January 17, 2007
Emily Lenzner, NPR




Washington, DC; January 17, 2007 - Just back from a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), tells NPR News' Steve Inskeep that she came away "with a strong opposition to President's plan for escalation" and that instead she "would like to see us cap the number of American troops in Iraq" and "condition further assistance to the Iraqis on their meeting the political milestones that have been called for more than two years." When asked if the U.S. would step up with more assistance if the Iraqis were to meet these milestones, Senator Clinton said, "No, no, I believe we have to tell them we are not going to continue to fund their army and security for their leadership and reconstruction for their country unless they take steps necessary to have the political solution that everyone knows has to be reached."

And on the day after Senator Barack Obama's step closer to running for President, Senator Clinton said "I am not influenced by anybody else's timeline," when asked if there's a reason why she hasn't announced her own candidacy. "There is a timeline that I have had in mind, and I'm going to stick with that," she said.

A rushed transcript of the interview with Senator Clinton, airing this morning, Wednesday January 17, on NPR News Morning Edition is below. The audio is available now at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6881708

Morning Edition is public radio's most listened-to program with nearly 13 million weekly listeners. The two-hour program, now in its third decade, airs weekdays and is hosted by Steve Inskeep in Washington, D.C. and Renée Montagne from NPR West in Culver City, Calif.

STEVE INSKEEP: I understand you met the Iraqi Prime Minister Al Nouri Maliki. What were you listening for?

SENATOR CLINTON: I was listening for a level of commitment to securing Iraq by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi army and police force that has been missing and I didn't hear that. I don't see where our putting in more American troops is likely to bring that about. So what I came away with, Steve, is a strong opposition to the President's plan for escalation. Instead, I would like to see us cap the number of American troops in Iraq at the level we had as of January 1st, and begin to deploy them out of Baghdad and eventually out of Iraq. And instead of focusing on what Americans can do, that in my view, will not likely be successful because of the complexity of the war that is going on there, which is a multi-pronged war, I would like to see us condition further assistance to the Iraqis on their meeting the political milestones that have been called for more than two years.

INSKEEP: You would say that they would meet this milestone, and then the U.S. would step up with more assistance.

CLINTON: No, no, I believe we have to tell them we are not going to continue to fund their army and security for their leadership and reconstruction for their country unless they take steps necessary to have the political solution that everyone knows has to be reached.

INSKEEP: Do you think the Iraqi government really isn't trying hard enough or are they being asked to do the impossible here?

CLINTON: I think there has not been a willingness to reverse the de-bathification as it affected thousands of people who were teaching in schools and serving as nurses in hospitals.

INSKEEP: These are the people associated with Saddam Hussein's party who were thrown out of work and many said it was unfair.

CLINTON: Well, it certainly went too deep and it undermined the capacity of the country to function in providing many of the services that you have to expect from a functioning government. They have refused to make the changes in the constitution that were promised. As of today, they still don't have a law governing the allocation of the oil revenues which has been key to any kind of national stability. There has been a lack of attention and focus on dealing with the problems that exist that keep the Sunnis in an insurgency and they have also refused to attempt the disarmament of the militias which keep the death squads operating. So across the board, there has been a lack of action. So, now we have lip service but I don't see the steps being taken and in thinking about this, there are some of my colleagues as you know, who say "cut off funding for American troops". I think that is not appropriate at this time until we get more hard troops out of harms way.

Frankly, the President has the money to do this if we can't stop him. But I do think we should be saying we're not going to continue funding this Iraqi government and their army in the absence of them taking the political steps. Finally, we need the regional involvement that many of us have called for, that the Iraq Study Group has called for. And again, I don't see our administration taking steps in that direction.

INSKEEP: Senator, you have made it clear you are opposed to the President's plan to increase troop levels in Iraq. The President said last night on public television that he does understand some disagree with him but that "if failure is not an option what is your idea for success." Do you agree failure is not an option in Iraq?

CLINTON: This is the kind of rhetoric we hear from the President all the time. It's rhetoric that's meant to obscure the fundamental challenges we face in Iraq. We do face vital national security interests in the region. We have a continuing threat from the Sunni insurgents, particularly those operating those out of Al-Anbar province. We have a problem with the Shi'ites who are aligned with Iran. I certainly believe we have vital national security interests. You know, a slogan is not a strategy.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that withdrawal is an option even if that would be seen by some as a failure?

CLINTON: What I've called for more than a year and half is a phased redeployment that is tied to certain conditions being met by the Iraqis. We cannot win this for the Iraqis, we cannot want this more than they do. Their track record hardly inspires confidence.

Instead of giving them a blank check that furthers a failed strategy as this Administration is proposing to do, I think you've got to get tougher on them. You know in this part of the world, unfortunately, the reality is that people respond to pressure and threats. We have not made any credible threats. We are providing the security for the Iraqi government. I think that is leverage that we can use.

INSKEEP: If I may ask the other part of the President's statement here, "what is your idea for success", he asks. Are you saying that the idea is to leave it to Iraqis to succeed or fail?

CLINTON: Steve, we have put forth plans over the last several years. When the Democrats voted for our phased redeployment plan, we had in it, the political resolution and we had the redeployment of our troops tied into the whether or not the Iraqi government performed. We had a call for a regional conference, to get the neighbors at the table, force them to take some responsibility. The Iraq Study Group came out with very thorough analysis and recommendations.

It is not true there aren't any alternatives, what is true that the President is not interested in any alternatives. He persists in the same strategy over and over again. Doing the same thing is not likely to work, you have to change the dynamics of the relationship between our government and the Iraqi government. This government of ours has to reach out on a regional basis. We should be engaging the neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

We have to protect our interests when it comes to Al-Qaeda and the Sunni insurgents who could follow us home. I totally agree with that. But what we are doing now is not working. I think that if the President had listened to what the Democrats have proposed for a year and a half, listened to the Iraq Study Group, listened to more of our commanders on the ground, who say repeatedly "there is no military solution", we would not be facing this policy.

In addition, I think we should be focusing on Afghanistan with more intensity.

We are at the brink of either tipping it over into a success or falling back. There's going to be a big spring offensive from the Taliban and some of the troops the President wants to send to Baghdad are being taken out of Eastern Afghanistan where we have been extremely successful in beating back the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remnants. But we are not as well positioned with troops, with economic aid to be successful in Afghanistan. When you look at this region, we have a lot of vital national security interest. I don't believe that the strategy the President has pursued, the mismanagement of that strategy, has worked or is likely to work. We need to change direction.

INSKEEP: And one other quick question, Senator. As you know, Sen. Barack Obama made news yesterday by taking a step toward a presidential run. As you consider what to do and when to do it, is there a reason for you to hold back from announcing?

CLINTON: You know, I am not influenced by anybody else's timeline. I am trying to just pursue my own analysis and assessment.

INSKEEP: What is it that you don't know?

CLINTON: There is a lot involved in doing this effectively, if you are going to take the plunge. When I'm ready to make an announcement, I would love to talk to you about it.

INSKEEP: Is there a date you think by which you must decide, given the dynamics of this - the fundraising and people necessary?

CLINTON: There is a timeline that I have had in mind, and I'm going to stick with that. I look forward to talking with you about it in the future.

INSKEEP: This spring, perhaps?

CLINTON: (laughter) Well, you're very good Steve. But I'm just going to go far with my planning, but what's really important to me now, is not what's going to happen in a year or two years from now, but what we're going to do to protect American troops, what we're going to try to do to stabilize Iraq, what we're going to try to do to win in Afghanistan and protect America's interest throughout the region.