Congress Responds to Iraq Study Group’s Findings
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GWEN IFILL: And for that reaction, we go to two senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Christopher Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut; and Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), Connecticut: Thank you.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: The Iraq Study Group today said that time is running out to make the fixes in Iraq. Based on what you saw in that report — I’ll start with you, Senator Dodd — today, what do you think those fixes ought to be? What should be picked out, and what should be left by the roadside?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, first of all, let me add my voice of commendation to Jim Baker, Lee Hamilton, and the other members of the commission. It’s been eight long months.
They listened to about everyone you could possibly listen to in coming up with these recommendations, and they deserve a strong vote of praise from all of us, regardless of what your position may be. It’s been a monumental effort on their behalf, and I want to commend them.
I also have a strong feeling that the thrust of what they’re suggesting is right, and it might be worthwhile, before we even adjourn from here, to have the Congress of the United States endorse or pass a resolution commending them for their efforts and at least commending them for the thrust of what they’re suggesting.
To pick up on Jim Baker’s suggestion that we send a message to the American people and to others, particularly in Iraq and elsewhere, that this is something that we can generally support — there may be differences on specifics — but overall I think it’s the right direction, and we ought to be doing that.
Old and new ideas in the report
GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Senator Hagel about at least one of the specifics, the 2008 withdrawal idea, the idea that, by the first quarter of 2008, the majority of U.S. troops could go into embedding with Iraqi troops in order to help them with training, rather than being the forward force on the ground. Do you think that's doable?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Gwen, I don't know what's doable, but I would say this: First, we have a very significant contribution that's just been made here by 10 very important Americans. And as Chris noted, we should thank them, and we appreciate what they've done.
I have a sense, Gwen, that the impending disaster in Iraq is unwinding at a rate that we can't quite calibrate. And I would use this example. You talk about training.
Senator Dodd and I, over the last three years and longer, have heard this administration, members of the military, come before the committees and say, "We're making great progress on training. We have over 200,000 trained Iraqis in the army." And every few months, we get those reports.
So it's not like something's new here, Gwen, that somehow we're going to put a new focus on training the Iraqis. We've been doing that; we've been doing it, I think, as well as anybody could do it.
GWEN IFILL: Well, Senator, if there's nothing new here, then what do you take from this report that's so praiseworthy?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, let me give you the general concept of the report that I think is important, and that is you heard Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton say that, of the 79 recommendations, that most of them would represent a new direction, a new policy.
Take diplomacy; that's certainly new for this administration. Training is not, as I noted before, new, but there are things in this document that we are going to have to look at. And the president is going to have to come forward and make some very critical changes in strategy, in policy.
And I think the bottom line here is, more than anything, Gwen, is that I hear a lot of talk about, "Well, this might work, this might work." The fact is the future of Iraq will be determined by the Iraqi people. It's not going to be determined by us.
Iran, for example, has more influence in Iraq than probably any nation today and will continue to have that kind of influence. I think what we're doing here to a certain extent -- in all due respect for people who worked hard on this, Gwen -- is we're dancing around the bush on this.
This thing is going to get resolved pretty quickly, and I think we've got to face some facts very quickly. And the last point I'd make -- what's happened over in Iraq the last two weeks, for example, that the prime minister and the president of Iraq has reestablished diplomatic relations with Syria. They have gone to Iran.
They have taken initiatives on the diplomatic front that this administration has been unwilling to do or be part of. That's the way this is going to be solved, through a political settlement.
Dealing with increasing violence
GWEN IFILL: Senator Dodd, I want to ask you about one of the big obstacles on the ground, and that's the question of violence. The report found that violence jumped more than 43 percent just in the time since they launched this new proposal to take control, Operation Together Forward, of Baghdad.
The report also found, in fact, that information that had been collected on the ground to be presented to you and to others about violence had been underestimated and perhaps massaged in order to fit administration policy. If that's what this commission that you praise has discovered, how much worse do you think it might be for getting something done in the future?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, I think Chuck Hagel's comments are about on target here. This is unwinding very quickly, and it may be even far worse than we imagine here; thus, the importance of moving quickly here.
There are several audiences here for this commission report. Clearly, the Congress and the president. We've been asking questions of the executive branch and of us, how we're going to respond to this.
The most important audience for this commission report are in Iraq and within the region. Most of these recommendations call upon the Iraqis to do things differently.
Clearly, the changing of thrust from a combat mission to a political and diplomatic one is very, very important, and that should occur.
The second recommendation of dealing with the regional powers, that you've got to engage in this process if you're going to succeed.
And, thirdly, and very importantly here, recognizing that having semiautonomous states here would be a major step backwards. Iraq needs to succeed as a nation. And if they're willing to do that, within Iraq, within the region, then you can make a case for continued support.
If they're unwilling to do that, then you have a hard time justifying, it seems to me, a continued military presence there, merely to become target practice for the sectarian violence in that country. That's the message here; the Iraqis need to hear it.
I'll underscore what Chuck has said: It's really their responsibility now to decide whether or not they want to be a nation-state or continue down the path they've been following. If that's the course, then we ought to be leaving there sooner rather than later.
Civilian-military relations at DOD
GWEN IFILL: But, Senator Dodd, can I ask you a little bit about the U.S. role and responsibilities here? One of the findings in the report was that there has been a strained civilian-military relationship at the Pentagon. Just not long ago, you joined most of your colleagues in voting to confirm Bill Gates as the new secretary of defense. Do you think he can fix that?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: I hope so. I think we need a new attitude. And, certainly, look, you've got to have a far greater degree of cooperation. We heard it all the time.
Every time one of us went to the Baghdad arena, we would hear all the time the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, under the Rumsfeld administration, was just causing a lot of problems. They weren't being listened to. We heard that over, and over, and over again.
I'm hopeful and confident that Secretary Gates will repair that kind of damage so that you can get the kind of cooperation and listen to these people on the ground, and exactly what Chuck has said, again, here.
You need to be doing what can be done to train people adequately, but also our own military, the things we ought to be doing -- the condition of our military as a result of this conflict is in the worse shape it's been in decades.
We've been told over and over again by our military leaders that the state of repair or replacement is growing at staggering levels. And one of the things Congress ought to do immediately in January is address those underlying questions.
Attempts at bipartisanship
GWEN IFILL: Senator Hagel, the reports have it today that Congressman Hamilton and Mr. Baker went to the White House and told the president to his face today, "We're the only bipartisan advice you're going to get," and that they hoped he would, therefore, take it.
Now, all of this great talk today about bipartisanship might fly in the face of what we've seen in the past six months. As others in your membership have said, up on Capitol Hill today, how do we know that this is the great, new day for bipartisanship that people have been talking about today?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Gwen, we don't know that. We hope that is the case, but I think most all of us feel that, in order to move forward with whatever new policy we're going to come up with -- and we're going to have to come up with a new direction to move forward -- it's going to require a bipartisan consensus.
It will be imperfect. Even people in the Democratic and Republican Party are split on this issue.
But if we are to attain any level of achievement, after 2,900 dead Americans have given their lives, and over 22,000 wounded, and over $350 billion invested already, and every day it gets worse, then it's going to take some very significant base of bipartisanship to move forward.
Now, there are going to have to be some tough decision made here over the next couple of months. It's now up to the president to see where he wants to go with this.
But, again, I go back to what I have said before: The future of Iraq and the Middle East is going to be determined by the Iraqis and by the people of the Middle East.
That's why this report, in my opinion, is important, because it focuses on the diplomatic effort here. All the other pieces to this are important, but there is no other way, no other solution. There's no other way out other than a diplomatic and political settlement.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Dodd, as a member of the minority, soon to become majority, in the Senate, do you believe in the joys of the possibilities of bipartisanship?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: I really do. I think all of us have our differences and pieces. You can fly-speck this. But I think, if you take the overall thrust of it in here, then we really ought to be saying something and expressing this.
This is eight months of work done by 10 Americans who are partisans within their party, who were able to sit down, look at all of this, and come up with some recommendations. Whether or not you agree with every one or not is not the point.
The overall thrust, again: moving from combat to politics and diplomacy; dealing with the regional powers in the area; and telling the Iraqi government and people here this is not going to go on forever. The American public will not tolerate that.
I would like to see the Congress in a bipartisan way express our support generally for what's been suggested here, without having to get into the specifics of this at this point. That would be a very important message before we left here, to say something like that, to add our voices to the voices of these 10 Americans.
GWEN IFILL: Is that going to happen in the next, what, 48 hours?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, it could, and it's something the leadership would have to discuss, but I'd strongly recommend it.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Christopher Dodd, Senator Chuck Hagel, thank you both very much.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Thank you.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you.