Words of War
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JIM LEHRER: Finally, on the Iraq issue, the perspectives of the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chairman Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana; and the ranking Democrat, Joe Biden of Delaware.
Senator Lugar are the people of Indiana having similar conversations about the war?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I’m certain they are. I think there clearly is a desire for more information. There are many people have been watching this, but now we’re at a moment of truth. American troops including a number of guardsmen from Indiana as well as active duty are in harm’s way. I would just say each one of us, not just the president but Sen. Biden and I and everybody else have some responsibility have an obligation to be talking a lot about that. We welcome that.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Biden, has it gotten the public’s attention going to — possibility of going to war?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: It clearly has gotten the public’s attention. There is some confusion. People want to support the president. They take seriously what he says, but then they say, but, Joe, I mean, is this guy really a threat to us? I mean, what can he do? And then there are those who say, look, I mean, aren’t there more important things? I mean there is concern.
JIM LEHRER: How do you answer the first question: Is he a threat to us?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I answer that he is a threat to us long-run meaning the next several years if we don’t do something. But I suggest that he has no capacity now to be a serious immediate threat. I think for example, Korea is a greater potential threat in terms of proliferation of materials that could get in the hands of terrorists, for example.
But I do point out in my view if we do not enforce essentially what I call a peace agreement, what happened was in 1991 he invaded the country, lost the war, sued for peace and says the condition of me staying in power what I’m going to do is I promise you the world I will disarm and not have any weapons of mass destruction.
I think we have to enforce that. Having the inspectors on the ground in there now I think the idea of him being able to transfer weapons and or, you know, continue to build a nuclear capacity which he does not have in my view I think is diminished.
JIM LEHRER: How do you answer the imminent threat question when people ask you as I’m asking just now asking you?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, not imminent threat in terms of immediate attack upon America, but an ongoing threat not knowing the timing. Clearly our problem is weapons of mass destruction or materials getting into the hands of terrorists or of nation states that will use them — have the will to do that. Saddam clearly does. He will hurt us if he has the opportunity. You can argue whether it’s in the next six months or the sex year, the problem for the United Nations is that it has been up this walk before.
And the four years ago, decided that there were other problems more pressing. Perhaps there was more time — in essence, Saddam got the inspectors back out and they’ve been out for quite a while but we knew then, the United Nations declared exactly what was there. There is — this is not a surprise. We’re back to the point where Saddam doesn’t explain where it is, doesn’t explain that it has been destroyed. Is not destroying it — it’s still there and the question then what does he do with it? And I believe that’s a threat to most nations. We’re at the precipice of war or peace and I would guess we have credibility because troops there. Diplomacy may still have a chance to work. And certainly Sec. Powell will have a chance to find that out next week.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s go through some, senator Lugar, a spokesman said we’re in the final phase. What do you think that means, how do you interpret what he means there?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: It means that Sec. Powell will produce before the United Nations a great deal of evidence but beyond that simply the credibility of the U.N. itself. It passed a resolution saying this is the last chance. Show us what you did with what you had four years ago because we know we have a lot of it or there will be consequences.
Now we come to the consequences. There are some nations that say, well, we would rather not sequences quite so soon. Maybe we’ll get lucky. The inspectors will find something highly unlikely given the mobility of chemical and biological weapons so we’re at a point in which the United States will say let’s take a look at consequences.
At this point Saddam may think we’re credible. He might leave. He might cough up some weapons — maybe half of them. I have no idea of the response. For the moment, my guess is that Saddam believes it’s going to blow away and that he will then have the fullness of time to sort of work this thing out and the inspectors in due course will go. So will the armed forces. The world will lose interest and say there are other important issues.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Biden on Sec. Powell’s appearance before the Security Council next week, he said today he was going to say some things that were already in the public record. Expand on them a little bit. Some things had been given to the inspectors that the world don’t know but also new things. Have you and other members of the United States Senate been told some things that the rest of us don’t know?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think so. I hope so. Let me explain. I’m not being facetious. I think there is credible circumstantial evidence coupled with the material breach that exists now as Sen. Lugar pointed out. We know what he had before; the whole world acknowledged it. We know he says he doesn’t have it know. He says he doesn’t have it now and he hasn’t explained it — couple that with I think the circumstantial evidence that if I were a lawyer before a jury, I believe I could convict you before the jury with this evidence. That says, look, we have intercepted these various communications where Charlie says, I’m making this up, “hide the stuff, they are on the way” — that kind of circumstantial evidence is opposed to being able to produce a photograph like what occurred with Adelaide Stevenson of showing the missile sites in Cuba. But I think there is evidence.
JIM LEHRER: Let me be specific. Based on what you know now, and assuming that that information is what Sec. Powell is going to present on Wednesday, a week from today, is that enough to bring France and Germany and the Security Council on board for military action?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I’m not being facetious when I say nothing is enough to bring Germany on board. I think Germany will not in any circumstances be involved. The best we can hope from Germany, in my view, is they abstain, they abstain from voting. They don’t have a veto so they can’t stop it. France I think, it what it does, there are not many strong European leaders right now — by that I mean leaders with the overwhelming support of their publics.
Their publics are overwhelmingly opposed to war. Even though they know as Dick implied earlier, I think he said earlier, that these leaders know Saddam is in material breach, they need more to have the nerve to go to their publics and take them on. My hope is that this will give France enough to be able to have Chirac stand up and say, look, it’s undeniable; we have to go with the United States. I think that is a reasonable prospect. I never have underestimated the diplomatic prowess of Mr. Powell nor the unwillingness of France to be left behind.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Sen. Lugar?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Yes, I do. And I think furthermore in comments made today by President Putin of Russia, he says maybe Russia will change its position after they have consultation with Sec. Powell. Powell is a very well informed and very good diplomat. I would just say on behalf of the French and the Russians if they do come to that conclusion, this is the most power thing that could happen for peace. The fact is then Saddam really does have to take a look at the situation. Prior to that, he may assume that the United States, with the coalition of the willing, may finally be distracted. I think he is wrong. But I think nevertheless if we really are serious about peace in Iraq right now, the solidarity of the Security Council is of the essence and very soon.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I agree.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s pick up on that, the possibilities for peace that still remains, Sen. Lugar. You said and it was suggested again today by Sec. Powell, what if Saddam Hussein and his family and his top advisors leave, is that a realistic possibility?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Yes, but not at moment. If I were Saddam looking at all of this, I would assume I was going to be lucky again and skip past the graveyard and have another go at it, and so I don’t think he is preparing his plans, but come to really push and shove, he might. If he does, one of the panel members you had before says big issue about what happens in Iraq — Sen. Biden held a hearing last year in which we tried to take up this. We’re going to take it up very soon to get information from our government. How much thinking are we doing? How much thinking are we doing with our allies and with our friends? We need to do a lot of this even as we spoke about Saddam now.
JIM LEHRER: It’s the old “now what” question, right, Sen. Biden?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: That’s exactly right. I agree with Dick that I firmly believe if in fact we get a resolution saying you haven’t caused up, Saddam, and forces is approved and we’re coming, I think you would say several Middle Eastern heads of state heading to Baghdad with a new G-5 and a bundle of money and saying we’ll get you out of town, we’ll get you amnesty, leave. Do I that I is going to happen? Well, I think it’s less than even chance. but it is the only realistic chance I think at this point — that or either an internal overthrow — to avoid the war.
But as Sen. Lugar says, that doesn’t then solve our ultimate problem. That is we still want to know where the weapons of mass destruction are. We don’t know, Jim. One of the things that Sen. Lugar and I have been harping on is the American people and we have to know what is the day, the year and the two years and the five years after. What are we committing to? We’re committing if we go in with or without a coalition for there to be tens of thousands of troops there hopefully coalition troops for a long time until we have established some stability. Nation building they call it and no one likes to use the phrase.
JIM LEHRER: Is it really being discussed in a way that you think it should be discussed?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: No.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Sen. Lugar, it isn’t out there yet?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: It’s getting there. There are glimmers and I think both us have been told that once we got serious about hearings that there will be a lot forthcoming. I pray that is the case and we’re not going to make the plan in the Foreign Relations Committee but we do ask for the discipline of those who are going to do it and to be up-front as Sen. Biden says to get some idea across, longevity, who else with us, really where we’re headed at that point.
JIM LEHRER: Because the assumption here, Sen. Biden is one way or another, I mean it goes peacefully or he goes by force but we’re going to have troops on the ground in Baghdad and in Iraq generally, right?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Absolutely. Positively.
JIM LEHRER: So it’s got to be done no matter what?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Yes, the after the fact planning has to be done no matter what. Obviously, Jim, it is much more in our interest if we have the rest of the world picking up the responsibility and the tab, so we don’t become sort of the target practice for the whole world or we don’t become the target of every malcontent in the world, that we are the ones occupying this one with fifty, seventy-five thousand forces securing the border, keeping the internecine warfare. You know, there’s 100,000 Shia from Iraq, I mean, 1 million Shia from Iraq in Iran. I don’t think when they come home they are going to be saying we are happy to be back here, let bygones be bygones, and it would be chaos if there is not some order here.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask each of you quickly based on what the president said last night based on your conversations with him, based on the information that you have, Sen. Lugar, is there any question in your mind that President Bush is determined to use military action, even if it means going it alone if all these other alternatives, peaceful alternatives don’t work out?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: If all the qualifications you said –.
JIM LEHRER: There is a lot of qualifications.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Yes, the president will lead the coalition and Saddam will be disarmed. Then we will have all the work to do that we were talking about in post-war because we’ll still have to find the weapons of mass destruction. That will be tough until somebody leads us to them.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Sen. Biden, it’s going to happen, that these other things won’t intervene?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I agree but it’s strange for a Democrat to say I think the president would rather avoid it. I don’t think he is looking. Everybody says, particularly on my side, this guy can hardly wait to go to war.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t believe that?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I don’t believe that. I think it has dawned on him that the political and economic and military consequences of winning this war are much more difficult to solve and deal with than going in and winning the war in the first place.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Thank you, Jim.