Transcript: Sen. Carl Levin on 'Fox News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from "Fox News Sunday," Sept. 7, 2003.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: The White House reportedly plans to ask Congress for an additional $60 billion to $70 billion to cover the costs of ongoing operations in Iraq.

Joining us to discuss this and other issues, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Service Committee, Michigan Senator Carl Levin. He joins us from New York.

Senator Levin, if the president comes before Congress in the next week or so and says, "I need $60 billion to $70 billion," will Congress give him the money he thinks he needs?

U.S. SENATOR CARL LEVIN, D-Mich.: I think that Congress is going to do whatever we — whatever is necessary to support the troops in the field. That's a given.

What we're going to need, though, from this president is what we haven't had so far, which is straightforward, straight-from-the- shoulder discussion and talk and statements about how long we're going to be there, just an estimate, but honest and straightforward, how many troops we're going to have to keep there, for how long and what the costs are going to be.

We've not had that kind of straight talk from the administration so far, and it's created a real problem with the American people, because the administration's refused to do what some of our top uniformed military leaders have been willing to do, which is to give us the honest estimates, significant number of troops for the foreseeable future.

And we also are going to need from the president an exit strategy. And that means we're going to have to see a willingness on his part to internationalize this effort, to go to the U.N., which he has not been willing to do so far, inexplicably for months, although it's been obvious to everybody that we're going to need that international support. The president has been unwilling until right now to go to the U.N. for a new mandate, which will reduce the stress on our troops.

SNOW: Senator, there are a whole series of things here.

Number one, you're asking the president to know when it's going to be over. That would assume that he'd be smart enough to know every possible jot and tittle. I've been looking through the clips. I have I not found quotes from you or anybody else, during the war, those opposed or those in support, who anticipated some of the problems that U.S. forces have encountered. How on Earth do you think the president is going to have that kind of foresight?

LEVIN: I think the president should at least support what his top uniformed leaders have said, which is that we're going to need a significant number of troops. That could be in the hundreds of thousands for the foreseeable future. And when the top military leaders of our country, uniformed leaders, said that, they were immediately disowned by the civilians in the Defense Department.

That's what we need. We don't need the exact, precise number of troops for the exact number of months.

SNOW: General Sanchez, just this weekend, said he doesn't need any additional troops. Now, this is the guy who's in the field. Why would he not be the person qualified to comment on it?

LEVIN: Oh, he did, and what he also says is that we want troops from Muslim countries, particularly. And that's what this president and the administration's been unwilling to do. And the only way to do that is to go to the U.N. and seek a mandate.

We've been told specifically by Muslim countries, including Pakistan, including Turkey, that they will not send troops without a new U.N. mandate. And until now, it has been inexplicable — it's incomprehensible why the administration has not been willing to go until now to the United Nations to get that mandate which those Muslim nations and other nations say are necessary in order for them to send troops in.

SNOW: Senator, as we have learned, there are Muslims and there are Muslims. You're talking about Pakistan. In fact, you've got a lot of Wahhabi Muslims there, who are fighting hammer and tong against Shia Muslims, who constitute the majority in Iraq. Do you really think Wahhabi Muslims are the people the United States, or for that matter, the people of Iraq, want in there?

The same goes also for the Turks. Do you believe that the Iraqis would be more comfortable having Turks doing the peacekeeping or having people who may not be neighbors and may not, in fact, be ideological or religious enemies?

LEVIN: The administration says that they want troops from Pakistan and Turkey to come in. So it's not just me here. I'm in agreement with the administration, as to what they claim they want, which is troops from Muslim nations, as well as other nations, such as India, to send troops in. And those nations, which this administration says they want to send troops in, will not send troops in without a mandate.

That's why we're finally going to the U.N. I hope that the president tonight will explain why the long delay in going to the U.N. when it's been so obvious to our commanders and to others that we need troops from other nations. We've got much too much stress on our own troops. We've got our troops that have been there for too long. They need to be relieved. Our Guard and Reserve have been there too long. They need to be relieved, as well. And the...

SNOW: So how many American troops — I'm going to put you — let's put to you the question that you want to put to the president. How many U.S. troops do you think ought to be staying in Iraq and for how long?

LEVIN: I think the honest estimate that we got from the top military uniformed leaders in this country was that we're going to need hundreds of thousands of troops for the foreseeable future is accurate. Whether it's going to be 100,000 or 125,000 or 150,000, those early estimates that we could get troops down to 50,000 or 60,000 troops and that they would be coming out very promptly were clearly wrong, and they were wrong at the time. They differed with our top military uniformed guys, who said that we would need a significant number for a foreseeable future. That was disowned by the civilians in the Defense Department.

We have not had a straightforward statement from this administration on that issue or on the costs. Finally, now we're told that it's going to cost us about $4.5 billion a month, just for the military side, without the reconstruction.

And one of the many reasons why we need the international community in here, Tony, is to share the burdens and share the risks, and until now this administration has not been willing to seek that kind of mandate.

SNOW: All right, tell me which nations are going to step forward and share the risks.

LEVIN: Pakistan we hope, we expect. Turkey we hope and expect. India we hope and expect. And other countries as well. But with significant numbers.

SNOW: Well, the point is, we have 30 nations already committed. Condoleezza Rice says that there are a series of others. I — at this point, are you saying that you believe that the after-action would have been better if we'd had immediately gone to the U.N., many of whose members have opposed this from the start, an organization that did support military action in Kosovo, an organization that is still going to take months and months and months to get military forces there? Do you really believe American troops would be better if we had gone and petitioned the United Nations?

LEVIN: Oh, absolutely. We would be less of a target there. It would not be a jihad against just Western nations if the U.N. have given a mandate here for the military effort now going on in Iraq, which I believe they will do, by the way, when asked, and providing we're willing to give up some of that control over the civilian reconstruction.

We are not going to give up control over our troops. That has never been an issue. But we must be willing to share control with other nations if we are going to ask them to participate in terms of civilian reconstruction of Iraq.

I think they will come in. They should have been asked a long time. And the anti-U.N. forces in this administration, it seemed to me, have carried the day until now. And there's great cost that we are going to pay as a result.

SNOW: What's the cost?

LEVIN: The cost is in money, the cost is in lives. Because now we have taken the risks on our own, this is now becoming more and more, as Condi Rice said, part of the war on terrorism.

We have these jihadists flowing into Iraq now, because now this is a war against the West, which it should not be and cannot be. This has got to be a war against terrorism, and that means that it's got to be universal. It's got to be the world that's involved, not just a few Western nations, because that plays right into the hands of the terrorists who say, "This is a Western effort against an Islamic state." It is not.

SNOW: There — as I mentioned before, there are 30 nations. They are not all Western nations. They are scattered across the globe. They've been contributing. It sounds to me...

LEVIN: Very minor amounts. Very minor amounts.

SNOW: But what you're saying is that we need some Muslims killed in addition to Americans in combat.

LEVIN: No, that's what you're saying. I'm saying there's going to be less people killed, providing we can demonstrate and have on the ground an international effort with a U.N. mandate, so when the terrorists try to claim this is a war against the West who have taken over and who are occupying an Islamic country, the lie will be given to that by the presence...

SNOW: But Senator...

LEVIN: ... of troops — presence of significant number of troops from Islamic countries, which we now do not have.

And they've told us, Tony. This isn't a matter of dispute. They've told us. They've been very explicit about it. Pakistan, for instance, has said they will not go in there without a U.N. mandate...

SNOW: No, I understand that, Senator. But also, if you take a look at what's been going on, the terrorists have been targeting Muslims. They targeted Muslims in Najaf. They have targeted Muslims in — within Baghdad. They have targeted Muslims throughout the country.

Why do you think just because they get a couple of Muslim soldiers in that they'd stop doing it? Isn't that part, in fact, of the terrorist strategy right now, is to divide different Muslims and set them at war against one another?

LEVIN: They — that is a tactic which is used to try to bring Muslims in in a war against the West. That's what this jihadist terrorist effort is all about. It's that their claim is that the West is trying to dominate, and that the West is trying to occupy an Islamic nation. That is the magnet which is drawing in all these jihadists and terrorists, right now, into Iraq.

We should not play into those hands by having this go-it-alone, Lone Ranger attitude which the administration has had for much too long.

SNOW: You know, you keep saying it's a Lone Ranger attitude. This is a war that attracted more different participants than any in American history. As I mentioned, you had at least 31 partners. It's not go-it-alone, is it? Really?

LEVIN: Well, as a matter of fact, the 31 partners — there's just one or two partners that have any significant number of troops, and those are Western nations. Those are Great Britain, which has the majority of the non-American troops. We have about 90 percent of the troops. Great Britain has about 5 percent of the balance. And those other 30 countries which you talk about have a very few hundreds of troops.

SNOW: OK. Final question: Should not the strategy, and you've talked about this before, when you're dealing with terrorists like this, with Al Qaida, should it not be to diversify the force, but to kill the bad guys?

LEVIN: Sure. Absolutely. We're at war. But if you want to win a war, what you try to do is you take away some of the target from your enemy and right now those targets are Western targets, which they use to attract the very terrorists which we say we're at war with. That's — you want to win a war?

LEVIN: Of course, you're going to kill the enemy. You don't want to help give propaganda to the enemy, you don't want to give them fuel for their propaganda that somehow or other this is a Western effort against an Islamic country.

It is not. It's been portrayed as that by the terrorists, and we've played right into their hands by making this such a unilateral effort, and without going to the U.N. until now. I hope the president explains why such a delay in going to the U.N.

SNOW: OK, final question: But your view is, this big propaganda effort, you got all these Western troops, but you still think the Americans ought to be in control of it?

LEVIN: Oh, of the military part, there's no doubt and there's never been a doubt about that. We were in control of the forces in the first Gulf War, it had a U.N. mandate.

Of course, whoever has the majority of troops is going to be in command. It's got to be a unified command. That is not the issue, it's never been the issue at the U.N.

The issue is will the United States give up some of the control that it has exerted over the civilian authority, over the reconstruction, the civilian reconstruction in Iraq? That is the issue.

We got to give up some of this control that we have asserted so that we don't appear to be dominating, and so that we tell other countries who are seeking to participate that they will in fact have a decision-making role, and not just be asked for funds and for troops.

SNOW: All right, Senator Carl Levin, thanks for joining us today.

LEVIN: Tony, good being with you.