Jun 23 2005

Transcript of U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, General John Abizaid, and General George Casey

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Just recently here in the Senate we've had a lot of time absorbed about what one member said that was, I thought, way out of bounds. That member apologized. That was good. There was a time when no one seemed to want to correct that statement. And some of the things that Senator Clinton said are really not helpful. We talk about losing the war and what it would mean. The only way, gentlemen, I see that we could possibly lose in Iraq is to leave the country in shambles, not prepared, not capable of defending itself and taking care of this new democracy; that if we left too soon, before they had a chance to get a functioning army and a functioning police force and to create honest judges and to have the rule of law, that we would put the whole world at risk. So to anyone, Republican or Democrat, who thinks that a timetable is the answer, I could not disagree more. How hard is it to create a country where everybody buys in? It's pretty hard. In 100 and something years, do the math, less than 100 years, we were in a civil war, started in my state. This is hard. How long does it take to get over a 1,400-year religious dispute? Probably a little longer between now and December. We have bought into a model that is extremely difficult, but the only answer, because you can't kill enough of these people. The model is to leave in Iraq the chance for them to govern themselves where moderation trumps terrorism, where mothers have a say about their children, where you can go to court based on what you did, not who you are. That is a very big challenge, and the only answer. So losing is leaving before the job is done. What would make us leave? The last time an American lost on the battlefield was when the Confederacy was defeated. We will not lose a battle. It is not a military problem in terms of losing. We will lose this war if we leave too soon. And what is likely to make us do that? The public going south. And that is happening. And that worries me greatly. So, Mr. Secretary, you've described the dynamic in 1946 I think very accurately. There was a lot of concern about reconstructing Europe after World War II. I see this engagement in Iraq very similar to a World War II endeavor, not Vietnam. This is not about trying to take sides in a dispute between a country. This is about taking sides between dispute between freedom-loving people and terrorists. Whether we should have been there or not is no longer the question. We're there. And the people who want us to leave are the same people who tried to kill us on September 11th. It is a World War II event, but the public views this every day, Mr. Secretary, more and more like Vietnam. Thirty-nine percent in the last poll support the idea that we should be there. What do you think is going on, and how can we correct that? SECRETARY OF DEFENSE RUMSFELD: Senator, the members of this committee and everyone in this room and listening know the answer to that question as well as I do, and possibly better. Our system says that we place all our faith, all our hope in the people of the country, and that given sufficient information over time they'll find their way to right decisions. And I believe that. I've watched polls go from zero to 55 percent, back down to 15 percent in six weeks. And anyone who starts chasing polls is going to get seasick. GRAHAM : Do you believe this is an acute problem or a chronic problem, with the public support waning? RUMSFELD: An acute or a what? GRAHAM : Chronic problem. Because in the last year, sir, the public support in my state has turned, and I worry about that, because that's the only way we'll ever leave before we should, is if the public loses faith in us. And I'm here to tell you, sir, in the most patriotic state I can imagine, people are beginning to question. And I don't think it's a blip on the radar screen. I think we have a chronic problem on our hands. And if you disagree, I certainly respect that. RUMSFELD: Well, that's the time that leadership has to stand up and tell the truth. And if you're facing a head wind, you got two choices, you can turn around and go downwind or you can stand there and go into the wind, and that's what needs to be done. And we've got leadership in this country that are capable of doing that, let there be no doubt. And I think the American people have a good center of gravity. I think they have -- individually they have inner gyroscopes that may tilt from time to time, but they get recentered, and that they, given appropriate leadership and given continued success on the political and the security side in that country, I am absolutely convinced that we'll have the willpower and the staying power and the courage to do what's right there. The alternative is to turn that region back to darkness, to people who behead people. And that is not a happy prospect. GRAHAM: I could not agree more. One last thought. I have to go. General Abizaid, based on the military situation as you know it, what is the likelihood of the insurgents and the terrorists combined launching a Tet-type offensive where there are coordinated attacks throughout the country that would result in substantial of American or coalition lives? Because if that did happen, I really worry about the response in this country. GRAHAM: How likely is that? And what can we do to prevent it? GENERAL ABIZAID: Senator, I can tell you, and George will undoubtedly talk about this for Iraq in particular, but there is always a likelihood of a surprise militarily. There is always an opportunity for the enemy to figure out a way to inflict casualties, to grab the headlines. The challenge for us is to stay tough enough when that happens to see ourself through it. We can't be defeated by the headlines. We can't be defeated by this enemy. No doubt that they can do us damage. In Afghanistan right now, in particular, we're getting ready to go to an election in September. The enemy is coming as hard as they can. They have issued orders to everybody that they can get their hands on to try to disrupt this election, because they are so afraid of the election. But the violence won't win. JOHN WARNER: Thank you very much, Senator. CASEY: I'm sorry, Senator. If I could add to that... WARNER: Yes, General Casey, you may reply. CASEY: Senator, I'd just respond to that last question about Tet, I believe we have greatly reduced the potential of the capability for that to happen. And as I've listened here this afternoon, there seems to be some perception that the attacks have increased. Well, they have from the low levels they sank to after the elections. But last August, the attacks were over 800. Last November -- I'm sorry, per week -- they were over 900. The elections, over 800. We're talking for the last seven weeks they've been relatively constant at about between 450 and 500. So, I mean, we're less than half, almost half of where we were when it was really hard. So we have brought down that capability, and that's why the absence of a safe haven becomes so important. GRAHAM: Mr. Chairman, I would like to correct the perception that some people may have -- I did not disagree with what Senator Clinton said. I am all for us working together, and there are no bad Americans here. You know, whether you're liberal, moderate, conservative, you're not the enemy; the enemy is the people trying to kill us. #####