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Transcript: Senators Discuss Iraq on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published August 29, 2005 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace" on August 28, 2005.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: With the situation changing in Iraq and on the political front here at home, we want to check in with two key senators, Mitch McConnell (search) of Kentucky, the number two Republican in the Senate, and Byron Dorgan (search) of North Dakota, head of the Senate's Democratic Policy Committee.
Senators, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".
While we've been on the air, there have been some developments in Baghdad. As you know, the Kurds and the Shia have agreed on the constitution. It's going to be sent to the public to vote on in October. But the Sunnis have now called for the United Nations and for the Arab League to come in because they're so unhappy with this constitution. Senator McConnell, do we have a mess over there?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: Well, I talked to Secretary Rice about this last night. And are Sunnis (search) are divided. There are a number of Sunnis that are going to support the constitution. I think this negotiation apparently just went on as long as it could, and they decided to go on and file the constitution and move forward with the election in October.
WALLACE: But what do you think the impact is when, instead of bringing everybody together, it seems to have deepened the divisions?
MCCONNELL: Well, I'm not sure that it has. Many Sunnis do support the new constitution. Some don't, and I think it's a mix. The Sunnis are a problem. I think we can stipulate that. But they are a distinct minority in the country, and at some point I think they've got to go forward with the constitutional process, and they're going to do that with a vote on October the 15th.
WALLACE: Senator Dorgan?
SEN. BYRON DORGAN, D-N.D.: Well, I think there are some problems here. The question is who controls the oil, among other things. You have three factions that are very concerned about this. This is the establishment of the framework for their government going forward.
The discussion about whether civil law will take precedence over Islamic rules or Islamic law is a very important issue. No one ever thought this would be very easy, but I think it's turning out to be even more difficult than anyone anticipated.
WALLACE: Senator McConnell, let me ask you about that, because the general redesign of the country, from what we saw in the interim constitution to this new draft that's going to be voted on in October, seems clear, from a strong central government with secular institutions to a weak central government with much more of an Islamic tilt. Do you worry at all about the direction that Iraq is headed?
MCCONNELL: Look, what you've got here is a situation in which clearly the 20 percent of the population that used to rule is not in a position to rule any longer. You're going to have a democratic process. This is a constitution, certainly, by Middle Eastern standards, that's astonishing. Twenty-five percent of the parliament will be women. That's more than we have in the Congress.
And while Islam is mentioned, it is not the controlling law of the country. And I think, you know, they have done the best they can to put this together. Not everybody was satisfied with the U.S. Constitution at the end, but we moved forward. And I think that's where we are now in Iraq.
WALLACE: Senator Dorgan, does it bother you that while American troops are fighting and dying, Iraqi politicians are haggling over oil revenue and whether the Shiites (search) can create, in effect, an independent or autonomous state in the south with perhaps strong ties to Iran?
DORGAN: Oh, I think the potential outcome of this could be very troublesome. But it's not done. You know, I think that one of the questions here with respect to Iraq is we need to turn the country of Iraq back to the Iraqi people and withdraw the troops at some point when that's done.
That will be done, I think almost everyone believes, when we have trained enough security in Iraq so that the Iraqis can control their own security. The question of the drafting of a constitution, exactly what kind of a constitution will exist -- those are very tough issues.
And I think the American people will ask tough questions if at the end of this process we have a country called Iraq that has a definite Islamic tilt, close to Iran, for example. I think a lot of questions will be asked at the end of that process.
WALLACE: Is there anything, though, that we can and/or should do about that?
DORGAN: Well, I think we're doing everything we can. I mean, my expectation is -- and I know from discussions with key people that we've been involved in trying to move this along. The president's been on the phone with key people in Iraq. But ultimately the question of what kind of constitution exists in the country of Iraq is going to be decided by the Iraqi people. We may not like that, but that's going to be the case.
WALLACE: Senator McConnell?
MCCONNELL: Of course it's going to be decided largely by the Iraqi people. Look. They're making significant progress there. I know that they teach all you guys in journalism school that only bad news is news. But there was a 50 percent increase in GDP in 2004. A recent study indicated that this year the economy will exceed where it was before the war.
We are talking about a constitution here that's going to be, by Middle Eastern standards, extraordinary enlightened, that is going to be approved in all likelihood in October, and you'll have a democratic government elected in December. And, Chris, that will be less than three years since the downfall of Saddam. It took us in this country 11 years to get from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution.
WALLACE: Let's turn, Senator McConnell, if we can, to the bigger picture. Given not only the political but the military facts on the ground today, what should be our objective in Iraq and when should we be able to begin to bring U.S. troops home?
MCCONNELL: I don't think we ought to put a deadline on that. I think the president's exactly right. Our goal is to be there and to win. And the definition of win is to go through this process that we've just described. It leads to a democratically elected government taking office New Year's Eve and a gradual ramping up of the Iraqi security forces.
By the way, the Iraqi people believe that things are getting dramatically better. A recent survey indicated that 67 percent of them think their lives will be better or much better within a year, and 75 percent of the Iraqis think their lives will be much better within the next five years. So they're more optimistic about this than we are.
And clearly, the ticket out from the beginning has been the ramping up of Iraqi military and security forces, and they are getting better.
WALLACE: Senator Dorgan, what's the Democratic plan? What specifically would your party do differently in conducting this war?
DORGAN: Well, first, I mean, this is not about good news or bad news. You know, the fact is we need to get the facts straight about what's happening in Iraq. The question of the training of security -- I think everyone understands that at some point, when we train appropriate security in Iraq so that the Iraqis can provide their own security, the American troops will be withdrawn. I think all of us understand that's the goal.
We can't get straight answers about what kind of security exists there. For example, July, just last month, 171,000 total trained and equipped security forces, according to DOD. Then we discover only three out of the 100 battalions actually had that training.
Going back to a year ago, 206,000 troops, Iraqi security forces, had been trained -- just total nonsense. What we need to get are the facts, straight facts, and then we need to evaluate what kind of progress will exist, when will we reach that point where the Iraqis can handle their own security. At that point, American troops don't need to be involved in Iraq. The Iraqi people can and should, in my judgment, determine the future of Iraq.
WALLACE: I mean, I've heard a lot of criticism, but is there a specific plan as to what you would do differently?
DORGAN: No, look. You asked the two mothers the question about withdrawal. The answer to that simply is if we withdrew tomorrow, there would be a bloodbath in Iraq. We can't do that. We are where we are. We have troops in Iraq at this point.
But at some point our goal must be to have sufficient Iraqis trained to provide their own security, at which point we will withdraw American troops. But the American people can't even begin to understand what the measurements of that are because we can't get straight talk. We can't get good information about how many troops are being trained in Iraq, really trained, sufficient to be able to take over security in Iraq.
WALLACE: Senator McConnell?
MCCONNELL: With all due respect, my good friend Byron didn't answer your question. You asked him if the Democrats had a plan and what they would do differently. And I listened carefully to what he had to say, and other than sort of nit-picking about whether this or that prediction is exactly correct, they have no plan.
And they know, as Byron just suggested, that the only thing to do is to stay there and finish the job. And that's what we intend to do.
DORGAN: Well, but, Mitch, the fact is the plan that we must now describe is a plan that deals with where we are. We're there. And I don't suggest we withdraw troops tomorrow. I think there would be a bloodbath there. But with respect to the Democrats, take a look at what we've been pushing in the Congress for a long period of time. That is, to make sure we have the money to get adequate body armor to troops -- a whole range of issues like that.
And, I mean, we find ourselves in this circumstance at this point. The question is can we get straight talk from the administration and the DOD about what kind of forces have been trained up in Iraq to provide for Iraqi security. The answer is we can't get straight answers about that at this point.
WALLACE: OK. One last thing I want to get into with both of you. Senator Dorgan, is there any part of what Cindy Sheehan has to say that you agree with?
DORGAN: Well, I haven't listened to all of what she has to say, but it is not unpatriotic in this country for anyone to begin questioning policies. When that becomes unpatriotic, then this democracy lost some of its luster, in my judgment. Cindy Sheehan, like many others in this country, is expressing her views, very strongly held views, about the war in Iraq. She has a right to do that, and that's part of what makes this country a great nation.
WALLACE: When she says the president lied to get into this war, do you agree with that?
DORGAN: Well, I mean, she can use whatever language she chooses to use. That's her right as well. The fact is...
WALLACE: No, I know that, but I'm asking you do you agree with it.
DORGAN: Well, the fact is that we were told that it was a slam dunk, that there were weapons of mass destruction. We were told a whole series of things that turned out not to have been true. On that basis we attacked Iraq. We displaced Saddam Hussein. So we are where we are at this point. The question is now what does this country do and when do we begin to withdraw American troops. We do that at the point when we've trained enough Iraqi security, but we can't even evaluate when that's the case, because we can't get straight answers about it.
WALLACE: But as far as her call for pulling out all the troops now, you're against that?
DORGAN: Yes. I'm against that because there would be a bloodbath tomorrow. But I do think that the American people ought to have this debate, and we ought to be able to expect to have some information about when are we adequately training Iraqi troops -- you can't get that information at this point from the administration -- because that will determine when, in fact, America does withdraw from Iraq.
WALLACE: Senator McConnell, what do you think of Cindy Sheehan?
MCCONNELL: I think she's got a right to express herself, and we all share her grief. But the overwhelming majority of military families believe in the mission. They know that we've made substantial progress not only in Iraq, but in the whole area -- elections in Afghanistan, people taking to the streets in Lebanon and demanding the Syrian military leave, even an election of sorts in Saudi Arabia, the president of Egypt saying he's going to have a real opponent next year.
All these transformative events have been as a result of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. We're making substantial progress in one of the toughest areas of the world.
WALLACE: Do you think it's bad for U.S. war effort, bad for U.S. troop morale over there, for Cindy Sheehan and protesters to be in the streets here?
MCCONNELL: We have the First Amendment here. Everybody's entitled to have their say.
WALLACE: Senator McConnell, Senator Dorgan, we want to thank you both very much for joining us today. Please come back.
DORGAN: Thank you, Chris, thank you very much.
MCCONNELL: Thank you.
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