TOPICS > Politics

A Heavy Burden

September 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, reaction from two members of the Senate Appropriations Committee: Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas. Senator Hutchison was recently in Iraq with a bipartisan congressional delegation. I talked to them earlier this evening. Senators, welcome. First, in general terms, Senator Hutchison, how did you read the message of the president’s speech last night?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I think the president was trying to sort of update the American people, because we are all concerned about the deaths that we hear day after day and the bombings that occur in Iraq, and he felt that it was timely to talk to the American people and to shoot straight with them about the cost and what would happen if we didn’t do the things that we have said we will do.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think that he did, in fact, shoot straight to the American people?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I do, I do. I mean, he came out with an $87 billion figure. That was bold. It stunned a lot of people, but I think that he is saying, “Look, the last thing we can do is turn around and walk away. So now here is the problem we’re facing,” and he asks the support of the American people to see this through.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Dorgan, how did you hear what the president was saying?

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Well, I think that he did tell us that things have not gone perhaps the way we would have liked, but we’re in a difficult situation. There’s not an easy way at this point to resolve it. We can’t pick up and leave in the country of Iraq. There would be… you know, there’d be mass butchering of people in Iraq, so last night he said, “Look, here’s what it’s going to cost us.”

I think there are a lot of questions attendant to that, but… you know, we had some neo-cons early on saying this would be a cakewalk. It is not and will not be. And I think the questions that Congress will have to ask now about reconstruction and where the money comes from are important questions.

But let me say this: I think members of Congress from all political persuasions are going to make sure that we provide every dollar necessary to support the troops in Iraq. When we send our sons and daughters to war, we have a responsibility to give them what they need in order to carry out their missions.

JIM LEHRER: So I take it you support the $87 billion request?

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Well, I support the amount of money that’s necessary to support those troops. And I think part of that, of course, is reconstruction. We’re going to have to have, I think, a significant discussion about the issue of reconstruction: What’s necessary for reconstruction? Who pays for it? The Iraqi oil reserves are the second largest in the world right next to the Saudis, and the question is how much of a burden can they bear for reconstruction? How much should other countries bear? What kind of United Nations and NATO help can we have in addition for troop strength and also reconstruction aid? I think those are very important questions to be debated here in the Congress.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Hutchison, you were just recently in Iraq. What can you tell us about the reconstruction just based on what you saw and the people you talked to?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Well, I think it’s… we’re hampered by the continuing terrorist acts. We get an electric grid up and going, and someone comes in and cuts the wires. They cut the water lines. They set the oil pipelines on fire. That’s all destined to keep us from stabilizing Iraq, which is why we must firm up our resolve to not let the terrorists win.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the president said last night, Senator Hutchison, that his commanders, U.S. commanders on the ground have said they want another international division of troops, roughly 15,000 troops. Do you support that?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Absolutely. I think we do need international participation for a lot of reasons. And I particularly hope we have an Islamic coalition. I think having Islamic countries coming in would actually help us with language because they would speak the language, but also I think it would be a comfort level not only for the Iraqi people but for all of the surrounding Arab countries as well. And the Arab countries should also step up to the plate, Jim, and be helpful here. They could send people in, civil engineers, that could repair water lines and help us with the oilfields. They have that capability. And so I think it is time for our Arab neighbors and allies that we have to also be helpful here.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Dorgan, on this 15,000 troops, let’s say for whatever reason the international community does not step up– all the countries that Senator Hutchison was just talking about– for some reason or another we can’t do that. Should the United States send another 15,000 troops? Is the need for more troops real to you?

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Well, I’m not sure. I mean, that’s something Congress has to study as well with the appropriate committees. It appears to me that there is a need for additional troops. And my fervent hope is that we can get the cooperation of others. Let me just say, Jim, that this is, I think, an example of why this notion by some that we can always go it alone; what other people think or what other countries think doesn’t matter; we’re the biggest, the best, the strongest; the fact is we’re part of a world here that is increasingly unstable.

We need assistance from other countries. We need to be part of the United Nations, need to be part of NATO. And now we need them to be part of what we’re doing in Iraq. And they have a big stake in it. But I know that some people are concerned about the way all of this started. My hope is that we’ll be able to repair all that and we’ll be able to expect some significant help, perhaps not 15,000, perhaps more than that, and in addition to troops perhaps also some monetary resources as well.

JIM LEHRER: But if we don’t get it from the other countries, what I’m saying is, is the need for 15,000 more troops, do you think it’s there?

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: My guess is it is. You know, based on what I have heard and what I understand, I think there is a need for additional troops. Now, you know, I think that’s something that the Armed Services Committee and others have to explore in some depth with the Pentagon and with the administration. But I believe there is a need for some additional troops.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about it, Senator Hutchison? If the international community doesn’t do it, should we send more troops?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: My view is we need new troops, we need more troops, for things like training the police force, training the army personnel that would take over these security situations. I do think we need more civil engineers, which could also be from foreign troops or our own. I do think we need more border patrol. We have influxes from the borders of Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Up in the North we’re I think able to stop the Iranian influx, but I still think we have holes in other parts of the country, so there’s just a need for more personnel, and the sooner we can get the Iraqis trained, the better. But until that time, I do…my view is we could use more help and more troops.

JIM LEHRER: Why do you think the administration is not willing to send more U.S. troops?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I think the administration feels, as many of us do, that our troops have… they’ve been in there, we’re using about 50 percent guard and reserve, and they’re now coming up for renewal. And we need to give our troops some time off. I think the Europeans ought to step in. I think the Europeans ought to step in and take over Bosnia. We have over 5,000 troops in Bosnia, and that’s something the Europeans should have done in the first place but they wouldn’t, so we stepped up. Now is the time for them if they’re not going to be helpful in Iraq, to at least relieve us from some of these burdens.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Dorgan, much has been said about… you just said it a while ago, in fact, about going it alone — do you think the administration has just simply misplayed this up till now?

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Well, I think that the result of the early statements about, you know, “We’ll do what we do notwithstanding what others think; we don’t need to go to the multilateral institutions,” you know, I think it put us in the situation of having others in the world take a look at the United States and say “They apparently don’t want our help, don’t need our help, have told us to butt out,” so now it’s a little more difficult.

But I think the administration is now going to the United Nations. I hope they go to NATO as well. And on the question that you asked previously, I think we are stretched pretty thin. In fact, the gains that we’ve had in Afghanistan, I worry very much about their evaporation because, you know, President Karzai there is trying valiantly to put this country together, but I think we have a problem with respect to troop strength in Afghanistan. We have so many troops, especially National Guard and Reserve, but also regular army that are spending long rotations in Iraq at this point, and I think we are stretched pretty thin at this point.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Hutchison, do you share that? Do you think we… the United States has bitten off more than it can chew right now from the military standpoint? You not only add in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are also other threats and other commitments in Korea and elsewhere?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Well, I think that we can do all of these things but I think we have to address troop strength if we’re going to. If we’re going to do all the missions that we now have on the plate, and we look at some of the other burgeoning problems, then we can’t do it with the troop strength that we have now.

Now, Senator Dorgan mentioned NATO. NATO is just now for the first time taking command and control of a mission outside of a NATO country, and that is in Afghanistan. And I think that is a great experiment, and I hope that this works because NATO really is looking for a mission in my opinion. The missions that they have had keeping Russia out and Germany down is really obsolete now, so I think if NATO would step up to the plate where there is a mutual security threat, which certainly Afghanistan and Iraq are, then I think that would be helpful to relieving some of the burden for our overstretched troops.

JIM LEHRER: Do you share Senator Dorgan’s view that our attitude, the U.S. attitude of going it alone– “We don’t need anybody, we’re the biggest and the best, and we can do everything the way we want to do it on our terms”– has come back to haunt us now?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Well, I think our attitude is that we would always like to have international help just as we sought international help for Iraq, but we would never say that America can’t stand up and take care of its own security needs if we have to go it alone. I think going it alone is something that is always going to be a possibility for America. We should never not go it alone if we have to, but we would like to have help. We did get help from the Brits and others, and we’re getting now more and more help in Iraq from other countries. And I don’t think that we ever intended to go it alone as a first choice.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Dorgan, do you agree with some of the commentators this morning who said that the president’s speech was a kind of concession to that point, that, okay, maybe — I’m not necessarily going I’m not going to read too much into this, the commentators are not– but, okay, maybe we did bite off a little too much. Now we need your help.” There was at least an admission that things had changed in terms of the U.S. attitude. Is that going too far?

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Well, I think the key phrase… I think what the president was saying is things have changed. Things have changed with respect to Iraq. I think he was also saying that everyone in the world has a stake in this, especially our major allies. They all have a stake in this. They might not have been there at the takeoff but, boy, I’ll tell you, they have a stake in making sure this ends right, because this is a very serious problem, and it’s not just Iraq. It’s Iraq at the moment. But it is Afghanistan. If we allow the Taliban to reconstitute in Afghanistan once again, you know, shame on us.

We’ve got to deal with these issues. We can’t now just pull out our troops and leave, and so, no, I think what the president’s speech was last night was to say to other countries, “Look, we need your help. Things have changed and we’d like to involve you in what’s happening there because it’s in your interest.” I think that’s what he was saying.

JIM LEHRER: Things have changed, meaning things didn’t go as well as we had hoped?

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Well, partly that. I mean, I assume there were some who believed this would be over in a weekend and we’d mop up Iraq and be gone. Things have not gone that well. And, you know, so we’re now in a situation where we have to deal with a different set of circumstances. And the president has said to other countries, “You have a stake in this. You have a role in this, and we need your help, and we expect your help at this point.”

JIM LEHRER: All right, Senators Dorgan and Hutchison, thank you both very much.