The Road Ahead
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JIM LEHRER: Now, how all of this looks to two key members of the Senate Armed Services Committee: Its chairman, Sen. John Warner, Republican of Virginia, and Sen. Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island.
Senator Warner, both the severity and the sophistication of these attacks is growing. Why? What’s your reading on what’s going on over there?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, first, my good friend and colleague here, Jack Reed and I both have had the privilege — and I repeat, the privilege — of having served in uniform of our country at different times and in the hearts and the minds of these two senators, as well as all the families who over the weekend took tragic losses and who have been taking the losses steadily.
Tomorrow I go to the funeral of a young captain killed recently, as we all do, we’re doing our very best to keep a courage up across this country that, as the president said today, as Senator Stevens and Senator Collins just said on your piece, we will not cut and run. We’re going to stay the course. And by reinforcing the voices of determination, we will eventually overcome these attacks by terrorists. But we’ve got to stand ever so firm with our president, indeed the Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld over the weekend, in three different public appearances, stated, “we are there to the finish.” And that’s while say tomorrow, if asked at this funeral of this sad family.
JIM LEHRER: But one clip we did not run on the floor of the Senate today, you may be referring to this, Senator Hollings of South Carolina said, “If I had to speak at a funeral of a fallen soldier what could I say? He gave his life. For what? As a senator, I am embarrassed.” Senator Reed, which way do you see it, the way Senator Warner sees it or the way Senator Hollings sees it?
SEN. JACK REED: Well, we have to support our forces in the field, and we have to do that not just with rhetoric but with resources. But what strikes me is a disconnect between the statements, “we’ll stay the course,” and the bill that we voted on. We tried to increase the size of the farm — army, for example, which would have given us the flexibility to stay longer, over several years, not just several months and that was taken out of the bill.
So we have to be realistic. When we’re talking about our soldiers in the field and telling them we’re going to stay, we have to give them all of the resources they need. In addition to that, we have to begin to make some sacrifices here. I was also amazed that we rejected an amendment and I supported that would have paid for this $87 billion by rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, those making over $400,000 a year. So if we’re going to commit ourselves to longer term strategy, it has to be based upon a real commitment, not just a rhetorical commitment.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Senator Warner, beyond the money and staying the course and all of that, specifically — both of you are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and as you said, both of you have military experience of your own — what’s going wrong on the ground that’s causing these Americans and a lot of Iraqis to be killed long after it was believed the war was over? What’s happening over there, senator?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, clearly, Jim, it is not the fault of the young men and women and their superior officers who night and day are manning these patrol and checkpoints as best they can. And you will note from the president’s statement today, the wrath of these terrorists is not directed simply at our coalition forces; they’re killing their very own, their own Iraqi fellow citizens. They are killing the Red Cross and the U.N. people who have come to help them. They know absolutely no limits or bounds to their hatred to inflict upon the effort not only by the United States, but the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people to gain their freedom. And that’s why the eyes of the world, and particularly the Middle East, are on this conflict to say the United States will stay its course and not have a repeat of Korea, where I served once, or Vietnam when I was secretary of the navy. I saw the inconclusive results of those two major conflicts, terrible losses to this country. We will not repeat that chapter of history.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Reed, either officially or unofficially, have you heard anybody with a solution to this? I mean in other words, does this level of violence just continue until finally one day it ends? Or is there a — you used the word strategy — have you heard anybody with a strategy that will stop this in the immediate, or is it just something we’re just going to have to go with for a while?
SEN. JACK REED: I think we’re playing catch-up really. I think we made a serious miscalculation, the administration did, when they didn’t have sufficient forces for the occupation. It was a stunning military victory with relatively light military forces on the ground, but we didn’t have the overwhelming force that would have both psychologically and physically dominated the country. And as a result, we’ve allowed the elements of the former army and the Fedayeen to find sanctuary briefly and then begin to reorganize and rearm. And I think we’re losing the battle in terms of tactical intelligence about where they might strike next. It takes a long, long time to get the kind of intelligence insights that we’ll need to root these insurgents out. And in the meantime, they’ve shown a great deal of sophistication, increasing sophistication in terms of the way they can engage our forces.
So we’re in for a very, very long siege, I believe, and it’s going to, unfortunately, result in further casualties going forward. And in fact, what’s troubling to me is we seem to be losing the momentum in the Sunni Triangle area. There are parts of the country that are stable, but we’re losing the momentum to these insurgents in the Sunni Triangle area.
JIM LEHRER: Why? What’s your analysis…
SEN. JOHN WARNER: If I could just say a word on that?
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I think debate is good, but I would urge my colleague, we shouldn’t use the term losing the battle on intelligence. We’re trying hard, and I spoke today with the vice chairman of the joint chiefs on this and other points as to whether or not we needed more forces. All the uniformed sides say we don’t. What we should do is what we are doing, and that is putting an Iraqi face on all aspects of this crusade for freedom of the Iraqi people. And particularly we’ve had over 100,000 recently former service persons in the Iraqi military and others go in to five different units of people, some guarding the border, some patrolling the streets with our Americans, some involving the internal security, some just regular police.
There’s been a remarkable achievement by gaining more and more Iraqis to join with us and take on positions of responsibility and share the risks. So it’s just a regrettably, a very small percentage of some Iraqis and indeed some who’ve come across the borders, that are inflicting this consequential and serious damage on the coalition forces.
JIM LEHRER: But Senator Reed says that those are the folks who have the momentum at this point. You disagree with that?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, clearly there have been an increase in the number of incidents. But as the vice chairman told me today, senator, “we are stepping up every day our means to retaliate and to capture those who might have some intelligence, to put them in the hands of the intelligence community, to debrief them. Our momentum is picking up every day.”
JIM LEHRER: Senator Reed, what’s your reading of why our intelligence has been so bad on this?
SEN. JACK REED: Well, I think, first, there were misconceptions about the nature of the culture and the nature of the opposition when we entered in. There were consideration that, frankly, we would be greeted universally as liberators, that everyone would rally to our cause and that did not prove to be the case. I agree with Senator Warner, this is a very small group of people, but they’re a very, very ruthless and fairly sophisticated group of people that are attacking our forces. And the idea of creating out of whole cloth an intelligence network in a country like that is daunting. It takes months, if not years. We have to have translators, we have to find reliable people who will be our informants and help us. And there’s much disarray over there, and so we’re building from scratch an intelligence operation. It will take a long time. It’s not surprising that at this moment, we are still scrambling for good intelligence.
JIM LEHRER: But can we get on top of it without good … is that what you’re saying? Until we get good intelligence, nobody should expect a solution to this? The violence at this level is going to continue?
SEN. JACK REED: I think that’s absolutely right. I think the key, and I’ve heard it from General Abizaid and every other single officer, the key here is intelligence. I personally believe — and we can disagree and I would respectfully with the chairman about the size of forces — but the ultimate key to any counterinsurgency is finding out who is doing the damage and disrupting those cells. And we’re still trying to do that.
JIM LEHRER: Well, for instance, Senator Warner, we just heard on the tape there, the secretary of defense saying, “Well, there are all these caches of arms all over Iraq.” Why can’t we … do we not have enough personnel to go find those weapons and destroy them or safeguard them? What’s the problem there?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: You raised a very good point, as Senator Reed and I, were together in Iraq not long ago and that has been a challenge. And we’re meeting that challenge. Saddam Hussein left caches all over his country. For what reason, we know not. They really had little military association as to where he put these piles of arms. But nevertheless, we have gotten not only our military forces, but independent contractors who are coming in to not only put a safety net around them, but to destroy them.
But let’s not conclude by leaving this word good intelligence and bad intelligence. We have the need for more intelligence. We’re doing everything we can to gain it, I think in the most successful way; that is, take Iraqis and let them get down amongst their own people, assume the same risks as those brave soldiers tonight patrolling the streets are taking, and extract from their own people the knowledge we need to overcome these terrorist attacks.
I think we’re on the road to see a more secure Iraq in the hopeful immediate future, and the means by which to turn this nation back to the people to run it as they see best. It’ll be a signal throughout the Middle East that we’re there not only the United States, but some thirteen or fourteen other nations that are working and fighting with us and taking those risks, we are there for them.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Reed, I noticed … I was interested in the fact that, in this vote that you all took this afternoon on the $87 billion, there it was a voice vote. So any senator who disagreed with the president’s policies in Iraq could at least go on record who, more or less, in supporting the troops but not supporting the policy. What was that all about?
SEN. JACK REED: Well, I went down to the floor and not only continued what I hope is constructive criticism of the policy, but said I would support the measure and principally because of the troops. We are faced with a dilemma. There are many who have for months, going back to last October, who have clearly and frequently spoken out about the strategy and the policy, but still today, we have to consider whether or not we’re going to deny, at least with our vote, deny resources to soldiers in the field who are doing a very dangerous job and doing it very well. I would have preferred, as Senator Byrd suggested, that we divide the military expenditures from the civilian expenditures and there we could have had some not only real discussions, but some perhaps different votes in terms of grants versus loans, and indeed in terms of the overall size of the civilian reconstruction package.
But at this juncture, I felt, just personally that we have to make it clear that we are going to give our soldiers what they need. In fact, I was dismayed because on the Senate side, we had an additional 10,000 troops for the army and that wasn’t in the final report. So I would have urged even more resources for our military.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Warner, the new opinion polls coming out every day are showing a growing concern among the American people about the violence in Iraq, what’s going wrong in Iraq what’s going on in Iraq, let’s put it that way. Does — are you hearing from your constituents the same concern?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Oh, absolutely. But it’s not by way of criticism. It’s saying that we’ve got over 130,000 U.S. forces, we’ve got another 25,000 coalition forces working with us. Senator, are we staying the course? Yes, we are. I think there’s a healthy debate going on across America, as there is in the Senate, but tonight by virtue of this voice vote, which the chairman of the committee said, had it had had been a record vote, it probably would have been unanimous. A strong signal is being sent worldwide. This is an enormous sum of money for taxpayers. No other nation as Senator Reed said, has stepped up like we have, but that’s the American … that’s the American leadership that the world is looking to. And behind every man and woman in the armed forces is here at home, yes, a debate, but in their hearts, there’s total support for them and their families. Let there be no mistake about that.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Reed, the public opinion question to you, and also to the point of: Are we reaching a watershed moment here fairly soon on Iraq policy, whether or not — not necessarily supporting the troops, but supporting the direction the U.S. is going, et cetera? Is the debate … do you feel likely to escalate if things don’t get better soon?
SEN. JACK REED: I think the American public is very, very uncertain of the course. They see these casualties, they see the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction, they are honestly wondering about the strategy. And they’re looking for what we’re all looking for, is some assurance that we have a way out and we have a way out in a timely fashion. And I think their uncertainty and their concern will increase because I anticipate that, as many do, that this is going to be a more difficult battle in the days and weeks ahead.
And as a result, I think you’ll see a public reaction. And it will spur a debate and hopefully it’ll spur positive action both militarily and diplomatically. We’re still hopefully struggling to get international support, struggling to begin the reconstruction. But I can anticipate continued concern among the American public about the course in Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Thank you.
SEN. JACK REED: Thank you.