SCOTT SIMON, host:
We're joined now by Senator Jon Kyl, Republican from Arizona, also from a booth up at the U.S. Senate. Senator Kyl, thanks so much for being with us.
Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): Thank you for talking about this important subject.
SIMON: Senator Webb said, and he believes events have borne this out, that the U.S. war in Iraq was unnecessary, has cost thousands of lives among U.S. and Iraqis and has tied down and depleted U.S. forces at a time when they might be needed elsewhere.
Sen. KYL: Well, there's no point in re-litigating the decision to go to war. It's like saying we lost too many people on D-Day because the plan to attack the beaches wasn't adequately well thought out. The reality is we're there, and the question is what do we do about it to focus on what we need to do now to ensure that we can leave Iraq in a stable situation and continue our effort to defeat the terrorists worldwide.
SIMON: Well, before I follow up on that, senator, let me backtrack, again, myself 'cause as I don't have to tell you, in a political year the decision to go to war gets cited constantly because there are people on the other side of the aisle who say, look, why vote for any Republican candidate because these are the people who essentially designed the edsel(ph) of foreign policy?
Sen. KYL: Well, it's an unfair charge given the fact that all of the Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton and their previous presidential candidate, John Kerry, supported the same resolution to authorize military action based on the same intelligence that caused all of our leaders, as well as leaders abroad, to conclude that there was a problem with Iraq that had to be dealt with. It was multifaceted.
But, again, it's a false political game that these folks are playing to turn attention away from the fact that it turns out that our effort in Iraq is working now.
SIMON: Senator Kyl, are you worried that the U.S. effort to remain in Iraq in some areas almost block-by-block ties down U.S. forces who might be needed elsewhere in the world?
Sen. KYL: Well, you always worry about our forces being stretched too thin. Part of that is because during the Clinton years our military was decimated in terms of the amount of money spent on it, in terms of the drawdown in the number of troops, the number of ships, the number of planes and all the rest of it.
And almost everybody now on a nonpartisan basis believes that we have to enhance our military capability because we have responsibilities around the world. So, yes, it would be nice if we didn't have as many people tied down in Iraq as we do, but the reality is we do. And the Gallup Poll just came out that reveals that by a two-to-one margin, 65-32, that Americans believe that the United States should establish a reasonable level of stability and security in Iraq before that we fully withdraw our troops.
So the American people understand that we're not yet in a position to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq.
SIMON: Well, what about the argument that nobody's talking about, or at least a few people, aside from maybe Mr. Nader, are talking about withdrawing all the troops but that it's just not right to keep U.S. service people there while the Iraqis themselves haven't come up with a political solution.
Sen. KYL: It's a complicated question. I mean, it's not a simple - have they come up with a political solution or not. There are a lot of political solutions that are in play right now. Some are working better than others. It is also true that we've been frustrated at the slowness of progress, the failure of the Iraqi government to step up and make some of the tough decisions that we'd like to see them make.
Now, it's an incredibly difficult thing for them. And part of the blame lies with us, I think or more precisely, the U.N. and the way that the initial elections were set up in Iraq and the way that their leaders were selected. But, again, all of that is water-over-the-dam. The reality now is that we have to keep pressuring them.
General David Petraeus just made a statement recently in which he was pretty blunt about the fact that they've got to do a better job of, for example, allocating their oil resources. But it is also, and it should be said in the last two or three months, that their parliament and leaders have stepped up and made some tough decisions.
And with a pretty good notion that if we continue to pressure them they will be able to achieve politically what we've helped them achieve militarily.
SIMON: Tough to be a Republican this year?
Sen. KYL: I ran for reelection right at the height of the problems in 2006. The last ad that my opponent ran against me, it showed President Bush with his arm around me and, of course, I was supporting the Bush War. And the last comment was, and Kyl even supports John McCain's call for more troops in Iraq. And, I mean, that was about the lowest thing you could say. Of course, it was true. I did.
John McCain came back saying if we don't have some kind of a surge in troops, we're not going to be able to turn this thing around. Well, his advice was taken. He knew that that could jeopardize his candidacy for president. Well, time has demonstrated that his thoughts on that, backed up later by President Bush and General Petraeus, turned out to be correct.
I took that same position in my election. I won my election by 10 points over a guy that put about $13 million of his own money into the race. No, it's not tough defending what you believe in, defending what you believe is right. And it turns out that now, after almost two years, the American people by two-thirds are in agreement with that basic point of view.
SIMON: Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, thanks so much.
Sen. KYL: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.