MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: The president admits mistakes in Iraq and outlines a new strategy.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I’ve committed more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: What now? With us, the president’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. Congressional reaction is swift and divided. A Democrat for and against.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D/I-CT): It’s a plan to win in Iraq, and I believe we still can.
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT): This is tactic in search of a strategy, in my view, and will not bring us a more stable Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: A Republican for and against.
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ): We at least owe him the opportunity to see whether that strategy can work before immediately attacking it as a policy that is bound to fail.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): This speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.
MR. RUSSERT: Senators Dodd, Hagel, Kyl and Lieberman on the Iraq war only on MEET THE PRESS.
Tomorrow America celebrates Martin Luther King Day. And in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, he appeared here 40 years ago.
(Videotape, August 13, 1967)
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: But I refuse to despair it in this moment.
MR. RUSSERT: But first, the war in Iraq. The president addressed the nation Wednesday night, and here to discuss his new strategy for the war in Iraq is his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. STEPHEN HADLEY: Nice to be here, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: The president back in June of ‘05 addressed the nation and said this. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, June 28, 2005, address to the nation)
PRES. BUSH: Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever.
MR. RUSSERT: Profound difference than what he said on Wednesday night. Why did the president change his mind?
MR. HADLEY: Well, in some instances, still, we do want the Iraqis in the lead. We want them to step up. They want to step up. They understand that job one is to get control of Baghdad. But what our military forces have done and our military commanders have assessed that there is a new Baghdad strategy. It is the Iraqi government strategy. It can work. It needs to be resourced by the Iraqis. But they’ve made a judgment that the Iraqis simply do not have the wherewithal to get it done. And therefore the president has made a judgment that, yes, the Iraqis have to be in the lead, it has to be their strategy, but we need to reinforce our troops so we that can be standing with them and to ensure that it succeeds.
MR. RUSSERT: But the president said in ‘05 that sending more troops would “undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead.” We continue to be a crutch for the Iraqis.
MR. HADLEY: That is a concern. One of the things that’s different, I think, from, from that time is that we do have this unity government. This unity government’s been in, in office about seven months. They are getting enormous pressure from their people to get the violence down, and that means, really, sectarian violence centered in Baghdad. They’re responding to that pressure. They’ve come forward with a plan. They have made clear that they’re going to increase their forces. They’re committed to success, but they need our help to succeed. And it’s important we do that because the alternatives, really, are the continued—the existing strategy, the stay the course, which everybody agrees is not working—that’s failure slow—or simply turning it over to the Iraqis now and withdrawing, redeploying, whatever you call it, and that simply is not going to work because everybody agrees the Iraqis are not up to it. This is the, the—a strategy that offers the prospect of success as an alternative to either failing slow or failing fast. And the Americans—one thing we know about the American people, they’re unhappy with this war, they want a new direction—so does the president—but they want to succeed, they don’t want to fail.
MR. RUSSERT: The reaction of the Iraqi government has been mute. Here’s The New York Times on Friday, the headline, “In Baghdad, Bush Policy Is Met With Resentment.” The Iraqi government is not saying, “This is great news. Bring it forward, yes, Americans are coming!” Quite the opposite.
MR. HADLEY: Well, actually, if you look at a statement that was issued by Prime Minister Maliki’s spokesman, an interview that was given by Barham Salih, who is one of the deputy prime ministers, the statement that came out from the president, Talibani, actually they are welcoming and supportive of the plan. Prime Minister Maliki said it is part of a common strategy between the United States and Iraq. One of the interesting things about all those statements is they all say that this is an Iraqi plan to bring security to Baghdad, but they acknowledge they need coalition help and support to do that, and the president is answering that call.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Hadley, you’re betting everything on Prime Minister Maliki, that he can train his Iraqi soldiers, be willing to take on both the Shiites and the Sunni death squads. And yet, November, you wrote a memo to President Bush that was leaked, and this is what you said about that same man. “The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.” That’s two months ago, and now you’ve bet everything on him.
MR. HADLEY: Well, what we’ve done is we bet everything with the Iraqi people on the unity government that the Iraqi people elected, that was elected pursuant to a constitution which they wrote and adopted. And that’s exactly what you do, you do when you’re dealing with a democracy, you, you deal with the elective government of that democracy. And that is the government with which we are dealing. The president has had a lot of conversations, not just with Prime Minister Maliki. He has talked this last week to all the other principal leaders in Iraq with the same message: “Americans, our commitment is not an open-ended commitment. It is time for the Iraqis to step up. If they take action, we will support them.” And the reinforcement is critical so that when the Iraqis do set—step up, they will succeed rather than fail.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of Defense Gates was on Capitol Hill and was talking about Mr. Maliki. And he said that the “Iraqi lawmakers might decide to replace Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, if he failed to take steps to carry out the new plan to regain control of Baghdad. ‘The first consequence that he has to face is the possibility that he’ll lose his job,’ Mr. Gates said. ‘There are beginning to be some people around that may say, “I can do better than he’s doing,” in terms of making progress.’” Would the White House welcome a change in leadership in Iraq?
MR. HADLEY: No. We have—as the president has said, we are dealing with the unity government that the Iraqis have put in place. Prime Minister Maliki heads that government. The message we’ve sent to that government, “It is time to act.” What I think Bob Gates was talking about is the Iraqi people are impatient. They are making clear that they’re tired of the violence. They want the situation in Baghdad calmed down, and they are right to do so, because until the violence in Baghdad comes down there will not be an opportunity for the political reconciliation that everybody recognizes has to come if we’re going to have stability over the long term.
MR. RUSSERT: So you support Mr. Maliki 100 percent?
MR. HADLEY: The president supports the unity government headed by Prime Minister Maliki, he supports the Baghdad security program that they have come up with, and he has—he has ordered reinforcements so we can stand with the Iraqis so that program can succeed, because that is the critical element if we’re going to have success in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: One of the leading Shiite clerics in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, has a death squad or a militia of 60,000 men, at least. You warned in your memo that he had to be closed down. Is Mr. Maliki willing to take on Mr. Sadr and eliminate his death squads?
MR. HADLEY: Prime Minister Maliki and his government have made a series of statements over the last month or two, and one of the things that characterizes those is they increasingly seem to recognize the problem that militias pose. And these particularly are elements in militias that are operating outside the law. And if you look at Prime Minister Maliki’s speech of a week ago Saturday on Army Day in Iraq, he said very clearly that this Baghdad security plan was going to be adequately resourced, that the security forces will have a free hand to go anywhere in the city, there will be no safe havens, including Sadr City, and that they are going to bring the rule of law to all Iraqis regardless, regardless of ethnicity or religious. I think the government understands that the time—it’s not really anymore about Sunni against Shia, it’s about those who support the rule of law against extremists who want to stand outside the rule of law.
MR. RUSSERT: So Maliki will take on Mr. Sadr?
MR. HADLEY: He has said he is going to take on militias, that’s exactly right. That’s what he has said.
MR. RUSSERT: And that includes Sadr?
MR. HADLEY: That includes the Mahdi army.
MR. RUSSERT: And if Sadr takes away his support from Maliki in the parliament, Maliki may lose his government.
MR. HADLEY: No. Actually, the, the government—I think there are about 30 or 40 members that are affiliated with, with Sadr in the 275-member parliament. There is emerging, Tim, a, a, a group of moderates across the political spectrum that is beginning to work together to support this unity government. That’s a good thing, and we want to encourage it. And that’s really the base that we hope Prime Minister Maliki will look to for his support.
MR. RUSSERT: He could govern without the support of Sadr?
MR. HADLEY: Yes, he can.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me bring you back to the speech on Wednesday night when the president talked to the nation about how long the commitment to Iraq might or might not last. Here’s the president Wednesday night.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I have made it clear to the prime minister, and Iraq’s other leaders, that America’s commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people. And it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.
MR. RUSSERT: Not open-ended. What does that mean?
MR. HADLEY: That means, as, as we all know, he—the president understands the American people are tired of this war. It has cost enormously in terms of time and treasure, and our men and women in uniform that—America’s finest. He also understands, though, the American people want a new approach, so does he. But he wants an approach that will succeed. And what he—and, and he understands and has said very clearly that critical to that will be the Iraqi government taking responsibility. That’s what we’re encouraging. That’s what we’re trying to encourage and empower them to see. That’s what he’s doing. And he recognizes that both because of the patience of the American people, but as he said, the patience of the Iraqi people that the Iraqi government needs to step up now. And quite frankly, we think the Iraqi government understands that, as well.
MR. RUSSERT: And if they don’t?
MR. HADLEY: The—we think that we are at the start of a process. We think the indications—it’s going to take some time for this process to get going. Iraqis are going to have to reinforce their troops. We’re going to have to reinforce ours. But we think already we’re seeing the Iraqi government take some steps. They’ve appointed a commander for their Baghdad security plan and two deputies. They have made clear in prime minister’s speech that, that they—those commanders will be able to act in a nonpartisan and nonsectarian way. And they’re already beginning to take some action. They’ve been engaging insurgents on Haifa Street in Baghdad, they’ve been going against some Mahdi army, both in Baghdad and in the, in the—one of the other cities near Najaf. So we think that the, the government is actually stepping forward and take action, and we ought to let them move forward with this plan.
MR. RUSSERT: When the president says it’s not an open-ended commitment, look at what he said just as recently as November of last year, two months ago. Let’s listen.
(Videotape, November 17, 2006):
PRES. BUSH: We’re not leaving until this job is done, until Iraq can govern, sustain and defend itself.
(Videotape, November 6, 2006):
PRES. BUSH: Retreat from Iraq before the job is done would embolden the enemy and make this country less secure.
MR. RUSSERT: So is—it’s not open-ended or we’re not leaving until the job is done, which is it?
MR. HADLEY: I think what it is, is we have to succeed. And I think you need to step back and look what’s happening in the region as a whole. You’ve got a struggle between forces supporting freedom and democracy against extremists and those who support terror, fronted by Iran. And what the president understands—and I think the American people understand—is if we fail in Iraq and do not succeed, what’s going to happen to that effort? What’s going to happen to someone like the, the—Siniora, Prime Minister Siniora in Lebanon, a government elected by the people being pressured by Hezbollah? What’s going to happen to Hamas?
MR. RUSSERT: But it’s—but Mr. Hadley, it’s not up to us, it’s up to the Iraqis.
MR. HADLEY: It’s up to us and the Iraqis standing together to succeed. Because if we don’t, those who support us, those who support us in the war on terror will be discredited, the terrorists will be empowered, and our traditional allies are going to raise a question about whether we have staying power in the region to deal with things like Iran.
MR. RUSSERT: During the campaign, when the Democrats said there should be no open-ended commitment, they were accused of cutting and running. There’s a suggestion now that the administration is positioning itself for a policy that’s been called “cut and blame,” that the Iraqis now have to come forward, and if they don’t, “Sorry, we gave you your best chance. We’re out of here.”
MR. HADLEY: That would be a strategy if you were going to start to withdraw or redeploy, just basically give it to the Iraqis. That’s not the president’s strategy because his commanders have told him that if we give it to the Iraqis now, they don’t have the forces they need to succeed. And that’s why the president’s taken a different approach. Iraqis in the lead, but we standing with them and beside them in order to ensure they succeed, because both of us have an interest in success. The costs of failure are just too high.
MR. RUSSERT: So we’re not—our policy is still, I want to be clear on this, we will not leave Iraq until they have a stable, secure government that can govern itself?
MR. HADLEY: The president made very clear in his speech that we want a democratic Iraq that is able to deal with the problem of terror, can be an ally in the war on terror in the region, and that if we fail to do so, and if Iraq fails, it jeopardizes our interests, and that means terror returning to the United States from the Middle East, and that means an emboldened Iran sitting astride the Middle East, maybe even a nuclear weapon. That’s a, that’s a—something that none of us want to contemplate.
MR. RUSSERT: And we will not leave until we achieve that?
MR. HADLEY: We are—we are committed over the long term, obviously, to the success of Iraq. And look, you know, once we do have this government that emerges, and the president believes following his strategy is the best way to ensure it, we’re going to have a—want to have a long term relationship with this, this country. Of course we are. The Middle East is in a very important part of the world. We’re going to want to work out some kind of long term relationship with Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: But the secretary of state said that Mr. Maliki’s on borrowed time. If he’s on borrowed time, how can we say we’re going to stay there until he can govern himself with a stable country? It doesn’t make sense.
MR. HADLEY: It does, because what she said is that the Iraqi people are insisting their government perform. And if that government does not perform, the first person that, that the unity government is going to have to answer to is the Iraqi people.
MR. RUSSERT: If Congress decides to cut off funds for the new troops being deployed to Iraq, will the president accept that decision by Congress and abide by it?
MR. HADLEY: Tim, we’re not there yet. We have funds in the ‘07 appropriations bill to deploy these troops. I think once they get in harm’s way, Congress’ tradition is to support those troops. I say we’re not there yet because we’re beginning a process to work through this issue. I think members of Congress want us to succeed, they don’t want to fail. They understand that means Iraqis are going to have to step up, and I think when they work through it, they will understand that the only way the Iraqis can step up and succeed is if we provide the reinforcements the president has talked about. And we think, at the end of the day, they will—they will come to the same conclusion the president did, that this is the only path to success.
MR. RUSSERT: But if they don’t, and they cut off the funds, what will—what do you do?
MR. HADLEY: We’ll, we’ll get—we’ll see where we are at that point. I think, at this point, we don’t think that’s likely.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, at the hearing, said he supported the war, he had supported the administration, but that he has not been told the truth, and he can no longer support President Bush and the war in Iraq. And people watching that, listening to someone like Senator Nelson, began to put forward the following, that if you were wrong about weapons of mass destruction, you were wrong about the troop levels necessary, you were wrong about the costs of the war, you were wrong about oil revenues paying for reconstruction, you were wrong about being greeted as liberators, you were wrong about the level of sectarian violence, why should the American people trust you now and think you’re right about a surge?
MR. HADLEY: The president laid out Wednesday night, in a very candid way, the situation that we’re faced with. And I think it’s, he understands that Americans are tired of this war, as I said, but I think it is also true the Americans don’t want to fail. They understand the stakes. They want a new policy in Iraq. So does the president, and he spent the last two to three months developing a new policy. That’s what he laid out on Wednesday. And I think, in the end of the day, the American people understand that the consequences of failure are too high. We’ll have a big—a debate. That debate started this week in front of the American people, in the Congress, and the president’s belief is, in the end of the day, when people sort through this issue of the way we, we did and he did, that how—whatever the history and whatever the disagreements about how we got here and whatever the stakes that were made, which the president acknowledged and took responsibility for Wednesday night, this is the only path that has a prospect for success.
MR. RUSSERT: The concern is about 10 days before the election, the president was out on the campaign trail saying, “We’re winning the war. We are absolutely winning the war,” and then this appeared in The New York Times last week. “Decisions on a new strategy were clearly slowed by political calculations. Many of Mr. Bush’s advisers say their timetable for completing an Iraq review had been based in part on a judgment that for Mr. Bush to have voiced doubts about his strategy before the midterm elections in November would have been politically catastrophic.” A strong suggestion, an admission by Bush advisers that politics was at stake here. Men and women dying on the ground in Iraq, and the president was calculating to say, “We’re winning, we’re winning, because if I say anything else, it would not help me politically.”
MR. HADLEY: I don’t believe that. And a number of reviews were begun quietly, because it became clear over the course of the summer that we were going to have to do something different in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: So the president knew at the end of October we were not winning?
MR. HADLEY: The president knew that we needed to take a look at where we are, because let’s look at what happened. I think we were doing pretty well in Iraq until February of ‘06, and the—and the bombing of the golden temple—Golden Mosque in Samarra. And at that point—and I said at the time, and the president said at the time, the Iraqis looked into the abyss and stepped back, and they did. The Iraqi army didn’t fragment, the government did come together two months later in terms of a unity government. But it set off sectarian violence, concentrated in Baghdad, as the president said. Eighty percent of it is within 30 miles of Baghdad. But that sectarian violence, as the president said Wednesday night, got ahead of us. It got ahead of the Iraqi army; it got ahead of our security forces. And it became clear in the late summer into the fall that the political progress we hoped to see—agreement on the oil law, agreement on de-Baathification, all these other things were ground down and weren’t going to happen if we did not get security to the population in Baghdad.
MR. RUSSERT: That was contrary to the public posture the president was communicating to the American people.
MR. HADLEY: What was clear was we knew there was an emerging problem. We had talked about sectarian violence; we’d talked about the significance of the Samarra bombing. What we didn’t have in September and October was what we were going to do about it. So we started a series of reviews. Initially, separately, finally in November the president said, “Look, I want to have all this pulled together in a review that I will run and manage to develop a new strategy going forward.” It took some time. Everybody expected him to speak out in December, and he said, “I’m not ready yet.” So where the president was, he didn’t know what new course he wanted to propose to the American people, and that’s what he laid out last Wednesday night.
MR. RUSSERT: Suggestions that the administration is buying time, get through ‘07, get through ‘08, and then pass Iraq off to the next president.
MR. HADLEY: The president understands that his obligation to the American people and to the men and women who have served in Iraq and died in Iraq is to get Iraq right. It is not a question of passing off. This president has said many other times, “our job is to solve problems and not pass them off to our successors.” And that’s what he was—did in this review. We need a strategy to succeed in Iraq, and that’s what the president gave the American people Wednesday night.
MR. RUSSERT: He raised eyebrows when he talked about Iran and Syria in his speech on Wednesday night, sending carrier groups, Patriot missiles, positioning supplies, weapons, ships into the area near Iran. Are we preparing for a potential military conflict with Iran?
MR. HADLEY: No. The president has said very clearly that the issues we do—we have with Iran should be solved diplomatically in terms of the nuclear issue. He did say that Iranians are active in Iraq, supporting people who are putting our American troops and Iraqis at risk. He said very clearly we are going to deal with that, we’re going to disrupt those operations.
But that’s why I tried to say earlier, Tim, there’s a broad struggle going on in the Middle East between the forces of freedom and democracy, the forces of terror and tyranny, and Iran is behind a lot of that. They’re behind Hezbollah. They’re about—behind Hamas. And the region is looking and watching and asking the question whether the United States is going to stay engaged in that region and be an ally of those countries who want to resist an effort by Iran to basically establish hegemony over in that region, and that’s why the president is taking those steps.
MR. RUSSERT: What is the status...
MR. HADLEY: To make clear that he understands the stakes, and we are committed, as every president has before, over the long term, to the Middle East.
MR. RUSSERT: What is the status of the Iranians that were taken into custody from the liaison office in northern Iraq?
MR. HADLEY: My understanding, Tim, at this point, and I have not checked on it this morning, is that they are still in custody. They have—the Iranians have asked for their return, and, as in prior instances where this has occurred, we will be in consultation with the Iraqi government.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you expect the Iranians to respond in some way for us taking their people in custody?
MR. HADLEY: Well, it’s, it’s not taking their people in custody. What we are doing is identifying, going after people who are engaged in activities that are killing our people. And the Iraqis need to know that if they engage in activities that result in killing our people, we are going to protect our troops.
MR. RUSSERT: The Iranians.
MR. HADLEY: The Iranians need to know that.
MR. RUSSERT: If they respond militarily, the Iranians, what do we do?
MR. HADLEY: We will, we will—see. I think, at this point, the Iranians would be unlikely to do so. And that’s one of the reasons, of course, why you tend to increase your forces in a region, just to reinforce that message that this is not something the Iranians want to do.
MR. RUSSERT: Stephen Hadley, we thank you very much for sharing your views this morning.
MR. HADLEY: Thank you very much.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, four United States senators, two in favor of the Bush more troops plan, two who are opposed. They are next, right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Next up, a Democrat and a Republican senator who agree with the president, a Democrat and a Republican who disagree with the president, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: We are back. Senators, welcome, all.
Senator Dodd, let me start with you. You oppose the president. Why?
SEN. DODD: I just think it’s more of the same. It seems to me we just—we’ve been rejecting or should reject this policy of just more military troops on the ground. Everyone who’s looked at this issue, including our top military people, our top diplomats, the people who understand the issue the best have all concluded, including the Baker-Hamilton report, that we ought to be focusing our attention on diplomacy and politics inside and outside in the region if we’re truly interested, as we should be, in succeeding in Iraq. Adding 20,000 more people, 17,000 of whom would be in Baghdad, a city of six million people where 23 militias are operating today, I think, is, is asking for a disaster, in my view.
MR. RUSSERT: A few weeks ago, you were in Baghdad and talked to the press from there. This is how your home paper, the Hartford Current, captured it. “Dodd was in Baghdad Sunday [December 17, 2006]. ... He met for an hour and a half with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. ... Afterward, Dodd told reporters in a conference call, ‘Show me some demonstrable evidence that they’re coming together as a people - Shias and Sunnis, sitting down and recognizing that they have an obligation to come together as a people - then I’d be willing to support some additional people if we needed it in order to get the job done.” You seemed to be open a few weeks ago.
SEN. DODD: Well, no, what I was saying here was, “Look, at least we are moving here politically.” I mean, this is what George Will called this morning a dash to competency here. The Maliki government said almost a year ago that they were going to control the militias, they were going to bring security in the country, they were going to deal with a revenue-sharing law, they were going to bring services to the people of that country. All of these five goals they set out, none of—none of which have been even closely achieved in that period of time. What makes us think at this particular junction that 17,000 more people, young men and women, injecting them in a city that’s being ripped apart by, by sectarian violence is going to sort that out?
We need to move to a different strategy. The emphasis needs to be on robust, muscular diplomacy, deal with regional leaders, insist upon the kind of political leadership inside the country, and then ask our military people to do the border kind of security, the training that can be done, the counterterrorism activities, but get them out of these major urban areas and insist that the 300,000 Iraqis, those, those 10 divisions, those 36 brigades and 118 battalions which we’ve trained, to assume that responsibility in their own country.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, you’re a fellow Democrat, fellow Nutmeg resident with Senator Dodd. You disagree with him and you agree with the president?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: I do, because there is so much on the line in Iraq. We overthrew Saddam Hussein. We, we have been working, and, as the president said the other night, a lot of mistakes, terrible mistakes, have been made, but we’ve been working in the larger context of the war on terrorism, the war against the Islamic radicals who attacked us on 9/11, the threat that Iran represents, to create in Iraq an alternative path to the future which is democratic, small D, self-governing, self-protecting. And we’ve made some progress, but obviously there’s a terrible crisis because of the sectarian violence in Baghdad. And it—this is a new plan the president has offered. Nobody’s happy with where we are now, but this plan offers the prospect of the security which is the precondition to the political settlement and the economic development that we know has to happen for Iraq to take off on its own.
I, I say to my colleagues who are opposed to this: Any alternatives that I’ve heard ultimately don’t work. They’re all about failing. They’re all about withdrawing. And I think allowing Iraq to collapse would be a disaster for the Iraqis, for the Middle East, for us, that would embolden the Iranians and al-Qaeda, who are our enemies. And they would follow us back here. So I think this is a—this is a reasoned approach, and I wish my colleagues would give it a chance to work. We’ve got a new general going over, Dave Petraeus. We know him. He’s brilliant. He’s, he’s passionate about how counterinsurgency movements can be effective. Let’s give him a chance with the personnel the president wants to give him, along with additional personnel from the Iraqis to stabilize this country and win. We can win, and it will be critical to the future security of the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is going to author legislation, introduce legislation which says, “Don’t cut off funding for the current deployments in Iraq, but any new deployments to Iraq, there will be no new funding.” If Congress adopted that, should the president abide by it?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, obviously, that’s up to the president. I, I hope he wouldn’t abide by it, and I think anybody who’s going to follow that course then has to accept the consequences. If you cut off funding for these additional troops, then you’ve got to accept the consequences of what I fear will be failure, collapse, full-blown civil war, ethnic cleansing on an enormous level, Iran dominating half of Iraq, al-Qaeda setting up a base in the Sunni area, and our allies throughout the region, Fatah among the Palestinians, the, the government in Lebanon, the moderates taking a beating because of the loss of Iraq to, to the radicals.
This is a big conflict in the Middle East between the moderates and the extremists. If we let Iraq collapse, the extremists win and we lose, and all of our allies in the region lose. And that, that, that means, ultimately, we’re probably going to come back there in a few years in a much more difficult and large conflict. Let’s try to win it now, and I hope we can pull together to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Chuck Hagel, you are a Republican who votes regularly with the president, of his own party. On this issue, you are strongly opposed to the president. Why? And are you willing to accept Senator Lieberman’s formulation that, unless you support the president, you risk the collapse of the Iraqi government, it becoming a safe haven for terrorists, ethnic cleansing, and on and on?
SEN. HAGEL: Let’s be clear about one thing at the beginning of this debate, Tim. No one in Congress that, that I’m aware of wants a collapse of Iraq. Everyone in Congress that I know of, and I think most of the American public, if not all, is very much aware of the critical stakes that are in play. That’s not the issue here. The issue is whether an escalation of military involvement in Iraq, as the president proposed, not just 22,000 more American troops, but the escalation regarding carrier strike forces and Patriot missile batteries, and more threats, and pursuing the Iranians and the Syrians, is that the appropriate, responsible course of action to take? I don’t believe it is.
Let—let’s start with some alternatives. Seventy-nine recommendations made by the Baker-Hamilton Commission report. One of them focuses right on what I’ve always believed will, in the end, be the result of Iraq and the Middle East, and that’s a political settlement. That means some kind of effort be made—and I didn’t hear much about this on Wednesday night in the president’s speech—to try to focus our efforts on a political accommodation, resulting in a political resolution, resulting in a political settlement. The Middle East is in more trouble today, more combustible, more dangerous than at any time since World War II. And you can measure that in, in Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian states, Iran, Syria. And to say that we are going to feed more American young men and women into that grinder, put them in the middle of a tribal, sectarian civil war, is not going to fix the problem.
The other part of this is—and David Broder mentioned this in his column this morning—no American foreign policy can by sustained without the support of the American people. The president, in his course of action that he has pursued the last four years, and now what he’s talking about more of, is without the support of the American people. It’s without the support of our allies. Are any of our allies putting more troops in Iraq? No, they’re bringing them all home. Also, the Maliki government, which you talked about with Mr. Hadley, they have been strangely silent on this. They are divided on this. Now, how in the world do we think we can pursue a legitimate policy that’s going to work, that doesn’t continue to consume more of our young men and women, continue to erode America’s standing and respect in the Middle East where we’ll have no hope to have any influence other than bog down further in an unwinnable situation. That’s a very dangerous strategy that will not work.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you support Kennedy’s—Senator Kennedy’s effort not to provide funding for new troops?
SEN. HAGEL: I’m looking at all the possibilities. I’m working with a number of senators on a resolution. I think whatever we do must be responsible; it must have a bipartisan consensus. This is not something that’s somehow gotten involved in a—in a policy debate with think-tank specialists. And I might remind everyone here, too, Tim, it’s many of the same people—commentators, members of Congress, others—who were so anxious to go into Iraq four years ago, that were so sure of the results as to how it was going to come out, are so now sure again about the president’s Wednesday night proposal. I said at a hearing with Secretary Rice, I think if this goes forward, it represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.
We are projecting ourselves further and deeper into a situation that we cannot win militarily. This is a war of attrition, if nothing else. How are we going to win a war of attrition? You cannot have an answer or resolution based on, on what we are going to do using military. It is bigger and wider, and what we need is a framework for political settlement. It must include the regional powers, including Iran and Syria, just as Baker-Hamilton said, and it must be international.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Kyl of Arizona, you support the president. Why?
SEN. KYL: I do. First of all because everyone suggested we needed a new strategy. The president agreed with that, and he’s now announced a new strategy, and it seems to me that, especially in matters of war, the country needs to be unified, needs to give this new strategy a chance. Why was it criticized even before it was announced? It doesn’t seem to me that that’s a good faith approach to try to win in Iraq.
And that’s the second point. The strategies that you’ve heard discussed here today are either strategies for failure—in other words, if we’ve already lost the war, then obviously we ought to be leaving today, not wait for another six months. The president doesn’t believe that we either have lost or can afford to lose in Iraq, to leave Iraq a failed state. So he’s suggested an approach that is different, and it’s not just the addition of troops, as, as you know. There are a whole variety of things that are added to this new strategy that should make it succeed.
Let, let me just give you an example. Before, when we had a—the, the Iraqis would, would capture bad guys and they would put them in jail, and somebody with political influence would come and get them out of jail the next day. We set up a curfew, and we set up checkpoints in Sadr City, and they were beginning to work. But influential political Iraqis convinced us that that was hurting them politically. It was causing three-hour delays in lines and so on, and the Iraqi people didn’t want that, they’d rather risk the death and destruction than, than suffer the inconvenience. So we pulled out. All of those things are going to be different now. And we’re going to have, as, as Mr. Hadley said, the Iraqis and the Americans standing together with a common approach to the problem in Baghdad. So this new strategy has a chance to win, and until you can create some semblance of peace and stability there, it’s going to be impossible to get this political settlement that everybody agrees would be a good thing. But how can you get the political settlement when you have the degree of violence that’s occurring there today?
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Dodd, the challenge from Senator Kyl and Senator Lieberman to you is, how do you have negotiations of political process go forward without getting security first, and if you pull out quickly, what do you leave behind? A failed state? Ethnic cleansing? A haven for terrorists? Complete civil war? Are you willing to take that on?
SEN. DODD: No, no one’s suggested pulling out quickly here. This is a Rubik cube we’re talking about. We’ve seen this in other places in the Middle East. The idea, again, is 17,000 young Americans injected into the city of Baghdad of six million people with Sunnis fighting Shias, Shias fighting Sunnis, where you have Baathists and you have insurgents and maybe some al-Qaeda elements, all of this competing for power in that country, and expecting this increase, what we’re talking about here, to solve that problem, I think is terribly misguided.
There is an alternative here. There are—there are functions which our military can perform. Every single officer I talked to in Baghdad three weeks ago, including the junior officers who’re on the ground doing the job every day, tell us that this is a huge mistake, that there are functions they can perform. Border security, training in the Kurdish areas, the counterterrorism activities—these are jobs they can do. As one young captain said to me from West Point, “I’m sending 19 year olds in a humvee down on patrols where their only mission is to get shot at or blown up. There’s no other mission I have for them.” He said, “How can you sustain that much longer?”
MR. RUSSERT: Would you start withdrawing troops this year?
SEN. DODD: I would. I think you can. I think you can bring down those numbers. We got a huge problem in Afghanistan, Tim. Our military’s being hollowed out. We’re, we’re talking about now huge bonuses or all sorts of attractive ways to keep people in the service. We’ve got major problems in Afghanistan, major problems with the condition of our military. They’re combat-ready in this...
MR. RUSSERT: But if you take troops out of Iraq, don’t you make it less secure?
SEN. DODD: Not necessarily at all. I think, again, this is the false assumption here, that, that somehow more troops bring you more security. In fact, General Petraeus made this point earlier. More troops—secure—more troops on the ground doesn’t make you necessarily any more secure. I think you need to get away from that premise. The president set it up very well the other night. He said, “Look, this isn’t working. Secondly, the Iraqis need to take responsibility.” Why, at that point, didn’t he announce a permanent envoy to the area that’s going to be on the ground day in and day out to try and deal with this problem politically and diplomatically in the region, then talking about a new role for our military over there that they can perform and do it well, and then insist that we’re going to start drawing down. That’s the one way, I’ll promise you, that you’re going to get the kind of political decision-making inside Iraq that you’re not going to get by delaying, delaying it.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, let me show you the latest poll on all this about American attitudes. Support of the president sending 22,000 more troops to Iraq, 36 percent, opposed 61. Is it possible for a commander in chief to conduct a war where two out of three Americans, nearly, oppose his latest initiative and now believe that the war is not worth fighting?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, it makes it harder, that’s for sure. And, and, you know, this is the great challenge because this is a different kind of war, Tim, as you well know. These are not armies massed on a battlefield or ships at sea. This is unconventional. It’s terrorism. And when the people see suicide bombings on TV every night, they get frustrated, they get angry. And, and I wish what they did is got angry because those suicide bombings of people signing up to be Iraqi police officers show how evil the enemy is. The fact is that, in matters of national security, we all, including the president, have an obligation to do what we believe is right for our people. And that I think is what the president is doing.
Look, we all want to bring our troops home as soon as possible. We all want to find the right exit strategy. But my own sense of history tells me that in war, ultimately, there are two exit strategies. One is called victory; the other is called defeat. The president offered a proposal the other night that holds the hope of victory in a critical battle for the Iraqis and for us. With all respect, the other proposals represent the beginning of a retreat, of a defeat. And I think the consequences for the Middle East, which has been so important to our international stability over the years, and to the American people, who have been attacked on 9/11 by the same enemy that we’re fighting in Iraq today, supported by a rising Islamist radical super-powered government in Iran, the consequences for us, for—I want to be personal—for my children and grandchildren, I fear will be disastrous. That’s why I want to do everything I can to win in Iraq. And, and, and I think that’s what my, my oath of office requires me to do.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hagel, talk about that if you would. Are you advocating retreat and defeat, and do you believe we are fighting the same people that brought about September 11th?
SEN. HAGEL: First, as I said before, I am not, nor any member of Congress that I’m aware of, Tim, is advocating defeat. That’s ridiculous, and I’m offended that any responsible member of Congress or anyone else would even suggest such a thing. Senator Lieberman talks about his children and grandchildren. We all have children and grandchildren. He doesn’t have a market on that, nor do any of my colleagues. We’re all concerned about the future of this country. But we have an honest disagreement here, and that’s what democracies are about.
Now, the fact is we can talk all we want, and we can go to all the specialists in the world, the fact is, the Iraqi people will determine the fate of Iraq. The people of the Middle East will determine their fate. Now, when we continue to interject ourselves in a situation that we never have understood, we’ve never comprehended, and I think after four years it’s becoming quite clear of that, that tells us something very, very clearly. And we now have to devise a way to find some political consensus with our allies, especially the people in the Middle East, that is going to require to find a political framework for some progress with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It’s going to require listening to our allies in the Middle East.
You know, Tim, I hear this talk about generals and military involvement. The two top American generals in Iraq in November and December, the last 60 days, both in open testimony and interviews took exactly the opposite approach of what President Bush was talking about on Wednesday night. Now, someone is, is not listening here. There is a major disconnect. And we talk about the future for our country. The future of the Middle East as a region is in play now at a very, very defining time. That’s what we should be thinking about. We need to get out of the bog of where we are of tactical thinking. Of course 50,000 troops in Baghdad are not going to turn that around. That is a tribal sectarian civil war, and we need to do everything we can with some smart thinking.
Let’s just take one thing. Why not take American troops, put them on the border? I hear a lot from this administration about this border being porous, all the terrorists leaking in there. The terrorist problem isn’t the biggest problem today in, in Iraq. Are terrorists there? Yes. It is Iraqis killing Iraqis, Tim. It’s Shias killing Shias. That’s the biggest problem, that’s not going to be solved by the American military.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Kyl, if this surge doesn’t work—and Secretary of Defense Gates says we have a few months to see how it plays out. If it doesn’t work, then do we say, “Time out, time’s up, we’re coming—we’re getting out?”
SEN. KYL: First, there was some discussion earlier about the Iraqis have a say in this. And frankly, they have the first say in it, and I suspect they’ll be the ones that sort out what happens if this is not successful, at least in the first instance. But with all due respect, I would suggest that that’s the second question to be asked. The first question is, is there an alternative to the strategy that the president has announced? And the only alternative that I’ve heard here this morning, or that I’ve heard in, in the halls of Congress, is we should find a way to withdraw and find a way for a political settlement. Well, of course it would be wonderful to try to find a way. That’s not concrete, it’s not specific, it’s not specific, and it does also ignore the fact that it’s not just Sunni on Shiite violence. There is a lot of al-Qaeda influence in Iraq today. The president talked about it in his speech. In al-Anbar Province, to the west of Baghdad, you have al-Qaeda essentially trying to take control of that entire, about a third of the country. Part of our new troops will, will be to go into there and to try to pacify that. They are the ones who instigated this violence between the Shiites and the Sunnis by blowing up the Golden Mosque. And so it’s not possible to achieve a peace settlement with al-Qaeda. So it’s not as simple as simply saying we need to find a way to get a peace settlement. We’ve got to restore order and defeat the terrorists.
MR. RUSSERT: A difficult and complicated debate, and I thank you all for offering to it—offering so much to it.
Senator Dodd, before we go, you’re running for president?
SEN. DODD: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re willing to take on Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and say you’re more qualified than they are?
SEN. DODD: Well, I want to make my case based on experience and judgment and ability. The very debate we’re having here today, I think, indicates we need new leadership in the country. I can’t believe that in five years we’ve squandered years of the administration’s, Republicans and Democrats, building world alliances to support us. When you think of where we were on September 12th, 2001 and where we are today, clearly new leadership is necessary in the country, and I want to be part of that debate.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, in 2004 Chris Dodd was the general chairman of your presidential race. You’re going to cast your lot with your fellow Senator Dodd this morning?
SEN. DODD: Don’t put—don’t put Joe in that position here.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Very nice, very nice of you to ask, Tim. Look...
SEN. DODD: Good morning, Joe. How are you?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Good morning, buddy. I, very briefly, look, I’ve worked closely with Chris Dodd for 18 years. His experience, his ability, makes him a very credible candidate for president. I wish him well. I’ve had a lot of politics over the last two years. I’m staying out of the president—any presidential campaign for a while.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Lieberman, thank you very much. Chuck Hagel, Jon Kyl, Chris Dodd.
SEN. DODD: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Just to stir it up a little bit.
SEN. DODD: Just to stir it up.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Good work, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, tomorrow we celebrate Martin Luther King Day. He appeared here August 13th, 1967, 40 years ago.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Forty years ago this year, Dr. Martin Luther King made his last of five appearances on MEET THE PRESS. The country was in the midst of a civil rights struggle, and Dr. King radiated optimism and determination.
(Videotape, August 13, 1967):
MR. LAWRENCE E. SPIVAK: Our guest today on MEET THE PRESS is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
MR. SIMEON BOOKER (Ebony): Doctor King, do you believe that the American racial problem can be solved?
DR. KING: (President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference): Yes, I do. I refuse to give up. I refuse to despair it in this moment. I refuse to allow myself to fall into the dark chambers of pessimism, because I think in any social revolution, the one thing that keeps it going is hope. And when hope dies, somehow the revolution degenerates into a kind of nihilistic philosophy which says you must engage in disruption for disruption’s sake. I refuse to believe that. However difficult it is, I believe that the forces of good will, white and black, in this country, can work together to bring about a resolution of this problem. We have the resources to do it. At present, we don’t have the will, but certainly the, the Negroes and the decent, committed whites—maybe they’re in a minority now, but they’re there—must work together to so arouse the conscience of this nation, and at the same time to so articulate the issue through direct action and powerful action programs, that our demands can no longer be eluded by the government or by Congress or all of the forces in power.
MR. RUSSERT: Less than a year after that interview, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, April 4th, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. Had he lived, he would’ve been 78 years old tomorrow. And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.