ABC This Week - Senators Biden & Lugar Talk to George Stephanopolous on Iraq
ABC This Week, January 28, 2007 Guests: Senators Lugar (R-IN) & Biden (D-DE)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. The Senate is heading for a showdown with President Bush. A vote on legislation that says it is not in the national interest to increase troops in Iraq. And here with us this morning, the author of that resolution, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden, along with the senior Republican on that committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana. Welcome to both of you. And, Senator Biden, let me begin with you, the administration is stepping up the rhetoric on your resolution. You saw the president, the vice president, General Patraeus all saying you hurt morale, and Pentagon Secretary Robert Gates added, it will embolden the enemy. Are you worried that may be true?
SENATOR JOE BIDEN: No, not at all. It's not the American people and the United States Congressmen that are emboldening the enemy. It's the failed policy of this president going into war without a strategy, going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops, going to war without enough equipment. And lastly now sending 17,500 people in the middle of a city of 6.5 million people with bull's-eyes on their backs with no plan. There is no plan. He has tactics, George, but no plan.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lugar, you voted against this resolution. Why?
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: Essentially this resolution, and others that are being offered, are an opportunity for people to vent their emotions, their thoughts, to get on record. Some Republicans want to do that. Some Democrats want to do that. I don't believe that it's helpful right now to show this disarray around the world as well as in our body of colony.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me stop you there because, you know, we saw tens of thousands of protesters here this week. Polls show that two-thirds of Americans almost oppose this plan. Doesn't Congress at some point, at some level, have a responsibility to give voice to that opposition?
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: Well I think we can give voice to it. We can reflect it. Polls do every day. The point I think we're making as a Congress right now is that as opposed to getting into simply a show of hands as to whether we're - the two-thirds of the American public, we try to do things that are constructive. We try to forge a congressional/presidential tie here. The president can be faulted for a good number of things and we've reviewed those for the four years. But my hope is that reaching out to the president, and Joe Biden does this very effectively, as well as the rest of us, we really need at this point to get on the same page. I got a call from the president five minutes to 8:00 on Friday. He wanted to talk briefly about Iraq and about energy policy. I've never had a call five minutes to 8:00 from any president. And I've been writing some letters to the president. He tells me he's reading them. Now, I hope that, you know, bit by bit we move in that direction. I don't fault the resolutions as being chaotic, but I would say simply they are an attempt to vent current emotions, put people on record in various ways. They're not helpful to General Patraeus, to the troops, to the Iraqis. I think to the American - but we do need some policies that will be helpful and hopefully our committee can be constructive in forging those.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, Vice President Cheney also says the resolutions aren't going to make any difference. How do you respond to that and the notion that Senator Lugar raises here that it's just not constructive to pass a nonbinding resolution?
SENATOR JOE BIDEN: Look, I think when I announced my opposition to the troops after Christmas, drafted this resolution, got co-sponsorship for it, I don't know, but I respectfully suggest maybe the president wouldn't be calling Senator Lugar at five minutes to 8:00 in the morning were this resolution not out there. I respectfully suggest the ground has moved beneath the president's feet. John McCain I doubt would be coming forward with hard benchmarks. Allegedly he's going to have an amendment to that.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: For the Iraqi government to meet.
SENATOR JOE BIDEN: For the Iraqi government to meet. I doubt whether John Warner would be coming forward with the resolution saying he disapproves. The fact of the matter is that there's no question, there is a movement in the United States Congress to say to the president, Mr. President, listen to us, you didn't listen to the Iraqi study group. You didn't listen to my plan, not that you should, you didn't listen to any plan, you took a path that was fundamentally different than 95% of the advice you were given.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lugar, Senator Biden mentions the Senate resolution authored by the former armed services committee chairman Senator Warner. It simply states the Senate disagrees with the policy of sending more troops. Can you sign on to that?
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: No, I don't think it's at all helpful. I've indicated in my testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee that I have doubts about the surge situation both in terms of the numbers of people and so forth. On the other hand, General Patraeus, if anybody can pull it off, is the man, and I would just say that I was impressed that the Iraqi Parliament met on Thursday, you know, after the story in "The New York Times" that only 65 people showed up a few days before. They went at it very hard and fast, and we had testimony that the United States pretty well knocked out all the law enforcement of Iraq, plus the army, plus everything. But bit by bit there are 50 sheikhs in al Anbar who are Sunnis. A very unusual foreign policy being formulated, by our secretary of state bringing the Sunni countries together in some sort of coalition. In other words, there's movement here that is important to note. This is why I would like not to get bogged down into sort of the referendum on where we all stand these days.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well it looks like there's going to be several different referendums, Senator Biden. The White House and the Senate leaders are working on a lot of different resolutions. I think the strategy is to dilute the impact of your resolution. Do you think that that's going to work in holding down Republican support? You're obviously not going to get Senator Lugar here.
SENATOR JOE BIDEN: The truth of the matter is, listen to what Senator Lugar just said. Did you see any of that movement all last year before introducing this resolution? Did you see any of that movement? Was a single solitary thing just mentioned, a single one of those things occur absent bringing it to a head in the United States Senate? So it's less important, George, in my view what the vote on my resolution and Levin's and Hagel's, et cetera, resolution, or Warner's. What's important is the voices you're going to hear. I make a prediction to you, you will hear when this debate begins, the first time we will have had a full-throated debate on this policy on the Senate.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Likely to have all 100 Senators on the floor.
SENATOR JOE BIDEN: That's my guess. That's my guess, whether 100 or not. The first time you're going to hear a full-throated debate. I will make you a bet you will not find 20% of the Senate standing up and saying, the president is headed in the right direction.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe the president's headed in the right direction?
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: I am hopeful that he is. Now, he's made a decision, you know, some of us have had an opportunity to talk to him and suggest alternatives and other plans. I respect the fact you have just one president at a time. He is the president and he's made a decision. He may have made up his mind before he started visiting with us. I hope not. But for the moment we've got to make this work as best we can. And it just seems to me that the votes are not helpful. Now, the debate, probably is. The hearings we're having are very important. Because the poverty of knowledge about Iraq in the Senate is still very, very large and that includes myself. I'm learning every day.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's hard - that's hard for me to believe but I'm sure we're all learning about Iraq, more about Iraq every day. Let me turn to Iran. The administration is stepping up the pressure on Iranian operatives inside Iraq. Here's Secretary Gates.
ROBERT GATES (SECRETARY OF DEFENSE): And we are trying to uproot these networks that are planting IEDs that are causing 70% of our casualties. And if you're in Iraq and trying to kill our troops, then you should yourself a target.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Now he did go on to say he doesn't think the United States needs to go into Iran but a few weeks ago Senator Biden, you wrote the president a letter saying you don't believe he has the authority to go into Iran. Did you get an answer?
SENATOR JOE BIDEN: No. But, look, George, I agree with Gates. There's no question that we have to do everything we can to protect American troops and that includes hot pursuit across the border as a practical matter.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But to take military action against Iran. You believe that -
SENATOR JOE BIDEN: But to take military action against Iran, he needs authority to do that. Look, this president, as my mother would say, God love him, has no credibility. He exaggerated the rationale for going to war with Iraq. He exaggerated the intelligence. The vice president of the United States was a party to that as we're seeing right now in the trial with Scooter Libby. And the problem is, we don't - there's not a lot of trust in the administration's assessment about what is going on. If it's important enough to go to war with 72 million people, if it gets to that, that's not what Gates is talking about but if it's important enough to go to war with 72 million people in Iran, it's important enough to come back to the United States Congress and present the evidence and get approval or disapproval.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you agree with that?
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: Yeah, he would - the president would need authority. But I would just mention, there's been now a very good United Nations resolution with regard to Iran. We've moved a carrier over into the Persian Gulf area. We've made these declarations about hunting down Iranians inside of Iraq, and the debate in Iran is becoming more interesting. The young president is under some pressure. There is -
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: From Ayatollah Khomeini?
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: There's some movement.
SENATOR JOE BIDEN: That's right.
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: And Secretary Rice is lining up of all these Sunni countries is largely because they're worried about Iran. They feel it's become the most powerful country, including Israel. Maybe even some movement with regard to Hamas and with regard to Hezbollah as junctures, but Iran, so this is a story that's very, very important running right alongside the Iraq story.