Transcript: Lugar, Levin on 'FNS'

The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday" that aired on Nov. 27, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: With developments on Iraq this week both over there and here in Washington, we want to bring in two congressional leaders, Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and, in Detroit, Senator Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Senators, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".


WALLACE: I want to start by asking both of you a direct question, and I'd like a short and direct answer, if I could.

Senator Lugar, let me start with you. Do we need a change of course in U.S. strategy in Iraq? And if so, what?

LUGAR: No, we don't need a change of course, but we need an explanation and continual metrics as far as how successful we're doing

WALLACE: And, Senator Levin?

SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: We do need a change of course. Our current course is not working. We've got to put a lot more pressure on the Iraqis to come together politically because there's not going to be a military success there, according to our own commanders, unless the Iraqis do pull together their politics.

WALLACE: Let me ask you both about an interesting development this week.

There are reports, Senator Lugar, that some insurgents are now reaching out to the Iraqi government about possibly coming into the political process. What do you know about that, and what should we do about it?

LUGAR: Well, there are some who want to be part of that. But on the other hand, there are reports likewise that Shiite leadership would like to be more firm. For instance, the Badr Brigade, a part of one of the Shiite factions, a leading one, would like to go after insurgents which Sunnis believe are them.

Now, this comes just before the election which — we believe more Sunni are likely to be elected, but probably a majority of Shiites, and the dilemma for us is to try to once again make sure that there are three elements of Iraq that become an Iraqi nation — the Kurds, the Sunni and the Shiites, all of them together, as opposed to this interim period in which, as we move toward Iraqis taking control of their security, some take control and mop up on others, and thus lead to a division that might be irrevocable. That, I think, is the dilemma right now.

WALLACE: Senator Levin, what do you think we need to do about these feelers that are coming apparently from some of the insurgent groups?

LEVIN: Well, those feelers have allegedly taken place before and have proven to be false. I hope these are true, obviously. But the only way there's going to be any kind of a chance for a nationhood in Iraq is if the majority there, which are the Shiites and the Kurds together, are willing to make the political compromises that have not been made yet to put together changes in the constitution immediately following these elections in December so that they can bring on board the Sunni Arab majority. That is the only hope that we have.

But if they think that we're there regardless, if they think that we're there as long as they — as long as we're needed, that is such an open-ended statement on our part that it takes pressure off them to make the compromises that are necessary to make those changes in the constitution.

That's what we need to do, put some pressure on them to make the political decisions that are so essential to becoming a nation.

WALLACE: Senator Levin, there's a report out that you and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Warner, met recently with 10 battalion commanders to get a sense of what the real situation is on the ground in Iraq and that they reportedly told you that there are not enough troops there and that when they've requested them, they've been turned down.

Well, last Sunday we had on the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. We asked him about that. Here's his answer. Take a look.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There's never been a single instance, whether under General Casey or General Tommy Franks, where Washington has told them no, they can't have the troops they want. They have gotten every single troop they've requested.


WALLACE: Senator Levin, who's turning these troops down? Is it the Pentagon and Secretary Rumsfeld, or is it their own commanders?

LEVIN: Well, I think what happens is the commanders find out whether or not the policy people, the civilian leadership, would accept a request, would welcome a request, or whether it would, quote, embarrass them. And if those requests are not going to be welcomed, they're not going to be made. And that's, I think, the reality that goes on.

On the other hand, we do know that the chief of staff of the Army, the former chief of staff, General Shinseki, when he just simply said it would take several hundred thousands of troops in order to pacify Iraq and in order to — in the follow-up to the war, he was severely castigated for saying that even, and I think that message has probably resonated throughout the force.

And that's too bad, because when you're told that they need more troops, it seems to me that there's a responsibility to do everything we can to provide those troops.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that, though, Senator Levin, because that kind of confuses me. Democrats at this point are talking about bringing troops home, about setting up some kind of a timetable for withdrawal.

If the battalion commanders on the ground are saying they're needing more troops, don't you need more troops, not fewer troops?

LEVIN: Well, at the point they were talking about — talked about more troops, but I don't think there's too many commanders on the ground now that are saying that right now they need more troops, because it's very obvious, I think, to most people...

WALLACE: I thought when you met with those battalion commanders about a week ago, they told you there were not enough troops there.

LEVIN: No, that was in the past they were referring to, not the immediate presence. But you know, there's going to be a reduction in troops. There's got to be a reduction in troops. Our footprint there is simply too big.

And I think everybody's aware of the fact that we're much too much of a target and we've got to transfer the responsibility to the Iraqis and put some pressure upon them to take that responsibility, rather than increasing the number of our troops at the moment.

But in the past, we did need more troops. Shinseki was right. And it was a fundamental mistake in not having enough troops when we first went in there.

WALLACE: Senator Lugar, what do you make of this, the question of more troops, less troops? We've got a front-page story in The Washington Post this week that indicates that if conditions prevail, the current plan is to get down below 100,000 before the end of the year.

What do you think we actually need — forget the politics — in Iraq?

LUGAR: Well, 79 Republicans and Democrats said what we need is a plan articulated and with measurements as we proceed on the assumption that probably we are going to have a reduction of troops during the year.

I accept Carl Levin's point that we need to put pressure on the Iraqis to perform. We put a lot of pressure on the Iraqis to perform. But the fact is that we are going to try to train them to perform, and the question is how well they do so, whether they mop up on each other or whether they have a unified country.

On top of that — and this doesn't get to the troop level, but it gets to the quality of life level — we really have to think much more about how much oil is being pumped, how all that government is to be paid for when we leave, and likewise whether lights go on more than eight hours a day in Baghdad, whether schools are opening, whether, in fact, there's some commerce in the country.

In other words, we have concentrated, quite correctly, on the security situation, but withdrawal means that somebody has to provide money to run a civil government, and I think there is a lot more information out there.

Our committee hopes to provide a whole lot more so the debate might be enlightened. But for the moment, it appears that the majority of the Senate is prepared to say that we want to work with the administration. We want to hear from the administration. We want more co-option of the Congress by the administration so that we're on the same wavelength.

WALLACE: Senator Levin, I want to change subjects with you. You have joined a chorus of Democrats who have accused this president and this administration of basically misleading, some say even lying, the country into this war.

And I want to ask you about one specific case, if I can. You've charged repeatedly that the president said before the war that you couldn't distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Aren't you distorting what the president actually said?

LEVIN: No, that's exactly what his words were.

WALLACE: That you couldn't distinguish.

LEVIN: That's exactly right.

WALLACE: Well, let's take a look at what the president actually said in September of 2002. Here it is.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Both of them need to be dealt with. The War on Terror is — you can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the War on Terror. I can't distinguish between the two because they're both equally as bad.


WALLACE: The point, Senator, is he wasn't saying that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were linked. He was specifically asked which one is more dangerous, and he was saying he couldn't distinguish and say one was more dangerous than the other.

LEVIN: Yes, but what he also said in the same sentence was that Saddam Hussein would like nothing more than to use a terrorist network to attack and to kill, and that is not what the intelligence was, which said that Saddam Hussein was, quote, "intensely secular, wary of Islamic revolutionary movements."

That's what the intelligence was, and yet the president tried to link those two, and he did so much so much so that the majority of the American people — the majority of the American people believed, when we went to war, that Saddam Hussein had attacked us on 9/11. And on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln immediately following the war, when he said mission accomplished, the president of the United States said we have removed an ally of Al Qaeda. Those were exactly his words. They were not allies.

WALLACE: Senator, he was specifically...

LEVIN: The intelligence community...

WALLACE: Senator, if I can ask a question here, he specifically was asked at one point if there was any evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, and he said no, there wasn't. And again, because — you know, we can go into all of these things, but that specific quote there where you say he couldn't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein — he wasn't saying that they were linked at all.

He was saying one was as bad as the other, and when he said in that same answer something about that Saddam Hussein would like to use a terrorist network, he wasn't saying that they would like to use Al Qaeda. So you're making a link there that the president never made.

LEVIN: He made the link so strong that the majority of the American people believed, when we went into Iraq, that Saddam Hussein had actually attacked us on 9/11.

Where do you think the American people got that impression from except from their leaders? And he specifically, again, on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, when that big banner was up there, mission accomplished, he said we have removed an ally of Al Qaeda. How much more link can there be?

WALLACE: So even after we played that sound bite that indicates that he didn't say that you couldn't distinguish, meaning that they were linked, you're still saying that that's what he said, even after you've heard what he actually said.

LEVIN: No, he said exactly what you said. He'd like nothing more — what you said, when you talk about the War on Terror, you can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam.

He then went on to say what you said. But then he went on further to say that Saddam Hussein would like to use a terrorist group against the United States, but that's not what the intelligence was saying.

The specific CIA intelligence was that assisting — assisting — Islamic terrorists against the United States would be an extreme measure for Saddam Hussein, and so the CIA was saying that there was no operational effective link at all, and yet the president, the vice president...

WALLACE: Actually, the CIA...

LEVIN: ... and other people were...

WALLACE: Senator, Senator, again, I think you're distorting the information. The director of the CIA, George Tenet, testified before Congress that, in fact, there were links and that there had been training.

I don't know, Senator Lugar, you've got a...

LEVIN: No, no, not training.

WALLACE: Let me bring Senator Lugar in here, if I might.

LEVIN: Not training.

LUGAR: Well, Chris, I think historians will sort this out. I think we really have to point to right where we are now, and that's the dilemma in Iraq. What we're proceeding to do with an election — and trying to pull the country together, trying to get the lights on and the oil flowing, and more international support to help shore the situation up so that Iraq will be a stable country.

The majority of the public in this country still believes that is the possibility. The elite don't, but the majority of the people believe that we should have gone to war in Iraq to begin with and, secondly, that we're going to have a stable democracy. We've really got to live up to what our own public wants.

WALLACE: Let me ask you — change subjects with you, Senator Lugar, about something else. There's a report that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, has new evidence that Iran is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and we just yesterday had a speech by Iran's new president, who says now that the Bush administration should be tried for war crimes.

What should we do and particularly — about Iran in general and particularly now that it seems to have an even more radical regime, if that's possible?

LUGAR: Well, the IAEA report is important, because Europeans have now come to a much stronger view coincident with our own that probably a program of some sort is proceeding there and that action by the Security Council must take place. Now, that's been postponed for a while, while we probe some more and get more support, because Security Council only acts if the Russians are convinced likewise that somehow suppressing the weapons program is on their list, and it's coming to be on their list, and that is good news.

WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there. Senator Lugar, Senator Levin, we want to thank you both so much for coming in.

LUGAR: Thank you.

LEVIN: Good being with you.