Published January 19, 2007
This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," January 18, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Senator Hillary Clinton just back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and well, let her tell you herself. She went on the record earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, welcome home.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, D-N.Y.: Thank you so much, Greta. Glad to be back.
VAN SUSTEREN: How many trips have you made to the region?
CLINTON: Three, three to Iraq and three to Afghanistan.
VAN SUSTEREN: How — you had one last week and when were the other two?
CLINTON: `03 and `05.
VAN SUSTEREN: Take me back to when you started last week, what day did you go?
CLINTON: We left Washington Thursday night, late after we finished voting here, flew all night and all day because of the time change, ended up in Kuwait Friday night. Had dinner with the ambassador and got a good briefing about the situation as seen from Kuwait, got up really early the next morning, got on a C-130, flew out of Kuwait to Baghdad. Unfortunately the weather was bad and so we were told we might have to divert and.
VAN SUSTEREN: While you are in the air?
CLINTON: While we were in the air. Our response was, let's try get into Baghdad because obviously we didn't want to lose any time on the ground. Well, so we circled over Baghdad for about 90 minutes and we had a great crew. When you fly into a war zone like Baghdad, and I've done it numerous times now, there and elsewhere, you know, the C-130 does a kind of corkscrew landing and my colleague Senator Bayh, from Indiana, said to the crew, he said, you know, "If you see an openings — beers for everybody if you can get in."
And they had tremendous skill. We got through a sliver of, you know, space we could see to the ground, got on the ground. But, because the weather was so bad we couldn't helicopter to the Green Zone. So, we drove the highway from the airport there, and you know, some people call it the "highway of death" because of all of the bombs, the improvised explosive devices, now these new, shape chargers that are being manufactured and killing our guys and exploding even the armored Humvees. So, it was a bit of a challenge to get to our meetings, but.
VAN SUSTEREN: Hair-raising, that flight — I mean that corkscrew — I mean, I always hear descriptions of that corkscrew landing, but if you're also circling and they — I understand the tower said they didn't want to you land.
CLINTON: They didn't want us to land, yeah. They didn't know that we had terrific pilots who were going to get us in and get those doing the Senator Bayh had promised them, so we made it down, and boy I give, you know, great credit to our crew.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, when you landed and you knew that you couldn't take a helicopter to the Green Zone, I mean, you knew how dangerous that road it?
CLINTON: Right. Right. But you know, Greta, at a certain point, and you know, I just believe you put your faith in the people that know their job and know what they're doing. Doesn't mean that I wasn't a little anxious a few moments there, but you know, I have total confidence in the people who were driving our convoy and providing the security for it.
It was also important for me to get to the meetings that I scheduled, because, you know, we had to cancel and shorten a few of the meetings because we were, you know, two hours late, unfortunately. But I needed to see and hear for myself what was going on because I, you know, am worried, I guess, nearly the great majority of Americans have to be about where we are in Iraq and where we're headed and the president's new policy and I'm really glad that I was able to keep my schedule and meet with the people I met with.
VAN SUSTEREN: What was the difference? I realize you weren't on the ground a long time. What was difference between the first trip, the second trip, and the third trip? Were there any observations where you thought, you know, this was better, this is worse, this is still the same?
CLINTON: You know, the security is so much worse. You know, in `03, the first time I went, you know, we drove from the airport into the Green Zone. We drove around Baghdad. We didn't have any problem getting around, we went to Sadr City to see the 82nd Airborne. You know? We were out in Baghdad. We went up to Kirkuk, drove into the city, met with leaders of the various groups in the city. It was not required that I wear body armor.
VAN SUSTEREN: Did you wear it this time?
CLINTON: I Did. I did. I wore it last time, too, on `05. And the difference is night and day for anyone who has gone, as I have, periodically. The way that you are now constrained and have the security burden that you carry and obviously when people are planning these trips for members of Congress, you know, it has to be factored in and I regret that. Because I think that it's made a big difference in how much accurate information, you know, our guys on the ground can get. They can't move around. You know, they're really constrained. And I think that has contributed, frankly, to some of the wrong judgments that have been made.
VAN SUSTEREN: More with Senator Hillary Clinton. She goes ON THE RECORD.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: The president wants to do a troop surge of about 20,000 troops. Last night, former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich told me that he thought it had a one in five chance, which did not seem a particularly promising estimate. Your thought on this 20,000 troop surge?
CLINTON: Well, I opposed it, based on what I knew about the situation before I went and I'm even more strongly against it now because I think the chances for success are limited, at best.
VAN SUSTEREN: Then why do anything? If it's limited at best we put 20,000 more at risk to the existing ones. Why not either overwhelm with a lot or get out? Why this — it almost seems like a band-aid.
CLINTON: Well, I think you've summed up the dilemma. We never had enough troops in Iraq. And we've all been saying that for many years now, including, as we all unfortunately remember, how the General Shinseki's warning in February of `03 was totally disregarded and...
VAN SUSTEREN: So, what do we do?
CLINTON: Well, here's what I think we have to do now. I want to cap the number of troops that we have at the number that was in country January 1. I want to start a phased redeployment of our troops, which I've been for more than a year and a half. I think it's also important though to try to get the Maliki government to deal with some of the political and economic challenges on the ground, which we've all been asking for but frankly no consequences have ever been imposed.
That means, get their oil deal done. And I pushed hard for that when I was there. Reverse of the de-Baathification. If you don't give, you know, the low level Baathist some reason to buy in, they're going to, you know, quit supporting the insurgency. Make the constitutional changes that will set in motion a political structure that will try to, at least, acknowledge and recognize minority rights.
There is no easy one-tone answer to this. It's got to be a whole symphony of diplomatic, economic, political, and military actions. And, unfortunately, our administration ignored our efforts a year and a half ago on a phased redeployment plan that included a lot of this, ignored the Iraq Study Group and just persists in pursuing a policy that doesn't have much of a chance to succeed.
VAN SUSTEREN: Everybody wants success in this country. I've never met anyone, whether it's in public office or private who doesn't want us to win, but I think people are also pretty practical. If we can't, we can't continue to let Americans over there at risk.
VAN SUSTEREN: What, I mean, what you propose, what — do you give it a better than 1-5 that Newt Gingrich gives to the existing plan?
CLINTON: If we were to really try it with a full force of the American government behind it, we would certainly increase our chances above 1-5.
VAN SUSTEREN: It almost, I mean, when you through the litany of mistakes, though, and you look at the numbers of people who are dying and you hear the Republicans and Democrats talk about what a terrible situation. It's really hard to sort of — as an American, to get hands on a sense that this can be fixed.
CLINTON: Well, but look what the Iraq Study Group came up with. You know, that was a totally nonpartisan group of, you know, 10 wise Americans, you know, some of them Republican, some of then Democrats from different, you know, experiences. They came out with a long list of recommendations.
Now, can you say well, I wouldn't agree with that one or wouldn't agree with this one, but the fundamental point they made is that there is no military solution. There is only a political resolution and you've got to bring everybody into the game in order to move it forward, you know.
And for whatever reason, this administration rejects that. They won't talk to bad people. That means they won't talk to the Iranians and the Syrians. I think the first rule of warfare there are know enemies. If they're our enemies, then believe me, I think they are, because they certainly don't wish us any well outcome, then we need to know more about them. I think it's a sign of strength to get into a process with people who you are concerned about their motives, who's really calling the shots. This administration won't do that. So, to a certain extent we're flying blind, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Can you pick up the phone and call the president? Can Democratic senators pick up the phone, or even Republicans and say, look we think the policy has to take a complete turn?
CLINTON: Many of us have said that over many years now. In fact, one of the points that I made when I got back was my concern about Afghanistan. You know, Afghanistan is on the brink. There'll be a big spring offensive from the Taliban and Al Qaeda. We don't have enough troops in Afghanistan. I think there is 100 percent agreement, by anybody who's looked at Afghanistan, we should be putting more troops in Afghanistan, not moving troops out of Afghanistan to send them to Iraq. And I called the White House, you know, I called and spoke with the national security advisor, you know...
VAN SUSTEREN: And he says what?
CLINTON: "Thank you very much." You know, took it onboard. But I have a very strong sense that I'm an American first, you know, that is my primary obligation and if we can save lives, if we can do a better job, I'm going to share that now. You know, I'm not making the decisions. The president's making the decisions. They listen to the people they choose to listen to. But I think on both sides of the aisle, increasingly over the last year, senators, members of Congress have worked extremely hard to break through. You know, we finally got rid of Secretary Rumsfeld. That was one of the biggest impediments to anybody listening to us at all, because he wouldn't listen.
VAN SUSTEREN: Because the president fired him.
CLINTON: Finally, finally.
VAN SUSTEREN: I suppose you know that there's a lot of chatter behind the scenes, I know you're busy doing your job, about whether or not you are going to run for president. Tell me, pros and cons, you know, what are you looking at? What are you weighing? Because everybody's talking about it?
CLINTON: Well, if I make the decision to do that I'll come back and talk to you. How about that?
VAN SUSTEREN: That's a good deal. If — are you getting any advice on the home front — I mean, of course, from your mother and Chelsey? But any other family members advising you?
CLINTON: Well, you know, I keep that to myself.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Thanks Senator.
CLINTON: Great to see you again, thanks, Greta.
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