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House Members Respond to Iraq Status Report

September 10, 2007 at 6:25 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now, four House members who participated in today’s hearing. Lynn Woolsey is a Democrat from California. Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina. Donald Payne, a Democrat from New Jersey. And Mike Pence, a Republican from Indiana. Woolsey is a founder and Payne is a member of the Out of Iraq caucus. Wilson is co-chairman and Pence is a member of the Victory in Iraq caucus. All four have been to Iraq.

Beginning with you, Congresswoman Woolsey, on the military and security side first, how do you read General Petraeus’ progress report?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY (D), California: Well, General Petraeus is definitely a credible general, and he did a really good job of being the mouthpiece for the White House today, and speaking for keeping things going as they have been going.

That isn’t what the American people want. They want us to bring our troops home. They expect the Congress to step up to what is our very own power, which is the power of the purse. And we can do that. And we can use the power of the purse to fence in funding so that we can fully fund bringing our troops and our military contractors out of Iraq and hopefully in short order, no later than April of this year.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wilson, what did you think of what General Petraeus said on the security and military report itself?

REP. JOE WILSON (R), South Carolina: Well, I was very pleased. And General Petraeus is a professional. I served 31 years in the Army myself, and I’ve got four sons serving in the military. I would want them to serve under General David Petraeus.

He is a person who understands that we have got to stop safe havens for al-Qaida for terrorists. As a lesson that we learned six years ago, when they operate out of safe havens in Afghanistan and attacked New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, we’ve got to stop and not repeat 9/11.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Payne, was General Petraeus credible to you?

REP. DONALD PAYNE (D), New Jersey: Oh, there’s no question about the fact that he has a distinguished record, and we all respect it. I think, though, that information that’s coming out now, it seems like the president decided to go into Iraq and now we’re finding out about all the difficulties that it is there to try to govern.

Our military has done a credible job, taken many casualties, but what the military was supposed to do was to set the stage with the surge to allow the political process to take place. They’ve done a job temporarily on the surge; however, the politicians in Iraq are still fiddling while Iraq is burning.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Pence, what’s your reading of what General Petraeus said, specifically on the military side?

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), Indiana: Well, specifically, General Petraeus told us that the military surge is working and that it’s working to the extent that we’ll be able to responsibly and significantly reduce forces beginning even later this month and taking us down to pre-surge levels by the middle of next year.

But I have to tell you, I just came from the hearing. I just clarified this issue with the general. With all due respect to Lynn, this general is not a mouthpiece for this White House or any political voice in this city. The first thing out of his mouth today was, he said, “This is my testimony,” and I got him to reiterate that he had not cleared his testimony to our committees with the White House before presenting it today.

Ties to the White House

Rep. Lynn Woolsey
(D) California
What we want is a planned, orderly withdrawal of our troops and our military contractors, fully funded, leave nobody exposed, but to bring them home and know when they're coming home, and hopefully by spring.

JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Woolsey, what about that? Do you still see him as a spokesman for the White House?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, he's a very smart man. He didn't have to clear or vet his words. He knows who he works for. We work for the people of this country, the American people, and it's our job to know why Democrats are in the majority, and that's so that we as a group will work with the Republicans and bring our troops home.

JIM LEHRER: What about his statements about troop withdrawal that bring it down to pre-surge level by next summer? Is that what you had in mind, Congresswoman Woolsey, or you want something earlier, and quicker, and bigger than that?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: No, actually that could leave our troops even more vulnerable than they are now. What we want is a planned, orderly withdrawal of our troops and our military contractors, fully funded, leave nobody exposed, but to bring them home and know when they're coming home, and hopefully by spring.

JIM LEHRER: But you did not hear from General Petraeus what you wanted to hear about withdrawal, right?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Oh, absolutely not. That's actually -- I think that that's politics. It's politics with the lives of our troops just hanging on the vine.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wilson, is it politics, lives of our troops on the line?

REP. JOE WILSON: No, I disagree. I believe that the general is very sincere. He is an expert on counterinsurgency. He is a person who has a distinguished background, being a graduate of the West Point. He has received the George C. Marshall award. He has served in Bosnia.

I met him four years ago when I met -- when he was working with our forces in Mosul. General Petraeus is a person who is of the highest integrity. And, in fact, this report was not planned by the president; this was a requirement of Congress.

The Petraeus withdrawal plan

Rep. Donald Payne
(D) New Jersey
The problem was that General Petraeus did not get us into this war. Had he been in charge, perhaps there would have been a different outcome.

JIM LEHRER: But what about his specific plan for withdrawal? You heard what he said, and I just repeated it for Congresswoman Woolsey, you support that?

REP. JOE WILSON: I support what he proposes. And from the beginning, it's been my view that, in lieu of politics and people having a political agenda on how to handle matters, this really should be handled by our generals on their recommendation. And that's what General Petraeus is doing.

And I just really am very proud of General Petraeus, his service, his integrity. We need to put our faith in the military that has served us so well and the young people who are protecting our country.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Payne, you want a different kind, a larger, a quicker withdrawal than what General Petraeus is suggesting?

REP. DONALD PAYNE: Definitely. The American people want it, too. That's why they elected a majority of Democrats in the House and the Senate in the past election.

You see, the problem was that General Petraeus did not get us into this war. Had he been in charge, perhaps there would have been a different outcome. We were to find weapons of mass destruction. Then it was said, "Well, it's regime change." Now it's that we have to fight al-Qaida, and there were none of them there in Iraq before. They're in Iraq so we don't have to fight them in the United States.

So we see a continual change of why we had the preemptive strike in the first place. And I still even hear, as much as I respect my friend, Representative Wilson, when we get the stretch about 9/11 being perpetrated on us by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That is wrong, and we continue to try to say that that's what happened.

JIM LEHRER: But you want -- but specifically on the withdrawal, withdrawing American troops, you want it done quickly and you want it done in a larger force, right? You want it -- I mean, a larger force withdrawn, correct?

REP. DONALD PAYNE: That's correct. Safely but larger, quicker, that's what the American people want. That's what I want.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Pence, where do you come down on the withdrawal plans of General Petraeus?

REP. MIKE PENCE: Well, I'm prepared to accept the recommendation of our military leaders and diplomatic leaders on the ground. You know, like most Americans, I want our troops to come home, but I want them to win and come home.

And we in Congress, I don't think the American people want us to get into a bidding war about how quickly we can get our troops out, how precipitously. I think the most important thing General Petraeus said today -- and Ambassador Crocker reiterated it -- was they categorically rejected repeatedly what they called calls for a rapid withdrawal.

They referred repeatedly to calls to a "rush to failure." We need to have an American success in Iraq. And because the surge is working, we can responsibly draw our troops down, and I'm prepared to support that.

Staying in Iraq for another year

Rep. Joe Wilson
(R) South Carolina
We need to be prepared, and the way to do that is to stop the terrorists in Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Pence, do you believe the American people will hang with General Petraeus with 130,000 -- that mean 130,000, under his plan, 130,000 American troops would stay in Iraq for at least another year. Do you think the American people would buy that?

REP. MIKE PENCE: I think the American people are anxious to know that we're making progress on the ground. I think they're going to be greatly heartened to know that the president's plan for a military surge is having its effect and that the political goals, as Ambassador Crocker said in your report, are attainable.

Nouri al-Maliki said to me in my first meeting with him a year-and-a-half ago, he said the American people should remember that victory is more important than time. And I think, as long as people see us making progress and achieving some success on the ground in the political realm, they will stand with our soldiers and with our commanders to see this thing through to an American success.

JIM LEHRER: All right, let's go to that, Congresswoman Woolsey, the political side, in other words, what Ambassador Crocker reported in terms of progress. How did you -- what was your reaction to that?

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY: Well, my reaction to both of them is that they're talking about, "Stay the course." And we've heard these stories over and over. And Congressman Payne said the different reasons why we're there, the different missions.

You cannot win an occupation. This is what we're doing: We're occupying a foreign country. We need to give that country back to the Iraqis, give them back their sovereignty, give them back their oil rights, help them in a non-militaristic way later.

But in the meantime, we don't just pull our troops out. We plan and work with them and make sure they come home safely and in an orderly fashion, because that's what the people of this country want. And if we don't do it, we will be morally, we will be economically, and we will be politically bankrupt.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wilson, what do you think of that?

REP. JOE WILSON: Well, I really have to put in context -- Senator Joe Lieberman today in the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the network that we're fighting today in Iraq is the same network that attacked our country on 9/11. We've got to be ever vigilant, because these people have every intent -- last week there were arrests in Germany. We know the attack on Glasgow airport last month. We know the attack in Hyderabad, India, last months, attacks all over the world. And we need to be prepared, and the way to do that is to stop the terrorists in Iraq.

Political benchmarks

Rep. Mike Pence
(R) Indiana
Now that we learn that the military surge is working, I think it's incumbent on this administration and on our diplomatic mission on the ground in Baghdad to put even more pressure and more urgency on the government of Nouri al-Maliki.

JIM LEHRER: But what about the political progress being made by the Iraqi government?

REP. JOE WILSON: I was really encouraged. Ambassador Crocker pointed out something that I wasn't aware of, and that is that, for example, the distribution of the oil proceeds, that is going ahead to the different provinces even without the passage of a law.

Additionally, another benchmark that we were all looking for was including the Sunnis in the government. That, too, is proceeding without passing a law. And so I'm very pleased to find this out. Ambassador Crocker, who has been ambassador to Pakistan, to Syria, to Lebanon, to Kuwait, now in Iraq, is an expert, and what he said today was very, very encouraging.

JIM LEHRER: Was that encouraging to you, Congressman Payne, what Ambassador Crocker said?

REP. DONALD PAYNE: Once again, they were putting the best face on what they had to present. The political part in Iraq is failing today. There's no question about it. The surge is working, but the politics -- after they came back from their break, 60 percent of the members didn't even make it back the first day.

They're not talking about the revenues. They're not talking about, what type of a government are they going to have? Is it going to be a strong central government, which some people say they should have, or whether it's going to be three part Sunni, Shiite and Kurds? The tough questions haven't even started to be answered.

JIM LEHRER: So the government is not functioning, in your opinion, based on what you heard from Ambassador Crocker, the government is not functioning in a way it should that is going to lead to the progress the United States expects?

REP. DONALD PAYNE: That's right. He said a lot of nice things. The bottom line is: What has not been done? Those are the key elements. And once again, "The surge has worked." That was supposed to set the stage for the political developments. They have not come anywhere close to where they should be. So where do we stand on a political solution? And that's what Iraq needs.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Pence, how would you answer that?

REP. MIKE PENCE: Well, I'm a little embarrassed to agree with Mr. Payne so strongly. I'm not encouraged by the political state of affairs in Iraq, but I thought that gave great credibility to Ambassador Crocker's testimony today.

He said there's been some gradual improvements, but he said it's a very, very slow incline. And particularly now that we learn that the military surge is working, I think it's incumbent on this administration and on our diplomatic mission on the ground in Baghdad to put even more pressure and more urgency on the government of Nouri al-Maliki.

As Mr. Wilson said, though, it is interesting that you see elements of federalism taking hold, even though the government in Baghdad can't seem to achieve de-Baathification, or a carbon, oil revenue-sharing agreement. Those things are beginning to happen at the grassroots level anyway.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Well, Congressmen and Congresswoman, thank you all four very much.