at the other end of the barrel when he’s looking down the barrel of a gun he sees the whole world community there will make a big difference. And so that’s our focus. We want to go after the weapons of mass destruction. That is what is the threat that we are trying to remove. And it seems to me that that is what our focus should be.

May I say also that the Biden-Lugar Resolution also is focused on that threat and not all of the other problems which Saddam creates. And they are many. I can totally agree on that. There are a huge number of problems that he creates particularly for his people. Bull it’s the weapons of mass destruction, which are so threatening which we should focus on going after and removing.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Bunning, as Senator Levin pointed out the Biden-Lugar Amendment does include this limitation. And I think that there were quite a few members who were interested in that limitation we heard in Kwame’s piece on the House side too. In what way would it tie the President’s hands to have that stated as the purpose for an invasion?

SEN. JIM BUNNING: Well, what we have to do and what we have to focus on is what’s at hand. We have an absolute madman running a country that we know– we absolutely know– that he has biological and chemical weapons. We know that he is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. We know he has missiles that can move at least 500 meters right now — kilometers, excuse me.

MARGARET WARNER: I’m asking why you would want it to deal with more than weapons of mass destruction.

SEN. JIM BUNNING: Well, are we going to wait until he blows up Tel Aviv? Are we going to wait until he blows up Rome or France? Are we going to preempt this or are we going to react to it? We’ve already had mass destruction in New York City. Without any question, this is all tied to the war on terrorism. Because this man harbors and trains terrorists in his country. We know that.

All I can tell you is I’d rather preempt it with a strike and God bless the world community. I hope they see it like we do and we can really go as one unit, like almost we did in the Gulf War and get so many people to support a resolution like that. I think we will have that out of the United Nations, and I hope. But if you don’t want to lead, you can follow or get out of the way. That’s what the President has said.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Levin, Senator Daschle– and I think you probably heard this on the tape– said that he didn’t think– I think his phrase was it’s not too early or it’s too early to give up on making the effort. In other words, it’s not too late to try to change this. Do you think realistically that those of you who want to further limit the President’s authority have a realistic shot, given the announcement yesterday between the White House and House and some of your own members?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: I think the answer is yes – that we would want to authorize the President to participate in a coalition effort at this time. But I think many of us are troubled by a “going it alone” approach at this time without making a major effort to go to the United Nations and to get them to pull together behind one new resolution. You know, it’s kind of a mixed message to the U.N. when you say, as the President did and very properly so, we want the U.N. to be credible.

It’s important to world security that the U.N. enforce its resolutions, saying that on the one hand but then on the other hand saying well if they don’t we will anyway. That kind of takes them off the hook. It’s the opposite message it seems to me from the message we should be wanting to give with one voice to the U.N., which is we want a strong, unconditional resolution. We want you to authorize member-states to use force, to implement that resolution, and I believe also very strongly that we should authorize our President to use our military force pursuant to that resolution.

I think you’ll find great unity behind that kind of an approach both here and in the world. And I think we ought to be unifying the world at this point, not dividing the world with suggestions that we’re going to move unilaterally if we don’t get what we want.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Bunning?

SEN. JIM BUNNING: Carl, I’m going to bring this up because only the fact of the matter is when the United Nations did pass a resolution and George H. Bush came to the Senate of the United States and asked for the authority to go to war, under the U.N. sanctions, Carl Levin and 47 other people voted against going to that war.

Now, I don’t want to go to war. I’ve had two sons serve in the military. And I surely don’t want to risk people’s lives in the military. But the fact of the matter is, somebody has to lead the free world in ridding us of a dictator like Saddam Hussein. And the time is now, not tomorrow, not the next day. The U.N. must come along and pass a resolution. We expect them to but we also want to give our President a clear message out of the Congress.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you want to reply to that, Senator Levin — the comparison with the earlier vote?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: It seems to me we’re building – yeah – we’re building, it seems to me, on the lesson of that vote. Colin Powell was very leery about moving at the time that it was being requested back in that earlier vote. There were many of us who agreed with him at that particular time.

But it seems to me we should build on the experience that we had at that time. We should authorize and seek the U.N. right now, the world community, to act. That is, it seems to me, building on the lesson that we learned in the Gulf War, which is that it’s important that the world community act and authorize its member-states to use force. It seems to me that Senator Bunning and others who either voted for that resolution at the time would vote for the same thing now that they voted for then.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. And we have to leave it there, gentlemen. Thank you both.