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Interview with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jack Reed

Aired December 1, 2003 - 08:07   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Two U.S. senators are just back from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed will join -- join us this morning, rather, from Capitol Hill, to share their impressions, also, to talk a little bit about the latest violence in Iraq.
Good morning to you, Senators.

Nice to see you both and thanks for joining us on AMERICAN MORNING.

We appreciate it.



O'BRIEN: Senator Clinton, let's begin with you.

You're obviously well aware, we just heard from Nic Robertson about these attacks, also, the attacks on international workers and intelligence agents and then this large scale attack that we just heard Nic Robertson talking about.

Give me a sense of the security situation as you see it now that you've finished your visit.

CLINTON: Well, Soledad, it is still a very insecure situation and I can't say enough positive things about our United States military. They're doing a superb job under very difficult circumstances. But, again, I did not believe they had enough forces and the right mix of forces to be able to do this dangerous mission that we've given them.

They don't have enough M.P.s or intel or what they call sy-ops or civil affairs. And it is a real problem become, as you can see from the report, our troops are under direct attack. We have also lost some of our coalition allied forces in intel and other services. So this is still an insecure, dangerous situation and we need to both get more force in and we need to get the United Nations back in to internationalize it.

O'BRIEN: Senator Reed, the secretary of defense says that he doesn't think the U.S. allies will be put off by these latest attacks. Spain's prime minister said that withdrawal would be the worst possible thing that could happen. South Korea's president said these attacks were intolerable.

What kind of effect do you think these attacks are going to have on our allies in this?

REED: Well, I hope, of course, that our allies continue to support us in Iraq. But the accumulation of these attacks and as they're directed against the soft targets, not essentially military forces, but civilian aid workers and diplomats, I think will have a cumulative effect and cause reluctance and increased opposition not so much in the government, perhaps, but the people of the countries that are assisting us today.

And that's quite obviously the strategy of the insurgent forces. They can't take American military forces on directly, so they're going after the softer targets, hoping to weaken them and weaken their resolve and ultimately our resolve.

O'BRIEN: Senator Clinton, you just said a moment ago that there are not enough forces or enough of a certain mix of forces on the ground there.

As we see these increased attacks on the international forces and workers, don't you expect it's going to be much like -- less likely that foreign countries are going to forward their troops to this cause, when they see them being attacked?

CLINTON: Well, that's why it needs to be internationalized under the United Nations, Soledad. It seems to me that the time has come for the Bush administration to recognize that it's in America's national interests to get the U.N. back in a position of control and authority, because that will not only help bring in more additional troops from international forces, but it will also send a clear signal that the transfer of authority to some kind of self-governance is not an American project, it's an international project.

So I would underscore what many of us have been saying for a long time. We don't have enough troops, either U.S. or international, and we have to internationalize the effort to move towards self- governance.

O'BRIEN: Why do you think...

CLINTON: If we moved in that direction, we'd make more progress, in my opinion.

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for jumping in there.

Why do you think commanders on the ground disagree with you? They have said more soldiers mean more targets. They have said we're not calling for more. The secretary of defense said if a commander calls me and asks for more troops, I'll send more troops. They're not calling for them.

Why do you disagree with that?

CLINTON: Well, I think there are two things going on. In our private discussions with a number of our military leaders, they said that they may have enough troops in absolute numbers, but they don't have the right mix of troops. And when they start rotating people out, as they have promised, in March or April, shortly before they intend to turn over authority on the civilian side, they're going to be in a very difficult position because, as Senator Reed and other of my colleagues have been saying now for months, we don't have enough inventory of personnel in the U.S. military to replace a lot of the troops that are going to be coming back, to perform the functions that are essential.

Secondly, I think frankly the administration has made it so clear they're not going to send troops that it's useless to ask for more troops. That's why moving toward a United Nations mandate of some sort, which apparently is going to be discussed this week in New York, would give everybody the cover and the permission to ask for and receive some additional troops from other countries and to slightly begin to change the force mixture that we have.

And, Soledad, I also don't want to forget about Afghanistan, because that may be off the public radar and the media watch right now, but we're still engaged in a struggle with the terrorist in Afghanistan who, after all, were responsible for the attacks on our country. And we need to get more NATO troops into Afghanistan to supplement the American military force, as well.

O'BRIEN: Senator Reed, we don't have a ton of time, but I want to give you the final word this morning.

You -- there are, of course, reports that high ranking Iraqis would like to have direct elections. You've said that's a big dilemma, obviously. Who knows who's going to be elected, could that work against what the United States is trying to do in Iraq right now.

How do you solve that dilemma?

REED: Well, it's a challenging dilemma. Unless we have a legitimate process to select the new leader of Iraq, we will never have any comfort or any positive development. Right now, the major Shia figure, Ayatollah Sistani, has refrained from endorsing enthusiastically the new proposal. We have to work to get if not his support directly, certainly to avoid any opposition.

If we don't, then we're going to have a process that's going to be flawed from the beginning. And the other thing we have to do is make sure that this process is not just the result of intimidation and bribery and the old Iraqi politics. It has to be part of the new Iraqi politics. And there's another role for the United Nations, to come in and review this electoral process and certify it and provide it with legitimacy. Without legitimacy, it'll be an effort, an exercise, really, in futility.

O'BRIEN: Senator Jack Reed and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, nice to see you both.

Thanks for joining us this morning.

REED: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

CLINTON: Thank you.


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