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Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - The President's Foreign Affairs Budget

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC

SEN. BIDEN: The hearing will come to order.

It's a great pleasure to have Secretary Rice before us today to present the budget of the State Department and talk about that and other things with us. And it's an honor to have you here, Madame Secretary. And it's hard to believe that this is the last -- this may be the last budget you'll be presenting, at least under President Bush. And who knows? Maybe we'll continue. But we thank you for being here, Madame Secretary, and appreciate your cooperation.

Before we begin, I'd like to acknowledge what all of us are aware of, but it warrants being acknowledged, that our counterpart in the House, Tom Lantos, has passed away. Tom Lantos -- we all had a relationship with Tom, but as we say, a point of personal privilege, my relationship with Tom goes back a long, long time.

Tom was actually my foreign policy adviser. Tom was working for Bank of America and teaching at the University of San Francisco as an economics professor, and I met him out there on one occasion and I talked him into coming back to work as my staffer. And I may be the only chairman who ever had a chairman work as his staffer. But we became very close friends, our families. And his daughter Katrina worked for me as well, and his grandson Micah is a Ph.D. and handles Europe for me on the committee as we speak.

But Tom, as we all know, was the only survivor of the Holocaust to ever serve in the United States Congress. But in a sense Tom was more American than a son of the American Revolution. Tom -- in my dealings with Tom, Tom epitomized every value that we herald as being an American value. I mean, he was -- and above all, as the secretary knows, he was a consummate gentleman.

I used to kid him. I used to tell him that I believe that the Blarney stone in Ireland was probably first found in Budapest, because I've never run across a more charming, more decent and more brilliant man, with all those qualities rolled into one. And he is -- it's a big loss for the country. And I know he was a close friend of Barbara's as well, being a fellow Californian, and coming from her neck of the state. So I just want to acknowledge how profoundly missed Tom will be.

I also would like to welcome the newest member of our committee, Senator Barrasso. Is he here? Oh, there he is. I'm looking the wrong way. I'm so used to looking to the right when I think Republican. I apologize. And you were appointed last evening to take the place of Senator Sununu, who we'll miss, who left the committee to take a seat on the Finance Committee. And I welcome you, and I really look forward. And I know you're going to have to leave because you're on the Energy Committee as well, and there's a major issue coming before that committee today. But we just want you to know how welcome you are and look forward to working with you on this committee.

Madame Secretary, today the committee meets to hear from you on the president's budget for foreign affairs for fiscal year 2009. The budget submitted to Congress last week seeks $39.5 billion in spending for foreign affairs, a substantial increase over the last year. And I commend you. I commend you for persuading the president to continue to expand the foreign affairs budget.

I'm particularly pleased by the nearly $250 million for funding requested for the Civilian Stabilization Initiative, which was an initiative of my colleague and chairman, Senator Lugar and I, but he was the main engine behind all of that. And I think it is extremely important.

This builds on legislation that we developed four years ago to establish a core of active duty and Reserve civilian personnel that we can send overseas on short notice to address post-conflict needs in humanitarian crises. We still have unfinished business here in the Senate and the Congress. The latest version of our legislation has been stalled in the Senate for nearly a year. It is my hope we can unglue it and get it passed.

I'm also pleased that you are working to increase the number of Foreign Service personnel, as well as diplomatic security agents. Secretary Powell began that expansion, but it has been offset by the demands of Iraq, and there continue to be reports of personnel shortages in many areas of the department.

The President's Emergency Action Program for HIV/AIDS has saved more than a million lives. It may be the greatest legacy this president leaves or any president could leave. It's saved more than a million lives. And it also not only did the right thing -- is doing the right thing -- but puts America in the right light, once again trumpeting our values and our humanity, not just our power.

This year's budget includes $6 billion for HIV/AIDS. I know that sounds like a lot of money and is a lot of money. But in reality, the request only marginally increases the program over last year. We're not doubling our investment, as the president said. We're just barely maintaining it. And I believe we can do even better than that. So this may be a case where Brer Rabbit is allowed to be thrown into the briars, because it's my intention to try to expand that number. And I believe others will join me in that regard.

So Madame Secretary, I strongly support most of your budget efforts. What I don't support -- and this is not your responsibility -- is the practice of placing tens of billions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the category of so-called emergency spending, which the president again exempts from normal budget rules. I think it is wrong to force the taxpayers of tomorrow to pay for the wars of today.

Beyond the budget, this is an opportunity for you to talk about your policy priorities for the remaining months of the administration. And let me briefly mention a few of mine and what I'm going to attempt to, with the help of Senator Lugar and others, have the committee focus on.

In Iraq, all of us welcome the recent decline in violence. Our military, as it always has, has done its job, and it's done its job remarkably well. And they've taken advantage of other critical developments, including the awakening movement among Sunnis and the Sadr cease-fire among Shi'ites.

Unfortunately, political progress, which was the principal aim of the surge, has not followed. I still see no strategy for achieving what virtually everyone agrees is the key to success in Iraq -- a sustainable political settlement that convinces Iraqis they can pursue their interests peacefully without bullets and bombs.

Without a political settlement, Madame Secretary, we could easily see a resurgence of violence no matter how many troops we keep in Iraq. And we just can't keep this many troops in Iraq for a whole lot longer. Every day we stay in these numbers is another day of terrible strain on our fighting forces and their families, on our military readiness and ability to meet other threats to American security, on our taxpayers' and government's capacity to meet challenges here at home, and on our standing in the world.

The president says our strategy is, quote, "to leave on success," end of quote. The question is, does that mean that it is his intent to stay on failure? Because right now, in the absence of a political strategy in Iraq, that's what we're doing. We're treading water. That's better than drowning, but we can't keep doing it.

I'm pleased that both you and Defense Secretary Gates have now clarified the so-called Framework for Normalization of Relations. That is the administration's plan to negotiate with the government of Iraq, and you've laid out clearly it does not include security commitments that would bind us to engage our military in Iraq's defense.

As I made clear to the president in a letter last December, any such commitment would require the consent of the Senate. And I'm also pleased the president himself has said on the record the United States seeks no permanent military bases in Iraq. We have passed such legislation, I believe, on five occasions in the Senate and once, finally, the entire Congress, signed by the president.

I have repeatedly put a prohibition against permanent bases in legislation, in a bill, because the misplaced belief in Iraq and the wider Arab and Muslim worlds that we seek a permanent presence has been used as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and it is an accelerant for anti-Americanism.

And I'm glad the president has stated flatly that it is not our intention.

What I hope to hear from you today, Madame Secretary, and in the weeks ahead, is just how we get to success. What is the political strategy in Iran? What is the diplomatic strategy to help achieve it?

You know my views, and my colleagues unfortunately know my views. I've been like a broken record, as they used to say. But unless and until we put our energy into helping Iraqis build what is already in their constitution, a federal system, that brings resources and responsibility down to the local or regional level, I don't believe we're going to reach that political solution.

Where are we on that? And if we continue to reject that plan, which Congress overwhelmingly endorsed, what's the alternative?

If we should have surged forces anywhere, I think most of the committee members would agree it was in Afghanistan. I know you're just back from there, and Senators Kerry and Hegel and I are about to go. When we return the committee will want to hear your ideas for how we can turn around the situation that seems to most of us, if not the administration, to be slipping from our grasp. Violence is up, the Taliban is back, drug production is at an all time high, and people seem to be losing faith in Karzai's government's ability to deliver progress.

Afghanistan's fate, as you know better than anyone, is linked to Pakistan's future, and so is American security. We're going to see next week what the elections bring in Pakistan, and we'll be anxious to hear from you after that.

But no matter what the result, we need to move in Pakistan from Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy, one that demonstrates to its moderate majority that we are with them for the long haul with the help to build schools, roads, clinics and that we are going to demand accountability for the billions of dollars and the blank check that we keep writing for the Pakistan military.

And finally, in Darfur, the United Nations and the African Union jointly assumed control over the peacekeeping mission on December 31st. But fewer than 10,000 of the 26,000 authorized troops are on the ground. One reason is Khartoum's obstructionism. But the other is the pathetic fact that the international community cannot muster 24 helicopters needed for this mission.

I would like to know exactly which leaders you and the president have personally contacted to get these helicopters and what can be done to deal with that. There is a lot more to talk about -- Kosovo's imminent declaration of independence; your plans for the NATO summit; your efforts in the Middle East; the challenges posed by Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

And this committee is going to spend a lot of time in the months ahead on some long term challenges that may seem less urgent but are no less important to America's future: the emergence of China, India and Russia; the critical issues of energy security and climate change which Chairman Lugar started in earnest the last -- the last two years; and the need for more -- a more effective strategy to advance democracy and combat extremism that will help us -- that is, recaptures the totality of America's strength.

We won't have time today to cover even a small piece of this agenda, so I hope you'll come back a few times before the year is out, Madame Secretary.

And with that, let me turn to Senator Lugar for his opening comments.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. BIDEN: And that's the price of coming late. So we'll begin with 10-minute rounds here.

Madame Secretary, there are reports of growing frustration in the ranks of the former Sunni insurgents, a so-called "Awakening," to whom we have been providing monthly payments of $300, which agree with, that's not a criticism. They want to be integrated into the Iraqi government and security forces, but the central government seems -- even with the changes made as recently as yesterday, to be balking, particularly in mixed areas close to Baghdad.

The situation is said to be so bad that our military has started developing plans to create a depression-era style civilian job corps so these folks are going to be gainfully employed. What are the consequences of the Iraqi government's failure to hire these ex- insurgents, or the -- or the "concerned local citizens," as they are called by our military? What are we going to do to increase this integration? And if they're not integrated, can we, by stepping in, stave off what is a growing discontent?

SEC. RICE: The Iraqi government, I think it's fair to say, was initially quite skeptical of the local citizens committees, in part, because they worried that there might -- they might be new militias, in a sense. And what we have done is to work with the Maliki government. There is a committee that reviews now the local citizens committees and their integration into the security forces.

Not all of them will be integrated into the security forces; and it is important that there be job opportunities for them. There is work going on in that -- not just temporary jobs, but real jobs through -- for instance, we believe that if the Iraqi government fully executes its budget for housing -- which is, the construction industry brings a lot of jobs, that that might be a way to absorb some of these people.

I'm heartened by the budgets that are now coming out for provincial governments. You are starting to see more of an emphasis on budgetary resources from the center going to the provinces. We have had, through the provincial reconstruction teams, to intensify our efforts to make it possible for the provincial governments then to spend the resources that they're getting.

I've sat with the sheikhs of the Awakening, both in Iraq and when they were here. They want more project money into their province. In fact, there was an Anbar supplemental of about $70 million. The Anbaris are politically powerful enough that several national politicians decided they should go and deliver it by hand. And there was a big ceremony for it.

Ultimately, I think you will see that the elections at the provincial level will be the real answer to this, because some of the provincial councils -- which are not so representative because of the way that the elections took place in 2005, I think will be renovated by new provincial powers, and it's why -- by new elections, and it's why the provincial Powers law is so important. I might just say that they were engaged in debates about the provincial powers that we would recognize from our own history -- what was the role of governors, who could remove them, did governors have the right to mobilize military forces. These were really very crucial debates and I think it's a good thing that they've gotten the law.

SEN. BIDEN: Well I was there for that ceremony. I was there when the central government came out to meet with the sheikhs and with Sattar -- not Sadr -- Sattar, who was the guy who organized -- the sheikh who organized the other sheikhs. And I was there at that ceremony -- I, with Ambassador Crocker and the General.

And it was interesting phenomenon. The fact was, that I was told by two of the vice presidents who came from Baghdad -- one Sunni and one Shiite, that Maliki wouldn't sign the check until the very last minute. And I would assume it was because of some significant pressure from Ambassador Crocker -- I don't know that.

And the point I'm making is this: That -- at least, it may have changed in the last month or so, but there is an overwhelming distrust, as you know, as to whether or not these are merely stop-gap measures. And what I keep being told is that there is a need for there to be actual integration -- not just in the regional government, in the regional elections that will be coming -- but in the central government and in the security forces.

And I haven't -- I may be missing something, and I'm not being facetious, I may be missing something here but I don't see any of that integration occurring; because that's where, with the sheikhs with whom I personally met -- and there were, I think, six present, they wanted to make sure that they were integrated into the security apparatus on a permanent basis. And the bottom line was because they didn't want Shi'a patrolling their streets, they didn't want Kurds patrolling their streets, and they wanted to be able to patrol their own streets -- being a representative of the central government, but in their own areas. So --

SEC. RICE: There is a program that is being worked with the Iraqi government. There is a committee that the prime minister himself appointed to do precisely that, to work these people into permanent structures of the state. I think not everybody who's in the local citizens committee --

SEN. BIDEN: No. No. (In agreement.)

SEC. RICE: -- will be. But, you're right, Senator, this will -- this will take some time. This was a very fortuitous development -- Awakening, and the local citizens committees. It was, frankly, not envisioned in the way that the security forces were planned, and now working them into the structures is very important.

But it is underway.

And my only point is it's -- I think working into the security structures is important, but also having Awakening feel that they are really a part of the political process --

SEN. BIDEN: No, I understand both. And I agree. All I'm saying to you is I think we are -- we should be pushing, in my view, quite frankly -- and according to the military with whom I speak, considerably harder.

And you pointed out, that real progress has come -- not the only progress, but real progress has come the more localized that we've empowered people. And I really would argue again for you all to take another look at what the Congress passed here, about pushing forward on this whole federal system that their constitution envisions. But I'll -- I'll come back to that.

In my remaining two-and-a-half minutes here, I'd like to ask you about the de-Ba'athification law. As you know, whether the recently passed de-Ba'athification law promotes healing or further division depends on how it's implemented. If you listen to some of the voices -- of those such as Dr. Chalabi, who has been closely associated with de-Ba'athification, the law will actually lead to the expulsion of more individuals from key government jobs than inclusion.

What steps are we taking, and how are we monitoring this to ensure that the de-Ba'athification law actually integrates more people, rather than has this negative impact? -- because the devil really is in the details of how this is read, and how it is being advertised, if you will, in Iraq, by those individuals representing the sectarian interests in Iraq.

SEC. RICE: We made the point precisely that you've made, that the issue here is going to be implementation. The law itself is not a perfect law. It is a compromise law. And, obviously, with any law, it is subject to interpretation.

But when we've talked, particularly with Tariq al-Hashimi, the vice president, he is now very focused on the question of implementation, and also whether or not there need to be certain understandings about how it will be implemented. And we have people in the embassy who are working on that.

One of the things that has come about, when I was out there a couple of times ago, Senator, I worked very hard with Prime Minister Maliki to restart something called the "three plus one," which is that they now call their executive council "the presidency plus the prime minister." And by meeting weekly, and then having a little steering committee of their people to meet even more frequently, we've encouraged them to every -- practically every day, look at this and how it's going forward.

I think the principle concerns are about what happens -- may happen to certain people in the security forces and in the intelligence forces. It should be helped by the fact that the pension law, and, frankly, also by the amnesty, but we've been making exactly the point that the implementation, and whether there need to be certain understandings about --

SEN. BIDEN: Maybe Hashimi's come a long way. I've spent a lot of time with him, and I think he's come a long way in terms of -- in terms of greater regional authority. And I think there still is a significant deal to be made here tied to oil.

But my time is up.

And I yield to Senator Lugar.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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