Senator Clinton Questions Lieutenant General Douglas Lute at Senate Armed Services Committee Confirmation Hearing
Senator Clinton: Thank you Mr. Chairman. And General, thank you. Thank you for your years of service to our country and I agree with my friend and colleague, Senator Reed. I don't know why you would put yourself in this position, but I am grateful that you saw that this was a way to continue your service and I wish you well in a position that many of us believe is an impossible one. We can only hope that perhaps you might be listened to where others have been ignored for some years now. General, one of my concerns is that there is growing pressure here in the Congress--and it certainly is reflected around the country-- that at some point in the not very distant future we will begin to withdraw our combat troops when it becomes abundantly clear, as I believe it already is, that the Iraqis are not yet done with killing each other. They have no intention to reach a political resolution and there is no one in the Iraqi government nor on the scene who appears able to emerge to try to force those political settlements that are absolutely essential to any kind of stability or security in Iraq.
We may, as I have said, have remaining missions that will be concerned with Al Qaeda with the difficult position that we find ourselves in vis-à-vis the Kurds, the Turks, and the increasing pressure on the Kurds from the Sunnis to the south. As well as, perhaps, a continuing training and logistical role if the Iraqis get their act together, as well as protecting our interests and attempting to figure out what to do about Iran going forward. But I do not foresee a long term role for our combat brigades in the midst of this sectarian civil war.
So, to that end, since we know it will be difficult, time consuming, and dangerous to withdraw our troops and our equipment, I wrote to Secretary of Defense Gates on May 23, and gave a copy of my letter to General Pace asking for briefings on what exactly the planning was with respect to future, maybe even imminent, withdrawals of US forces from Iraq. And Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that my letter to Secretary Gates be entered into the record.
Chairman: It will be made part of the record
Senator Clinton: Because certainly, while sitting on this committee, both in public and in private encounters and conversations, it has disturbed me that there seems to have been only the most general of contingency planning with respect to withdrawal, and I believe that withdrawal will be extraordinarily dangerous for our troops. There are basically two ways out: up through the north, assuming the Turks let us come out. And they didn't let us come in, so that's a challenge. Perhaps they will see there interest differently. Or through the south, along highways that will be very difficult to control and protect. And we know that a great number of our causalities and injuries occur because of the IEDs and now the more powerful explosives that attack our convoys.
So General Lute, I hope that among your many responsibilities that you have assumed that you will look at this. And may I ask you, if you will please turn your attention to this issue, determine what level of planning has taken place, whether the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs have been briefed about the level of planning; what kind of timeline would exist if a decision for either military or political reasons were taken to begin withdrawal; and that you would assume this to be part of your responsibility in your new position.
Lt. General Douglas Lute: Thank you Senator. I do think such an adaptation, if the conditions on the ground call for it, will be part of this position.
Senator Clinton: Thank you very much General. I think that among the many concerns that we have expressed to you are the confusion over responsibilities and chain of command. In fact, I think that has been an unfortunate hallmark of this administration's policy toward Iraq from the very beginning. It was unclear who was in charge after the invasion. It certainly was opaque, at best, as to the extent of authority exercised by Mr. Bremer. There has been a tremendous amount of difficulty and lack of accountability up and down the chain of command because there have been so many detours and other actors that have been involved and I think that one of your challenges will be trying to sort all that out. It is certainly my opinion that the Vice President's office has played a major role, continues to play a major role, and runs a parallel operation. What is your understanding of your responsibilities vis-à-vis the Vice President?
Lt. General Lute: Senator, as I've said, I will work directly for the President but of course the Vice President is on the policy council, if you will, the principals committee of the National Security Consul. And as such, is an important participant in policy development considerations. So, as I work with the President to set the agenda for that council I will be working with the Vice President and his staff.
Senator Clinton: Well, I wish you well because that certainly--that's turned out to be a difficult situation for many. I don't know quite how we ever really determine what the chain of command inside the White House is, but certainly I think it's important that whatever your advice is be given directly to the President on a regular basis. And it would be my very strong recommendation--if you haven't already negotiated that--that you certainly try to obtain that assurance that you will be working with and directly reporting to the President.
Finally, the question that Senator Bayh raised about Turkey, I think is increasingly critical. During the past few weeks there has been an increase in tension between Turkey and the Kurds with the Turks bitterly complaining about continuing Kurdish separatist's attacks. I don't know that we've had a very good briefing on that Mr. Chairman. I can't figure out what is and isn't really happening. We know that there is a great deal of enmity between these forces. I'm told by the Kurds that they've tried to put a stop to the separatist actions. I don't know whether that's true, so I think it's important that we try to sort it out. Turkey is a very important ally of ours and I know that given some of the internal discontent and political upheaval going on in Turkey that there is tremendous nationalist pressure on the Turkish military to respond to these attacks.
It's been reported that there was, last Sunday, an ambush and killing of eight Turkish military personnel inside [Turkey]. Yesterday, there were unconfirmed reports that some Turkish military units crossed over the border to conduct raids and limited clearing operations in suspected militant camp locations. I just urge General, that you pay immediate attention to this. I know that General Ralston was appointed as a presidential envoy some time ago to the Turkish government. I think this demands the highest and most urgent attention.
Clearly, it is not in anyone's interest that the Turks cross the border in mass, and the Kurds need to understand that it is not in their interest, but I would not be surprised to discover that there were agents, provocateurs, within the Kurdish area, either operating outside of the two principal Kurdish lines of military command or in some back room deal involved with a few people in Kurdistan that needs to be reined in, if possible. This situation is dangerous and difficult enough. We certainly don't need to see it explode in the north. General, I too will be supporting you because of my high regard for you and what I know of your record. For those who, like Senator Reed, who are incredibly admiring of your service, which I share, and I hope that you, since you are being confirmed by the Senate, will see it as part of your continuing responsibility to keep the Congress apprised of what is happening with your work.
Lt. General Lute: Thank you Senator.