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Press Conference With Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Barbara Boxer, And Senator John Kerry: Iraq Deployments

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Location: Washington, DC


Press Conference With Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Barbara Boxer, And Senator John Kerry: Iraq Deployments

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SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much. I'm delighted to join with Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer and others in this effort to secure accountability and planning from the Pentagon and, obviously, that also means from the administration, but particularly the Pentagon, which has the direct line of authority with respect to the deployment of and safety and security of our troops.

If anything ought to be clear to everybody in America -- and it's certainly clear to people in the world -- it's the consequences of the absence of planning. There was a State Department plan, which Colin Powell prepared, with respect to the reconstruction and development of Iraq.

It was completely ignored, completely shunted aside and never implemented. And many people have asked us in Congress, what did you do; what questions were asked and what responsibility did you accept for some of those choices? We were told the planning had been done and in many cases, it wasn't.

The absence of planning has cost lives. It's cost the lives of young American soldiers and it has cost the lives of civilians, Iraqis and others. And the fact is that the lack of planning is partly responsible for a cascading series of choices that have made Iraq worse and cost America security in the region.

I refer specifically to the lack of planning about guarding ammo dumps with millions of rounds of ammo and bombs and munitions that are currently being used to kill American soldiers. I refer to the absence of planning with respect to what the civilian structure of Iraq would be with the de-Ba'athification and the disbanding of the army itself. And there is a stunning movie out right now that depicts the unbelievable arrogance in the decision-making process that avoided that planning.

So a few days ago, when Senator Clinton's inquiry of the Defense Department, which was a private, direct communication in the course of business requesting a perfectly normal inquiry with respect to what the future might hold, when that was met by a public political broadside attacking her motives and the motives of those who've sought now to make sure that planning is done, we believed it was necessary to respond, as we are now, to make certain that the proper planning is done and that accountability will be put in place.

I might add, the request that we've made is a broad request. It can envision any number of different possibilities and outcomes, but it does envision redeployment of our troops which is, after all, the stated goal of this administration. And what we want to know is that the planning to achieve the goal of this administration has been achieved and achieved in a way that will guarantee us the greatest security for our interest in the region and the greatest protection for our troops. That is our fundamental responsibility.

Now let me just say, this administration, we know, has made planning sort of a dirty word. Because every time they had an opportunity to do it, we find out they didn't, whether it was trying to get Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, where there was an absence of planning, or the overall initial approach to Iraq itself and others.

So I think -- and I think Senator Clinton and Barbara Boxer and others join me in this -- the Pentagon ought to be planning to save lives, not save face, and they ought to be planning here to do what is responsible -- to share with the Congress so we all share in the accountability for what is going to flow out of this. It is entirely appropriate for us to request a classified briefing. We're not asking for this to be broadcast to the world. Senator Clinton never asked for this to be broadcast to anybody in Iraq or elsewhere. This was for the purposes of the United States Congress doing its duty, and we're asking for a classified briefing to the appropriate committees only, the appropriate committees -- Intelligence, Armed Services, Foreign Relations -- what the future redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq might shape -- the shape it might take, obviously, so that we know we're protecting our interests with respect to Iran, respecting our interests with respect to Gulf states, our alliances, Israel and all of the security interests that we have in the region. That's an important question to know.

Our legislation builds on accountability and responsibility, and it is obviously unfortunate that even up until yesterday this administration sees fit to continue the personal attacks. Predictably, when asked on a show yesterday -- I think it was Larry King -- the vice president saw fit to re-affirm the letter that was written in response to Senator Clinton and to suggest that somehow it was a good letter. Well, ladies and gentlemen, this comes from a vice president who would be very hard-pressed to produce evidence that he has been correct about one judgment or one public statement that has been made with respect to Iraq.

So we're going to not be intimidated. We're not going to be cowards. We're not going to be pushed into a political corner. We're going to show the leadership what the American people expect from us. We're going to demand accountability, and we will continue to press this so that we can indeed heed the advice of a lot of generals -- from General Abizaid and General Casey, General Shinseki and others and many retired generals and admirals -- who see the situation on the ground somewhat differently from this administration. That's why we're insisting the Pentagon show us how it is planning for the future deployment of American forces, and that is how we will best protect our forces, support our forces and provide them with the kind of leadership that's equal to their sacrifice.

Senator Boxer.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Q Senator Clinton, you got your briefing today. So why do you now need to go ahead with legislation?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I was pleased that the briefing took place. I think there will be continuing briefings. But as is clear, it's not only the Senate Armed Services Committee that should be briefed. Any kind of contingency planning must be an interagency operation. That means that many of the other parts of our government have to be involved, because there are so many issues that have to be considered and planned for. Both Senators Kerry and Boxer serve on the Foreign Relations Committee. The Intelligence Committee, our counterparts in the House -- I think that one of the failures that has marked this administration with respect to Iraq is the failure of the interagency process. And we're going to do everything we can with our legislation to make it clear that the Congress as a whole is entitled, in its appropriate oversight responsibilities, to have this information. There may be appropriations issues with respect to redeploying our troops.

So I was pleased that we were able to hold the hearing that I had requested in the Armed Services Committee, but I don't think that that by any means answers the questions that we all legitimately have.

(Cross talk.)

Q Senator Clinton, Senator Clinton, Senator Obama today said that the use of nuclear weapons would be off the table in Afghanistan or Pakistan. I'm wondering if you agree with that.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I'm not going to answer hypotheticals, but let's find Osama bin Laden and his leadership first.

And I think that presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. Presidents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace.

And I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. But I think we'll leave it at that because just -- I don't know the circumstances in which he was responding.

Q So it's not irresponsible then to take nuclear weapons off the table?

SEN. CLINTON: I've said what I have to say about this.

Q Senator Clinton, both Senator Warner and Senator Lugar, as you know, are sponsoring legislation that similarly calls for contingency planning by the Defense Department. Why not simply support that piece of legislation? Why is it necessary to have a second?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, we may be able to merge our legislation. You know, I was very pleased when Senator Warner and Lugar made the same point. They didn't get the same kind of response that I got from the Defense Department, but I think that we can look for ways to work together. Obviously, it would be better if this were a bipartisan approach. As is clear, one serves on the Armed Services Committee, the other on the Foreign Relations Committee. So as we move back to the DOD authorization in the fall, we're going to be looking for as much support as we can, and I don't think any of us would objective to having a merged piece of legislation that got to the same point.

SEN. KERRY: Our bill actually asks for a broader set of specifics than theirs does. Theirs is moving in the same direction, and we looked at it specifically. So hopefully, we could get together as we go down the road.

Q Senator Clinton, in terms of the briefing this morning, I understand it was classified, but I take it you were not satisfied with -- (off mike) -- planning in time for a withdrawal?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I don't want to characterize the briefing because it was classified. But what I will say is that Chairman Levin made it clear that we will continue to have briefings because this is an ongoing process that requires the constant oversight from the Congress, and we intend to exercise that oversight in the Armed Services Committee.

Q Can you at least say whether or not you were satisfied by what you heard?

SEN. CLINTON: I can say that it was a beginning in the process of obtaining information that I think we're entitled to.

Q Senator Clinton, can you tell me, what is the difference between assessing the strategy, planning for redeployment and assessing operational plans?

SEN. CLINTON: Oh, there's a huge difference, and none of us are looking for operational plans. And you know, Senator Kerry knows more about this than any of us. You know, operational plans go down to the very details of troop movements.

That is not what we are requesting.

But if you look at the broad range of issues that have to be addressed -- what will we do with refugees? Whose responsibility is that? What will we do with the approximately 100,000 private contractors, many of whom are Americans but most of whom work for American companies? You know, those are two questions that are not easily answered. Senator Kennedy has been talking about the refugee issue now for several months.

And I just think that if you really stop -- and every one of you who are, you know, incredibly intelligent and able, you could sit down and make a long list of issues you think should be addressed. In retrospect, we found out that in the runup to the invasion, the military was actually told not to plan for phase four stability. So why should we expect that they are planning now for an outcome, however it develops, that they may not wish to have happen or that they are not sure that the president would direct them to consider?

So I think that it's very clear. There are so many factors at work here, and I don't think any of us want to, you know, wake up and see the consequences that will flow from failure to plan.

SEN. KERRY: Can I shed just a tiny bit more light on that perhaps?

Supposing that at the end of September the Maliki government has actually reached an agreement on the oil and they've done a constitutional change and some of the federalism issues are resolved and you begin to have the army, not the police, taking hold in a more effective way, then you may have one set of options with respect to redeployment that are completely different from what happens if the Maliki government were to implode and Maliki's no longer there; they haven't resolved any political differences, and Iran were somehow raising an uglier specter than it is today.

These are the different contingencies that we want to know there's real thought process about with respect to numbers, and they require different numbers of troops. If we can advance the peace process -- if the other countries in the region, the Sunni neighbors, suddenly have a willingness to ante up, in the context of the peace process, some sort of greater border security and take a greater stake in the protection of the Sunni, you have a very different picture for what may be needed of American troops.

We clearly saw none of those kinds of contingencies were planned for up front, folks, and we are going to try to make certain they are now.

SEN. CLINTON: Thanks.

Q Senator Clinton?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you've already had one. I'm sorry.

Q I have a good one, though. (Laughter.)

SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)

SEN. KERRY: That's a (comment ?) -- what a lousy questioner you are.

SEN. CLINTON: Yeah. (Laughs.) Yes.

SEN. BOXER: (Off mike.)

Q Senator Clinton -- (off mike) -- the House Budget Committee that the wartime update -- (off mike) -- could possibly go higher, as much as 30 billion (dollars) above the 144 (billion dollars) -- (off mike). Now Congressman Murtha is making -- (off mike) -- that does come up on the House side -- (off mike) -- operations for about three months or so. Is that something you would support on the --

SEN. CLINTON: I'm not going to answer that at this time. We don't have any idea what is going to happen in September. You know, we're going to wait and see what the administration actually asks for, and, you know, what the report in mid-September is. I mean, I think that a number of us have made our views very clear, that we think we should begin to redeploy our troops out of Iraq, and we're going to view anything that is proposed in that light.

SEN. BOXER: (Is that it ?). Thank you.

SEN. CLINTON: Thank you all very much.

SEN. KERRY: Thanks very much.

SEN. CLINTON: Thank you, John.

SEN. BOXER: Thank you, Hillary.

SEN. CLINTON: Thank you, Barbara.


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