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

The following is a partial transcript of the Feb. 18, 2007 edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: We're joined now by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin, who comes to us from his home state of Michigan.

Senator, now that the House has passed the anti-surge resolution and the Senate has not, what's next? Will the Democrats in control of Congress move now to binding measures that would restrict the president?

LEVIN: Well, we assume that we'll be thwarted in that by a filibuster, too. But if we can't get a non-binding statement passed because of the Republican filibuster, it may be more difficult even to get a binding resolution passed.

But we're going to continue to try, because we are determined that we're going to change course in Iraq and that the president's current position of deepening our military involvement by sending 21,000-plus troops into Iraq is a mistake.

It's just going to plunge us in deeper into a civil war. This is not a surge. This is a plunge which we're talking about into the unknown and into maybe the unknowable by putting 21,000 American troops into the neighborhoods of Baghdad.

WALLACE: Senator, there are several ideas out there about how to change course — either cut off funding — Congressman Murtha, as you know, has come up with the idea of setting benchmarks for how troops that could be sent over that he knows the Pentagon can't meet.

Senator Biden is talking about repealing the 2002 authorization to go to war. What approach do you favor?

LEVIN: Well, hopefully, we can come up with a bipartisan approach. We got seven Republicans who voted with us yesterday. We hope to pick up at least that many and maybe a few more.

I think probably the best approach would be to modify the authorization to the president to go to war in Iraq. That was a wide-open authorization which allowed him to do just about anything and put us now deep into combat in Iraq, and now into the neighborhoods of Baghdad.

We, I think, will be looking at a modification of that authorization in order to limit the mission of American troops to a support mission instead of a combat mission, and that is very different from cutting off funds.

I don't think there's support to cut off funds. I think that sends the wrong message to our troops. We're going to support our troops. And one way to support them is to find a way out of Iraq earlier rather than later.

WALLACE: So you're saying that the idea would be to restate what the authorization Congress gave the president is and to say that it doesn't include combat? I'm not quite sure what you're saying this modified authorization would do.

LEVIN: Right. The authorization, which the Congress voted for by about — in the Senate, about 75-25 — I voted against it, but that's not the point. We're there now. That authorization is out there.

It's wide open, telling the president he can go to Iraq and basically carry out any mission that he wants to.

One thought is that we should limit the mission to a support mission — in other words, an antiterrorist mission to go after Al Qaeda in Iraq, to support and train the Iraqi army, to protect our own diplomatic personnel and other personnel in Iraq, rather than this unlimited mission which was described in the authorization for the use of force.

We think that that would be constitutional, and it also would move us toward the end of our presence in Iraq. By the way, the prime minister of Iraq did not ask for more troops. He does not want American troops in Baghdad. He did not ask us to come into Baghdad.

WALLACE: Senator, it seems clear that at some point down the road here that Congress is headed for a constitutional clash with the president over war powers.

Now, it's clear and there is precedent that Congress can just cut off the funds, but short of that, what powers do you think the Congress has, constitutionally, to restrict the president — the commander in chief's powers to wage war?

LEVIN: Well, we authorized him going to Iraq and we can modify that authorization so it's not this unlimited authority to the president to use our troops in combat in the middle of Baghdad.

We can have a much more limited mission that we authorize. We can modify the authorization in order to provide a much more limited mission which will remove our troops from the middle of a sectarian civil war.

Right now we are putting our troops into the middle of a civil war. And it seems to me that is the worst place for American troops. Four years later, we should be moving out of Baghdad, not into Baghdad.

We ought to listen to the prime minister of Iraq who says he does not want American troops in Baghdad.

WALLACE: Senator, while Congress debates, more U.S. troops have, as you know, already moved into Baghdad, and here's what White House spokesman Tony Snow had to say about all that this week. Take a look.


WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY TONY SNOW: Members of Congress have taken their own gamble here. They're gambling on failure, and — some members, at least.


WALLACE: Senator, aren't some Democrats in effect gambling that the surge will fail? And won't you end up looking foolish if it should actually succeed?

LEVIN: Well, the course that the president is on is a failing course. It's been failing for four years. We're trying to change that course to one which has the maximum chance of success.

And the maximum chance of success is to limit our mission, to get us out of the middle of a sectarian civil war. So it's the president's course which is a course toward failure.

Interestingly enough, while we're being criticized at the White House for having this debate, Condi Rice over in Baghdad was using the fact that Congress is moving towards restricting the presence of American troops in her effort to put pressure on the Iraqi leaders to tell them yesterday in Baghdad hey, folks, you better get your political act together, because look, Congress is about to restrict in a number of possible ways the president in terms of American presence in Iraq.

It's interesting that finally they understand the power of what we are doing in the Congress.

WALLACE: But, Senator — and let's talk about the situation on the ground in Iraq. There have been some terrible car bombings today. As we went on the air this morning, 28 people were dead.

But there has been some hopeful news since the crackdown started. Muqtada al-Sadr has gone to ground. Some of the Mahdi army has gone to ground. The U.S. and Iraqi troops are meeting little resistance as they make a sweep. Isn't it possible that this could work?

LEVIN: It's possible that you could have a quieter Baghdad. It's possible if the Mahdi army goes underground, but they'll take their weapons underground. We're not going to take their weapons away from them, apparently. They're just going to wait for a different opportunity and move to other parts of Iraq.

So anything's possible. There's risk in whatever you do in Iraq, obviously. But the current course is a proven failure.

We've got to shift the responsibility to the Iraqi leaders to take control, and the only way to do that is not to tell them we're going to save them from themselves, or at least try to, with additional American troops that are just targets for whoever shoots at them.

But rather, we're going to force them to take responsibility by beginning to remove those troops out of Baghdad and then out of Iraq. That's the better way, we believe, to achieve success in Iraq.

But there's no guarantee either way. The difference is the president's path is a proven path towards failure — more and more reliance on military action.

WALLACE: Senator, do you see no political danger here for Democrats that you could end up being seen as weak on national security as your party was for years after Vietnam?

LEVIN: I don't think the politics of this is in the minds or should be in the minds of Democrats or Republicans. I think this is a matter of war. This is a matter of the security of this country.

We are duty-bound, I believe, to give our best assessment as to how to maximize the chances, to the extent they exist, of success in Iraq. That is, I believe, almost a sacred responsibility because we've got men and women who are in harm's way.

We ought to put aside politics. Seven Republicans did yesterday and voted the way that I think is absolutely essential, which is to tell the president don't rely more on military power. We've got to force the Iraqis to work out political settlements among themselves.

WALLACE: Senator, we have a couple of minutes left and I want to turn to one other subject, which is North Korea. A deal was announced this week in which they agreed to shut down their nuclear reactor in return for tons of heavy fuel.

Now, there had been a lot of criticism from Democrats about the idea that there should be unilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea, that it was a waste to go through these six-party talks.

Doesn't this deal show that the president's idea of engaging the neighborhood, especially China, which is the main sponsor of North Korea — that that idea of diplomacy actually ended up working?

LEVIN: Well, actually, what happened here is the president finally engaged in some bilateral talks with North Korea. They were on the side, but there were bilateral talks. Chris Hill had those talks.

The president took two steps backward when he took office. He decided to cut discussions with North Korea. He called them an evil empire. He said that because Bill Clinton had moved this ball a certain distance, that he was going to do something totally different.

If Bill Clinton did it this way, Bush had to do it the opposite way. Now we're basically where Bill Clinton was when he left office, which is, as far as I'm concerned, good. We took two steps forward in the last week or two. We had taken two steps backward when the president came to office.

We're about back where we started, but there's a long way to go. We don't know about the uranium. We haven't got a commitment on that secret program yet. They have nuclear weapons. What are they going to do with those nuclear weapons?

All those things are left to be negotiated. But I'm glad we're at least back on track. It's long overdue.

WALLACE: But isn't there a big difference between the Clinton diplomacy and the Bush diplomacy, because now you have China, the main sponsor of North Korea, fully engaged?

LEVIN: China was engaged before.

WALLACE: It was?

LEVIN: Sure.

WALLACE: Well...

LEVIN: China supported some of the Clinton initiatives.

WALLACE: ... that was a bilateral conversation. This is a deal that North Korea has made with China as well as the United States, Senator.

LEVIN: There were bilateral and multilateral talks with Clinton. It wasn't just bilateral. There were multiparty, six-party talks with Clinton. There also were bilateral talks.

Finally, President Bush has gone back to where Clinton was, which is have both multilateral talks and bilateral talks, for a number of reasons. Number one, it's much more direct, much more productive, but, number two, our allies. And the Chinese want us to have these bilateral talks.

WALLACE: Senator Levin, we want to thank you so much for coming in today, sharing part of your Sunday with us and answering our questions, sir.

LEVIN: Good to be with you, Chris.