January 11, 2007
Emily Lenzner, NPR



Washington, DC; January 11, 2006 – In an interview airing today on NPR News All Things Considered, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the situation in Iraq “the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of our country."

Senator Reid tells NPR’s Michele Norris that he will ask senators to "belly up to the bar" and state their views of President Bush's plan to increase troop levels in Iraq by 21,500. Reid, who has expressed disapproval of the increase, also says that he will ask for a simple up-or-down vote on the President's plan.

A rushed transcript of the interview with Majority Leader Harry Reid is below. All excerpts must be credited to NPR News All Things Considered. Audio of the interview is available at www.NPR.org


SENATOR HARRY REID: The war in Iraq has been going on for almost four years. The president gave a speech. Everyone was hoping that he would say, “I’m going to change course in Iraq,” and he didn’t do that. What we’re going to vote on here in the Senate in the near future is a resolution saying, do you support the president’s escalation in Iraq? Simple.

MICHELE NORRIS: This is a symbolic vote. Why is it important to do that?

SEN. REID: We have shown during these first few weeks in January that there's something happening in Washington. The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and I have sent letters to the president saying, "Mr. President, don't escalate the war." He has ignored our advice. He's ignored the advice of the American people. He's ignored the advice of generals on the ground. We're disagreeing with the president. We're doing it very vocally and openly. And I'm very impressed with my Republican colleagues, they're also speaking out against this.

NORRIS: Senator, if the president is ignoring your advice, if he, as you say, "stands alone," if his plan is the wrong way forward, what is right way forward? What is the Democratic alternative at this point?

SEN. REID: I, along with 99 other senators, were elected to represent states. We have certain constitutional obligations and duties as a result of being United States senators. We are not the secretary of State. We are not the secretary of Defense. We are not the commander in chief. President Bush is the commander in chief. He is responsible for conducting this war.

Now, do we have a plan? We voted here on the Senate floor. The Democrats put forward a plan -- that we should first of all redeploy troops. Does that mean pull them all out? Of course it doesn’t. But it means that we would focus on training Iraqis. We would focus on counterterrorism. We would focus on force protection. We believe that there should be a regional conference held. And we also believe that the force structure of our military is in very, very dismal shape. There is not a single non-deployed Army unit that is battle-ready. It’s going to cost $75 billion to bring this military up to what it was before the war started.

So that’s not a bad direction that we believe the president should go, and we’ve told him that.

NORRIS: Now, you talk about the withdrawal of troops, and you also say the Democrats are now asking tough questions. They’re holding hearings. In a hearing this morning, Senator Biden posed a question to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that I’d like to put to you: How do you withdraw troops from Iraq and leave anything close to stability in that country?

REID: My response would be that we’re talking about redeployment, which will of course include some soldiers and sailors, Marines and airmen leaving the battlefield, but it also means that we’re going to take a look at new duties for our troops there, and I think that’s the key to that. I think that’s the key. I think there would be much more stability if we got the vast majority of the Americans off the streets and have them training Iraqis.

NORRIS: Are there indications, though, that Iraqis can stabilize the country on their own?

REID: There is no military solution to this; there is only a political solution. The Iraqis are going to have to acknowledge that they’re the ones who are going to have to solve this problem, and I think that once we get out of the battlefield – I mean, I was listening to your network, public radio, a couple of days ago. They went around and interviewed a bunch of Iraqis: What do you think about bringing more Americans? They all said, no, don’t bring any more.

NORRIS: You know, at this point, the president’s proposal appeared to be on somewhat of a collision course on Capitol Hill – I wonder if this is good for the country, a country that is so conflicted about the war, to have another war going on here in Washington between Democrats on the Hill and the president in the White House.

REID: Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican, said today in those hearings you referred to that he believed that the situation in Iraq is the biggest foreign policy blunder since Vietnam. Now, here is someone that speaks with authority. He’s a decorated combat veteran. But I have to go one step further than Senator Hagel. I don’t think it’s the biggest foreign policy blunder since Vietnam; I think it’s the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of our country.

NORRIS: But trying to find some sort of way to move forward together – I’ve heard a lot of talk about bipartisanship, and yet it seems that the Democrats are girded for battle. Is there –

REID: The Democrats are what?

NORRIS: Girded for battle. Is there a way to – will you have some sort of voice in helping the president move forward in Iraq? He’s talked about a bipartisan study group to – well, study group is probably the wrong word – he’s talking about a bipartisan group to look at what’s going on in Iraq. He talked about Joe Lieberman perhaps leading that group. Democrats –

REID: But, you know, that is so – I want to pick a word that isn’t too argumentative, but that – we have bipartisan organizations looking at this right now. The hearing that you’re talking about, chaired by Biden and Lugar – good friends; they work together, one a Democrat and one a Republican. That’s a bipartisan committee; it’s called the Foreign Relations Committee. Standing by is the Armed Services Committee, another bipartisan committee, chaired by Levin from Michigan, and the ranking member on that is McCain from Arizona. That’s about as bipartisan as you can get. What is the president trying to do? What is this all about?

I mean, we had a bipartisan group called the Iraq Study Group. They told the president what they thought should be done. He’s ignored every provision they’ve made, every one. Now he’s asking for the legislative branch of government, a separate branch of government from his executive branch of government to give him some other direction. He has all the direction that he needs; he just refuses to listen to what people are telling him.

NORRIS: What about the power of the purse? How far as you willing to go there? Are you willing to withhold money? And if not, what power do you really have?

REID: First of all, there will be no money withheld from the commander in chief and the troops in the field. We are going to make sure that the fighting men and women of this country in Iraq and Afghanistan have everything they need, but we’re going to make sure that Halliburton doesn’t get everything they need. There are 100,000 contractors in Iraq; I think that’s quite a significant number of people – 100,000 contractors in Iraq? I don’t think they deserve to be treated as Halliburton has been treated: instant millionaires.

NORRIS: If I can turn to other matters, your colleagues in the other chamber in the House, are passing legislation like gangbusters. A mountain of legislation is going to be soon heading your way. Do the two chambers speak with one voice on all these issues, from stem cell research to the minimum wage?

REID: Speaker Pelosi and I have had a wonderful relationship since I became Democratic leader more than two years ago now. I have great affection for Nancy Pelosi. She is my friend. But these two bodies are different. Our founding fathers set up the House; they set up the Senate. They set up the House to be extremely efficient. They set up the Senate to be extremely inefficient. Two different bodies; that’s how they work. But for almost 220 years, these two institutions have served our country well and they may be able to get a lot more done in a short period of time, but we’ll just spend more time and accomplish the same that they do.

NORRIS: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, it’s been good to visit with you here in your office. Thank you so much.