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Sandra Day O’Connor, Vernon Jordan Discuss Responses to Iraq Report

December 7, 2006 at 6:15 PM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Now, Baker-Hamilton reaction, part two. Just like the president, some influential senators made clear this morning there were some things they liked and others they did not in the Iraq report. NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has that story.

KWAME HOLMAN: Invited by the Senate Armed Services Committee to explain and clarify the details of their report, James Baker and Lee Hamilton made clear they expected all 96 pages and the 79 recommendations contained in them to be considered in their entirety.

JAMES BAKER, Co-Chair, Iraq Study Group: I hope we don’t treat this like a fruit salad and say, “I like this, but I don’t like that. I like this, but I don’t like that.”

LEE HAMILTON, Co-Chair, Iraq Study Group: You cannot solve the Iraqi problem in pieces, and so you have to approach it comprehensively.

KWAME HOLMAN: But several skeptical members took issue with some of those recommendations. Arizona Republican John McCain said he was puzzled the group rejected his idea of increasing the number of troops in Iraq because, as they stated, “We do not believe that the needed levels are available for a sustained deployment.”

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: My studies and figures show that they are available for sustained deployment, at least in order to get the situation under control, number one.

JAMES BAKER: First of all, with respect to the augmentation of forces, we call for a five-fold increase in the U.S. combat forces dedicated to the training and equipping mission.

We did receive commentary from people to the effect, generally, that we do not have readily available combat forces up to the level of 100,000, that if that were the policy approach that was suggested, that would be available to go in there for at least quite some time.

KWAME HOLMAN: McCain was not convinced.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I do not believe it would require 100,000, but I won’t waste the time of the committee. But it’s dispiriting to — I think there’s a disconnect between what you are recommending and the situation on the ground.

KWAME HOLMAN: Maine Republican Susan Collins asked, who would be left to protect the additional U.S. military and civilian advisers the group wants placed inside Iraqi combat units?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), Maine: I like the embedding concept; I think we should do more of it. But I’m just wondering, as a practical matter, whether that isn’t an invitation to attack American troops that are one by one in small units.

LEE HAMILTON: We made quite an allowance for the necessity of having the force in place to protect Americans who are embedded, special operations forces, rapid reaction teams, so that you can move in quickly when there’s — a problem breaks out. That will have some risks to it, and there will be some American casualties there, but not like, I think, we’re now suffering.

KWAME HOLMAN: Connecticut Democrat Joseph Lieberman said he thought many of the remedies prescribed by the study group already were being acted upon. But then he specifically questioned one recommendation: that the Bush administration reach out diplomatically to Iran for help in stabilizing Iraq.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), Connecticut: I’m skeptical that it’s realistic to think that Iran wants to help the United States succeed in Iraq. They are, after all, supporting Hezbollah, which gathers people in the square in Beirut to shout “Death to America.” They are giving sophisticated IEDs to the militias which are killing Americans every day in Iraq.

JAMES BAKER: You’re quite right. They probably would much prefer to see us stay bogged down in Iraq. But approaching them in the context, Senator, of pulling together all of Iraq’s neighbors to put the finger on each one of them and say, “You can do this, you can do that, you can do this,” and they can all do a better job of not stirring, fomenting trouble, or they can do a better job of trying to assist.

KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the criticisms aired during today’s hearing, Co-chairman Hamilton argued the urgency of the situation in Iraq is reason for immediate action on the group’s recommendations, within weeks, he said, even days.

Study group members respond

Vernon Jordan
Iraq Study Group
I don't think we ought to get caught up on the president's rhetoric. I think we ought to get caught up on the actions that he's going to take in response to this study group report.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, reacting to the reaction, two members of the Iraq Study Group, and to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: And joining us now are former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, nominated to the bench by President Reagan, and attorney Vernon Jordan, who served as a personal adviser to President Clinton.

Welcome to you both.

Justice O'Connor, beginning with you, today in his first public assessment of your Iraq Study Group report, the president said, right at the outset, victory is important. And another point he said, "I believe we will prevail." Does that language strike you as in step with the very sober assessment you all came to about the prospects in Iraq?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR, Iraq Study Group: Well, it depends, of course, on what you mean by "victory." The report that the study group put out stated as the goal, using language of the president, something about the stability of the government in Iraq and making it able to defend itself, and support itself, and not be a threat to its neighbors or itself.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. Jordan, your view on that. I mean, is victory a word? You didn't use it much in your report. Is that a word that applies to the prospects here?

VERNON JORDAN, Iraq Study Group: Yes, I don't think we ought to get caught up on the president's rhetoric. I think we ought to get caught up on the actions that he's going to take in response to this study group report.

And I would not get caught up, Margaret, on whether he said "victory" or "get the job done." I think we ought to just see what his reaction is going to be.

I feel very good about his reaction as he spoke with us. And yesterday, he was open; he was receptive; he congratulated us on our work. And I think he is deserving of some time to read it carefully, to think about it, to consult with his advisers, and then speak to the nation.

A timetable for the administration?

Sandra Day O'Connor
Iraq Study Group
Our report suggested that diplomatic efforts probably should begin right away. And...if I understand correctly, the Iraqi government is already beginning to talk to its neighbors and invite them to sit around the table and discuss the situation.

MARGARET WARNER: Picking up on that, Justice O'Connor, he did say today that he still wanted, of course, to get his own Pentagon review. He also talked about State Department review.

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Well, of course that's very appropriate.

MARGARET WARNER: And my question is: How long do you think the administration has to act before the situation slips from grave to perhaps hopeless?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Well, nobody can say exactly what's going to happen tomorrow or the week after or the week after. I think that our report suggested that diplomatic efforts probably should begin right away.

And as a matter of fact, if I understand correctly, the Iraqi government is already beginning to talk to its neighbors and invite them to sit around the table and discuss the situation.

MARGARET WARNER: And by diplomatic initiative, you mean the one where you recommended that all the regional actors, all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, become involved in this conversation along with the United States?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Well, we suggested a regional initiative, and it's fine if that is initiated by Iraq itself.

VERNON JORDAN: Let me just say, Margaret, I believe that the president has gotten two huge advisories.

The first was on November 7th from the American people; that was a bipartisan advisory, as reflected in the elections across the country.

And then, secondly, he's heard from five Democrats, five Republicans who came to a consensus. I do not believe that he's going to turn a deaf ear to these two advisories, nor do I believe the Congress would do the same thing. I think implicit in both advisories is a great sense of urgency.

Dealing with Iran and Syria

Vernon Jordan
Iraq Study Group
In the early part of my career I spent an awful lot of time talking to the enemy. They were police chiefs...and sheriffs in the South who were not our friends. But...we did it because it was necessary, and I think the same thing about Iran and Syria.

MARGARET WARNER: One thing that struck many of us who listened to the press conference today, Justice O'Connor, was that, on speaking with Iran and Syria, he did appear to lay down some conditions. He said, you know, they know what they have to do. He talked about Iran and the nuclear issue, being willing to suspend enrichment.

You all said very specifically that this initiative should be launched without preconditions. Why is that important?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Well, I think the group expressly said it should not affect the discussion on the nuclear question, which should stay where it is, within the U.N.

MARGARET WARNER: But why is that important, that the U.S. be willing to engage in the other conversation about Iraq without preconditions?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: It was suggested by the study group that we at least talk to those two countries, with whom we've had great difficulty and which are creating difficulty for Iraq, and that is Iran and Syria.

And they're both neighboring countries. It's important that they understand the concerns and to inquire whether they can try to help preserve the country of Iraq as it is, to stabilize it.

VERNON JORDAN: You know, Margaret, on this issue of Iran and Syria, in the early part of my career, I spent an awful lot of time talking to the enemy. They were police chiefs in the South and sheriffs in the South who were not our friends. But negotiation was required. And we did it because it was necessary, and I think the same thing about Iran and Syria.

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: We might go all the way back to World War II, where the United States continued to have discussions with Stalin. He was the enemy, not our friend, but we continued to have discussions. And I think we pretty much have to do the same here.

Experience informed recommendations

Sandra Day O'Connor
Iraq Study Group
This was a good illustration of how it is possible for people of goodwill and integrity to work together toward a consensus. And that's possible in the halls of Congress, as well as outside.

MARGARET WARNER: Justice O'Connor, Mr. Jordan just referred to his own early experience in the civil rights movement.

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: How did your early experiences, both as a legislator and then as a Supreme Court justice, help inform you? And did it help you bring to the table in this commission exercise?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Oh, nothing, probably, except how to ask a few questions.

MARGARET WARNER: Nothing about forging coalitions?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Oh, perhaps a little of that, but it wasn't necessary here. The members of the commission understood very well that it was desirable to have a consensus.

VERNON JORDAN: And what is important about that, Margaret, is that, when each of us, five Democrats, five Republicans, went to every one of the study group's meetings, we checked partisanship at the door, and we were not Republicans and Democrats. We were responsible American citizens dealing with a very serious problem.

MARGARET WARNER: And let me ask you one other part of your own experience, Mr. Jordan, which is as adviser to embattled presidents, including President Clinton. Did that give you any special insight that you brought to the table in this exercise?

VERNON JORDAN: Well, there were moments when I was advising President Clinton. There were not moments of embattled, I wanted to say that first of all. But, yes, it is instructive.

But in that room, we were preparing together ideas and recommendations, not just for the president, but also for this Congress. And it is my hope that the civility that prevailed in the Iraq Study Group will now take a front seat, both in the administration and in the Congress of the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Justice O'Connor, do you think that's realistic when we'll be talking about people who are in office?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: I absolutely do. I thought that this was a good illustration of how it is possible for people of goodwill and integrity to work together toward a consensus. And that's possible in the halls of Congress, as well as outside.

MARGARET WARNER: Justice O'Connor, the 9/11 Commission was successful in getting a lot of what it proposed enacted, in part because it kept at it even after the report came out. It was holding the president accountable and the Congress accountable.

Now, you yesterday said, well, it's out of our hands now. Are you saying that, really, you think the commission, you commissioners don't have a further job to do to pursue this, to sell it, explain it to the American public, to keep our political leadership accountable?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: I think all the members of the commission have engaged in trying to share what we have recommended with the public. That's what we're doing right this minute. And all the members of the commission have been engaged in that. And beyond the roll of explaining, I don't know that the commission has any further obligation.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. Jordan, what's your view of that?

VERNON JORDAN: Well, we have no statutory authority. We have no enforcement ability. We have no executive powers. Our role was purely advisory. And, of course, we are available when called upon to render whatever advice we might have beyond this. Our responsibility as citizens does not end with the ending of our specific duties in the Iraq Study Group.

MARGARET WARNER: Vernon Jordan, Sandra Day O'Connor, thank you both.

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Thank you, Margaret.

VERNON JORDAN: Thank you.