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Iraq: The After War

August 26, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: On the day that the number of soldiers killed since the end of official combat in Iraq surpassed the number killed before, President Bush made his case for the continuing war. Speaking to the annual meeting of the American Legion in St. Louis, the president said the U.S. is now engaged in a global war on terror that must be won.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’ve adopted a new strategy for a new kind of war. We will not wait for known enemies to strike us again. (Applause)

We will strike them in their camps or caves or wherever they hide before they hit more of our cities and kill more of our citizens. We will do everything in our power to deny terrorists weapons of mass destruction before they can commit murder on an unimaginable scale. The security of this nation and our friends requires decisive action. And with a broad coalition we’re taking that action around the globe. We’re on the offensive against terror and we will stay on the offensive against terror. (Applause)

America and our coalition removed a regime that built, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, a regime that sponsored terror and a regime that persecuted its people. Our military coalition destroyed the Iraqi regime while taking extraordinary measures to spare innocent life. (Applause)

In all the debates over Iraq, we must never forget the brutal nature of the regime of Saddam Hussein. Mass gravesites, literally thousands of people buried in mass gravesites were recently discovered by our troops. They contain the remains not only of executed men and women but of executed children as well.

Al-Qaida and the other global terror networks recognize that the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime is a defeat for them. They know that a democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East would be a further defeat for their ideology of terror. They know that the spread of peace and hope in the Middle East would undermine the appeal of bitterness, resentment, and violence. And the more progress we make in Iraq, the more desperate the terrorists will become. Freedom is a threat to their way of life. (Applause)

Iraq’s progress towards self-determination and democracy brings hope to other oppressed people in the region and throughout the world. It is the rise of democracy that tyrants fear and terrorists seek to undermine. The people who yearn for liberty and opportunity in countries like Iran and throughout the Middle East are watching, and they are praying for our success in Iraq. (Applause)

Our course is set. Our purpose is firm. No act of terrorists will weaken our resolve or alter their fate. Our only goal, our only option is total victory in the war on terror, and this nation will press on to victory. (Applause)

GWEN IFILL: Now joining us to offer their thoughts on the war, and on President Bush’s defense of it today, are two Senators who have traveled to Iraq: Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware, and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Welcome gentlemen.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you.


GWEN IFILL: Senator Hagel, you just heard what the president had to say on this day in which the tipping point was reached if you use casualties as a way of assessing where we are in this post war period or post war… after war as we’ve been calling it. What is your assessment of that?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, the president has a very difficult assignment here. What this country and the world has had to deal with over the last two years is unprecedented. This mission, this objective in Iraq is dangerous, it’s difficult, it’s complicated. The process is imperfect. So the president is making his case. He is the commander in chief. He is reaching out to the people of this country to try to explain not only what we’re doing there but how we are going about accomplishing this objective.

Now, I have said and Senator Biden can speak for himself and others have said that I think we need more help. I think we need more international help. This burden that is so heavy on the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East should not be a burden we carry alone. All nations of the world, all peoples of the world are affected by what’s going on in Iraq. We must win in Iraq and Afghanistan but it’s going to require a lot of help from a lot of our friends, and they should share with us in this effort because this is a long- term effort that we must sustain and we cannot sustain it alone.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Biden, on this tipping point day symbolically at least do you think that the United States is currently at the position of doing what it should be doing?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think our purpose was just. I think the president laid that out. I don’t think he laid out clearly enough why it’s so critical that we prevail. We’re losing the support of the American people, and we may lose the support of the Iraqi people if it’s not more clearly stated. Whether or not we eradicate terror tomorrow, we still have a gigantic undertaking in Iraq. Whether or not we put Iraq back together again, we’re still going to have terror.

And it is more important that we explain to the American people why, if we fail in Iraq, you will see an emboldened Iran, strengthened influence in the region; you’ll see a failed state that will really be a breeding ground for terror. I predict you will see several present Gulf states and maybe even Egypt collapse. There will be chaos. So it’s critically important we succeed. And right now we are undertaking 95 percent of the cost; we’re undertaking 95 percent of the casualties and we’re undertaking 90 percent of the troops. And Senator Hagel and Senator Lugar and now Senator McCain and others were all saying, look, go out and get the rest of the world invested in this.

Instead of the president’s asking, the president said today, for example, I challenge the rest of the world to participate. This isn’t a challenge. This is getting the United Nations to say, “we, in fact, the United Nations, think this is a worthy undertaking.” Giving excuse to everyone from Turkey to India to the NATO countries to be able to send in troops to help as well as send in money as well as send in people.

And Chuck is right, Senator Hagel is right. We act like this is a prize. Why is it that we insist that only we run the whole show there? None of us are asking for America to be put under a blue helmet. But we are saying they should have some say in the contracting, some say in what the government looks like in order to establish legitimacy.

GWEN IFILL: Well, Senator Hagel you and Senator Biden both sent a letter last week asking for revival of the U.N. resolution process in trying to get other countries involved. Have you gotten any response to that? It seems to have faded somewhat, the effort that began over the weekend to start the U.N. resolution process again.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I’ve spoken directly to deputy Secretary of State Armitage, indirectly to Secretary Powell, others, but I have not received any formal response. I don’t know if Senator Biden has or not. But I’m assured that the White House did receive it. The senior members of the president’s National Security Council have taken a look at it.

I think it’s a matter of us all working together or trying to work together here to try to harness the resources, not just of the United States, but all of mankind to deal with this problem. Listen, I’m on the president’s side here. Senator Biden is on the president’s side. We’re all on the president’s side but we all must come together with some sense of reality here as to what’s out in front of us.

This is going to take years and hundreds of billions of dollars and tens and hundreds of thousands of troops to sustain this effort. We must come to some reality. As Senator Biden said, the president, I do believe and I’ve said this a long time, the president must come before the American people and say that.

GWEN IFILL: Additional U.S. troops as well as foreign troops, Senator Hagel?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Absolutely, of course. Without American troops there will be no continuity to the military effort. As Senator Biden said, no one is saying that the American military leadership in Iraq should be forfeited or taken away. Kofi Annan is not saying that. Our allies are not saying that.

But certainly the United Nations and the nations that are part of the United Nations can play a far more vital and important role in here: Police forces, armed forces, money, economic, political assistance. And that would be appropriate. That is going to be what is required to secure and stabilize Iraq and give Iraq any hope for the long term that it, in fact, can turn into… develop into a democratic country in a free market economy.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Biden, the president has been making the case as have his aides in the last several days that Iraq is the testing point was the term he used today, in the global war on terror. Do you accept that as a reason for the United States to continue its engagement and do you think that’s a message that will sway the American people?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I don’t think it’s going to sway the American people. I’m not going to argue with the president whether or not it is the testing place. There is terror. There’s no question about that. But I think it’s even larger than that, Gwen. I think what’s happening here is when Chuck and I sent that letter, the weekend… a couple days after that letter was sent, the so-called principals met, that is, the secretary of state, defense, et cetera, with the president I’m told on the weekend.

And it looked as though for a while the president was going to push aggressively for another U.N. resolution. Then that seemed to fade. I don’t know why it faded but my guess is that Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld who do not share the view that we should be engaging the United Nations at this moment, who have been reluctant to seek direct help from NATO and make some accommodations.

I mean, what is it we don’t want the rest of the world doing? Well, one thing we all agree on, we don’t want the rest of the world commanding U.S. troops. What else is there in Iraq? Well they’re setting up a political government, a government that can function. Don’t we want the rest of the world to have a say, say this is a legitimate undertaking, isn’t that a good thing for us or is it we don’t want anyone to contract any of the oil fields or have any contracts to rebuild Iraq? I hope to gosh that’s not the reason why we’re not asking others to get in. That would be the stupidest thing in the world in my view.

So I look at it and I wonder what is the hold-up here? Instead of using language, as I said, I don’t want to pick on the president here. He has a heck of a job. He has a tough time. To say he’s going to challenge the rest of the world — what would happen if the president said today I will be asking for a meeting of the NATO principals as well as our friends around the World. I’ll be on phone with Mr. Putin to see if we can reach an accommodation whereby we can share the authority as to the formation of a new government under U.S. command? I mean it would be a whole different flavor, a whole different…

GWEN IFILL: It would be — it would be entirely different from what they’ve done so far. Is that what you would expect to see?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: That’s what I hope to see. That’s what we should see, in my view.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Hagel, do you agree with that?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I do agree with it. I think the world would respond to our leadership. We have nothing to fear from our partners. My goodness, we’re in this together. What the world wants to see is responsible American leadership that includes our friends and our allies and those who we are going to have work with over a long period of time if we are to win this war on terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. No one nation is big enough, great enough or powerful enough to do this alone. We need our friends and we’ll need our friends for a long time. I don’t know if a power or an individual who doesn’t need friends. It’s especially important in this kind of a world.

GWEN IFILL: The president… go ahead, Senator Biden.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: The president invoked Afghanistan in the beginning as if that was a model. I hope to goodness that’s not the template we use. Afghanistan is in the hands of the warlords. You essentially have Mr. Karzai who both Chuck and I know well who is the mayor of Kabul – where the Taliban is reasserting itself although we’re going after it again. It is a long way from being solved. And it took us a year to finally go back to NATO after a number of us urged… Chuck had a proposal calling for spending additional tens of millions of dollars in Afghanistan ten months ago. They didn’t spend a penny of it.

Finally they went back to NATO and said, “NATO, we need help.” A lot of us — Democrat and Republican — were saying over a year ago, ask NATO to expand the force. Be in there. Get control. Now it’s the largest opium producing nation in the world. So I mean we have to act more decisively and more quickly in my view.

GWEN IFILL: If that’s the case– and I’d like you both to answer this question– the president said in his speech today that the only option is total victory. What does that mean? Senator Hagel first. How do we achieve that?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I don’t know what the president means by total victory. Listen, this threat of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is going to be with the world for a long time. Now, coupled with that are endemic health problems, poverty problems, hunger problems, despair around the world. You can’t disconnect that from these other threats. Look at what’s going on in the Middle East: The roadmap. Much about that is about despair, hopelessness on the Palestinian side. And we cannot allow the radicals, the fundamentalists, the extremists to prey on those pockets of people, billions of people.

And so we’ve got a big job, all of us for years and years to come, my ten and twelve-year-old are going to be dealing with some of these same problems. Let’s be smart about how we do that. Long term as well as short term and that is going to require our friends and allies.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Biden.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Gwen, total victory is… I don’t understand what he means by that. I would count a victory in Iraq as establishing a participatory republic, a country that is cohesive, an Islamic country like Turkey that is secular, that has stability. That to me is overwhelming victory. Imagine the pressure that puts upon a rogue regime in Iran. Imagine the pressure it puts upon our Arab friends to democratize and modernize, and the converse is true. If we don’t accomplish that, you are going to see the exact opposite happen. You’re going to see the radicalization of that region beyond what it is now.

And even if the Lord Almighty came down, provided Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and all our founding fathers to establish a stable Iraq we’re still going to have terror in Indonesia, we’re still going to have terror in other parts of the world. So what does the president mean? If we succeed in Iraq is that total victory against terror? It’s helpful, it is worth while, it is necessary but total victory is a stable Iraq where I have our sons and daughters home, where they’re not in Iraq being killed. That is total victory to me in terms of Iraq.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Joe Biden and Senator Chuck Hagel, thank you very much for joining us.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Thanks, Gwen.