Transcript: Sens. Feinstein, Graham on 'FOX News Sunday'

Written by Chris Wallace / Published September 09, 2007 / Fox News Sunday

With General Petraeus set to report tomorrow, we want to get a sense of the mood on Capitol Hill. Joining us now, two key senators — Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who has voted to bring most of the troops home by next March, and Republican Lindsey Graham, who's just back from two weeks on Air Force Reserve duty in Iraq. He's in his home state of South Carolina.

And, Senators, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Chris.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

WALLACE: As we said, General Petraeus reports tomorrow, but there have already been all sorts of reports that have come out in the last couple of weeks, some of them contradictory.

Senator Graham, let me start with you. Is the surge working and should it continue?

GRAHAM: I think it's undeniably working. Security is better in Iraq than it's been before. Anbar has been retaken from the enemy. Al Qaeda is on the run. We're now dealing with the militia groups on the Shia side. Iran wants to fill a vacuum. It is in our national security interest to make sure there is no vacuum.

So yes, I am very pleased with the results of the surge. There's local political reconciliation. The people in Iraq are war-weary. It won't be long till Baghdad politicians follow through with major reconciliation. In my opinion, I think it has worked.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, same questions. Is the surge working? Should it continue?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think some areas are more secure. I think Lindsey is right about that. I think in terms of giving the breathing room to make the political accommodations, it has not worked to do that.

The front page of one of the major newspapers this morning says tensions are building up in Baghdad. You know, there are walls between communities. I think you've got a government that's basically a failure.

You've got a ministry of the interior that has a police force that's corrupt and ineffective. There are some improvements in the army, that's true. But there has been no progress with respect to the Sunnis. Ethno-sectarian hatred is certainly as high, if not higher.

The statistics are very questionable.

WALLACE: So, Senator Feinstein, would you end the surge?

FEINSTEIN: I think the surge, first of all, is not sustainable. Come the spring, they're going to have to return some people.

As you know, the Brits are pulling out. They've pulled out 25 out of — 25,000 out of 30,000 troops, turned over four bases, will shortly turn over the fifth. They apparently know something.

I think that we ought to take a very close look, hopefully on a bipartisan basis, of setting a date to begin to have an orderly redeployment of our troops. If we can come together in the Senate and in the House on that one point, I do think it is an accomplishment.

We will listen to General Petraeus. General Petraeus is greatly respected. I had the privilege of talking with him in Iraq a while ago, riding out with him on a cargo ship, and there's no question that he is a fine and brilliant general.

But there is not a military solution to this problem. There's only a political solution.

WALLACE: Senator Graham, there are a lot of points there, but if I can ask you to respond to a couple in particular, one, that the breathing space that the surge was supposed to accomplish clearly has not happened, at least on the national level, and, two, there are these stories that indicate that a lot of the ethnic and sectarian conflict continues. Your response.

GRAHAM: I think sectarian violence is down because of better security. It is undeniable that the Anbar province has been retaken from the enemy called Al Qaeda, and there is local reconciliation going on.

Three weeks ago today, the major players in Iraq came up with a framework to push forward. One thing we've learned — you don't need a de-Baathification law to beat Al Qaeda. You don't need a local election law to diminish Al Qaeda.

So what I expect is that there's a lag between security and political reconciliation, and the one thing for sure — that if you pull troops out now, politically — I'm not looking for political redeployment.

If the general tells me down the road we can withdraw troops because of military success, we should all celebrate it. But if politicians in Washington pick an arbitrary date, an arbitrary number to withdraw, it's not going to push Baghdad politicians.

It's going to re-energize an enemy that's on the map. So I am absolutely, totally, 100 percent against a political redeployment or a political management of how you use the troops. I'm going to leave it up to Petraeus because I trust him. He has delivered.

And I think it would be foolhardy for this Congress to take away from him the ability to manage this war and to deploy and withdraw.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, we talked — you were on the show last year, and we talked about the moment that we're at right now. And like a lot of Democrats, you said then that come September, largely with the help of Republicans, that you were going to be able to force the president to change policy in Iraq.

Let's watch what you said then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FEINSTEIN: I hear even from some Republicans, "Well, September is an important month. We may well change. We know that this can't go on forever."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: What happened? Why are Democratic leaders now pulling back, talking about not a deadline for getting out but a goal with Republicans? And would you accept that, a goal, not a deadline?

FEINSTEIN: Well, that's because it's a constantly changing theme. The surge was meant to be in place for only a few months. Now that's changed, and the talk is, "Well, you've got to continue to extend it." So it's a constantly shifting scene.

WALLACE: But why are the Democrats backing off and, in fact, saying, "Well, you know, we won't go for a deadline. We'll just accept a goal of trying to get out by next June?"

FEINSTEIN: Well, look. We feel the way we feel. I think that's been clearly established. Whether we can get the votes or not is a second subject. We had 53 votes on the resolution the last time. It takes 60 votes.

And so what we're looking for is how do you put together 60 votes in a bipartisan way that will change the policy and that will communicate to the Maliki government that they have to stand up, that they've got to clean up their department of interior, that they've got to begin to make the necessary accommodations, that they have to allow Sunnis a greater part of the pie, have the oil distribution, hold the provincial elections, carry out the major commitments that they made in terms of those benchmarks.

That's not going to be done as long as we maintain this presence, in my view. So I think there are two different schools of thought on this. I think Lindsey has very clearly espoused the position of the administration. That's not the position of the American people, however.

WALLACE: But let me just say that there may be...

FEINSTEIN: And that's a critical driver of all of this.

WALLACE: But let me say that there may be even more than two positions, because what you're espousing, which is, "Well, let's send a message," antiwar activists — for instance, Code Pink, which had a sleep-in outside your house in San Francisco...

FEINSTEIN: That's correct.

WALLACE: ... they say that what you're talking about is caving in, the Democrats caving in, once again to the president. How do you respond to them?

FEINSTEIN: I went out and talked to hem and said, "You know, we can only do what we can do. We have to have a certain number of votes to get to cloture. That number is 60. And we can't move beyond it unless we have those votes. Ergo, if you want to make some progress, you have to find a way to get those votes." This mission is now in play. We'll see how it develops.

WALLACE: Senator Graham, how do you explain the turnaround in Democratic strategy? And in effect, as we come to this all-important September that we've been talking about, even before Petraeus testifies, hasn't the president won?

Isn't he going to be able to prolong his surge into next year?

GRAHAM: I think America has won, because — is winning, but we haven't won yet. Any time that Al Qaeda is diminished anywhere in the world, America is winning. Any time that moderation can trump extremism, America is winning.

And the reason they don't have the votes is because it's undeniably obvious that this new strategy is producing results the old strategy did not produce. Political reconciliation is going on all over the country. The Sunnis now want to play politics.

It is in our national security interest to make sure there is no vacuum created in Iraq that Iran can fill in and make sure that Al Qaeda does not reemerge. Now's the time to pour it on. There will not be 60 votes.

In April, Harry Reid said the war was lost and the surge has failed. September is about trying to justify those statements in April.

We need to listen to this general, listen to this ambassador and understand that we have made progress. And if we pull back now any troops based on politics, you're going to allow an enemy to get off the map that's on the map and you're going to break the hearts of the troops that have brought about this success.

They believe they're winning. Let them win.

WALLACE: Let's talk about General Petraeus.

Now, Senator Feinstein, you were very complimentary about him a moment ago, but even before he testifies, some Democratic leaders are challenging his credibility.

Senator Reid says he's been spinning rosy scenarios for years, and Senator Durbin this week said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN, D-ILL.: By carefully manipulating the statistics, the Bush-Petraeus report will try to persuade us that violence in Iraq is decreasing and the surge is working. Even if the figures are right, the conclusion's wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senator Graham, what do you make of the attempts by some Democratic leaders in the Senate to discredit General Petraeus?

GRAHAM: Very upset, because he's coming because we passed a law telling him he had to come.

Now, this idea that he and Ambassador Crocker are going to cook numbers to continue a war where people are going to get hurt and killed because they have a political agenda is ridiculous. It's offensive.

This is a good man, General Petraeus, and I appreciate what Dianne Feinstein said about him. It is clear to me that he's going to give a balanced report.

We've got a long way to go in Iraq, but finally we're getting this right. We've got the team in place that's delivered results, and I don't want to look at this war from the next election point of view. I want to look at it from the next generation's point of view.

Once Harry Reid said the war was lost in April, how does he change? How does he back off? I wish he would back off.

I made mistakes. Right after the fall of Baghdad, I thought it would be easier than it was. I supported a failed strategy for about a year until I realized the old strategy wasn't working.

There's no shame of re-evaluating your position and changing your position to support a strategy that will make this country more secure. We are winning in Iraq finally, and the only way we're going to lose this war is to have politicians in Washington undercut the surge by political redeployment, not military redeployment.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, let me ask you, because you did say complimentary things a moment ago about General Petraeus.

FEINSTEIN: Yes.

WALLACE: How do you square that with the comments of your two top leaders in the Senate, Senator Reid, Senator Durbin, who have been very critical and somewhat diminishing about the integrity of General Petraeus?

FEINSTEIN: Well, there are many generals who do not believe the surge is all that Lindsey has just stated it to be, and that we can't win this war militarily.

And so the necessary accommodations, the reconciliation, has to be made, and this Iraqi government refuses to do it. Now...

WALLACE: Yes, but I'm asking about General Petraeus.

FEINSTEIN: Well, let me — well, I don't think General Petraeus has an independent view in that sense. General Petraeus is there to succeed. He may say the progress is uneven. He may say it's substantial.

I don't know what he will say. You can be sure we'll listen to it. But I don't think he's an independent evaluator.

Now, you skim over the fact that you've had three other reports — the Jones report, the GAO report, other report — saying that the statistics are questionable, the progress is uneven at best, the things that need to be securitized are not securitized. Electricity in Baghdad is on but six hours a day. I mean, I can go on and on and on.

And you might — there is no evidence that killings are down. It's estimated at least 2,000 people are killed a month. There is no Shia on Shia — there is no Sunni on Sunni — data kept. So all of the statistics are questionable.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, I've got less than a minute left, and I want to get into one last subject with you, if I can.

You're a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The president is expected to name a new attorney general perhaps this week. The leading name right now is Ted Olson, who represented the president in the 2000 electoral legal battle.

Back in 2001, when he was up for solicitor general, you voted against him because you said he was too partisan. Do you think that Ted Olson would make a good attorney general?

FEINSTEIN: Well, that remains to be seen. There are people that say yes and there are people that say no. You can be sure of one thing. He will receive a fair hearing.

WALLACE: But would you just as soon that the president doesn't name him?

FEINSTEIN: That's up to the president. I'm not going to say. I think it's his nominee. Whether we confirm him or not is another story, and that's based on our perception of whether he can be an independent figure, the attorney general for all the people, not the attorney general for the White House.

This has been indisputable in the case of Attorney General Gonzales, and it's created a lack of credibility, a department that's virtually rudderless at the present time, so we do need to get someone in there.

He will have a fair look. That's all I can say.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, Senator Graham, we want to thank you both so much for talking with us.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Chris.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

WALLACE: And thanks for coming in.

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