ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Another day and another presidential bid is launched. Today, it was Senator Joseph Biden officially kicking his campaign off, though he's been talking about a run for quite awhile. He joins a Democratic field that already includes John Edwards, Tom Vilsack, Christopher Dodd and Dennis Kucinich. Of course Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson all have exploratory committees.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
On the Republican side, the list of hopefuls is long as well. Among them John McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Sam Brownback and many more.
SIEGEL: We're talking with all of the announced major party presidential candidates. Today, Connecticut Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, welcome.
CHRISTOPHER DODD: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Iraq. Some Democrats say pass a non-binding resolution against the troop increase now, and then possibly cut funding. You say cut funding right away, why?
DODD: Well, because I think it gets more difficult down the road. I think non-binding resolutions can have - if you had 90 senators signing on from both parties, I wouldn't disagree that that has a significant impact. If we're going to have five resolutions, non-binding resolutions, competing with each other for 50 votes, it looks to me like Congress doesn't know what it wants to do on the issue. This is in a very important question. The surge is the issue at hand.
Obviously, the longer term question's what we do in Iraq. But immediately the idea of injecting 17,000 to 20,000 people in a city of six million people where there are 23 militias, Baathists, insurgents, al-Qaida possibly operating, seems to be a, just a continuation of a failed policy.
SIEGEL: But if it's hard to find 50 votes for a non-binding resolution -
SIEGEL: - is a vote to cut funding more a protest vote, which is very unlikely to pass the Congress than a real action that would alter events in Iraq?
DODD: Well, I'm not so sure, but at least it would require people to stand up and be heard and counted rather than sort of sending an epistle. And I say that respectfully for those who are authoring this. But at this point here, the troops have not yet gone or they're going. It's not done yet.
Once they are there, the argument will become much more difficult in many ways. The argument will be, they're on the ground, you don't want to be depriving these young men and women of the equipment they may need. And that will be the argument given. So it seems to me before this really happens, the appropriate time for Congress to require an up and down vote is now. And that's not going to happen apparently, but I regret that. I wish it did.
SIEGEL: President Bush says that if the U.S. starts pulling out, the result will be chaos in the region, greater Iranian influence, greater terrorist activity. Do you disagree with his appraisal of what the consequences would be or do you say, rather, whatever they are, what we're doing now is worse for the U.S. so we should risk it?
DODD: That's sort of where I'd come out on this. I mean, this has been now, four years and the chaos reigns. This isn't just limited to Baghdad and major urban areas. And the Baker-Hamilton report I thought spoke eloquently about where most knowledgeable people are who are focused on this, and that is the diplomacy and politics are the only way you're going to resolve this issue, reaching out to regional powers, insisting and forcing the internal elements in Iraq, to the extent you're able to do this, to come to some reconciliation. That is the only answer that's going to provide the word success for an Iraq policy.
SIEGEL: But you think the president is exaggerating the likely consequences -
DODD: I do.
SIEGEL: - of that. You really do?
DODD: I do. I think that's the case. I don't think it need come to that. I think there's an underestimation of our ability to have a real influence and to be able to take on the Iranians. We have a lot more allies than the Iranians do in the region at this point - certainly, most of these so-called moderate Arab states, even those who are presently aligned with Iran. I think Syria is ripe for turning. But you need to invest the time and effort to do so, and this administration refuses to do that. Diplomacy's not a favor to these people. It's how the United States exercises its influence, by engaging people, even people who disagree with on a number of issues.
SIEGEL: Why did you vote for the war in the first place?
DODD: Because I made a mistake. I believed the information that we were getting on weapons of mass destruction. And I regret the vote. But I don't want to compound that vote by now voting for something that extends that policy.
SIEGEL: Some other issues -
SIEGEL: - other than Iraq. You're chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
DODD: That's true.
SIEGEL: There's a joke in England nowadays that in the city of London, which is Britain's Wall Street, they should erect statues to Sarbanes and Oxley -
SIEGEL: - because the Sarbanes-Oxley Law that we've passed, they say, as a response to accounting scandals in the U.S., drove business overseas, better not to work in the U.S. I've heard it described as a piece of a hasty legislation in which the Congress acted in excess. Do you agree with that or do you think it's a good law?
DODD: No. I think it's a good law. It was enacted in haste, primarily, because the administration didn't want to address the question in 2002 congressional elections, but the law's worked very well. And interestingly when you talk to CEOs of major corporations here, they believe this has been a good law and a good law for them. Now we've had to clean some aspects of this up. The cost to smaller public companies has been significant, and those corrections have been made by the SEC. And there may be issues of competitiveness that we need to look at.
But just a suggestion with Sarbanes-Oxley, I think there's a long history here of how we regulate financial services in this country. On my watch I'm not going to want to see the United States lose its global leadership in financial service. I think it's a critically important sector of our economy. I'm also not on my watch going to allow the safety and soundness of our institutions collapse.
SIEGEL: Do you think 25 years in the U.S. Senate is an asset in running for the Democratic presidential nomination or a liability in the sense that you've cast about three million votes, I bet, during that time, and someone out there is going to find a number of votes that you're not proud of today.
DODD: The times demand experience. This is not a time for on the job training, given the complexities of the world we live in, both domestically and internationally where they morphed into each other - it's seamless in many ways. And I believe it's demonstrated, I think, over the years that experience does matter to people.
SIEGEL: Well, Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, thank you very much.
DODD: Thank you very much.
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