Meet the Candidates: Joseph Lieberman
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
MARGARET WARNER: Earlier this week we heard from Congressman Richard Gephardt and former Gov. Howard Dean. Tonight we talk with Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. He is 61, born in Stamford, Connecticut, and a graduate of Yale University and Yale Law School. He spent a lifetime in public office, first elected to the Connecticut State Senate in 1971, and becoming majority leader four years later. He was elected the state’s attorney general in 1982, and six years after that, he defeated longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker. Lieberman is now serving his third Senate term. In 2000, Al Gore picked him as his running mate, making Lieberman the first Jewish vice presidential nominee from a major party. He joins us now from Capitol Hill. Welcome, Sen. Lieberman.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Margaret; good to be with you.
MARGARET WARNER: Pres. Bush made clear yesterday that though he wants a second U.N. resolution on going to war against Iraq, he is not going to be bound by it; he doesn’t think he actually needs it. If you were president, would you go to war without a second U.N. resolution?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I would go to the United Nations hoping to receive the second resolution. I always feel when you go into battle, the more allies you have, the better it is, but if that was not attainable, then I would think in the interest of national security be prepared to form my own coalition to enforce the United Nations resolutions.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you give for instance the French-German proposal that’s out there now – or there’s a new Canadian proposal tabled today to give the inspectors more time – would you entertain that?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I would always do something that I think Pres. Bush hasn’t done enough over the last two years, which is to be willing to listen to the concerns of our allies, not just on Iraq, but a whole host of other questions that trouble them, such as arms control and global warming. But in this case it seems to me that there is no case to be made for unlimited extensions of the inspection regimen against Iraq because Saddam has not responded and not cooperated on the basic question, as Mr. Blix has said, of providing evidence to the inspectors that he destroyed, the enormous quantities of chemical and biological weapons, the United Nations concluded he had when the inspectors left Iraq in 1998 – so none of us wants to go to war; it is truly a last resort. I understand the motivations of some who would like to put it off, but eventually we really are giving Saddam his last chance. This was it, and unless there’s some evidence that he’s really responded and taken advantage of that last chance, I’m afraid we are going to have to go to war.
MARGARET WARNER: One of your Democratic nomination opponents, former Gov. Howard Dean was on the program last night, and he was quite critical of you and others who voted and supported the congressional resolution giving the president authority to do this. And he said you “voted to allow the president to attack Iraq unilaterally without going back to Congress.” How do you respond to that?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: The last time I was with Howard he complimented me for being consistent in my position on Iraq, and, in fact, since the end of the Gulf War I’ve felt we erred in not cooperating to bring down Saddam at that point, and we’ve paid for it ever since. I think in the resolution that 77 members of the Senate voted for in the fall, a majority of both caucuses, we were carrying out and fulfilling our constitutional responsibility to authorize the commander-in-chief to initiate military actions, and then it’s up to the commander-in-chief to do that. The clear intentions stated there, particularly in the request that the president go to the United Nations, was that it be not unilateral but international. On the other hand, if a president decides that he must take action unilaterally to protect the security of the American people, I don’t think we should ever undercut that. But let’s talk realistically. This is – if war is necessary, it will not be unilateral, and it’s not fair to continue to use that accusation; it will be international and multilateral. There are already several nations, more than 15 by my last count, that are prepared to join us, if war is necessary, to enforce the resolutions of the United Nations and protect the world from the eventuality which will come to pass unless we act, which is that Saddam will use those chemical and biological weapons against us.
MARGARET WARNER: So do you have any substantial quarrel with the way the president has exercised that authority in the last five months? Is there any substantial way in which you would have done it differently?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, the first thing I would say that I would have done differently is that for the last two years I would not have conducted a foreign policy as the Bush administration and the president have that has been one-sided, go-it-alone, and the rest of the world feels is arrogant, and when you do that, and you send a message to other countries in the world, including our closest allies in Europe, that we don’t listen to their concerns on arms control and global warming, we only come to them when we need them, you have a harder time getting them to support you, as we are right now in the case of Iraq. So I believe that if I had been president for the last two years, there would not have been the enormous opposition to the administration and Congress’s policy regarding Iraq.
The second point is that I do think that the president let the discussion on Iraq in our country and around the world get away from him, and since the U.N. resolution was adopted in the fall. I mean, people began to view this as if it was a cops and robbers case. I never expected the inspectors to find the chemical and biological weapons, because we gave Saddam two months’ notice that we were coming, no more than a prosecutor in any county in America who told someone that they were suspected of having drugs in their house, that he would be sending the investigators two months from now would keep those drugs in the house. What the inspectors were supposed to do, of course, was to find evidence with the cooperation of the Iraqis under Saddam that he destroyed the chemical and biological weapons. The U.N. again said that he had in 1998 and 1999 hasn’t done it, so I think the president has not made a convincing case to an already skeptical world community and to the people in the United States – not a majority but a minority who are skeptical about our motives in this conflict.
MARGARET WARNER: Today you gave a speech in which you were also critical of the administration’s plans for post war Iraq, which had been looking out in the recent days, involved military – sort of a military occupation and then a U.S. civilian administrator. What’s the gist of your quarrel with it, and how, if you were president, would you handle it differently?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Right. The gist of my quarrel first goes to timing. It’s not too late, but it’s getting late. I wish the president had earlier described our plans and intentions for Iraq after Saddam has gone because I think it could have helped us gain some more allies and supporters in the United States and around the world. Secondly, I do think the administration will make a mistake if it insists on a civilian American administrator of Iraq after Saddam is gone. I think we ought to work with our allies to have an administrator running Iraq after our victory who is not from America, who is preferably an experienced government leader from an Arab nation, and I think we also have to act in advance to make clear to the world that we have no designs on Iraqi oil or the revenues from it, that we intend and we will take action to keep the Iraqi oil industry in the control of the Iraqis and make sure that the money derived from it benefits the Iraqi people, as of course it has not during the time of Saddam, who’s used too much of it to build weapons of mass destruction and palaces for himself.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, you’ve been described as the most hawkish in the Democratic nomination field. Would you agree with that characterization? How would you say you are distinguished from the rest of the field in terms of foreign policy?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, generally speaking, I mean, the central influence in my public service and political career was Pres. John F. Kennedy. And Pres. Kennedy, you know, believed in a muscular foreign policy to protect our interests and security and advance our values, and I feel the same way. I’m more hawkish probably than anyone else on the particular crisis we’re facing, which is Iraq, but I’m also a very aggressive internationalist. I believe in the benefit of alliances – for instance, I’ve spoken at great length about how we will not win the war against terrorism with swords alone. We need plowshares, which means we have to have a very aggressive program of economic development and political democratization of the Islamic world, the Arab world; that’s the way ultimately we’re going to deprive al-Qaida and the extremists of recruits from the mass – the silent majority of the Muslim world, which is living lives that are oppressed and depressed; we have to help them and reach out to win this war.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Lieberman, thanks so much.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Margaret.