Sens. McCain and Liberman Deliver Remarks on Iraq

CQ Transcripts Wire
Friday, January 5, 2007; 2:15 PM

JANUARY 5, 2007




MCCAIN: Thank you very much, Chris. And thank AEI for their hospitality and all the great work that they do.

And of course I'd like to especially commend General Keane and Fred Kagan for the outstanding work they've done, not only on this issue but on transformation of the military and many other national security issues.

General Keane, we especially appreciate your many years in the service in the United States Army. I would like to -- that coming from a Navy man.


I'd like to also comment on what a great pleasure in my political life and in my personal life to have the honor of working with my friend Joe Lieberman.

We have worked together on many issues, both domestic and national security issues, ranging from legislation that required the appointment of the 9/11 Commission to ethics and lobbying reform, many other issues.

On a foreign trip one time, due to the fact we're both losers, Joe described us as a government in exile. I would never do that myself.


But I do appreciate Joe Lieberman's commitment to our nation's security and coupled with his willingness to reach across the aisle for the good of the nation and future generations of young Americans.

So again it's an honor for me to appear with him today.

And as many of you know, we recently had a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel. This recent trip of ours underscored both the difficulties we face in that war and the potentially catastrophic consequences of failure.

I want to emphasize again -- the consequences -- the catastrophic consequences of failure I think many of us are aware of.

And I believe that the war is still winnable. But to prevail, we'll need to do everything right, and the Iraqis will have to do their part.

And are we concerned about doing everything right and the Iraqis having to do their part? Of course we are.

There's agreement among most observers that the problems plaguing Iraq require a political solution; we all agree with that.

But it's also a lesson of history that unless you have security -- security is the necessary precondition for political progress and economic development, whether it be in Bosnia or Kosovo or neighborhoods in America that have been taken over by gangs. First, you have to come in and establish a secure environment. And then economic and political development can take place.

There's been no time in history that without a secure environment the rule of law and all the other necessities for the construction of a democracy is possible.

MCCAIN: Until the government and its coalition allies can provide safety for the population, the Iraqi people will increasingly turn to extra-governmental forces, especially Sunni and Shia militias.

Only when the government has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force will its authority have meaning. And only when its authority has meaning can political activity have the results we seek.

The presence of additional coalition forces would give the Iraqi government the ability to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own: impose its rule throughout the country. In bringing security to Iraq, and chiefly to Baghdad, our forces would give the government a fighting chance to pursue reconciliation.

Contrary to popular notions that U.S. troops are getting, quote, "caught in the crossfire between Sunni and Shia fighters," and are therefore ineffective in ceasing the smoldering civil war, the track record is that when U.S. troops in stopping sectarian violence is excellent, where American soldiers have deployed to areas in turmoil, including Baghdad neighborhoods, the violence has ceased almost immediately.

Similarly the Marines in Anbar province report very positive effects in reducing the nonsectarian Al Qaida-based violence that is the predominant cause of instability there.

There are two keys to any surge of U.S. troops. To be of value the surge must be substantial and it must be sustained -- it must be substantial and it must be sustained.

We will need a large number of troops. During our recent trip commanders on the ground spoke of a surge of three to five additional brigades in Baghdad and at least an additional brigade in Anbar province.

I believe these numbers are the minimum that's required -- a minimum.

We need more of the right kind of troops: civil affairs teams, special forces, translators, troops to conduct information operations, among others.

The mission of these reinforcements would be to implement the thus-elusive hold element of the military's clear, hold, build strategy, to maintain security in cleared areas to protect the population and critical infrastructure, and to impose the government's authority: essential elements of a traditional counterinsurgency strategy.

We are talking about the fundamental elements of counterinsurgency strategy here. We are not inventing new strategies.

MCCAIN: There are numerous specific tasks for these additional troops. They'll need to establish local outposts; forge relationships with local leaders, which, by the way, is proceeding in Anbar province; build intelligence networks; engage in economic reconstruction activities; oversee other employment-generating projects; and wean the populace off their reliance on militias for safety.

And they would do it all in cooperation with Iraqi forces until such time as the Iraqis can do it on their own.

We've attempted so far to turn the whole component over to the Iraqi military right away and it hasn't worked. It hasn't worked. We need U.S. forces to hold territory in Baghdad and Anbar.

I want to be clear -- and I mean this with all sincerity -- strategy will mean more casualties and extra hardships for our brave fighting men and women, and the violence may get worse before it gets better. We have to be prepared for this.

Our soldiers should know that, as they face these great dangers, they are working toward a strategy that gives us the best chance to succeed at a time when our national security is directly at stake.

The deployment also needs to be sustained. The presence of additional brigades should be tied to completion of their mission rather than to some arbitrary deadline.

The worst of all worlds would be a small, short surge of U.S. forces. We tried small surges in the past and they've been ineffective because our commanders lacked the forces necessary to hold territory after it was cleared. Violence which fell dramatically while U.S. forces were present spiked as soon as they were gone.

A short surge would have all the drawbacks associated with greater deployments, including increased U.S. casualties, without giving our troops the time they need to be effective.

A time-limited deployment would have, on a smaller scale, the same negative effects posed by a national timetable for withdrawal. By announcing that we are surging for three to six months or any other fixed timeline, we would signal to the insurgents and militias that they can merely wait us out, and indicate to the Iraqi public that the enforcement of their government's authority will be fleeting.

MCCAIN: This is a recipe for strengthening, not weakening, the power of the militias.

A troop surge is necessary but not sufficient for American success in Iraq. By controlling the violence, we can pave the way for a political settlement. Once the government wields greater authority, however, Iraqi leaders must take significant steps on their own.

These include a commitment to go after the militias, a reconciliation process for insurgents and Baathists, more equitable distribution of government resources, provincial elections that will bring Sunnis into government, and a large increase in employment- generating economic projects.

I think it bears repeating: Even if we send additional troops to Iraq in large numbers for a sustained period, there is no guarantee for success in Iraq.

From everything I witnessed on my most recent visit, I believe that success is still possible, but it will be very difficult. We have made many, many mistakes since 2003 and these will not be easily reversed.

Even greater than the cost thus far and in the future, however, are the catastrophic consequences that would ensue from our failure in Iraq.

By surging troops and bringing security to Baghdad and other areas, we will give the Iraqis and their partners the best possible chances to succeed.

I'd like to make one final comment about our -- another stop on our recent trip.

While Iraq presents our preeminent foreign policy challenge today, we must not forget Afghanistan.

Times are tough there. With the Taliban resurging in the south and east and with terrorists finding sanctuaries with the border area with Pakistan, everyone we met during our time there expects a very violent spring as the fighting season resumes.

With NATO's credibility on the line and our national security interests directly involved there, the stakes are very high in Afghanistan. While this is not the time for extended discussion on Afghanistan, I would simply note that we must commit additional resources, sustained attention from ourselves and our allies in time to ensure success.

I want to thank AEI again. I look forward to hearing remarks of my dear friend Joe Lieberman, and then responding to any questions or comments or insults that you might have.


And we intend to invite the crowd outside up for a polite Q&A session.


Thank you very much.


MODERATOR: We now turn to Senator Joe Lieberman.


LIEBERMAN: Thank you very much, Chris.

Thanks to AEI for convening this discussion at a very critical moment in the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks to General Keane and Fred Kagan for the extraordinary contribution that you have made to the debate, both in terms of overall policy, but the combination of real on-the-ground -- boots-on-the-ground operational experience that, General Keane, you bring, and the sense of history and policy, Fred, that you bring.

You're a powerful combination and, at a perilous moment for our nation, you are making a very significant -- a unique, may I say, contribution.

I thank John for his leadership here. He is, in this case, once again -- which has been his characteristic throughout his public service -- taking a position that is not based on putting his finger in the air and gauging the direction of the political winds.

He is doing what he sincerely believes is best for the national security and safety of our country.

And because of that -- look, may I be even more specific? I've just finished an election campaign. If rumors are correct, he may be starting one soon.


And he's not taking the easy way out here. But he's taking the way that he believes is best for the safety of our children and grandchildren and the values and the way of life that Americans come to represent.

And it is what makes John McCain an extraordinary national leader and why I'm proud to call him my colleague and my friend.

Let me offer, from the perspective of the trip John McCain and I and some colleagues made to the Middle East, four points. A couple of them, I can be brief because, not surprisingly, Senator McCain and I agree absolutely.

I think the first point I want to make is that we err and we do our national security a disservice if we focus on the war in Iraq separately.

It is -- it, of course, has a life of its own. But we have got to see it in the broader context of the war against Islamist extremism and terrorism.

And we could feel it and hear it and see it in our trip to the Middle East.

The Middle East is dividing along new lines. And I'm speaking here about the Arab world and the lines are ever clearer and more intense between what I will call moderates and extremists, dictators and democrats.

LIEBERMAN: We've got to acknowledge that. And the moderates and the democrats feel deeply that how Iraq ends will affect their future.

The fact is that we are engaged in a war against an axis of Islamists, extremists and terrorists. It is an axis of evil. It has headquarters in Tehran and Waziristan. But because of the unconventional nature of this war, it also has headquarters in cities throughout Europe and Asia and Africa and the United States of America, in cells that operate in the shadows but are prepared to strike us again as they did on September 11th, 2001.

There are people who have spoken of this moment in our history as if it was the '30s. And there's some parallels, I fear, there. Some people say the war in Iraq is comparable to the Spanish Civil War; the war in Iraq to the larger war on Islamist terrorism, comparable to the Spanish Civil War to the Second World War; to the late '30s and the failure to grasp the growing threat of fascism in Europe until it was almost too late.

The painful irony of this moment in our history is that while, in some senses, it is comparable to the 1930s, it's also already 1942, because Pearl Harbor in this war has already happened on 9/11/01 and in the progeny of horrific terrorist attacks that have occurred throughout the world.

The enemy we are fighting is an axis of evil. It is totalitarian. It is inhumane. It has a violent ideology and a goal of expansionism and totalitarianism.

It threatens our security, our values, our way of life as seriously, in my opinion, as fascism and communism did in the last century.

LIEBERMAN: And again, in the trip that we took to the Middle East, obviously we saw the presence of Al Qaida in Iraq and the terrorists in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority areas, but the tentacles of Iran -- still designated the most significant state sponsor of terrorism -- are all over the region.

And they are inviting and in some senses beginning to shape new alliances that go across the previous lines of division which simplistically were seen as Arabs versus Israelis.

Here is the central point that I want to make. And I borrow from one conversation that I've written about with a moderate Palestinian leader who, when asked if he had any counsel on the progress on American conduct of the war in Iraq, said, of course he wouldn't do such a thing publicly, but personally he would simply say that he didn't see how American forces could leave until there was stability in Iraq and the Iraqis had a chance to self-govern. And if we did, it would affect the future in the Palestinian areas, in Lebanon and not just there, but perhaps in Riyadh, in Amman and Cairo, Abu Dhabi and throughout the region.

So Iraq is part of a larger conflict. It is the -- this is my second point. It is today the main and obviously most hostile battlefield in the larger war against Islamist extremism and terrorism. How this conflict in Iraq ends will have a substantial effect on the course of the larger war.

I think only if one decides that everything in Iraq has been lost, that there is no hope; not just the question of whether it's -- we can win it but whether we've lost all hope, will you decide that the goal should be to get out instead of trying to make it work.

Because getting out in all the ways that you've heard recited before will lead to Iranian expansionism, the creation of an Al Qaida base in Iraq and, even more significantly, the intimidation of the moderate forces throughout the region and a drop in confidence in the credibility and strength of the United States of America not just in the Middle East, but throughout the world.

LIEBERMAN: If we succeed, we will -- and what is success? We can talk about it in the question and answer. To me, it's a stable government in Iraq that is self-governing and self-protecting and moving in a progressive way economically and socially.

If we succeed, we will have achieved a significant victory in the overall war on terrorism. We will have created an alternative path to the future in the Arab and Islamic world than the path that the extremist government in Tehran offers or Al Qaida offers.

And that is why, in my opinion, unless you believe all is lost, we've got to do everything we can to win.

My own impression, having been there again most recently, is that it remains winnable. And it remains winnable in the first case for something that should be self-evident, but I hear it from the Iraqis we talk to, I heard it from our own soldiers who interact with the Iraqis.

The majority of Iraqis, quite understandably, are fed up with the sectarian violence and the terrorism. They're grateful to God that we liberated them from Saddam Hussein. They want to live a better, peaceful life. They want their kids to live even better than that.

It doesn't take a psychologist of great merit or a student of history of great substance to believe that that is true. It is true.

The conflict in Iraq is a conflict between that majority, the terrorists and a minority who have fallen into sectarian violence, and external powers like Iran which are trying to extend their influence into Iraq.

Secondly, our troops believe they can win, and that's really important.

I wrote last week of a conversation I had after John and I and our delegation met with our military leadership in Anbar province -- a tough, brilliant, committed group of soldiers making progress there, turning the Sunni sheiks in that province to our side against Al Qaida.

LIEBERMAN: And a colonel followed me out and said, quite emotionally, "Sir, I regret that I did not have a chance to say this in the meeting. I want you to know on behalf of the soldiers in my unit and myself that we understand why we're here. We believe in the mission. We are confident we can win it. And we want to fight it to a victorious finish. We need some more troops to make that happen."

And that's what this moment is all about.

John said it -- and I won't go into any detail about it -- there's a strange debate sometimes in Congress where some of our colleagues who I think really want to get out always focus on the fact that ultimately Iraq will be stabilized by a political settlement and economic progress.

Well, of course that's true. But how are you going to do that if death squads are roaming through the neighborhoods wantonly shooting people? How are you going to do that if Al Qaida is attacking all the institutions and individuals in government and the economy?

So we need to restore security to open the possibility for Iraqi politics and economy to take off.

One encouraging fact that we witnessed when we were there: There is a -- what I would call in American political terms -- a moderate coalition within Iraqi politics coming together, trying to move the current government away from the extremists and to create a center in which each of the ethnic groups can feel involved.

We owe them the security to enable that coalition to sustain itself, survive and hopefully grow.

I feel very strongly, as John does, that this is a fateful moment, and we will look back at it as a turning point in our history and the history of the global war against Islamist extremism and terrorism.

LIEBERMAN: I strongly support and I just embraced comments that I know -- and the excellent report done by Mssrs. Keane and Kagan and Senator McCain's comments -- that we need an increase in troops there now; it will help to establish the security that is the precondition to political and economic stability; that the increase in troops must be robust, it must be substantial and it must be sustained.

My final point -- fourth point -- is this: The president of the United States gets this. I think he sees the moment that we are at in the larger war on terrorism and the significance of how we conclude the war in Iraq; how devastating it would be to the Iraqis, to the Middle East, to America if we simply withdrew.

He needs our support. He needs the detailed kind of policy recommendations that General Keane and Fred Kagan has given. He needs the support of the people in Congress who are with him.

The worst thing that could happen here is that there be some kind of attempt to resolve this pivotal moment where they compromise among factions in American politics and in the American Congress rather than doing what is right and has the highest prospect of succeeding in Iraq.

In other words, this moment cries out for the kind of courageous leadership that does what can succeed and win in Iraq, not what will command the largest number of political supporters in Congress. The battlefield is in Baghdad and Anbar, not in Washington, and we need to support the president as he goes forward -- hopefully -- with exactly that kind of new initiative in Iraq.

Dear friends, my point is this, coming back from this trip: It's easy when you watch the news, as the American people do, to grow frustrated and angry. Every suicide bomb that goes off is taken, I think, by too many as a defeat for us as opposed to the latest evidence of the evil of the enemy that we are fighting and the necessity of vanquishing that enemy.

LIEBERMAN: At this moment, we must not yield to despair or defeatism. We have overthrown a cruel tyrant who was brutal to his people and was a dedicated and declared enemy of the security of the United States of America. We should have no regrets for that noble cause that was accomplished and the noble effort that we continue to make in Iraq.

Millions of Iraqis have participated in free elections. An imperfect democracy has been created, but it is a democracy, and it is struggling to survive. And it is now our responsibility to rise above politics, particularly partisan politics, and together, as Senator McCain has shown the way, to forge and advance a new strategy that will lead us to victory in Iraq and to victory in the larger war against terrorism.

Thank you very much.


MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your impressive and, if I may say so, very moving remarks.

MODERATOR: Our guests have agreed to take questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Lieberman, you talked about this time being the 1930s, 1942-ish.

During those times, the American public was focused singlemindedly on the war against fascism, the sense of sacrifice was throughout the whole society, as far as I've read.

What needs to be done, if it needs to be done, to instill that sort of sacrifice in the American people today?

Senator McCain, if you can handle that question also.

LIEBERMAN: As you remember, while the war was gathering and expressing itself in very violent and explicit terms in Europe in the 1930s, it took a while to build a political consensus to bring America in it in defense of our values and our way of life.

It's even more difficult now. Look, as I said in my remarks, the uniqueness -- this is an unconventional war. When people turn on the television at night or turn on your radios as they used to or read the papers, they don't see armies amassed on battlefields. They don't see ships at sea or planes in the air.

This is a war against terrorists who fight from the shadows against civilians. And we just have to continue to emphasize that over and over again.

To me, the frustrating part of this, as I said, is that it's not just the '30s, it's 1942. Pearl Harbor has happened and yet a lot of people in our country are in denial.

The other point is that, for reasons that are quite understandable, people are totally focused on Iraq and not on the larger threat of Islamist extremism and terrorism, and also have a hard time seeing the connection between those two.

So it takes leaders who speak out and try to educate the American public.

LIEBERMAN: Look, we've got to increase the end-strength of our military to facilitate the increase in troops that we're talking about. That's going to take some sacrifice. And I think we've got to state it to make it clear.

And I believe the people are ready to respond. If the American people could talk to the American military, as we do regularly, and hear their commitment to this cause, their selfless bravery, their honor, I believe that they would support the troops as we are.

MCCAIN: First of all, I think the 1930s and '40s, particularly the '20s and '30s, are instructional in that there was an incredible view that the United States should never make the mistake of World War I again, and there was isolationism and protectionism.

Some of the most respected Americans in our country -- Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford and many others -- were out and out about isolationists.

There were seminal events, when the then-League of Nations refused to act when the Italians invaded what was then called Abyssinia -- Ethiopia. The appeasement that was practiced by the British leadership all were -- as we now know in hindsight, would have been very effective if we had acted differently in preventing World War II.

Our parallel here is that if we fail in Iraq, there's somehow the belief that I don't quite comprehend that we just come home and then it's over.

Now, the war in Vietnam we came home and the Vietnamese didn't want to follow us. I would remind you that thousands were executed, millions were put in reeducation camps, millions fled on boats. But the fact is they didn't follow us.

If you read bin Laden, if you read Zarqawi, you read Mullah Omar, they want to follow us home. That next target is Saudi Arabia and the next target is the United States of America. And they want, as Joe pointed out in his remarks, a fundamental change in the world where radical Islamic extremism dominates the entire world.

MCCAIN: Now, do I believe that if we leave Iraq that that's the end of Western civilization as we know it? No.

But I do believe that we will be sending young Americans into to conflicts again somewhere else. It's not the end. It would be the beginning of the end in some respects.

Although I am of the firm belief that the United States and the West and our values and our principles are still transcendent. Our best days are still ahead of us. We have faced other crises in American history and we will prevail in this one.

QUESTION: I have a question for Senator McCain.

If a surge is such a good idea, why do you think that we keep hearing from the Joint Chiefs -- especially from the Army and the Marine Corps -- that they dislike the idea?

MCCAIN: May I say, sir, that your seminal work, "Fiasco," was both an instructive and saddening depiction -- and an accurate one -- of the serious mistakes that have been made in the conduct of this conflict. And I wish that every American could read it so that we could avoid, in the future -- because I believe we will have other battlegrounds with Islamic extremism in the future.

I think that there is a bureaucratic mindset amongst some military leaders that believes, with some validity, that we will have an overstressed Army and National Guard and Marine Corps and that this will do great damage to their ability to continue the fight in other arenas.

I can only say in response to that -- and there has, as you point out, been significant resistance to this on the part of some, particularly those that reside in the Pentagon. When we talked to General Odierno and General Chiarelli and the colonels and the generals who are on the ground in Iraq, they don't share that view.

But I believe that there's only one thing worse than an overstressed military, and that's a broken and defeated military.

MCCAIN: I'm old enough to have been part of the military after we were defeated. I happened to have had a position of command in the late 1970s, where we had endemic drug problems, insubordination, riots on aircraft carriers. And I think General Keane will tell you that the task of rebuilding the military after it was defeated was long, difficult and extremely, extremely expensive as well, in many respects.

So I respectfully disagree with those whose concerns are there, because I believe that a defeated army would be a very difficult challenge for us, far more than that one that is overstretched.

Finally, I agree with Joe. And long ago, both Joe and I espoused a larger Marine Corps and Army. Even if there was peace in Iraq tomorrow, we still need -- given the challenges we face around the world -- a much larger Army and Marine Corps.

And some, in my view, are more interested in equipment than they are in the most expensive part of the military in an all-volunteer force, and that's personnel.

LIEBERMAN: I would add, real briefly -- I agree with everything John said -- that we're in a position now that we never should put our military in, where I think the main reason they're reluctant about the increase in troops is their fear that it will stress the existing forces.

And of course, there is that concern, but John's right, nothing stresses them more -- and I could tell you that again from what we heard in Iraq -- than defeat. They want to win.

This is a case where policy is being driven by resources, not by what people believe is really best for success and victory. And it's got to be a priority of this Congress. I'm, by this twist of fate that has put the Democrats in the majority now, I have the honor of replacing Senator McCain as chairman of the Airland Subcommittee. He's rising, rapidly, however, to become the senior Republican on the overall committee.

But we're going to make it a priority of our work together to authorize the rapid increase in end-strength for the Army and the Marines.

LIEBERMAN: We don't want to put our military command where they're deciding questions of our national security based on what's available rather than what's best for our country.

Final word, not used much in this regard, not so long ago we used to have something called the Powell doctrine. It said that when you go to war you should go to war with the forces necessary -- overwhelming, if necessary -- to win it. We have had underwhelming forces in Iraq, and it's part of why we're in the difficult position we're in now.

MCCAIN: Senator Lieberman has promised to give me better treatment now that I'm in the minority than I gave him in years past.


QUESTION: I want to thank both senators for your presentation.

With this shift in strategy moving to protection of civilians in Baghdad and kind of going back, I think, five years to winning the hearts and minds more generally, so that we have Iraqi cooperation, I'm wondering what the plan calls for in terms of simultaneous economic, justice and handling of refugee issues.

The economic side. Instead of working with private contractors to whom we pay a lot of money, is there a job creation plan for Iraqis to have them taking over more of the interpreting positions, more of the basic positions that the U.S. Army and military need?

Secondly, on are people going to be tried fairly for human rights abuses both on the part of the U.S. military? Is there going to be a statement from the U.S. leadership condemning abuses that continue to come out by the military and also by the extremists in Iraq?

And as a side thing, I'd be interested in your opinion on the recent execution of Saddam, how that may complicate things.

Finally, are we going to be admitting more refugees...


... more refugees into the United States from Iraq?

LIEBERMAN: I'll start, briefly.

Incidentally, I don't see this, the talk about an increase in our troops as a shift of position. I see it as finally implementing our position with adequate and necessary personnel.

LIEBERMAN: I mean, our position for some period of time has been to clear, hold and build on to create the security, along with Iraqi security forces, where we can have the space for the government to grow and for us to train them. And I think this increase will make that possible.

But alone it's not enough. I know that General Keane and Fred Kagan have recommended increases in economic reconstruction funds. I totally agree with that. I'm optimistic that we may hear that from the president next week; I certainly hope so.

Incidentally, insofar as there really is -- and I believe there is -- a new dividing line in the Middle East between moderates and extremists, it's time for some of the moderates who have money in the Arab world to put that money into the economic reconstruction of Iraq. And I hope that will be part of it.

I'll just say one word about the trial of Saddam Hussein. I was thinking as I listened to the debate about the questions of what was said at his execution, my late father in law had a phrase where he said, "In life, you should always try to major in the majors. Don't major in the minors."

And it seems to me -- of course, I would rather that people who were executing Saddam Hussein had shouted, "Long live free Iraq," than invoke the name of a current controversial and, in one case, extremist leaders.

But the fact is this was a brutal dictator. He was overthrown. He was tried according to rules of law. And he was quite appropriately executed.

And let's not major in the minors here. Let's work our way to a better place. But let's also have some pride about the extraordinary opportunity we have opened up there in the way in which, in a very difficult situation, the Iraqis themselves handled it in that trial.

MCCAIN: I would just like to add a couple of comments.

MCCAIN: One, yes, the nations in the region have got to step up. That has got to be part of this solution.

We continue to puzzle why they haven't. One of the explanations is that some of them figure that we may leave; they will be stuck in the neighborhood.

But, clearly, other nations in the region should step up in a variety of ways.

Human rights, obviously, are a vital part of the construction of any democracy. We all know Abu Ghraib and other instances were enormous blows to everything we've tried to achieve.

I do believe that it's well to point out that America and a handful of other nations are probably the only ones that would put our own servicemen on trial, as is happening today, for the wanton execution of innocent civilians -- or allegedly -- and the taking of innocent life.

I think that's a testimony that at least attempts are being made to enforce our respect for basic human rights.

And could I just finally say: I believed that the initial invasion was going to be easy. Most of us did. I believed that we would be welcomed. We were. We were welcomed once Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

But it was shortly thereafter that many of us began to believe that it was being very badly mishandled. And that has been well chronicled by many.

And so it's been for the last three years that I've said we've got to have more troops over there if we're going to get it under control. It's not a new position that either Joe Lieberman and I are taking.

And I believe that this may not be our last chance, but it's as near to the last chance as anything I can think of.

QUESTION: My question is meant for Senator Lieberman.

QUESTION: As viewed from Washington, what is being done by the Maliki government to win the minds and the hearts of Sunnis in especially areas like Anbar, separate them from Al Qaida, which has been really -- it's been professed that Al Qaida is the main enemy, after the special circumstances unleashed by the execution of Saddam Hussein?

LIEBERMAN: Right. It's always been a centerpiece of what we should be doing in Iraq that we wanted to reconcile the people. You know, I don't see that the troubles there at this moment as an inevitable result of age-old conflicts between different ethnic groups.

Yes, there's some history, but, you know, there's a great amount of intermarriage. This was intentionally stimulated, inflamed, by the terrorists. And clearly the death of Saddam Hussein creates an anxiety in some -- both anxiety and a sense that the old era is over and now there ought to be a very aggressive outreach to the Sunni leadership.

And there is a Sunni moderate leadership that has come together with leaders of the Shia community and, of course, the Kurds who are playing a very critical role in mediating those discussions.

Just bottom line on Anbar, that's one area where we're actually having some success in building linkages with the Sunnis.

Probably the most encouraging part of our trip was that meeting we had in Ramadi with our military command there and the discussion of how the Sunni sheiks have turned to our side, seeing that the Al Qaida in Iraq is really their enemy without -- without either a clear Sunni interest or an Iraqi interest, but a larger Islamist ideological extremist interest.

And I think more troops will help us in Anbar. And I know that Jack and Fred have talked about two more regimental combat teams would make a tremendous difference.

LIEBERMAN: And I think, as much as one can win a victory in the war on terrorism against an enemy that's not on a battlefield and won't come to a battleship and sign a peace treaty, we can win a victory with those additional two Marine combat teams in Anbar. And it will be critical to our success, overall, in Iraq.

MCCAIN: Too often the light at the tunnel has turned out to be a train, but I really believe -- I really believe that there's a strong possibility that you may see a very substantial change in Anbar province due to this new changes in our relationships with the sheiks in the region.

I pray every night that it'll succeed.

QUESTION: I was hoping both of you could comment on President Bush's decision to change the military leadership now in Iraq. How do you think that is going to change the situation on the ground?

MCCAIN: I'm for it.

General Petraeus, who is one of those who's coming, is regarded by one and all as one of the most successful during the initial stages -- he got a hold of a pot of Saddam Hussein's money and he did exactly what our previous questioner thought we should do: gave out money to local projects, people could buy generators, et cetera.

So we are very -- I'm enthusiastic about General Petraeus' appointment. And Admiral Fallon is coming from the Pacific Command, where, in the view of one and all, he has done a superb job.

So I am very pleased, in my view, to hear that -- I don't mean to be sarcastic, but for once, virtue is rewarded.

LIEBERMAN: I agree totally.

If we're starting -- and it would certainly appear to be a new initiative in Iraq to achieve success, it's appropriate, with thanks to General Casey and, I must say, General Abizaid, for the extraordinary service they've given over a long period of time.

General Casey already had stayed a year longer than he had intended to. It's time for new leadership there.

LIEBERMAN: General Petraeus -- I know Admiral Fallon, a little bit. They're excellent. General Petraeus has a combination of a sense of history, extraordinary experience and a real passion about what we're doing in Iraq.

He believes we can win. And he knows how important it is that we win. And I think he will infuse that spirit into our forces there. And I think it will make a measurable difference.

QUESTION: There's been no mention of the Assyrian Christians who are about 10 percent of the population. And the Iraqi government publicly, a while ago, offered to set aside one province for the Assyrian Christians and some of the minorities.

What advice would you give to the Assyrian Christians and the other minorities that are being marginalized and, in many ways, nearly half the population has already left?

MCCAIN: My only advice is that if we can get a functioning government, they will then receive the same protections as other citizens in a stable environment.

Without it, then obviously many minorities -- Turkomen, many of the other minorities that are residing in Iraq -- are at great risk. It's not just Sunni versus Shia, as we know. It's to some degree, in the view of extremists, ethnic cleansing.


QUESTION: Senators, what about the tensions in the north, and especially about Kirkuk? Should the planned Kirkuk referendum be delayed?

Thank you.

LIEBERMAN: In the broad sweep of things, I'd say the best thing for this United States senator is to say that that ought to be left to the Iraqis for now.

In other words, this is majoring in the majors. We've got to help them achieve security and build a functioning government and economy. And that has to be the priority.

MCCAIN: Every time I meet with Kurdish leaders, including Barzani, I talk about this. We all know that it's exacerbated by the movement of people from Baghdad by Saddam Hussein into Kurdish areas, and Kurds were displaced and now there's huge disputes within Kirkuk.

We have to do whatever we can to see that this issue is disposed of fairly inequitably. It's going to be very, very difficult, as varying conflict claims are tried to be adjudicated by now not very frequent objective arbiters.

MCCAIN: So I think it's going to be a very difficult situation. If I had my druthers -- and I'm not that familiar with facts on the ground that I would say that maybe some delay. Because the stronger the central government becomes, the more likely that fairness will prevail.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Senators.

Your colleague, Senator Biden, is quoted in The Washington Post today as saying that he believes some top officials in the Bush administration have privately decided that they've already lost Iraq and, in his words, are postponing disasters so the next president will be the guy who has to see helicopters land in the Green Zone.

I was wondering what you thought about that.

MCCAIN: I think when you make an assertion such as that, it's only fair to name names of those people. I know of no one who has that view.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, I haven't heard any of that. And all I can say is that from everything I see and hear, that's certainly not the intention of the president.

I think he wants to leave office with Iraq on the road to self- sustaining, self-defending, self-governing reality. .

QUESTION: A question for either or both senators.

The Kagan-Keane plan that we've heard about today, and prior to that, clearly calls for change of the mission, calls for a change in the strategy. And we are now seeing that changes are being made in the military leadership.

The question that I have is, what assurances -- if that isn't too strong a word -- what assurances do you have that -- we know where the source of ineffective leadership in Iraq has been, given that the principal recommendations of Kagan-Keane are essentially thoroughbred recommendations for how to deal with a counterinsurgency.

QUESTION: In other words, this is not something new that's been invented, this is a report that says let's finally do it right.

And the question that I have is, are there additional changes that need to be made from a political point of view as the Congress exercises oversight?

How are you going to judge who's making the right calls and/or the wrong ones, given the long history of wrong ones in Iraq?

LIEBERMAN: I'll begin, which is to say that we know that what we've been doing thus far hasn't been working the way we need it to work, the way the Iraqi people need it to work.

So this takes, you're right, classic and proven counterinsurgency tactics. It fully supports them, which is something that we have not done. And in putting General Petraeus in charge of the operation, it puts somebody at the head who understands how to fight insurgencies. And that's a pretty good combination.

Obviously, we in Congress, the Armed Services Committee and other committees will continue to exercise oversight, but I think if this package comes together along the lines that Kagan and Keane have recommended, it gives us our best chance for victory in Iraq.

MCCAIN: The mistakes that were made, as I mentioned, have been well chronicled, and I will not revisit them. But it's important, as I said in my opening remarks, that this troop surge be significant and sustained. Otherwise, don't do it.

It has to be significant and sustained, otherwise do not do it. Otherwise there will be more needless loss of American lives.

Throughout our history, in wars sometimes presidents have had to change the generals. The time to change the generals have come. And I believe that we still can win this one, under the new leadership.

QUESTION: I would to shift the discussion and have both of you comment on the current situation between Ethiopia and then the Islamists in Somalia, the current war. Thank you.

LIEBERMAN: Again, I'll be real brief, because I think we want to focus on Iraq.

It's very complicated, so I do this with apologies for undoubtedly giving an answer that's incomplete, but maybe we should take encouragement from the fact that decisive action by the Ethiopians, in fact, did something that most people were saying was impossible, which is it routed the Islamists.

Now, I know that Somalia is not Baghdad. I know that there are different circumstances altogether, but perhaps this should give us some encouragement that this foe that we are fighting is not unbeatable.

And the point is we have an example of victory and we've got to build on that.

MCCAIN: Just very briefly, obviously, the Ethiopian military has gained a significant tactical victory.

Now, the question is whether there will be a viable insurgency or not and let's hope that's not the case.

That will be dependent on whether there's now a functioning government there that can gain the support of the people.

QUESTION: Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi have sent a letter to the president today saying there would be "no strategic advantage" -- that's a quote -- in increasing troop strength.

Politically speaking, what are the obstacles and what's the situation now to get this done that they're talking about?

LIEBERMAN: Well, in the spirit of bipartisanship, I'll begin.


That is, speaking as an independent.


Needless to say, I respectfully disagree. We're in for a very momentous series of debates in Congress.

The president has the authority under the Constitution as commander in chief during wartime to take decisive action.

Congress also has the authority in the remarkable balance that their founders created, to take action to stop that. But it would be an extreme action in a time of war to, for instance, attempt to block the funding for the increase in troops that the president and the military think are necessary.

LIEBERMAN: I don't anticipate that happening. I hope to God for the interests of our country that it does not -- and the world -- that it does not happen. There may be resolutions that are critical of the increase in troops -- that's everybody's right.

But I think this is a time for the president to be president and Congress to respect that part of the authority of the commander in chief and all hope that it works.

MCCAIN: I believe that the hearings that are going to be upcoming in Armed Services Committees and the Foreign Relations Committee and on the floor of this House and the Senate are valuable to educate the American people. I think it's important that we do so. And we look forward to hearings as early as next week.

I also believe that those who state the position that you described in that letter also have an obligation, as we have an obligation, who take our viewpoint, to tell us what the United States of America's strategy is if we leave and Iraq falls into a condition of chaos. What is their "plan B"?

They're asking for our "plan B" -- we'd like to know what their "plan B" is.

And I will say this, when I raised my hand and I voted to send this nation to war, I did it with the full and certain knowledge that it was one of the most gravest responsibilities that I could have as a United States senator, because I knew that young men were going to die. I hoped that my colleagues felt that same sense of responsibility when they voted for this war.

And the fact is that these young men and women who are serving today, although they will be overstressed if we proceed with this plan, will more than willingly shoulder their weapons and fight and do the best that they can for the United States of America.

When Joe and I were visiting with these brave people, we saw a sense of purpose, a commitment to finish the job and do the job that the finest military in the history of this nation is capable of performing.

MCCAIN: And my colleagues who took their vote to send this nation to war, I hope they didn't think that throughout our history that wars go according to plan. They don't, with rare exceptions.

And I didn't think this one was going to go according to plan. And I knew that there was going to be significant sacrifices asked of American families. But I still believe, as most of the men and women in military do, that the cause was just.

QUESTION: Obviously, the focus is on Iraq, but I think it was you, Senator Lieberman, who touched on Afghanistan. General Conaway of the Marine Corps recently hinted that Marines might be sent back to Afghanistan to beef up forces.

Given the need for a symbolic as well as strategic victory in Afghanistan, can you characterize how big a force might be needed to -- either of you -- how big a force might be needed, from political standpoint?

MCCAIN: I have no idea. But as pointed out in my remarks, it's going to be a very hot spring in Afghanistan. The Taliban have been reconstituted. In Waziristan they have sanctuary. In another part of southeastern Iraq -- I mean, Afghanistan, we have abandoned the area to some degree. And so it's going to be very difficult.

The good news is that our NATO allies are in this with us. There are restrictions on some of their nation's activities, which I hope we can do away with. But I expect that we can get more help from allies, especially the British, in the future in Afghanistan.

LIEBERMAN: As Senator McCain's answer to the question on Ethiopia and Somalia suggested, I think quite correctly, we're facing a different kind of enemy here, the Islamist extremists/terrorists in this way -- we can defeat them as we did magnificently in Afghanistan, but that doesn't mean they go way.

And we defeated Saddam Hussein, overthrew him in Iraq, and they formed and insurgency, and then Al Qaida streamed in in greater numbers. So we've got to be ready to -- we've got to be more vigilant and have more manpower, womanpower on the ground, military personnel than we did in Iraq. And we may need some more in Afghanistan.

And, look, we've been shouldering -- we're the world's superpower. We have the greatest military by far in the world -- as John says, in the history of the world.

LIEBERMAN: But we're getting to a point where the rest of the countries in the world, particularly our NATO allies and others, have to understand that the enemy here just ain't us.

The enemy is the rest of the civilized world. I mean, these folks -- these extremists -- are talking about building an empire, a caliphate, that everyone, regardless of ideology or nationality or religion, ought to be opposed to. It will be totalitarian. It will be women's rights, gay rights. Give me a break. It will be the end of all that we value. Individual freedom; forget about it.

So I think it's time for a lot of the rest of the world to stop letting us do it.

We're very strong and we see the threat and we've had the guts and we've got the resources to do it. But everybody is the enemy here. Most everybody. And they ought to be joining us in this fight.

In Afghanistan, NATO is. We need NATO and a lot more in the war against Islamist extremism if we're going to win it throughout the world.

MODERATOR: John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, profound thanks.




Jan 05, 2007 14:06 ET .EOF

Source: CQ Transcriptions

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