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Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing

Aired September 24, 2003 - 10:32   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go back to Washington. In the meantime, we've been watching these hearing that are under way on Capitol Hill, a number of them. A couple of the big ones right now. This one is a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and what we had on the screen moments ago was West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who was in a quite agitated fashion, calling this administration on comparing what's happening in Iraq with the Marshall Plan, which was rebuilding a plan executed after World War II. He was quite upset with them, making that comparison, saying there's no comparison between the two. And he's also criticized the administration's preemptive war plan as well as a policy. And right now, we're listening to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld respond.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: It certainly is correct for -- as you say, and suggest, that there is a need to transform a country that does not have experience with democracy. That is correct.

The way I would respond to your question, Senator Byrd, is this: We have 130,000 troops there. Our friends and allies have still additional troops. The Iraqis now are up to close to 70,000 people providing security.

The goal for the United States is not to stay there or for the coalition. It's to turn that country back over to the Iraqi people, which is, as Ambassador Bremer pointed out, a seven-point plan to do that, through a constitution and elections and then passing of sovereignty at a pace as rapidly as is reasonable.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D-WV), RANKING MEMBER, APPROPRIATIONS CMTE.: Now, Mr. Secretary, my time is very limited. I'm trying to get at the bottom of the idea that the American people are supposed to carry out the reconstruction of Iraq and that we are to build a democracy there and democratize the Middle East. Where is the mandate for that? The American people have never been told that.

RUMSFELD: Well, the last thought I could suggest is this: that the task we're engaged in -- the bulk of the funds here are for the purpose of providing security and to enable the political process to move forward so that sovereignty can be transferred to the Iraqi people. The way that we can leave that country better than we found it, a lot better: no more mass graves, no more prisons filled with people...

BYRD: We know all about that...

RUMSFELD: We can leave it by investing in the kinds of security that we're talking about here. And that is what this request is overwhelmingly about.

Admittedly, there has to be some funds for the political side and some for the economic side as well as the security side because all three of those things have to go forward together.

BYRD: But still, I haven't had an answer to my question as to where the mandate comes from the American people. The American people never been told that we're going into that country to build a new nation, to build a new government, to democratize the country and to democratize the Middle East.

RUMSFELD: The American people...

BYRD: The American people haven't been told that. They were told we're going in there because of weapons of mass destruction.

RUMSFELD: The American people were told by the president of the United States, at the U.N. and here in the United States, the reasons for going in. Once having gone in, the last thing we need to do is to turn that country over to another dictator like Saddam Hussein. The least we can do is...

BYRD: Nobody is suggesting that.

RUMSFELD: Well, the least we can do is to attempt to put into place a political process where they can migrate toward something that will not be a threat to their neighbors, that will not repress their people, that will be representative and reflective of the people in that country.

BYRD: If I may just pursue this for a brief moment, if I can follow this question, what will the United States do if the so-called democracy we're building in Iraq takes a wrong turn? Will the United States override an Iraqi constitution if we don't think it's a good basis for a republic?

RUMSFELD: I think that the answer to that question is very clear. The president's made it very clear that there are certain red lines, in answer to your question. The red lines are that the country be a country that does not have weapons of mass destruction, a country that's at peace with its neighbors, and a country that is not repressing its people and is reasonably represented and respectful of the various diverse ethic and religious elements in the country.

Beyond that, the Iraqi people are going to have to fashion that constitution and they're going to have to rebuild their own country.

SEN. TED STEVENS (R-AK), CHMN., APPROPRIATIONS CMTE.: Senator, we must move on. You're using some of my time again (OFF-MIKE)

BYRD: I respectfully point out to you that the last whereas clause of the resolution was adopted by the Senate 77 to 23 reads as follows: "Whereas it is in the national security interest of the United States to restore international peace and security to the Persian Gulf region."

STEVENS: That was what we stated as the ultimate goal of the activities that we authorized the president to undertake.

Senator Cochran...

BYRD: Mr. Chairman...

STEVENS: Senator Cochran is recognized for eight minutes, Senator.

BYRD: Might I respond to that?

STEVENS: Senator, I was talking on my own time. You'll have time later.

Senator Cochran, it's your time.

BYRD: All right, thank you. Thank you for your courtesy.

COCHRAN: Mr. Chairman...

STEVENS: Senator, I was courteous to you. You went seven minutes over your time.

BYRD: Seven minutes. Think of that, on an $87 billion request, $87 billion.

HARRIS: We will keep our ears and eyes casts to Capitol Hill and to this hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As we've been seeing, a little bit fireworks playing out this morning in the questioning here by Senator Robert Byrd of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. First, the senator there calling into question the administration's comparisons to what's happening in Iraq with the Marshall Plan that was enacted after World War II, and then this preemptive war strategy as well, expressed by the administration as a plan.

We also got a chance to hear Senator Byrd question Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about why the American people have not been told more about what the plans are going into and actually coming out of the war in Iraq. This may get a bit testy later on as well. A number of senators are lining up now for their chance to join in the questioning, and we are going to continue to monitor it, and once things get interesting, we'll take you right back on the to the action there.


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