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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript

Interview

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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning. When General David Petraeus comes to Capitol Hill this week, he will say the surge is working, the Iraqis need to do more and that U.S. troops drawdowns must pause this summer to prevent chaos in Iraq. And we are joined this morning by two of the senators who will be questioning General Petraeus, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

And Senator Webb, let me begin with you. What's the toughest question you have for General Petraeus this week?

SEN. JIM WEBB (D-VA): Well, I want to wait and hear what he has to say. What I am interested in is trying to have an environment where we can discuss the region writ large and not simply Iraq. The last time General Petraeus was here, it was almost as if Iraq were an island in the middle of the ocean, and all the questions were limited only to Iraq. We have to understand as a country where we are really right now. The Iraq war was over five years ago, right about the time --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Over?

SEN. WEBB: -- President Bush landed on that ship and said mission accomplished, and from that point forward --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a big concession for a Democrat to make.

SEN. WEBB: From that point forward, we have been in a very tedious and contentious occupation, which is what people like myself were warning about before we went it, and this occupation has drained this country strategically in two different ways. The first is that we have tied up the best maneuver forces in the world -- our Army and the Marine Corps -- on the streets, in the cities of one nation, while the people were supposed to be fighting -- al Qaeda and other forces of international terrorism -- have maintained their maneuverability.

And then secondly, our grand strategic interests have fallen aside. The economy is going down the tubes, the price of oil has quadrupled, and our main strategic adversary around the world, China, has benefited.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Graham, I saw you nodding your head through much of what Senator Webb was saying. The other concern now is that the stress on our troops, particularly if there is a pause this summer, is going to be tremendous. The Army vice chief of staff told Capitol Hill this week our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. What do you make of that?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Is that -- I'm sorry. I thought you were going to play a clip. We'll be going to 12 months rotations in July. We'll get to pre-surge levels. Reenlistment rates are extraordinarily high for those who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We met our recruiting goals in February, so I think it has been stressful, but the biggest stress of all is to lose a battle in the war on terror that we can't afford to lose. So I have every confidence in the military. They know why they're there. They keep reenlisting because they understand the enemies we're facing. They want to contain that enemy over there.

My hardest question -- not hardest question, but the one it plagues me the most to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker is how do we get a handle on Iran's involvement in Iraq? They're weaponizing the southern part of Iraq. They're providing a lot of military support to the militias. How do we confront Iraq -- excuse me -- Iran and Syria when it comes to allowing outside forces trying to -- (unintelligible) -- Iraq.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Graham, you stated the Iranians are providing military support to the militias and I have no doubt that's true, but they're also providing political support of the Maliki government, our ally in Iraq.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, what you do is you have a lot of people who are on the Shia side that had safe sanctuary in Iran during the Saddam era, but Maliki is working well with the Hashimi and the Sunnis and the Kurds. The Shias represented by Maliki are really reconciling the country. The de-Ba'athification law was passed where the Sunnis can get some of their old jobs back. A $48 billion was shared with all groups -- the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shias. So you've got a Shia element in Iraq that has relations with Iran, but they're trying to reconcile Iran. Then you have al-Sadr that's trying to create an Iranian theocracy in Iraq, and that to me is the tension, the friction that we've got to deal with.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Webb, you said we're in an occupation now in Iraq. We have been for five years. Senator McCain has taken a lot of heat for comments he made that said this occupation might last for 100 years. Here's what he said.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: (From videotape.) President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From videotape.) Maybe a 100.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: (From videotape.) Is that --

SEN. MCCAIN: (From videotape.) How long -- we've been in South Korea, we've been in Japan for 60 years, we've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me as long as Americans --

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: (From videotape.) So that's your policy?

SEN. MCCAIN: (From videotape.) -- as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Both Senators Obama and Clinton have said -- taken those remarks and said that John McCain wants to continue a 100-years war in Iraq. But that's not a fair reading of his remarks, is it?

SEN. WEBB: Well, what I was saying before the invasion of Iraq and other people like General Zinni was that the people who were bringing us into Iraq had no intention to leave -- that there was no exit strategy that was articulated before we went in, because they had no intention of leaving. This doesn't mean 50 or 100 years of war, but we do not belong as an occupying power in that part of the world with all the turmoil that has constantly existed there. So if the Republican side wants to have long-term bases, then they should be saying so.

If I may just follow on with something that Lindsey said about the Iranian situation, because it does go to the presidential leadership here, he mentioned Iran, he mentioned Syria. First of all, when I fought in Vietnam, there was a hardly a weapon that was used against me that hadn't been made in either China or Eastern Europe.

That doesn't mean that we should take military action against China based purely on that fact. We developed a diplomatic relationship with China that over the years paid out. And the greatest mistake over the past five years of this occupation is that our national leadership has not found a way to aggressively engage Iran without taking other options off the table. You see the Iraqi government do it. In fact, in the situation in Basra, the Iranians played a large hand in term of resolving that situation.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Graham, how do you respond to that?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, they had a meeting last night with President Talabani in Baghdad and they came out with a 15 point proposal urging outside forces to stop destabilizing Iraq. My point is that the Shia militias that we're fighting -- the Mahdi Army, basically is a state- sponsored Shia organization. And what would the world be like if Iran were not trying to procure a nuclear weapon, not providing weapons to Hamas to bomb Israel and the Gaza, not helping Hezbollah undermine Lebanon? Iran is a cancer in the Middle East. It must be confronted. I'd love to do it diplomatically. But I think the biggest mistake we made is that when we went in after the fall of Baghdad, everybody in the Rumsfeld camp assumed we wouldn't be there long, we didn't have to have enough troops, it would all come together. The first four years of this war, we had the wrong strategy, not enough troops, and we paid a heavy price. At two points in time --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But 100 years more, senator?

SEN. GRAHAM: That's not what John is saying. John wants a winning outcome in Iraq. History won't judge us by the day we left, but what we left behind. A winning outcome in Iraq is a stable, functioning Iraqi government that says no to al Qaeda. And the biggest news of all is that al Qaeda has taken a real beating here from Muslims in Iraq who had a taste of their agenda and said no. A stable, functioning government that would say no to Iranian expansion efforts, that would ally with us in the war on terror, give a role for women to have a say in Middle East society and be at peace with their neighbors.

John McCain wants a winning outcome. Never has he said does he want to be at war for 100 years, but John understands this is a central battle in the war on terror. We're going to support moderation against extremism. It's important that we bring a successful conclusion that when we leave Iraq, and we'll be drawing down this summer, that we leave behind a country not like Afghanistan after the Soviets left, the Taliban fill the vacuum and the rest is history. I want a country in the Middle East called Iraq that will be part of the solution and not the problem and that is possible if we'll support General Petraeus.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Webb, Senator Graham said the drawdowns are going to begin, but pause this summer. Is there anything that General Petraeus can tell you to convince you that this pause makes sense -- that we shouldn't continue to draw down troops?

SEN. WEBB: Well, I think first of all, we need to hear from people who have the overall strategic view. Admiral Mullen has had that view, Admiral Fallon had that view. Admiral Fallon was responsible for troops all through the region.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And they both were reportedly pushing for quicker drawdowns.

SEN. WEBB: Because we can't continue simply to deal with our force structure in Iraq as if it's the only problem that we have, or to deal with Iraq as if it were an island in the middle of the ocean. When we talk about the reduction of al Qaeda activity in Iraq, a big reason for that is these are mobile. International terrorist entities are mobile entities. They're not bound by one country or another. They have re-centered a great deal of their efforts in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, which is the very nature of terrorism, while our troops are tied down on the streets of Iraq burning themselves out.

In fact, when Lindsey was talking about the morale of the troops, and I have a great admiration for our military, as you know. I served in it, as my family has for many generations. Take a look at the "New York Times" this morning. There was a study that was done on Army troops who have been more than three rotations. Twenty-seven percent of the NCOs -- this is the career people -- have exhibited symptoms of posttraumatic stress, et cetera. This was predictable. It's one of the reasons why I introduced this amendment last year that would have required even periods of time in terms of being deployed and being back home. The Republicans politicized that gesture, unfortunately. And we're having a similar situation with the idea of putting a really strong GI Bill in place. There are too many people --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to ask Senator Graham about that. He did say --

SEN. WEBB: Well, there are too many people in the Pentagon who are seeing a good GI Bill as affecting retention rather than rewarding service. So we need to get at those -- politics aside, we need to get those issues to help our troops.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Graham, Senator Webb has introduced this legislation to provide the same GI Bill benefits to Iraq war veterans that veterans of World War II got. Neither you nor Senator McCain have cosponsored that bill. More than 50 senators have. Why not?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, number one, the first-term enlistee gets that same benefits as somebody being in for 20 years. I'd like to do two things. One, I'd like a work with Jim to enhance benefits, but to focus on retention and recruiting, and to improve benefits. I worked with Senator Clinton to provide military healthcare to every Guard and Reserve member, so sign me up for sitting down with Jim.

But one thing I want to -- a point of agreement. Iraq is not an island. I've never looked at it that way. The reason we need to win in Iraq, because the outcome in Iraq, winning or losing, affects our national security interest. I do not want to leave Iraq as an extension of Iranian theocracy in the south. I don't want to leave Iraq where Anbar province is occupied by al Qaeda, where there's a war between the Turks and the Kurds in the North. There's a tremendous amount of reconciliation, politically and militarily, that's been achieved since the surge. In July of '08, there will be 140,000 troops, in January of '07 there were 140,000 troops with a surge in the middle. What's happened in the middle is dramatic political and economic progress that's been brought about by better security. We want a winning outcome in Iraq so when we do leave we're going to leave behind a country that's part of the solution, not the problem. That is why people reenlist. That is why I support this new strategy. The old strategy was failing. The new strategy is producing results, and I hope we'll stay with it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have a couple of minutes left. I want to turn to politics. Senator Webb, your phone must be ringing all the time. You're one of the biggest political prizes out there, an uncommitted superdelegate. Here's the standard that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set for superdelegates.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: (From videotape.) I want to be really clear about this. It will do great harm to the Democratic Party if it is perceived that the superdelegates overturn the will of the people.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you be willing to vote to overturn the will of the people as a superdelegate?

SEN. WEBB: I've got to take 30 seconds to respond to what Lindsey said, because I can't let that hang out there. (Laughs.) People don't reenlist because of the war in Iraq. People reenlist because they love their country and they have family traditions and they love to soldier and they'll fight in Iraq, they'll fight in Afghanistan, or they'll serve anywhere they are called upon to serve.

With respect to Iran, we need to look at what good national leadership can do, as we did with China, which was a nuclear power, a rogue nation, et cetera, back in the '70s and we were able through aggressive leadership to address that.

With the respect to the superdelegate situation --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You bought some time there. (Laughter.)

SEN. WEBB: Well, that kind of needed to be said, because Lindsey and I go back and forth on this.

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't blame him one bit.

SEN. WEBB: With respect to the superdelegate situation -- (inaudible).

SEN. GRAHAM: Let's talk about your bill. (Laughter.)

SEN. WEBB: I need to talk to you about that bill. John Warner is on it. (Laughter.)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. End of filibuster. Superdelegates.

SEN. WEBB: I think if --

SEN. GRAHAM: I get an assist here. (Laughs.)

SEN. WEBB: -- they didn't want the superdelegates to have independent judgment, they wouldn't have created them.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you'd be willing to vote against the winner of the pledged delegates leader in the popular vote?

SEN. WEBB: I haven't even gotten to the point of looking at how all that works honestly. I have the luxury of having two candidates in this party who are really exciting the country and bringing more people into the Democratic Party, either of whom could be a very fine president and that's as far as I've thought it through.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So what would your criteria be how to decide who to support in the end?

SEN. WEBB: Right now, what I've said is if I saw that one or the other would in my view w be markedly better as a president I would endorse them, but I am really happy at this point to support them both.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Graham, one final question for you. You've talked about John McCain vice presidential choice and said you think he should reinforce the national security aspect of the ticket and I was wondering what you had in mind there. Do you think for example, General Petraeus would be a good choice for Senator McCain?

SEN. GRAHAM: I've talked to General Petraeus about a lot of things, but not about politics. The best thing for General Petraeus is to stay is exactly where he is. My point was that John McCain has a very strong, probably the best qualified commander-in-chief candidate for president in decades, one of the most qualified people to run for president ever, and the vice presidential choice I think would build on his themes, but I'll leave that up to John. This is an interesting endeavor we have here. (An election at first?), and people are excited throughout the country, but the times we live in, my friend, are very tough. I don't want Iran to see our actions in Iraq to haunt us for years and be a signal to Iran that we're weak. I want to let al Qaeda that where Muslims will fight you, we will side with those Muslims.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Senator Graham, Senator Webb, thank you both very much for your time this morning.

SEN. WEBB: Thank you.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you very much.


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