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Threat and Response

August 1, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And now to the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: The chairman, Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware, and the top Republican, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana.

Senator Biden, what do you believe is the most important thing to come out of these two days of hearings?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think the most important thing to come out of it is there’s a lot of very, very bright people in this country who agree on some broad prescriptions, but there’s real, a real difference about the detail.

And one of the things that everyone, almost every one of the witnesses who came before us said is they were confident not sufficient planning has been undertaken to give them confidence that any particular prescription to deal with Saddam is ready to go.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, what do you think is the most important thing?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I think we appreciated that we are not ready yet, that the coalition that is often spoken of has not come to pass. And the bases that we will need for extensive military operation and the planning for what happens after Saddam falls; that is, how leadership is identified leadership that in fact will work with us to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction, because that is not a given simply because Saddam falls, and finally, the cost of this.

All sorts of estimates; Desert Storm cost $61 billion, as it was related in inflation terms now, maybe $75 billion. About three quarters to fourth fifths of that was paid by our allies. Without allies, this is a huge, huge cost, plus the estimates of what would happen after Saddam leaves ranging all the way from $50 billion to $150 billion in Mr. Berger’s testimony this afternoon.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, are you comfortable with conducting these hearings? We had some historians on this program last night who said,” you know, there’s never been anything like this before where there were hearings before the United States Senate, where people talk about military options and what’s going to happen to a foreign country if and when we invade, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Is this a good thing that’s going on?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think it’s a necessary thing that’s going on. Someone said earlier today that maybe if we had had these hearings before we fully committed in Vietnam, we might have had a different outcome. I don’t know that that’s precisely the best analogy, but let me put it to you this way:

The president has already said, has already stated repeatedly that it is his intention to have a regime change and that he means for it to happen on his watch. So it’s not like us having these hearings is something that comes as a surprise to the rest of the world, number one. Number two, Senator Lugar and I were fastidious in setting these hearings up to make sure that we did not get into operational plans.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: There was no discussion about whether it’s going to take “X” or “Y” number of troops and where they’re going to come from. But there are certain things that everybody in the region, everybody in the world already knows. You need… the question is: Do you need more than just a few troops? Are we talking about tens of thousands of people? The answer to that is yes.

It doesn’t get into the detail, but it then leads you to the position of having to conclude that you need some place to base those people. And we talk about the costs. So I guess what I’m saying is that I am confident that this is what the function was intended to be for the Foreign Relations Committee. We also did not… I did not insist that the administration come and testify. They indicated they were not likely or ready to, and I indicated if they were not ready to come make their case, then they should not be testifying because I did not want to get into speculation about the means and methods by which we would go after Saddam.

But one thing is pretty clear to me is that there are three things that have emerged: One is that it’s much better if we have allies, and we don’t have any yet. Number two is we need bases from which to conduct a successful military operation, and there’s no certainty that they exist yet although there’s a belief we can get them.

And thirdly, that this is going to cost a lot of money and it’s going to cost a lot more money if we do it alone. And lastly, that we have certain responsibilities to our own self-interest and to the region after we take down Saddam. And that discussion has not taken place. It started in 1942 with World War II when it began as to what we were going to do after. I think it’s appropriate for us to think about this.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, are you completely comfortable with what you’ve been talking about these last it was days in public on television, the whole world listening in, including Saddam Hussein?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Yes, I thought both days were critically important for not only our understanding of it in the committee or the Senate, but for this country. The fact is that we have all learned a great deal about Iraq, about its neighbors, about the elements of leadership in the country, and I get back to that point because it’s assumed almost automatically that if we were successful militarily in Iraq, that immediately we we’d find the weapons of mass destruction, all the various laboratories, estimated by some to be as many as 300 sites, and that the government in Iraq then cooperates with us in destroying them and in maintaining a non-weapons of mass destruction regime.

That is a big assumption. The fact is that Saddam Hussein is now seen, at least by almost all of our witnesses, as uniquely despicable, almost beyond the pale. And that was important to establish why Saddam, why is he important? But beyond that, the weapons of mass destruction and Saddam are not coincidence. And the aftermath in Iraq is very important to us.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see the purpose of these hearings, Senator Lugar, as an attempt to influence how the administration… as Senator Biden said, the president has already said, “We’re going to do it one way or another through some means.” Do you want to influence those means, or do you want to stimulate a public debate prior to the president’s making the decision as to how to do it? How do you see the purpose?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I see the purpose as stimulating adequate planning, specifically what should we be doing now with other countries at the U.N. or an enforcement of the Security Council resolution that came after Desert Storm, for example? How can we in fact get back to the bases? We used 23 airfields, we were told yesterday last time out, and we would need all of that apparently to run the kind of air strikes that are going to be decisive, if those are the tactics the president has.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: We really have to think of the logistic support of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of troops, our own, other people, all of these things. Now, surely somebody is doing this kind of planning, but it is useful to sketch out, so we are all confident in this country and in the world of the outcome, and we know at least that we have done all we can to minimize the casualties of Americans and others who may be our allies and the cost to our own economy and our treasury. If we do a good job of planning, it seems to me we minimize the cost and we maximize success.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, how would you answer the question about how you see the purpose of these things? Who do you want to influence by these hearings?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I really don’t want to influence anyone at this point, Jim. I want to inform. I want to inform the American public, I want to inform my colleagues, I want to inform, quite frankly, some within the administration. There’s a great debate going on within the administration as to how to proceed.

JIM LEHRER: Is there in fact a debate in the administration?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, yes, there is a debate within the administration.

JIM LEHRER: What’s the debate? How do you understand the debate?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I understand the debate to be the same kind of debate you heard in these hearings, and that is whether or not, it is how much time we have in which to respond, whether or not containment should be continued longer, whether or not we have to build a better case internationally by insisting that, under the U.N. resolutions to which Saddam has submitted after the Gulf War, that inspectors be allowed in, whether or not we should insist upon that and have him forcibly refuse to do it in order to be able — to be able to make the case that we went the whole route to make the case worldwide that we should have at least the acquiescence of the rest of the world.

And Jim, look, something very basic here to me anyway, maybe it’s because of the generation from which I come, no foreign policy, no matter how well thought out can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people, without the informed consent of the American people.

The debate that took place prior to going into the Gulf the last time, that all took place in the wide open, that all took place with Saddam Hussein listening to it, that whole thing took place with him watching it on television. And guess what?

Whether we voted for or against going in and whatever our reasons were, once we cast the vote, once we had the debate, the country remained united and it remained united behind a policy even with those who disagreed with the initial policy decision.

And so I think it’s very, very, very important that the American people… let me put it another way and I’ll end with this. I said during the hearing that the reason we started with the threat was to determine how much of a threat there was and what time frame we had within which to act to deal with that threat, and then make the case, if it is a threat of consequence to the American people, that we must act, but then honestly tell them that these are the kinds of prices that are going to have to be paid so that once we begin the undertaking, they’re not surprised.

They are not… they say,” whoa, whoa, had you told me that, had you told me we were going alone, had you told me we were going to pay $80 billion, $90 billion, $100 billion alone, et cetera, I wouldn’t have been here, I would have been willing to take the risk longer.” I think it’s just an important discussion to have, and nothing we’ve said has come out that’s classified in any way jeopardize the president to be able to wage whatever campaign is ultimately decided upon and recommended to us.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, I assume you’ve talked to either the president or his representatives about all of this. Is he onboard? Are they onboard with what you all are doing and see the dilemma, the mission of your hearings and a public debate the same way you all do?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, I can only assume that when the president shook Senator Biden’s hand warmly at the White House the day before and indicated his pleasure, that he meant it and I think he does. In other words, I think he needs allies in the Senate, in Congress, as did his father and I believe we were both helpful in that respect the last time around.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Let me just say, beyond that, I believe we’ve been exploring some things the president would probably like to hear explored, specifically how could Russia become involved in this constructively? How could France or other allies in Europe, in NATO? We talked really about the kinds of debts and deals and what have you that may lead them to be reticent right now, support overthrowing Saddam and getting control of weapons of mass destruction.

But in fact, these aspects are critical in building the alliance and in building the economy of Iraq so that all of the hopes of the Iraqis might be fulfilled and the leadership, which at least Iraqis who are in exile but are with us today, pointed out Iraq can offer leadership in what would otherwise be an unstable area becomes a point really of strength if in fact we have thought through what we are going to do after the military success.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Jim, I can assure you the president does support this. I have met personally on more than one occasion with Condoleezza Rice. I’m constantly in contact with her on the telephone. I went through exactly what we had talked about among us, as to what the hearings would be like.

I invited them to suggest any witnesses they thought could shed light on the issue and the need. I have been… and I was told by the president, as he leaned through at the signing of the Corporate Responsibility Act and leaned through, he always kids and calls me, Mr. Chairman and grabbed my hand and said,” Mr. Chairman, thank you for what you’re doing, thank you for holding these hearings.” So I can assure you they are supportive.

JIM LEHRER: And they’re not over as of today.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: They are not over.

JIM LEHRER: What are you going to do next?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, it quite frankly depends on what transpires a little bit over the next four weeks because we’re going to be out of here. I have no intention of holding hearings during the August recess. And part of that is dictated by the statements made to me, Jim, by administration officials that there is no plan decided upon at the moment, that they will consult with us if they reach that point, and there’s no anticipation of “an October Surprise.” And so it will, quite frankly, depend upon the state of affairs and it could be impacted upon by actions in the Middle East, by Saddam, by others. But my expectation is, after consulting with Senator Lugar and, God willing, Senator Helms will be healthy and back, we will continue in September.

JIM LEHRER: Let me explain now, Senator Jesse Helms is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but is ill now and you are the senior member on the committee, the senior Republican member on the committee at this moment, right, Senator Lugar?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: And I might add the most informed guy in the congress on foreign policy.

JIM LEHRER: Guilty as charged?


SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, he’s very generous and I appreciate that.

JIM LEHRER: All right, gentlemen, thank you both very much.