JIM LEHRER: Now, reaction to the day's events, and words, from the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Chairman Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana; and the ranking Democrat, Joe Biden of Delaware. I spoke to them from the Senate gallery a short time ago. Senators, welcome.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, do you support quickly, right now creating an interim Iraqi government?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, I believe that the Iraqi Governing Council have to make that decision, but they should move toward either a large assembly of 150 or 200 on the council as sort of a Loya Jirga, as in Afghanistan, and moves toward an executive group of people that can govern a constitution-building and then an election, or they should move in some other way that defines someone in charge. Clearly the governing council as it stands has its arguments with our government as to the authority they have, but they've fallen between an executive legislative process with some inattention to details, and that won't work. The president is impatient with this. I applaud his initiative and calling Jerry Bremer back and moving on, really, to get something that works.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, what do you think about doing this now?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think we should do it now. I think there's a great deal of urgency required here. I think it's clear that the Iraqi Governing Council, to use a phrase by a guy who was just recently running around town and wrote a new book, named Toby Dodge, he said this governing council "bounces off the Iraqi people," meaning they have no legitimacy, they've made no inroads. The idea that these expatriates, a significant portion of whom are on the council, are going to ultimately be the governing body here I think is not likely. So I think moving, as Dick said, to a Loya Jirga kind of provincial elections that elect a constitutional convention that has three functions: One, it appoints a new governing council; two, it begins the right to write the constitution; and three, it sets up and writes interim laws to govern the country while the constitution is being written in preparation for elections. I think that's essential and necessary, and I think it should be done as quickly as possible.
JIM LEHRER: But Senator Lugar, who forms the government? Does Paul Bremer go back and say, "okay, now we're going to start again with another new government that the U.S. appoints?" Or how does this get started? How do we get from here to there?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, essentially Jerry Bremer diplomatically pointed out he'll be consulting with the Iraqis, and it's important that he does so, that the decision be theirs. But the decision needs to be one, as I say, of expansion, I think, of the efforts. So if there is not to be a direct election-- and I think that is improbable given the lack of census and all the preliminaries that must come about-- a very large group of people that really cover everybody needs to be involved in the selection of an executive. And then that executive is important. That must be somebody comparable to President Karzai, for example, in Afghanistan, who has been an executive person who could ride herd on all the elements. They've gotten to a constitution in Afghanistan, and they've now promulgated that, about to have a national plebiscite on that. And even in that country, they provide for an executive first, and the legislative a year or so thereafter giving some opportunity to divine who is actually in the country and what ought to be the dynamics really of the group that forms the government.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Senator Biden, what would you add to that in terms of the process from this point on?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: What I would add to the process, I don't think the administration will accept. I would move to a high commissioner model replacing Jerry Bremer, bringing... reporting to the U.N. Security Council, like the model we have in Kosovo. That model is one that would be of great value, because it would not be the United States appointing the people and/or coming up with the process to get this constitutional convention, which is better than what we have now, but would have more legitimacy if it was under the auspices of a high commissioner. Secondly, if we had a high commissioner there, they rule the same way... the high commissioner lets the governing bodies in Kosovo rule, except when they go way off track, he is able to remove people who are not participating. It would have much more legitimacy that way. But I think Dick's right. I think that Jerry Bremer is going to very diplomatically go back and basically lay out to the present Iraqi Governing Council that it's not working this way, and we need their support for them to ask for it to move in this direction. I think that's the way it's going to be done, but I would much prefer to see us move to a high commissioner model.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, the administration had been rather forthright, before today, in saying, "no, wait a minute. Wait a minute. There's not going to be an interim government until there's a constitution. The constitution had to come first." What caused them to change their minds?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: The fact that the governing council indicated it probably wasn't going to be able to get to the constitution process by Dec. 15, which the U.N. resolution, Security Council resolution that we fostered provided for. And really beyond that, there was not, as Joe Biden has said, that much acceptance of the council in Iraq. If we're going to move towards something which the Iraqis take credibly, the thought that democracy is going to follow, that they have a stake in helping us with security right now; that is, telling us where the people are who are after us, so that we minimize the casualties and maximize confidence. Those changes are absolutely basic, and the president came to a recognition he had to accelerate that. Now he, I think, was quite blunt about that, as I understand it. He wants a timetable that's very different. And so there is a change, no masking over that.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Blunt with whom?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, I think he was blunt with his own people. Not that he was arguing with them, but I think he made clear to the vice president and the secretaries of Defense and State and Dr. Rice and Jerry Bremer that we've got to get on with it -- that as a matter of fact, to temporize at this point in which the constitution doesn't happen and which, therefore, an election doesn't happen, that this goes on for years simply isn't going to work. And the security situation demands urgency, and therefore, they ought to get back and get to it.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Senator Biden, do you buy into this idea that, on the security issue, that the best way and the quickest way to end the violence is to have more Iraqi involvement in the government? I mean, to have at this interim government that will lead to less violence?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think it will have an impact on less violence. But if you listen to what General Abizaid, who I think we both think is first rate, said yesterday or today, he's acknowledging this isn't outside terrorist groups that are our biggest problem. They are a problem. It's indigenous insurgencies that are using terrorist tactics that are the gigantic problem here. And so if we have a more representative government, the assumption is it will dissipate the support or the turning the blind eye to this insurgency on the part of the Iraqi people, because they'll see the possibility of being invested in a real government down the road. But in addition to that, Jim, I think we need more forces in there now.
JIM LEHRER: U.S. forces?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: U.S. forces now, because that's the only thing I think is going to allow us to have fewer U.S. forces later. This war has not been won yet. There is still, even though it may be only five to ten thousand people out there, there is still a war going on that has not been quelled.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, the Philadelphia Inquirer had a report earlier this week, said there was a CIA study of the public attitudes in Iraq. And this was recently, and they said that the people of Iraq, many of them, many, many more every day are coming to the conclusion that the U.S. occupation is going to fail, and that they're joining the resistance. What can you tell us about that report?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, I think the report, and probably you've stated fairly accurately, and as Joe Biden said, General Abizaid indicated that consequently, the strategy of the Iraqis is to break our will -- break our will by firing on the U.N., on the Red Cross, now on the Italians, on one after another, to try to discourage them and in some cases just to get out, leave us by ourselves. The numbers of attacks upon our people have been increasing. In short, the idea is, by attrition of our will, to gain whatever they want. So this is very serious. I think the poll indicates that Iraqis, as opposed to being eager to get involved in democracy right now, are hunkering down. They're rather fearful that if we're gone, then they are going to be the targets for the terrorists who are left after them.
JIM LEHRER: So Senator Biden, could you conclude, at least at this point, that the tactics of the terrorists, the tactics of the insurgents is working?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, it's working in the sense that it's creating doubt. Look, it's a little bit like if you live in a neighborhood where the drug dealer controls the corner and you know when you call the police and the drug dealer is... and the police are going to come arrest the guy, but then release him, they're going to know that you're the guy who called the drug dealer, and you're in real trouble. So what you want to know is whether the police are really going to come in, clean the street, clean the corner and stay there, stay there to make sure the drug dealers don't come back because, otherwise, what you do is you accommodate. You don't want to get yourself in trouble, so you accommodate. And there's people now who think that in Iraq.
And by the way, I deliberately did not go to the briefing of the CIA that was held today so I would be able to speak about what my impression is about that Philadelphia Inquirer report. My impression is it's absolutely dead-on accurate. And the reason why I'm so sure it is, it's totally consistent with a hearing that the chairman held where we had the Hammer report, a former comptroller, I believe he was at the Pentagon, asked to go over to Iraq late June, early July and with very prominent Americans come back with a report. They told us in our committee that the window of opportunity is closing very rapidly, and that if we don't demonstrate we're in control and staying fairly soon, we're going to lose the Iraqi people, not just the insurgents, the Iraqi people. And so it seems to me totally consistent with the reality on the ground, and that's why it's important to move with urgency now.
JIM LEHRER: But Senator Lugar, on this same vein, there's been a suggestion that just the idea that the United States and the president in the last couple or three days is now pushing hard, as you said, to turn this over to an Iraqi interim government, that that could be interpreted by the Iraqi people as that the, "oh, my goodness, the United States is about to cut and run. They're taking casualties and they want to do something, they want to put it back on us." How do you counter that?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I don't see any possibility of that interpretation. I see quite to the contrary. The president asserting that we are there, we're going to make it work, but at the same time the Iraqis have to want to make it work, and so we're going to come together to some new modus vivendi as to how it works. I think that's the important point. Likewise, that we are sufficiently flexible as a nation. If we see something doesn't work, we're prepared to change it and do so decisively. And that's an important principle, too, as opposed to just pretending that it isn't so.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Jim --
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: -- one of my worries about your question is, the premise of your question, is if this change-- which I welcome, and I fully agree with what Dick just said and his rationale as to why we did it and why it shows strength and why the president should be complimented-- if that is accompanied by, also, an equally strong assertion that we're training up 100,000 Iraqi army and we're going to draw down American forces, then it changes the whole complexion in the direction that your question... the premise of your question implies. Conversely, if while we're doing this, we were putting more forces or different forces in there and aggressively moving on the insurgencies... insurgency, then I think it connotes and sends a very different message that we're here to stay, this is about the Iraqi people governing themselves, and we're there until they're capable of doing that.
JIM LEHRER: What about that, Senator Lugar?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Oh, I would emphasize more intelligence forces, people that really know how to collect it, and more special forces that know how to go after the malefactors. Those are the people that are required. The question always comes back to numbers, but the fact is that a lot of the troops that came over there to begin with came over to fight a war, and the war's different now. And the troops that are needed now are different and we need more of them.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I don't disagree with that.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Senator Lugar-- then to you, Senator Biden on this issue-- I take just this listening to the two of you, that both of you believe that we're at another crisis kind of turning point on Iraq. Is that a fair reading of your attitude right now, Senator Lugar?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, I think it's much more the thought that there's a window of opportunity here that might not be open indefinitely, but I don't see a crisis. I see it in fact a very great strain, but decisive moves being taken, and I think they're being taken, by our government one after another to make sure that, in fact, we prevail and a determination to prevail. I see no change whatever in that will.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I agree with that. I'd add one thing to it. It also puts us in concert, I believe you'll see, with the strong support of the British and increasing support from Europeans for this change in the course of action, increases the possibility that we will go from a pittance of support on terms of money in Iraq, and even increases the possibility of the gradual movement of the military force in Iraq to a NATO force over the next months and year. And so I think it is... I think Dick's right, it's an opportunity. Put another way, though, if we do not take advantage of this opportunity and did not change the course of action, I believe we would arrive at a crisis point in relatively near term.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Thank you.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Thank you.