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

The following is a partial transcript of the July 15, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" GUEST HOST BRIT HUME: House Democrats this week passed a bill to start troop withdrawals within the next four months. Senate Democrats are pushing similar measures of their own.

And for more on all of that, we're joined now by the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Carl Levin, who comes to us from near Traverse City, Michigan.

Senator, welcome back.

LEVIN: Thank you. Good to be with you, Brit.

HUME: You just heard Steve Hadley outline the progress that he says has been and is being made in Iraq. Do you have any quarrel with that?

LEVIN: A lot of quarrel with it. They try to make it out in their own self-assessment that this is a glass which is half full rather than it being half empty. As a matter of fact, this is a cup or a glass with a big hole in the bottom.

This is not a half full, half empty issue. They have made no progress in the one key area that everyone agrees must have progress or the violence will not end, and that's on the political side of things.

There has been no progress in terms of resolving the differences over oil royalties, over elections in the provinces, over de- Baathification.

Everyone agrees — and by the way, even the prime minister that Stephen Hadley touts as being a positive force and someone who is able to put together this situation — even that prime minister, Mr. Maliki, has said recently that the reason that the violence continues in Iraq is the failure of the Iraqi politicians.

It's not that there's military chaos. It's that the politicians in Iraq have refused to make the compromises which are essential if there's going to be an end of violence in Iraq.

That's the issue. There's been no progress in that area. That's why it makes no sense to wait till September.

HUME: Well, hold on a second, Senator. Just let me ask you about that, because as you heard Stephen Hadley say, there are a number of areas in which some progress has been made.

Now, they're not the areas that you just cited there, but there are some areas. Now, just let me ask you about how the Democrats in Washington, for example, have done in terms of the agenda that they outlined to the public in the last election.

My understanding is that you got the minimum wage increase, but nothing else has passed. Does that make you a failure?

LEVIN: Well, no, because it's not true. There's a lot of things that have passed. We're the first — for the first time in years, we've adopted a budget.

For the first time we've adopted a big increase now in education funding, health care funding. We're making progress on child health care.

We're making progress in a lot of areas, but you can judge the Democrats here at home and that's fine. We are more than happy to be judged.

But what we're involved in now is a brutal civil war in Iraq where there is no political progress being made and where everybody — hey, Brit, this is not something where there's a division.

This is something where everybody agrees that there needs to be a political settlement in Iraq, and where their own leader — this is the prime minister that Stephen Hadley touts — says that the reason that the violence continues is not the security situation.

He says it's the failure of the political leaders of Iraq to reach a settlement.

HUME: Well, Senator...

LEVIN: That's the problem. And there's no progress in that area.

HUME: Senator, do you really seriously believe that Al Qaeda, which has unmistakably been responsible for particularly this recent rash of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, gives a fig one way or another about whether there's a political settlement among the — involving these issues among the Iraqis?

That's not why they're fighting, is it?

LEVIN: No, I think Al Qaeda has a great propaganda advantage by the western occupation of a Muslim country, and that's what's gone on here for over four years.

HUME: Well, do you believe...

LEVIN: Al Qaeda has grown in Iraq. Excuse me. Al Qaeda, according to our own intelligence, has grown stronger in Iraq because of the American presence and the American policies that we would occupy a Muslim country.

Al Qaeda is stronger now in Iraq than it has ever been. It is growing in strength because of our presence.

HUME: So you believe...

LEVIN: You can't just simply say...

HUME: Do you believe, though...

LEVIN: You can't just simply say, Brit...

HUME: I was just going to say, Senator, do you seriously believe, though, that if you had the de-Baathification program passed, that the oil sharing law was passed into law, that the other areas of political progress which you have said are necessary — and I think everybody agrees with that — if all that were to come to pass, that Al Qaeda would go away in Iraq?

LEVIN: No, I think the best chance of defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq is through two things. One, if you have a political settlement in Iraq, number one, because then the parties there will go after the real enemy, which is Al Qaeda.

Secondly, under all of our plans — under the so-called Levin-Reed amendment, which is going to hopefully be allowed to be voted on, we do provide that there be a force remaining to help an Iraqi hopefully unified government go after Al Qaeda.

Of course there's a problem in Iraq with terrorism through Al Qaeda, but it's a growing problem because of our presence, because of the failure of the Iraqi political leaders to come together to go after Al Qaeda.

And yes, there will be a need to go after Al Qaeda after most of our forces leave.

HUME: I want to ask you about that particular resolution, Senator, because I know a lot of anti-war Democrats who came out in such numbers to support the party in this past election would be interested in it.

This requires a reduction in troops in 120 days and a limited troop presence by April 30th of '08. Now, that's pretty vague. I mean, couldn't the president accept something like that, bring a few troops home in 120 days and maybe a few more by April 30, 2008?

I mean, counterterrorism training and force protection — that covers — those are the three missions you say would remain. That about covers the waterfront, doesn't it?

LEVIN: No, it doesn't, because most of the troops that are there now are right in the middle of a civil war and we want to get our troops out of a civil war.

And the only people that can end that civil war are the Iraqis themselves. We've got to take responsibility for their own country.

HUME: How many troops do you think would be necessary to fight Al Qaeda there, Senator?

LEVIN: We have not made an estimate because we want to focus on new limited missions without trying to get into a debate as to how many troops would be needed for each of those new limited missions. That would change the subject.

And we're not going to change the subject, because the issue is how do we change course in Iraq and whether or not this president is willing to change course in Iraq or whether or not we're going to continue to delay and delay and delay.

You know, every single year, at least two or three times each year that we've been in Iraq, the president has talked about steady progress. I have a list of quotes here talking about steady progress since 2003, each year at least twice, astounding progress, amazing progress, inspiring progress.

I mean, I think the public has seen through it. This is just a veneer and the veneer has worn away. The only folks who can solve the problem in Iraq are the Iraqi leaders, and they have to solve it politically, and we can't do it for them.

HUME: Let me ask you a question about something you said this week about the surge. I want to listen to it first and then ask you to comment on it.

LEVIN: Sure.

HUME: Let's hear that.


LEVIN: The purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi political leaders the space to work out a political agreement.

And as he has pointed out and as our leaders agree, although the surge is now complete, there is no evidence of political progress on the part of Iraqi leaders. None whatsoever.


HUME: Senator, you say the surge is now complete, but the full troop strength for..

LEVIN: Now complete.

HUME: ... the surge has been in place less than a month or just about a month right now.

Is it really fair to say that the surge is complete and that the Iraqis should have had all this political progress by now?

LEVIN: No, there should be some political progress by now. There's no evidence of it.

As a matter of fact, the administration has given us their own report card claiming progress in certain areas.

But the Iraqis' benchmarks, and there are 16 of them which they have adopted, are all political benchmarks. They haven't achieved any of their own political benchmarks, which is supposed to be the purpose of the surge.

So the surge is completed. We don't see any political progress. We see a prime minister who is unable, apparently, to pull off the political settlements which are so essential.

HUME: So your view would be we begin to withdraw, we leave this to the Iraqis, we're out of there by — when, Senator, in your judgment, should we be out of there?

LEVIN: Most of our troops would be out of there by April 30th under our amendment.


LEVIN: We hope we're going to be able to get to a vote on our amendment. There's going to be apparently a filibuster against it, and we're going to try to see if we can't overcome that filibuster, because it's essential that we do that first.

HUME: And what is your view, then, Senator, of what will happen in Iraq? Do you think we'll be in the land of milk and honey because the Iraqis will compose their differences? Or what do you think will happen?

LEVIN: I think the only chance we have of success in Iraq is if we force the Iraqi leaders to take responsibility for their own nation.

I don't think our continuing presence in the middle of a civil war is showing any progress in terms of the kind of success which is, I think, in everybody's interest.

All of us want to succeed in Iraq, but the Iraqis have got to make the decision do they want a civil war or do they want a nation, and they can decide that politically. It's the only hope.

HUME: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much, as always, for being with us.

LEVIN: Good being with you, Brit.