Christopher Dodd photo

Interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS News' "Face the Nation"

February 11, 2007

SCHIEFFER: Here in our studio, Chris Dodd of Connecticut. He's been in the Senate more than two decades; he's also running for President.

Senator, when you see the Senate tied in knots like it is right now and can't even take a position on the war--this is clearly the number one issue to Americans all across the country--it does help you to understand why someone can sort of come out of nowhere and catch on, even like Barack Obama, just because he's a fresh face.

DODD: Well, I agree with that. That's one of the reasons why about three weeks ago I offered a--some language which would require a real vote in the Senate either up or down of whether or not you wanted to endorse this policy of the surge. Last week we debated about debating. You've got--the American public has a very clear answer on where we think--where they think we ought to be going on Iraq. The president has a very clear direction. And we in Congress look like we're wringing our hands on the issue. And I say this with all due respect to the leadership, knowing the difficulty of trying to marshall 100 people in one direction, moving in one direction. But I thought we made a mistake by not having a real vote where there was real teeth into it with real accountability on the war in Iraq. And I think, frankly, we got ourselves into a mess here by competing sense of the Senate resolutions, which had no legal bearing at all, whatsoever.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, after being in Congress for more than what? About 25 years, I guess.

DODD: Yes. Yeah.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think your experience is an asset or a liability?

DODD: I think it's an asset. I really do. I think this has always been the case. I think experience matters to people. The stakes are very, very high right now for the reasons that you've mentioned and others, conditions here at home as well as abroad. I think people want to know that you have an ability to solve problems, that you can bring people together. Real leadership, it's had demonstrated proof of how to do that. And I've done that over 25 years, whether it was on the Family Medical Leave Act, the wars in El Salvador, dealing with litigation reform and the like, actually getting Republicans and Democrats to march in the same direction on critical issues before they--before the American people. And I think that's going to be very, very important to them as we go through this process. This is not a time for on the job training.

Mr. JOHN HARRIS (Editor in Chief, The Politico): Senator, about experience. You were first elected, before the Senate, I believe, for the House...

DODD: Yes.

HARRIS: 1974. Barack Obama was in junior high school at the time. At the personal level, somehow, it must gall you that so many people are willing to let him jump to the front of the line. What does that say?

DODD: It doesn't gall me at all. In fact, he's a very attractive individual. I've gotten to like him very, very much in the two years he's been in the Senate. And he'll bring his own experiences to it, as he tried to articulate yesterday. And during this process over the next year--this is only February. The first caucuses and primaries will occur 11 months from now. There's a long time between now and then for people to take a look and assess these candidates based on what they have done, but also what they--what they plan to do for the country. What're their--what're the big ideas they'll bring to this debate? How're they going to bring people together to get us moving in the right direction both at home and abroad? And I look forward to that debate and discussion. We'll have our first, I think, sort of informal gathering in April, April 4th in New Hampshire. There'll be a number of these forums. We'll...

HARRIS: You'll go to all those?

DODD: The plan is to go to as many as we can. And, again, I hope we don't overdo it. I think we bore the American public if we are not careful about this. This is a lot longer than anyone else has ever been through this process before the first caucus or primary.

HARRIS: Let me follow up on what you said about Iraq. A lot of people opposed to the war, especially Democrats opposed to the war...

DODD: Right.

HARRIS: ...don't want resolutions, nonbinding resolutions from the Congress. They want the Congress to use the power of the purse to put an end to the war. What're you personally going to do to address that?

DODD: Well, one, as I said three or four weeks ago, offer a cap on the amount of troops there pending a reauthorization, an actual vote. I only got six or seven votes for that in the Foreign Relations Committee. And that's what I would have preferred, something like that that would've had some real teeth into it, that would've required some real accountability on the issue.

HARRIS: Why so few? Why so many people in your party so afraid to...

DODD: Well, because, I...

HARRIS: ...exercise the authority that they do have?

DODD: ...think, frankly, it's--well, I'll let other people explain their own views on this thing, but the idea was a sort of a process to get--if you could 70 or 80 people to agree to oppose the surge, that would have some value. The problem was I didn't think you were ever going to get that kind of a vote here. None of these resolutions could garner barely 50 votes. And so we ended up sort of competing about debating over debating.

The next issue will come along on funding. And I believe Congress has got to step up to the plate here. We've got to answer the question about whether or not you're going to continue a policy that I think is causing us great harm both at home and abroad, all over the region, all over the world. And so clearly Congress is going to have to take a decision. Most people are afraid of a 30-second sound bite they may face in the next election, but frankly, kids are dying there. We're in deep trouble there. It's getting worse by the day. We need to stand up and be counted on this issue. And so then I'll be supporting a resolution that will cut off funding but not put our troops in jeopardy. That's really not the issue. I don't know a single member of Congress that wants to place a troop in jeopardy, but, clearly, many of us want to see a change in direction.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just ask you this, Senator. Let's say that we do begin bringing the troops home, which is clearly what you want to do.

DODD: Clearly.

SCHIEFFER: The Republicans, the White House would say you're going to make a haven for terrorists in Iraq. What do you think Iraq would look like if we did draw down these troops?

DODD: Well, it can't be any worse than it is today. And it is becoming a haven in many ways. We need a change in direction. You're not going to get a change in strategy until we decide that this program run has to change. And I believe that's only going to come when Congress makes that decision. And frankly, there's a greater opportunity for us to get some stability in Iraq and stability in the region, start to draw people back into the process internationally than are presently willing to engage because of our presence there. Eighty percent of the Iraqi people think we're the cause for the chaos in the country. Sixty percent believe it's appropriate to shoot and kill Americans who're there. How do you sustain a policy when the very people we're trying to help are opposed to our being there?

SCHIEFFER: Do you believe that Congress will begin to attach amendments onto coming spending bills that will, in fact, cut off some of the funding?

DODD: I believe so, and I believe we'll be joined by some Republicans in the process. I know of no other way to do it unless the president changes his mind, which I would hope would be the case, and give us a new strategy here. Redeployment of these forces is absolutely critical. You cannot continue going down this road without some change. The change is only going to come if the president changes his mind or the Congress forces him to. Now, he could veto the legislation, but I think we've got to stand up and offer real legislation with real teeth and real accountability, or the American public are going to be very, very disappointed, to put it mildly.

HARRIS: You talk about regional stability. Just this morning in Baghdad, there was a briefing that said there's a growing body of evidence that Iranian weapons are being used to kill US soldiers.

DODD: Right.

HARRIS: You had a tough exchange with Secretary Rice just this past week, I believe, in which you say the administration's not pursuing diplomacy adequately with Iran.

DODD: Right

HARRIS: What do you think should be done about Iran? Isn't this an authentic problem, that they are taking over?

DODD: No question. But the Baker-Hamilton report recommended we have--we end up having conversations with people--all the people in the region, including the Iranians and the Syrians. That's not because we like them. That's not because we want to do them a favor, but because it's in our interest to do it, much as Nixon had conversations with Mao Tse Tung, or Republican presidents did with Soviet leaders. You need to engage the people in the region if we've got some hope of solving those problems short of military conflict.

Now, I read the same report, but I'm also concerned about some of these reports coming out of intelligence analysts. We also had this week an inspector general's report about how we got into this mess in the first place when Doug Feith was doctoring the information. John Bolton tried to fire intelligence analysts because he didn't like the information he was getting to support policies. So I look at this with a degree of skepticism based on the record that these intelligence operations have provided us in the past.

But, clearly, Iran is a problem. There's no question about it. But they were going to be a problem under the present policy anyway. And it seems to me, until we engage them some way on a multiple of issues, including this one, it's only going to get worse. Baker and Hamilton were right. Diplomacy is not a favor to your enemy. It's how you extend your interest in the region. We ought to be doing more of it, not less.

SCHIEFFER: So you are skeptical about whether, in fact, these reports that Iran is doing this are true. Do you think, senator, that the administration is trying to lay the groundwork to attack Iran?

DODD: Well, it could be. There are certainly those...


DODD: ...who I think are in favor of that. We've seen that in the past, that they would like nothing more than to build a case for that. Some of us call this, the year 2000, the year of Iran in a sense, and I'm worried about that. That's how we got into the mess in Iraq. That's why some of us supported those resolutions, because of doctored information. So I'm very skeptical, based on recent past history, about this administration leading us in that direction. It worries me. It's not to say I'm not worried about Iran. I am worried about Iran, and there's steps that could be taken, I think, to try and change the direction they seem to be heading in. But I'm very nervous about what the groundwork being laid here as a premise for military action in Iran.

HARRIS: Senator, just a little bit of time left. I am curious about your relationship with your fellow senator, Joe Lieberman.

DODD: Yeah.

HARRIS: He is not backing your presidential candidacy, I understand. He...

DODD: Not yet, John.

HARRIS: Not yet. OK. All right. What is your relationship with these--with him these days?

DODD: Very good.

HARRIS: He sided with the Republicans in these crucial procedural votes last week.

DODD: Well, he does, and Joe has had a long-standing view on this--on this war, which he's held to. And he and I disagree about that. But we agree on an awful lot of other issues. He's a good senator, in my view. He's a Democrat, although he was elected as an Independent. He aligned himself with us in the Senate, and I'm quite confident he'll stay there.

SCHIEFFER: All right, well, senator we want to thank you.

DODD: Thank you, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Good luck on the campaign. Thank you very much.

DODD: You bet, Bob.

Christopher Dodd, Interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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