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The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript

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The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

HEADLINE: The President Abroad;
Too Tough?;
Troubled Times;
A Perfect Mess

BYLINE: ANCHOR: JIM LEHRER; GUESTS: SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN; SEN. RICHARD LUGAR; GENEVA OVERHOLSER; ALEX JONES; KARA SCANNELL; CORRESPONDENTS: KWAME HOLMAN; RAY SUAREZ; SPENCER MICHELS; MARGARET WARNER; GWEN IFILL; TERENCE SMITH; KWAME HOLMAN

BODY:
FOCUS - THE PRESIDENT ABROAD

JIM LEHRER: The focus is once again on Iraq as President Bush ends his most important trip abroad. Margaret Warner has our coverage.

MARGARET WARNER: President Bush picked Qatar, site of the U.S. command center for the Iraq war, as the last stop today on his six- nation trip. (Applause) He met privately with the man who led the war, General Tommy Franks, and with Paul Bremer, who is leading the reconstruction effort in Iraq. Then the president spoke to American troops. After praising their war-time effort, he spoke of the rebuilding job now underway.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We've got a lot of work to do in Iraq, and we're going to stay the course until the job gets done. We will stand with them as they build a stable democracy and a peaceful future. Day by day, the United States and our coalition partners are making the streets safer for the Iraqi citizens. We also understand that a more just political system will develop when people have food in their stomachs, and their lights work, and they can turn on a faucet and they can find some clean water, things that Saddam Hussein did not do for them. We made sure that Iraq is not going to serve as an arsenal for terrorist... for terrorist groups. We recently found two mobile biological weapons facilities, which were capable of producing biological agents. This is a man who spent decades hiding tools of mass murder. He knew the inspectors were looking for them. You know better than me he's got a big country in which to hide them. We're on the look. We'll reveal the truth. But one thing is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the Iraqi regime is no more. (Applause)

MARGARET WARNER: The president's visit comes at a difficult time in the reconstruction effort. Anti-American sentiment is growing in many areas of Iraq as basic services languish. And U.S. forces are coming under attack in Baghdad, and in other places, like the former Ba'ath party stronghold of Fallujah. Eight U.S. soldiers have been killed in attacks in the past week, including one today. The U.S. recently sent a fresh force of some 4,000 troops to Fallujah to quell the anti-U.S. violence. In addition, the U.S. keeps changing its plans for helping an Iraqi-led government take shape. The first U.S. administrator, retired General Jay Garner, promised an elected interim Iraqi government by late May. The latest decision by new administrator Bremer is for something far short of that: An Iraqi advisory council to be appointed by U.S. officials. And to bolster a weapons hunt that has so far uncovered just two purported mobile labs, the administration this week sent 1,400 specialists to take over the search from smaller U.S. Military teams. Some lawmakers, like those at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, have expressed concern about the pace of the rebuilding effort.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think we suffer from an overwhelming expectations game. On the ground in Iraq, I'm sure you've found the average Iraqi looking at the awesome military power we have doesn't understand why we can't reconstruct as rapidly as we can deconstruct.

ALAN LARSON, Undersecretary of State: It's important that both Americans and Iraqis be somewhat patient, remembering that we can't undo in a month or six months the legacy of 20 years of mis-rule."

MARGARET WARNER: The committee has scheduled another hearing for next week.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on the pace of reconstruction in Iraq and the bumps along the way, we're joined by Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Delaware Democrat Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking minority member on that committee, who we just heard. Welcome, gentlemen.

Senator Lugar, what's your assessment of how this reconstruction effort is going? Is it proving tougher than expected?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, it's proving very difficult indeed. I think my perception after the hearing yesterday is that things are now proceeding better than they were, but I think our committee hearings have established the fact that the planning was inadequate, that clearly the perceptions on the part of whoever was doing it were very different from the realities of Iraq. But those are now known. And, as all said in the committee hearing yesterday, rather than quarrel whether the planning was adequate or not, the fact is that we have a country there to govern. My own judgment is that essentially the whole idea of nation building, of governing a nation, is one that's not alien to us but it's new and different. The general pattern in the past has been to do a super job in terms of military planning, to execute it, and we did so remarkably. But to have always the feeling that we're going to cut and run fairly rapidly, in a matter of weeks or months or the first time possible, this is a situation in which we have to make sure Iraq is successful. It's not an incubator for terrorism. Hunker down. And that requires a game plan and a business plan for Iraq that is not yet in place but is getting there piece by piece.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way, Senator Biden, that the game plan needed really isn't in place?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: It's not in place. I'm slightly more critical. I guess you'd expect that. But I think Dick is being a little generous in that way back as far as last July, we held hearings and then through the fall it was pretty clear to most experts who came before us-- and I think clear to us-- that there was a need for a more realistic notion of what occupying Iraq was going to be like and the incredible difficulty that would be faced. But in fairness, I think our hearing yesterday was not at all satisfied that it's in place, but I'm satisfied that there is a realization that they started very late, they have a lot of ground to make up, and I'm prepared and I think the whole committee is prepared to help them in any way they need to do the many things that haven't been done and will have to be done.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Lugar, so what's the basic problem now? I mean, do you think the administration, for instance, is not committing the necessary personnel both military and civilian to do this job?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, there's inadequate personnel and clearly inadequate everything, sort of starting with showers, toilets, offices, phones that work, computers that are adequate, even the very basics for people to go out into Baghdad and see other people. This is a very, very tough situation administratively. That isn't entirely the fault of lack of planning, but at the same time it's a reality. And the fact that at least half of the people in the capital city don't have electric power on a regular basis, the water situation is dangerous for people. This is a very tough business. Now having said that, we began to get a feeling yesterday that someone is fleshing out how some revenue may come in the country, eventually from oil sales at various levels after rehabilitation, likewise from assets that have been taken from the Iraqis as they had confiscated money here and there. Likewise there's got to be some thought quickly about who else is engaged in this. That is very specifically France and Germany and Russia and the whole lot. We've done this with the G-8 and nuclear proliferation in Russia. We have a pattern of that. We brought that up yesterday fairly forcefully and asked the administration to get on with this, and they've said they're going to have a pledging conference. They wouldn't commit to exactly what they're going to ask for. It seemed rather modest in terms of the demands, but at the same time we've got to think in the long term that this is a multi-country payment and administration situation.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Biden, as we've reported, there have been eight U.S. soldiers killed in attacks just over the past week. Do you think there are enough U.S. troops, military troops, on the ground?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: No, I don't think there's enough policemen on the ground primarily, quite frankly. We had spoken at length with the administration on the record, off the record, about the need for, look, a lot of us spent a great deal of time on the ground in Bosnia, Kosovo, a lot of time on the ground there and some time on the ground in Afghanistan. And one thing is absolutely clear from our experience even though they're very different places. The first need is to establish security. It's not merely in numbers but in composition -- the composition of the forces on the ground.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me just interrupt you. So, are you saying the administration needs to send more troops and more civilian personnel over there?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: The answer is they are. They are sending another... I think it was eighteen/twenty-one thousand, I forget the number. But I'm saying beyond that, we need to speed up the police forces that are being offered by the Italians and by the Europeans. We need to speed up the diversification and the composition of this military force. I was saying and many others were saying back in last November that, look, the idea that we think we're going to go in there and have American forces being the only visible forces on the ground along with the Brits and not think we're going to have American soldiers picked off one, two and three at a time over the next six, eight, ten months is unrealistic. So I think it's not only the number but the composition, not just only American forces. I think it's a very important piece of this.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Lugar, where do you come down on this growing controversy about the weapons of mass destruction and whether the intelligence estimates were either faulty or were hyped or were in some fashion exaggerated pre-war?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Intelligence with regard to weapons of mass destruction is hard to come by. My own experience in Russia is without a Russian on the right hand and the left hand pointing out to me what happened in various buildings over the course of months and years and where the stuff is now, I wouldn't have a clue, nor would anybody else. Normally going into one of those predicaments the dual use in chemicals, biologicals now well established and now you see it, now you don't the preoccupation with this ought to be with the quality of our entire intelligence output. We're going to have this problem of ferreting out weapons of mass destruction in country after country. We have to get better at it, and we ought to understand that. I don't see any duplicity, anybody trying to misguide anybody. I would simply there may not have been adequate intelligence on which to base this but clearly there have been weapons of mass destruction there. In due course somebody will take them to us and we will find out what they did.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Biden, several senior people in the administration-- the president, the vice president-- made pretty definitive statements that there were weapons of mass destruction there. You all voted, both you and Senator Lugar, for war authorization last October I think based in part at least on these intelligence estimates or assessments. Do you feel you were misled in any way?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: No, look, here's where I start. There was a cataloguing of the amount, the numbers of leaders of VX, sarin gas -- I mean all these biological, mainly chemical weapons that was done by the international community at the U.N. under Mr. Butler in 1998. It was clear that Saddam had these things. Every member of the Security Council knew it. The burden was on him to demonstrate he had destroyed them. He did not do that. I have no doubt he had the weapons and I have no doubt the burden was on his side. But going back as far as an appearance on Meet the Press last August 4 and throughout, I've thought the administration has not hyped whether or not they have biological or chemical weapons. I think they did hype how weaponized these were, how usable and what usable weapons forms these weapons were, Number one. Number two, the connection with al-Qaida and whether or not these weapons would be transferred, and, three, the immediacy of the threat. I never believed the three of those elements but do I believe, did believe and still believe that there were and are weapons of mass destruction, chemical primarily, some biological, and I agree with Dick who is a genuine -- who is a genuine expert on this issue. He's the guy along with Sam Nunn that did the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction which goes in to destroy nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. And he's had vast experience here. He was saying from the very beginning last August, look it will be very, very, very hard to find these things. And so I don't doubt they're there, but I do think their usability, the immediacy of the danger they presented and whether or not terrorists had access to them or would have access were all exaggerated along with the nuclear capacity.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. So on particularly that issue about the immediacy of the threat, there have been a number of stories -- there was one in the "Washington Post" today -- that analysts quoted anonymously at the CIA said they felt under pressure from either repeated visits from the vice president, an alternative unit that was within the secretary of defense's office doing alternative intelligence assessments, do you think... that they felt pressure to come up with assessments that matched the administration's purported desire to go to war -- so my question to you, Senator Biden, is: Do you think that this is something that Congress needs to investigate?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: It has to investigate it for our own safety's sake. I think the focus should be, as Senator Lugar indicated, the quality of our intelligence. And that's across the board. When our intelligence is not accurate or when it is even indirectly manipulated, if that occurred-- and I'll wait to see until we investigate whether that's true-- what happens for a big nation like ours is our credibility is damaged. So what happens in the future? What happens when we start to make the case to the world about North Korea or Iran or any other country? Because, as Senator Lugar said, this is a problem that's not going away. This is a problem that is going to increase, not diminish, that is, nations seeking to get weapons of mass destruction. So it's very important for our own safety sake that we have a thorough investigation of this.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Lugar, do you agree that there needs to be a thorough investigation both of the quality of the intelligence and the allegations of the politicization of the intelligence?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I'll leave that really to the Intelligence Committee. I would say that the politicization is suspect, as some partisan sparring about all that. The quality situation I think is important. I would just say as a Republican I heard all kinds of arguments for the war throughout August. I was there as Senator Biden was in September when President Bush sort of shushes down all the parties and says we're going to the United Nations, and we're going to try out for size whether that works, whether Saddam will come forward and use the pressures that are there. We're going to get a vote in the Congress, have a debate. I asked him by when. He said something in the calendar year. So these were definitive statements. Now some would say, well, everybody in the administration should not have been shouting and giving speeches and what have you before perhaps. I don't know how the policy works in style here, but at the same time the president was fairly definitive. And it might have worked. After all, Secretary Powell and others got a unanimous resolution one time. Saddam might have declared that I'm going to give up the weapons but he didn't, and so as a result the credibility at least of the whole operation was at stake. Those are the basic reasons that we got into military activity and not the intelligence reports.

MARGARET WARNER: So you don't think the intelligence was that key to... the intelligence about the imminence of the threat of mass destruction was that key?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I think trying to make the case for war, they probably did want intelligence. They may have interpreted the intelligence in ways that buttressed their argument. I'm just saying that the president was not one of them. As far as I can tell, we proceeded legitimately through a U.N. process which, in fact, if we had not been let down by some of our friends, we might have had more of an impetus. As it was, the rest of the world wanted our 200,000 people to keep squeezing Saddam and supporting U.N. weapons inspectors throughout the summer, that really wouldn't have worked either at that point.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Lugar, just a last quick question to you: Do you agree with Senator Biden that if weapons are not found, it undermines U.S. credibility on this whole issue -- now and in the future?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Oh, I don't think so. I think by and large that Senator Biden has pointed out, everybody knows that weapons were there. It's been detailed by the U.N. There's an interesting question at what point Saddam got rid of them if you did or where he took them now?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Can I clarify? That's not what I meant to say if that's what I said. I don't think if we don't find the weapons that were catalogued that our credibility is ruined because they all knew they were there. What I'm suggesting is if those analysts you said in fact said they were pressured, if that turns out to be the case, if, in fact, there was pressure applied to skew this information, that would damage our credibility. That's my point. Secondly, I agree with Dick Lugar. The ultimate reason why most people voted to go to war was the totality of the circumstances he laid out and not the notion of whether or not they had weaponized or not weaponized, had nuclear or not. I think to the extent that was hyped by some in the administration it was for public consumption to try to get public support because remember that kept fluctuating. It kept fluctuating. One day it would be 48 percent of the people and 54 percent. And I think all administrations tend to do that. I remember the first Gulf War we heard all this about babies being killed in Kuwait and the like. That wasn't the reason we went to Kuwait. But it was sort of icing on the cake to deal with public opinion, I think. But it remains to be seen whether or not anyone was pressured and we're going to have to find out.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Senators Lugar and Biden, thank you both.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Thank you.

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