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Biden Opens Hearings on Potential U.S. Attack on Iraq

Aired July 31, 2002 - 09:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Joseph Biden is opening hearings on the issue of potential U.S. attack on Iraq. Let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: ... some very difficult decisions that lie ahead for the president and for the Congress. And we think it's important, the members of this committee, that we begin to discuss what is being discussed all over, but not here in the Congress so far.

The attacks of 9/11 have forever transformed how Americans see the world. Through tragedy and pain, we've learned that we cannot be complacent about events abroad. We cannot be complacent about those who espouse hatred for us. We must confront clear dangers with a new sense of urgency and resolve.

Saddam Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, in my view, is one of those clear dangers. Even if the right response is pursuit, it's not so crystal clear. One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam Hussein or Saddam Hussein must be dislodged from power.

President Bush has stated his determination to remove Saddam from power, a view many in Congress share. If that course is pursued, in my view, it matters profoundly how we do it and what we do after we succeed.

The decision to go to war can never be taken lightly. I believe that a foreign policy, especially one that involves the use of force cannot be sustained in America without the informed consent of the American people.

And so, just as we've done in other important junctures in our history, the Foreign Relations Committee today begins what I hope will be a national dialogue on Iraq that sheds more light than heat and helps inform the American people so that we can have a more informed basis upon which they can draw their own conclusions.

I'm very pleased a grateful for the close cooperation of my Republican colleagues, Senator Helms, in absentia and his staff in particular, Senator Lugar and Senator Hagel, in putting these hearings together. This is a bipartisan effort. It reminds me of the way that things used to work on this committee when I joined it in 1973.

I want to say a word now about what the hearings are not about, from my perspective. They are not designed to prejudice any particular course of action. They are not intended to short-circuit the debate taking place within the administration. I know I speak for all members of the committee in saying at the outset that we recognize our responsibility as we conduct these hearings, to do so in a way that reflects the magnitude of the decisions the administration is wrestling with and the Congress will have to deal with.

We've coordinated these hearings closely with the White House. We're honoring the administration's desire not to testify at this time. We expect at some later date to convene hearings at which the administration would send representatives to explain their thinking, once it has been clarified and determined. We do not expect this week's hearings to exhaust all aspects of this issue. They are a beginning.

But over the next two days, we hope to address several fundamental questions. First, what is the threat from Iraq? Obviously, to fully answer this question will require us to have additional and closed hearings on top of the hearings in S-407 and discussions we've already had with the intelligence community.

Second, depending on our assessment of the threat, depending on one's assessment of the threat, what is the appropriate response?

And third, how do Iraq's neighbors, other countries in the region and our allies see the, quote, "Iraqi problem"?

And fourth, and maybe most important, if we participate in Saddam's departure, what are our responsibilities the day after? In my judgment, President Bush is right to be concerned about Saddam Hussein's relentless pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the possibility that he may use them or share them with terrorists, other regimes hostile to the United States and our allies already have or seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. What distinguishes Saddam is that he has used them against his own people and against Iran. And for nearly four years now, Iraq has blocked the return of U.N. weapons inspectors.

We want to explore Saddam's track record in acquiring, making and using weapons of mass destruction and the likelihood -- in the opinion of the experts who will come before us in the next two days -- the likelihood that he would share them with terrorists. We want to know what capabilities Saddam has been able to rebuild since the inspectors were forced out of Iraq and what he now has or might soon acquire. We want to understand his conventional military strength and what dangers he poses to his neighbors, as well as to our forces should they intervene.

Once we have established a better understanding of the threat, we want to look at the possible responses. The containment strategy pursued since the end of the Gulf War and apparently supported by some in our military has kept Saddam boxed in. Some advocates for continuing this strategy will even succeed at their expectations and some others advocate the continuation, coupled with tough, unfettered weapons inspection.

How practical is that? Others believe containment rises the risk Saddam will continue to play cat and mouse with the inspectors, build more weapons of mass destruction and share with those who wouldn't hesitate to use them against us.

In this view, if we wait for the danger to become clear and present, it could be too late. Acting to change the regime, in this view, may be a better course. But a military response also raises questions. Some fear that attacking Saddam Hussein would precipitate the very thing we're trying to prevent, his last resort to weapons of mass destruction.

We also have to ask whether resources can be shifted to a major military enterprise in Iraq without compromising the war on terror in other parts of the world.

My father has an expression -- God love him. He said, "If everything's equally important to you, Joe, nothing is important." How do we prioritize? What is the relative value? What are the costs?

We ought to inquire about the costs of a major military campaign and the impact on our economy. As pointed out yesterday in one of the major newspapers in America: In today's dollars the cost of the Gulf War was about $75 billion. Our allies paid 80 percent of that, including the Japanese.

If we go it alone, does it matter? Will we encompass and take on the whole responsibility? What impact will that have on American security and the economy? We have to consider what support we're likely to get from our key allies in the Middle East and Europe, and we must examine whether there are any consequences if we move for regional stability.

Finally, the least explored, in my view, but in many ways the most critical question relates to our responsibilities, if any, the day after Saddam is taken down, if taken down by the use of the U.S. military. This is not a theoretical exercise.

In Afghanistan, the war was prosecuted exceptionally well, in my view, but the follow-through commitment to Afghanistan's security and reconstruction has, in my judgment, fallen short. It would be a tragedy if we removed the tyrant in Iraq only to leave chaos in its wake. The long suffering Iraqi people need to know regime change would benefit them, so do Iraqis neighbors.

We need a better understanding of what it would take to secure Iraq and rebuild it economically and politically. Answering these questions could improve the prospects for military success by demonstrating to Iraqis that we are committed to staying for the long haul.

These are just some of the questions we hope to address today and tomorrow and in future hearings and, no doubt, in the fall. In short, we need to weigh the risks of action versus the risks of inaction. To reiterate my key point, if we expect the American people to support their government over the long haul when it makes a difficult decision; if the possibility exists that we may ask hundreds of thousands of our young men and women in uniform to put themselves in harm's way; if it is a consensus or a decision reached by the administration that thousands or tends of thousands of troops would be required to remain behind for an extended period of time; if those measures are required, then we must gain, in my view, the informed consent of the American people.

I welcome our witnesses today. We have a group of extremely competent people, one of whom got in a plane in Sidney and traveled 24 hours straight to be here for this hearing, and others who have come from long distances as well. These are men and women of stature, background, knowledge, academic and practical understanding of the region and the country and we're anxious to hear from them. I would now like to ask Senator Lugar if he would like to make an opening statement. And although we usually reserve opening statements just to the ranking member and the chairman...

ZAHN: All right, we're going to dip out of the hearing for a bit. You've just been hearing Senator Biden describe today and tomorrow's hearing as just the beginning of the debate on Iraq, posing the question, what is the threat from Iraq, and what is the appropriate response of the U.S.? How does the region see the Iraqi problem? And what support will the U.S. have from its allies? Questions that continue to spark a lot of debate.

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