Alabama Senator Richard Shelby doesn’t mince words on Democrats not funding the troops, the Army banning mil-bloggers and George Tenet’s new book.
HH: But first, we celebrate the fact that the Congress has failed to override the President’s veto of the pork-laden attempt to micromanage the war into a date certain defeat. I’m joined by Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. Senator, good to have you on the program. Are you with me, Senator?
RS: Yeah, I’m with you.
HH: Okay, good to talk with you there, sir. Senator Shelby, before we get to the future of this bill, you’re on Senate Appropriations, George Tenet’s book, which I began reading yesterday, opens with a blast at you for bludgeoning Anthony Lake when he was nominated to be the CIA director in the 90’s. Have you read Mr. Tenet’s book yet?
RS: I’ve seen that part of it, and I’m beginning to read it. I don’t know if it’s worth the price that I paid for it. I might want to get my money back, but first of all, Mr. Tenet, that I know very well, he has mischaracterized the first part of the book, at least part of it, when he said that he met with me, and I asked him about Tony Lake. I was in Europe during that time, and I never met with him. I didn’t even know him. I knew at one time that he worked for Senator Boren, and he was, may have been acting, but he never met with me, he never briefed me on any of that, and I would certainly have never asked him for anything regarding his superior. But I can tell you this, I did, and our staff did do a search job on the qualifications of Anthony Lake to be director of CIA, and he came up short, and he eventually withdrew. But it was ideological. You know, he was the guy that went on television, and he was asked on Meet the Press, Dr. Lake, do you believe Alger Hiss was guilty, and he hesitated. And that became an issue. And there was an ideological fight. We pulled out all the stops we could, and we blocked him. In retrospect, we should have blocked Tenet, too, but we didn’t know that then.
HH: So in summary, like the account of his meeting Richard Perle on 9/12, his account of his meeting with you concerning Mr. Lake is made up out of whole cloth?
RS: It’s a total falsehood. That is, now.
HH: That certainly puts…
RS: The meeting with me…now I met with Tenet many times after he became the director of CIA. I met with him when he was nominated. I used to go eat breakfast with him from time to time, until I found out that after the resumption of nuclear tests in ’98, when I asked him what happened, and he said we didn’t have a clue, I knew something was badly wrong at the CIA under his leadership, and I was probably the only one for years telling everybody that he ought to step down.
HH: Did President Bush make a mistake in retaining him, Senator?
RS: Oh, absolutely. Oh, goodness. Everybody knew that.
HH: And is the CIA still broken?
RS: I think they’re trying. I think they’re trying to break down a lot of these stovepipes. You have a new director of the CIA, you have a National Intelligence Czar, so to speak now. As a matter of fact, I was in meetings with him half the day. I’m on the Defense Appropriations Committee, and we were going through a lot of that today. I think they’re making some progress, but they’re not there yet. You know, we have the best intelligence agencies in the world. We spend more money than anybody in the world. And they’re good. But we expect them to be better, and they’re going to have to be better in the future in this fight against terrorism.
HH: Well, let’s turn to the future of the appropriations bill, Senator. Good news, the veto, didn’t even come close to getting overridden.
RS: Oh, absolutely.
HH: It’s all a charade.
RS: It was a 222 to override, and a 203 to sustain…
RS: Oh, that’s a message, ought to be a message that the Democrats should heed.
HH: Now what happens next? Can we get the money that the troops need to the troops without a bunch of pork?
RS: That’s an excellent question. I believe we will fund the troops. I believe there’s got to be a number of Democrats that have got to be more than a little nervous about this, and the message that they’re sending to the troops. I’m sure negotiations are going on, and will go on. Ultimately, this bill will come through our subcommittee on Defense Appropriations, and we’ll have a look at it. But I think what we should do is send the message that we’re going to give our troops an opportunity to prevail over there, to bring some stability under a new commander, and with more troops going, and see what happens. I don’t know what’s going to be the outcome over there. It’s getting late in the game. We had great military success four years ago. We have an asymmetrical threat there now, and we’ve got to deal with it. But let’s say Thanksgiving, we better see if we made great progress. If we haven’t, we’ll have to reassess it. But in the meantime, let’s send the message to the troops we’re behind you, we think you can do the job, and we’re going to give you the means to do it.
HH: Did General Petraeus in his briefings impress you with his grasp…
RS: Absolutely. I first met General Petraeus back in January when he was here, and had a private meeting with him, and a candid discussion. You know, he’s a great soldier, he’s also bright as he can bet, you know, well educated, has a PhD. But more than that, he’s a man with experience on the ground there, and I think he’s hopeful. I don’t believe there’s any exuberance as far as not realizing this is a dicey situation there. But remember this, I’ve been telling people, we have never been defeated on the battleground over there, our troops. And if we send the message we don’t believe you can succeed, and we’re not going to support you, we’re going to undermine our troops not only in Iraq, but in the future. We will do irreparable damage to our military.
HH: How do Harry Reid’s comments about having lost the war play in Alabama, Senator?
RS: Well, I think they play very…don’t play very well there at all, because we haven’t lost the war at all. And what will the decision, the political decision mean down the road? I don’t know. But if we can, and I hope we can, give every effort to stabilize that area under a new commander, and with some more troops, we ought to give it every try. We’ve got a lot involved there. But more than Iraq, I think you have to think of the military in the next…where are we going to be in ten years? What kind of message does that send the troops who depend on our confidence and our faith in them? It sends a negative message.
HH: The story I’m going to cover, the story I’m going to cover a lot today, Senator Shelby, has to do with the troops. You’re on the Defense Appropriations, so I’ll ask you. You obviously know about blogging, and how people use the internet.
HH: And how soldiers have been blogging from the front lines, and how it’s been very useful to keeping the public informed, et cetera. Today, the Army banned soldiers from blogging, just out and out banned them. What do you make of that?
RS: Oh, I don’t believe I would have done that. I think as long as they’re not giving away positions, and stuff like that, I’ve heard from a lot of our soldiers, and they’re very upbeat. You know, they say support the troops, that we’re doing well, and I believe them. I have some friends over there right now. I had one young man who is a Marine officer, and the head of a rifle company, as we speak, and I spoke to him, and I’ve visited with his family and so forth, and he’s very upbeat. And I think a lot of these troops have been. I think that we’ll have to see what happens. But to undermine our troops is just something I wouldn’t ever want to be a part of.
HH: Now I get e-mails from a colonel in Ramadi, and a colonel in Baghdad, they’re buddies of mine. I post them on my blog, and I want to continue to do that, because it’s first-hand information. Is that an appropriate subject for Defense Appropriations to look into?
RS: Well, I don’t…I’m sure this will probably be brought up when we get into this, or we have a hearing on something that’s relevant to this. But at the end of the day, I guess the commanders issued some order for some reasons unknown to me. I think if you’ve got good morale, which I believe they send the message back, we will do it.
HH: And so I hope you do support them getting their rights back…
RS: Oh, I would. I think we ought to hear from the soldiers. We should not try to shut up our soldiers. They’re in harm’s way, they’re carrying the brunt of this, and their families, and we should support them, and we should listen to them. But the ones I’ve been listening to are upbeat.
HH: That’s why I want to keep the information flowing.
RS: I think it’s good.
HH: These blogs…yeah, they paint a very different picture from what the media does. Last question, Senator Shelby. When do we get this money bill through Appropriations? When do you expect to have to be back there working? You guys have been, not you, but the Democrats have been taking their time.
RS: I think the Democrats will drag it along as long as they can politically, as long as they feel like they can get by with, but I would hope that it’s the 1st, 2nd day of May now, that we can do it as soon as we can. Otherwise, they’re going to have to reprogram some other programs, and that’s not any way to run the Pentagon.
HH: Richard Shelby, Senator from Alabama…
RS: Thank you a lot.
HH: Thank you, always a pleasure to talk to you.
End of interview.