Iraq and the Senate Race: Amy Klobuchar

Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar interview with Eric Black of the Star Tribune, March 14, 2006:

Black: Here’s something from your website statement on Iraq:

“While I support the invasion of Afghanistan, I disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq. After three years, it has become obvious to those who favored the war and to those who opposed it that the Bush-Cheney administration was not truthful about the reasons they gave for invading Iraq, nor were they truthful about having a plan to secure the peace and protect our troops once we invaded.”

Do you believe you know what the real reasons were for invading Iraq and if so what were they?

Klobuchar: You’d have to ask the president what the real reasons were. What I know is that they didn’t tell us the truth.

They said there were weapons of mass destruction, and there were not.

I think it was Colin Powell who said it was a blot on his career when he testified before the U.N. and basically, whether it was about yellowcake uranium or weapons of mass destruction, they were not honest with the people of this country about the reasons for this war.

When you talk to young people out there on the college campuses who have friends who are going to war, we need accountability for that lead-up in order for them to have trust in this government again.

Black: Without question, some of the things that were said before the war have not checked out. The question is whether you’re saying they were knowing lies as opposed to people dealing with ambiguous intelligence?

Klobuchar: I think it was a deliberate misuse of intelligence. As for what the motivations were, I think the president needs to tell us that.

Black: You don’t have a theory?

Klobuchar: I believe that they were not telling us the truth. I believe that they wanted to go to war in Iraq. I believe there is evidence of that. That after Sept. 11, they were talking about going to war in Iraq and that they came up with false reasons in order to sell the war to the American people and that it wasn’t true. I would say if there’s any theory, it is that they had decided, for whatever reason, that they were going to do it, and they knew they had to sell it to the American people based on fear of weapons of mass destruction and that they weren’t truthful.

Black: You said that this failure to give honest information and the way America has conducted the war has “damaged America’s credibility throughout the world.”

How do you specifically notice and measure this damage to U.S. credibility?

Klobuchar: I believe it’s the way other countries are interacting with this country. We’ve lost credibility with a lot of other governments and the citizens of other countries. You look at when Bush went to India, the protests of Muslims there. It’s turned a lot of people who weren’t previously angry at this country, who were in fact united behind us after Sept 11.

Again, this was something where Sept. 11 had the whole world united behind us and we had this amazing opportunity to work with countries that we hadn’t worked with before and we basically just squandered that opportunity.

And the other thing I’d add is just the singular focus on Iraq. In terms of the money, over $300 billion, in terms of our military might that that has hurt us with developments in the rest of the world.

Whether it is the fact that a madman is in power in Iran and talking about developing nuclear weapons. Or what is going on in North Korea. Basically, because our leaders have been focusing so much on Iraq, these dangerous situations have been and are developing and I believe that these things have made us less secure as a country.

Black: So you believe that on balance the decision to have the war on Iraq has made us less safe?

Klobuchar: Yes. Very important to note that that’s not because of our troops. But because the singular focus on Iraq has allowed these situations to develop in other countries like Iran and North Korea.

Black: Okay. On your website, you say that we need a clear plan to bring our troops home safely. “We need to change course.” That 2006 should be the year that the Iraqi government decreases its dependency on the United States.

As far as I can tell, the administration agrees with that, and Rep. Kennedy agrees with that as a goal. But given the circumstances in Iraq, how do you ensure that the Iraqis decrease their dependency?

Klobuchar: There is a clear difference between me and Congressman Kennedy on this. He is saying stay the course. I am saying change the course.

I believe that we need to bring a significant number of our troops home. That’s the only that we send a clear message to the government of Iraq that we’re serious about this and that they need to start taking responsibility for their own country.

Black: Does the decision to bring a significant number of troops home depend on anything that happens on the ground there, or do we just do it?

Klobuchar: I am one who does not believe that we can bring all the troops home tomorrow. The situation is too precarious. But I believe we need to start this year, in the very near future, drawing down the troops.

Black: In a way that is not connected to the situation on the ground?

Klobuchar: I do believe that we should listen to the commanders on the ground. However a policy decision has to be made to start bringing home some of our troops, working with them, having them tell the Congress and tell the president what’s the most responsible way to do that. But the policy decision has to be made from above. And I believe it should be made to start bringing home a significant number of our troops.

Black: So, to clarify the differences between you and let’s say the Bush position, other than saying that you favor change and they favor staying the course. They say that they expect there to be withdrawals this year, they favor it. And that it should be based on the recommendations of the commanders in the field. Is there some portion of that that you disagree with?

Klobuchar: If you look at the president’s recommendations yesterday, [the reference is to Bush's March 13 Iraq speech] he did not say that we would bring home a significant number of troops this year. So that is a clear difference. He did not say that. He said that he thought we should begin to do that. That we should listen to the troops. I’m saying that we must begin bringing home a significant number of troops. He talked about territory.

Black: Rep. Kennedy has said in one of his MPR interviews that his understanding from his last visit over there, from talking to the military leadership, is that there is a plan that will drawdown tens of thousands of troops this year, but that the enactment of that plan should depend on the continuing recommendations of the commanders in the field. Do you disagree with any of that.

Klobuchar: I believe that the president should set the course that we should bring home a significant number of troops this year. And ask the commanders on the ground for a plan to do that.

But the difference is that we must bring home a significant number of troops this year because I believe that that is the only way that we’re going to get the message to the rest of the world that we’re serious about this, we’re bringing our troops home, and that the government of Iraq must take responsibility for their own country.

Black: Any notion of what constitutes a significant number?

Klobuchar: We need that plan. What I’ve said is that if the president isn’t going to tell us that, then we need to call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, obviously they can’t demand that they come up with a plan, but that they should ask them to present a plan of how we bring home a significant number of troops and what that is.

Black: So the difference I think I’m noticing is this. They’re saying we think the situation will improve that will enable us to bring home a significant number of troops and you’re saying we should announce that we’re bringing home a certain number of troops and we’ll do it whatever the situation is, but you believe that it will spur the situation to improve?

Klobuchar: Yes. I believe that we must start doing that. Yes.

The other significant thing is that I opposed this war in the first place. And I believe we need to see a change of course. And they’re saying that we need to stay the course. A very different way of looking at it.

Another difference – and I don’t know where Kennedy is on this – that I don’t believe there should be permanent military bases in Iraq.

Black: Back to your website statement:

“As with any effective plan, there should be a realistic time-frame based on specific milestones and benchmarks, with honest and current information from the administration about the status of our efforts, the training of the Iraqi forces, and the restoration of basic services to Iraq.”

What can you tell us about the realistic time-frame and the specific milestones and benchmarks?

Klobuchar: Again, the president hasn’t given us those. I called for that since April, for the president to give us that clear plan. He hasn’t done it. At this point we need to start bringing our troops home. Obviously benchmarks would be their police being trained, their military being trained. We basically went in there and destroyed their army and destroyed their police force. Getting a better trained army would be a piece of it.

But again, I believe that we need to start bringing our troops home to encourage them to start doing that.

Black: What can you say about the timetable that should be set, aside from the first drawdown this year.

Klobuchar: Not just the first drawdown. I believe we need to gradually bring our troops home. I have not, unlike Mr. Bell and some others, I have not said that we should have a set date this year when we should bring every one of our troops home. Because one of my hopes is that as we begin drawing down our troops, it will send a clear message to the rest of the world that we are leaving. And that we need the U.N., we need NATO, we need some other regional peacekeeping force to come in.

Again, this administration has not been strong on diplomacy.

We need a peacekeeping force to come in.

I remember when Paul Wellstone voted against the war, he gave as one of his primary reasons that he feared this war would unite the world against us. And as we leave this war, as we leave this country, if there is a possibility we can leave it with the world, as part of a peacekeeping force, if the country of Iraq wants us to be part of that force, if the U.N. or NATO want us to be part of that force, I believe we should be part of that force.

So that’s why I can’t commit to bringing each and every troop home this year. So that is why I’m not committing to a specific timetable, because I believe that we need to leave open that possibility that we would be part a multinational force in which we would not be in charge of that force. We would have still brought a significant number of our troops home. But it would leave open the possibility that we would not have each and every troop out of there.

Black: Does the continued withdrawal of our troops depend in any way on these other things happening, such as the U.N. or other multinational organizations or countries picking up the burden?

Klobuchar: Again, I believe we need to start this process and start bringing them home. It is my hope that when we start doing that that other countries will come in and assist when it’s very clear that we are not going to be running the show in Iraq.

Black: It’s a hope, and that’s understandable, but if it doesn’t happen?

Klobuchar: We should still be bringing our troops home.

Black: And if there’s no multinational force organized, we should bring them all home?

Klobuchar: Obviously, if civil war breaks out and there’s more bloodshed, I believe that other countries in the world, especially in the region, will be interested in possibly helping.

Black: Right. But if civil war breaks out or other negative trends develop and others don’t step in is that a reason to reconsider the withdrawal, or is that a reason to expedite the withdrawal?

Klobuchar: Again, we have to listen to the commanders on the ground, but I believe we have to start bringing our troops home. It is going to depend on the specific factual situation.

Black: If you favor a withdrawal, which you do with the extra conditions that you suggested, does there need to be a plan for the worst case scenario, if the withdrawal led to a complete meltdown, a regional war.

Klobuchar: Yes, there needs to be that plan. And that’s why I have called on the president to have that plan and if the president refuses to do that then Congress has to call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ask them for that plan because we just haven’t heard the specifics.

Black: But if the plan that they offered required the continuation of U.S. troops there, what would your reaction to that be?

Klobuchar: Again, I would want to hear from the commanders on the ground, exactly what that would be.

Black: Back once more to the question of timing. You’ve said you want a timetable. The only time frame that’s in your remarks so far is that there should be a significant reduction within 2006. Is there anything else about a time frame that you can say, such as an outer limit of how long you would be willing to keep troops there?

Klobuchar: One would hope that by 2007, we would have withdrawn the vast majority of our troops, sometime in 2007.

Black: So 2007 is a target for withdrawing the vast majority.

Klobuchar: Yes.

Black: But not a deadline.

Klobuchar: No.

Black: You had formerly said, at least this is what is says on your website, that “If the president is unwilling to provide a plan, Congress should direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to do so.” Does the idea of Congress giving directives to the joint chiefs run contrary to the president’s commander in chief powers? Are there constitutional issues?

Klobuchar: I completely understand that the Congress can’t order them. What I’m asking for, given that the president is not coming up with any plan to bring our troops home, that at least the Senate can direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to come in and give them some ideas of how this could be done. I completely understand that the commander in chief orders the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What I’m saying is that the Congress can ask them, direct them, request them to come in for a hearing.

Black: Do you know of any precedent for that?

Klobuchar: I know that the military commanders have appeared and answered questions all the time on the status of efforts overseas and wars and that would be part of what I’m trying to get at here is to get from someone besides the president a timeframe for a drawdown of forces.

Black: So the context would be a hearing, not a piece of legislation.

Klobuchar: Yes.

Black: Another difference you are attempting to establish with either the president or Rep. Kennedy is that you “oppose establishing permanent military bases in Iraq.” Are you asserting that either Mr. Bush or Mr. Kennedy favor permanent bases? Or are you concerned that that is the real plan, whatever they say?

Klobuchar: You’d have to ask them about that. But as we get no real change of course in Iraq. No matter what happens from the beginning, their line is “stay the course, stay the course.” One gets concerned that they are talking about a permanent involvement in Iraq. They give no actual plan. No actual time frame. And one can’t help but believe that they believe that this is an open-ended commitment. I don’t agree with that.

Black: When the president says: “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down,” that doesn’t equate in your mind to “the plan is that we will be gone.”

Klobuchar: Not necessarily, no.

Black: And when Rep. Kennedy says, as he did on the radio, that we don’t want to be there for the long run …

Klobuchar: Well, if they want to make clear that we’re not there for the long run, I believe they should start bringing some troops home.

Black: Back to the reason that you are opposed to setting a deadline. You’ve said that the situation is too “precarious” for a sudden, complete withdrawal. And you’ve said you want to leave open the possibility that some U.S. troops would stay in Iraq as part of a multinational force. Is there a reason you wouldn’t set a deadline that would apply if that condition doesn’t obtain?

Klobuchar: I believe that we need military intelligence to set that deadline. And I believe that we need to work with other countries and the people of Iraq. That just hasn’t happened. So, this discussion nationally should be about changing the course or staying the course. And I am strongly advocating for changing course. And to me that means starting to bring our troops home.

Black: There is a notion circulating, and some writers have described it as an emerging Democratic Party position, that the troops should be taken out of Iraq but not out of the region. Cong. Murtha called it “over the horizon.” The idea seems to be to keep a number of troops in Kuwait, Afghanistan, the UAE and on ships in the Gulf that could be in position to go back into Iraq if situation deteriorates. Have you heard about that idea? How you thought about it? What do you think?

Klobuchar: I imagine some of the troops will be redeployed, especially into Afghanistan, where we’re still having difficulties and other places, but I’d still like to bring a significant number of them home.

What’s happened here is that because we’ve spent over $300 billion in Iraq we are putting serious strain on our military, serious strain on our ability to work in other areas of the world. So that’s why I believe some of these troops will be redeployed but I’d like to see a significant number of them come home.

Black: I gather that the idea is not just to put them other places where they’re needed, but top leave them in the region so they could either come back into Iraq, if the situation deteriorates, or operate in the air over Iraq as necessary.

Klobuchar: That’s a possibility. But if we want to send a clear message to the government of Iraq that we are serious about not having an open-ended commitment, that we expect them to take responsibility for their own country, we need to start bringing our troops home.

Black: Rep. Murtha has said and I believe Ford Bell has said the same thing, that until we set a deadline for the removal of our troops, the Iraqis will continue to rely on us for their security. How do you respond to that?

Klobuchar: The issue here is starting to bring our troops home and getting a timetable for their withdrawal. I agree that if we continue to stay there and not change course, that we do create this impression that we have an open-ended and unending commitment to staying there and I don’t agree with that.

Black: So you feel that starting to bring the troops home will send the message that Mr. Murtha wants to send by bringing the troops home?

Klobuchar. Yes.

Black: Rep. Kennedy has hailed the toppling of Saddam Hussein as a good thing for the U.S. and the region and the world. And he has also hailed the elections that have been held in Iraq. And he has said that those, including you, who opposed the war in the first place, would have left Saddam in power and would have denied the Iraqi people their shot at democracy and freedom. How do you respond?

Klobuchar: I think we’ve got to remember that Democratic blood has been shed on the sands of Iraq as well as Republican blood.

There was a decision made by this administration and by the Republican leadership to bring us into this war. I didn’t agree with that decision.

Now, in good faith, Democrats are trying to figure out how to bring us out responsibly, a war that was started by George W. Bush. And one of the things that bothers me here is the attempt by some of the most partisan people on the Republican side is to try to question the patriotism of people who are trying to propose various ways to bring our troops home.

I don’t see it that way. What I see is an attempt to, in good faith, figure out the most responsible way to bring the troops home when in fact we dismantled their police force, their military. It’s a very precarious situation. We can’t bring them all home tomorrow. But we have to find a responsible way to bring our troops home.

When we went into this war, the administration decided to engage in a go-it-alone foreign policy with very minimal involvement from the rest of the world. There were other ways they could have done this, and they chose not to do it. And now we are in the situation that we’re in.

Black: The question wasn’t about your patriotism, but a fairly narrow, specific one.

You’ve emphasized that you opposed it from the beginning. You would have voted against. You wouldn’t have had the war if it was up to you.

He’s saying that if we hadn’t had the war, it’s quite possible that Saddam Hussein would still be in power and those elections wouldn’t have been held. The question, for someone who takes you position, is: would that have been an acceptable tradeoff, if Saddam Hussein was still in power but we hadn’t had the problems that you see associated with this war, would that have been an acceptable tradeoff?

Klobuchar: Again, I believe there would have been other ways to work with the rest of the world to change the course in Iraq. But given that over 2,000 Americans have died, and countless Iraqis, and we’ve spent over $300 billion– No one wants Saddam Hussein in power, but again, I would still have opposed the decision to go into Iraq because of the consequences we’ve seen for our country, for their country and for the rest of the world.

That being said, I would have worked to find ways, including working with the rest of the world, to get democracy into Iraq and to get rid of Saddam Hussein. But the way we did it was the wrong way to do it.

Black: But in the end, if the only way to get him out was to invade and take him out, if you had to make that choice-.

Klobuchar: I would not have voted for the resolution. I would have attempted to push a much more united effort to bring democracy. That didn’t happen, and that’s why I oppose the resolution.

Black: You and Mr. Kennedy obviously have diametrically opposed views on past events relating to the war and whether the U.S. should even be in Iraq.

But as for as your strategy going forward in Iraq, can you clarify the difference between your policy, which says no deadlines, milestones and timetables, a significant drawdown of troops during 2006, and Kennedy’s position, which is also no deadlines, follow the military’s recommendations, but expect a withdrawal of tens of thousands of troops this year, but base the long-term exit strategy on achieving success. How are these positions really different?

Klobuchar: The major difference is, I am saying “draw down the troops. Start doing it.” And I’ve been saying it all along. Kennedy is not saying that. He is not saying that. He is putting conditions on it that I am not. I am saying: Begin drawing down the troops.

Black: And the conditions he’s putting on it are that the commanders recommend it and that some milestones be achieved…

Klobuchar: I am saying that the president should tell the commanders that we are going to begin drawing down the troops and ask them what’s the best way to do that.

Black: So your desire to withdraw troops does not depend on the commanders agreeing with it. They should be told to do it and just told to find the best way to do it.

Klobuchar: Correct.

Black: And as far as the relationship between the drawdown of the troops and accomplishments in the area, what you’ve called milestones and what he has said should be in the political, economic and security fronts. Is there a difference between you on that?

Klobuchar: I believe that we need to begin drawing down the troops, and it is my strong hope that because we’re doing that, that is the only way that we’re going to truly transition to Iraq democracy.

This is a place where open-minded critical thinkers of all political persuasions encounter information and arguments that both support and challenge their preconceptions. The goal is not to eliminate differences but to narrow and clarify them. We begin with a bedrock agreement that the search for insight and clarity is important, serious - and fun.

We ask commenters to be civil and substantive and, if possible, good humored. We reserve the right to delete comments that disregard this request.

Follow The Big Question on Twitter Do you use Twitter? Follow The Big Question.