JIM LEHRER: Now, the reactions of two leading members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The chairman, Sen. John Warner, Republican of Virginia, a former Marine and secretary of the Navy, he attended the president's speech in Annapolis. And Sen. Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island. He's a West Point graduate who served in the 82nd Airborne.
Sen. Reed, in general, what did you think of what the president said today?
SEN. JACK REED: Well, the president provided more details but I don't think those details yet amount to a plan that will provide the American people the confidence they need to continue to support these efforts.
And I think one of the major problems we face today unfortunately is the American public is questioning more and more the process that's going on in Iraq.
I think also the president wasn't as clear at defining what he meant by victory. Is it a stable Iraq or is it a democratic oasis in the Middle East that will be a transforming agent for the entire region?
I think also in terms of the plan, the resources aren't laid out. There wasn't a firm, definitive discussion of how long it would take and how much it would take. And I think that's what the American people are looking for. I was pleased, however, that he began to speak in terms of a conditional phased redeployment of American forces. That's something that the Senate, under the leadership of my colleague John Warner and Carl Levin passed a resolution which 79 senators on a bipartisan basis adopted. So I think at least in that sense we're making progress.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Warner, let's go through some of Sen. Reed's points. First, the definition of victory: The president said it many times in his speech. The National Security Council put out an accompanying document today and it all says victory, victory, victory. How do you define victory?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I personally would stand back for a while and be cautious because Jack and I are students of military history. The last real victory was World War II. I was a young sailor then in the training phases of that war. And I remember the outpouring after VE Day and VJ Day into the streets of America and the parades.
But then I also served in Korea with the Marines. And I remember coming home and people really didn't want to know where we were. What's it all about? And then Vietnam; we all remember that. So I think we ought to continue, as the president has said many times, and pursue goals.
And when we achieve the goal, for example, which our president today outlined I think with great clarity of training sufficient Iraqi forces so that nation, which is a sovereign nation, can take over and maintain its own security and have the infrastructure improved and restore its economy, to me those are signs of successful missions, and that's what I anticipate will happen in due course; if we hold our support behind our troops, behind the Iraqis, I think those missions can be achieved.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe then, Senator, if I hear you correctly, that forget this word "victory" and substitute "successful mission"?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, that's just one senator's view. I guess I've been around too long and been in too many experiences over the past half century. But I give the president credit.
I've got this book right here. It's entitled "Victory in Iraq." And let's have at it. I think it's achievable if, again, we, you know, if we made some mistakes in this thing, and I freely admit in my own shortcomings perhaps as chairman not probing more deeply but we're where we are, and we should be forward- looking.
And look at the accomplishments that the Iraqi people, with our support, have had: Two elections, a third one coming up in a matter of weeks, establishing a new government, writing a constitution. We are making progress.
And today and I think my colleague would agree, the Iraqi forces are in there in numbers fighting alongside our own forces against I still call them insurgents because I think that's basically what they are.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Sen. Reed let's go back to the victory, the word "victory." Do you adopt that as a concept? And if you do, how would you define victory in Iraq?
SEN. JACK REED: Well, I think Sen. Warner's insights are very compelling; that is, this notion of a complete victory is too amorphous. I think it's too amorphous for the military commanders. They want an objective that is clear-cut, that is in some respects measurable.
And the president alluded to that in some respects when he talked about a stable country, one that's not going to collapse because of internal division, and one also that's not going to offer a haven to terrorists. Those are I think more achievable objectives but once again it undercuts the president's more grandiose theme of this democratic transformation of the Middle East. But I think that's a more clear-cut objective. I think you can plan for that. I think also you can dedicate resources.
And I also agree with the chairman in that this is not just a military strategy. It has to have an economic component and it has to have a political component. We've made progress, but I don't think we've made the kind of progress in the political field and the economic field that is going to complement our military efforts.
And I would also agree with Chairman Warner too about there has been progress made with respect to Iraqi security forces but there's still a huge challenge. And that challenge is not so much technical training. It's building a reliable, professional corps of leaders that will support the government of Iraq and not be swayed by sectarian or community issues because of the nature of Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Warner, back to an earlier point that Sen. Reed made when he listed his questions for the president after this -- about the president's speech, was the president did not accompany his victory declaration or his victory intentions with resources to get it done.
Do you agree with Sen. Reed that the resources are not there to get this job done that he wants done?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Right. But I had an opportunity to visit with the president right after the speech. We had a -- I think a very interesting conversation. The secretary of defense was there. And he's going to give three more speeches in the coming weeks. And today's emphasis was the Iraqi forces and how they're beginning to take up major responsibilities with ours.
Next week is how we can bring the Sunnis and the Shia and the Kurds together to form their nation and following that how we can get more support from the international community.
All of these issues, I think, will be carefully addressed by the president in the coming speeches. Right now I think it was important for this speech today, given the background and the intense debate we've had here in the Senate, a good strong debate, strong differences of opinions. That's democracy in action.
But it was necessary for the president to go out and reinforce to our troops and the other coalition forces and to the world that we have a resolve in these next four to six months in Iraq which are critical to bring about achievement of our goals.
JIM LEHRER: But with that resolve, Senator, are we putting the right resources and is the president asking for the right resources to accomplish that?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Correct. And I assure you that that is being done. I do not know of any hesitancy here in the Congress, unlike the Vietnam era where the Congress pulled back.
This Congress has been standing behind the president and his requests for resources as a manifestation of our tremendous support for the courage of the troops and their families here at home.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Reed, you made a point that one of the things that pleased you about the president's speech was he did talk about the --withdrawing American troops somewhere down the line. Do you think that is really the underpinnings, like it or not, of American policy right now?
SEN. JACK REED: Well, I think we face a reality -- we all do -- both the president and the Congress, that we cannot indefinitely over many, many years sustain 160,000 troops in that posture in Iraq. Also, we can't continue to do that because that will effectively take the Iraqi security forces off the hook.
We have to find a strategy, a force posture there that will protect these fledgling Iraqi forces but also give them incentives to take the lead in the fight so that reality I think is shaping a lot of what the president said. Indeed I think it's shaped our debate.
And one of the factors I want to emphasize again is that the chairman is right. We're prepared to give the president all the resources he needs, but the area of economic development, the area of the civilian complement to military forces, I don't think the administration has sounded the claxon yet or the warning yet saying we need more and we've got to do more.
And without this political and economic dynamic, the military forces will just buy time but not success.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Warner, what do you feel about this issue of troop withdrawal? As Sen. Reed said, you crafted the compromise resolution that passed the Senate overwhelmingly.
Since then there's been the call by Senator -- I mean by Congressman Murtha. The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, for the first time today identified with that same call.
How much is the desire to start withdrawing U.S. troops driving the president's new look at this as well as everybody else's?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well on a personal note, I've had the privilege of knowing this president and really my first president I was privileged to be with was Eisenhower when I was a youngster in the White House then.
I never saw a president with stronger resolve than our president today after he finished that speech and came down and talked with us.
But I'll go directly to your issue of the question of withdrawal. We should not at this time in these critical four to six months be worrying about a timetable to withdraw or even talking about it. We can debate but we should not send a message to the insurgents that they can wait us out. The enemy -- whoever they may be -- a lot of them unfortunately are Iraqis fighting each other but some from abroad -- have no regard for human life, none whatsoever.
They employ the human bombers. And they have a patience unlike anything we have in this country or really the western world. They'll sit it out and wait and wait if they think we're going to leave before we complete our goals.
And lastly, to those who say -- talk about withdrawal, think about the consequences if we don't do it under the right circumstances as the president said, condition-based. That whole region will implode into a civil war.
They'll have destabilizing effects on Jordan and all the bordering nations. They'll bring about a greater instability of the Israeli security. And that is not a consequence we want.
And in this book-- I'm not trying to sell books but it's written out in here very clearly the consequences of not succeeding in the basic goals and how it brings a greater degree of danger here at home to further terrorist acts.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Reed, do you agree with Sen. Warner that even to debate withdrawal right now is not good?
SEN. JACK REED: Well I think the term "withdrawal" is the wrong term because it seems to slant the argument to the cut-and-run theory, which is more rhetoric than I think reality.
I agree with the chairman. I think having committed forces there -- and I was opposed to such a commitment and the way it was done unilaterally -- but since we're there, we have to find a way out that will not create a worse problem: A more unstable region, one that will be the source of continuing problems for the United States and the world, but I think it is appropriate and I think it's been proven so to have these debates in talking about how we begin to redeploy forces.
And frankly the reality is we're there for a period of time, a period of time with combat forces and probably a longer period of time with logistical forces and support forces. We have to recognize that. But if we don't have these discussions, then I think we're doing a disservice to the country.
JIM LEHRER: Okay -
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Let me just finish with saying that I strongly support the debates. That's our democracy in action. But we can debate it in such a way that we don't send a wrong message to our forces and the rest of the world.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Sen. Reed a follow-up. Congressman Murtha, as you know, says that - to Sen. Warner's point that a precipitous withdrawal, or whatever you want to call it, of U.S. troops would promote more instability in the Middle East.
Congressman Murtha says just the opposite. The withdrawal of U.S. troops, in fact, would begin to stabilize things because the presence of our troops is an inciting factor in and of themselves. Where do you come down on that question?
SEN. JACK REED: I respect Jack Murtha immensely, both as a combat veteran and as a colleague in the House of Representatives when I served with him.
But my thought would be that our precipitous withdrawal would cause serious problems not because of the fact that we're -- our troops are targets. There are tensions in that country that have nothing to do with our presence. They're tensions between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish elements.
And if we were to leave and they felt unchecked, that could break out into a civil war or certainly complicating issues. So I would suggest that we have to find a way -- quicker rather than longer -- to do it in an orderly way.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask you, beginning with you Sen. Reed, finally, the public opinion, political question like it or not, whether or not you or any other members of the United States Senate or any other experts or whoever in the administration, is the American public moving toward this question of somehow withdrawing U.S. troops sooner rather than later, and you all are going to have to deal with it?
SEN. JACK REED: I think there's a great concern with the American public. And it's being translated not just in the polls but to the attitudes of people on the streets that I encounter in Rhode Island particularly and across the country. And it's an issue.
We cannot conduct any policy without the strong support of the American people.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Warner.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I would certainly say the -- I respect the American public. And being a little older than the rest, I can remember their attitudes particularly during Vietnam when I was secretary of the Navy.
But that's why we need the strongest leadership at this point in time. That's why we need bipartisanship in the Congress. And as Jack said, we've got to support the Iraqis in getting that strong leadership in their military and address the question of how we can deal with the IEDs and how we can -
JIM LEHRER: That's the explosives on the roads.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Right, the explosives. And how we can better train and equip. You know, Jack and I know equipping the forces is just as important as training the Iraqi forces. I want to close out and I'm very cautious: I think we're making progress.
And I still think there's a great deal of confidence in this institution of Congress behind the men and women of the armed forces and a credit to them for doing a great job.
JIM LEHRER: I would assume you would agree with that, Sen. Reed.
SEN. JACK REED: Absolutely. I had the privilege of commanding soldiers.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Thank you.
SEN. JACK REED: Thank you.