RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And those scenes across Iraq today will affect the debate in Washington. In a speech about Iraq yesterday, President Bush mentioned the word `victory' 14 times. Twice the president promised complete victory, but complete victory can mean many things as NPR's David Welna found out speaking with members of the Senate.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Asking Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin what President Bush means by complete victory is like poking a hornet's nest.
Senator TOM HARKIN (Democrat, Iowa): Well, I don't know what he means. Would the president please define complete victory? What does that mean? Some time ago it was getting rid of Saddam Hussein. That's why they had `mission accomplished' on that ship, but I don't know what complete victory means and he's never defined that. It's just sort of a moving game, a moving target.
WELNA: For Michigan's Carl Levin who's the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, the president is promising far too much.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): To say total victory is a very open-ended commitment. It is unlimited in terms of our presence. Total victory could take decades. I don't think the American public will accept that kind of an open-ended commitment.
WELNA: Pressed on what she thinks complete victory in Iraq means, New York Democrat Hillary Clinton wouldn't say.
Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Well, I'm going to wait till these elections are held and we have a government that we can begin to negotiate with that has legitimacy, but I have stated on numerous occasions that I do not favor either of the positions that are most talked about, either immediate withdrawal or an open-ended commitment that has an undefined end.
WELNA: Some Senate Republicans are also unsure about what complete victory means. Richard Lugar is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): I'm not certain what complete victory means. We're in a war against terror. The president has defined this as one area in which the war is being fought out, and no one's claiming complete victory there.
WELNA: And Pat Roberts who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee is equally skeptical.
Senator PAT ROBERTS (Republican, Kansas): You know, in today's world, I'm not too sure there's ever a complete victory, you know, whatever that means. If you're saying that basically you're going to have a period of democracy American style or whatever, I don't think that's probable.
WELNA: But there are also Republicans such as Alabama's Jeff Sessions who think defining victory in Iraq is simple.
Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): A victory is when we've been able to pull out and that there's a stable government capable of defending itself against terrorists or outside attacks.
WELNA: Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel agrees as long as such a victory happens soon.
Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): The Iraqis must take control of their own destiny, their own future, their own government. We can help. It'll be three years in March, but we can't stay there indefinitely.
WELNA: And there are still others such as Republican Iraq War opponent Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island who see complete victory in very different terms.
Senator LINCOLN CHAFEE (Republican, Rhode Island): Well, we--the goal is as Martin Luther King said in his famous essay is to live in this world house somehow together. That's complete victory.
WELNA: No senator ventured to guess just how long achieving complete victory in Iraq might take.
David Welna, NPR News.
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