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Hugh urging Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman to reconsider his support of the Warner resolution.

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HH: Joined now from Washington, D.C. by an old friend and a great American, Norm Coleman, Senator from Minnesota, a man I hope to have on often and early throughout the election cycle. But Senator Coleman, you’ve got to update me. What’s going on with these resolutions?

NC: Well, we had a resolution today, the Hagel-Biden resolution. It was before the Foreign Relations Committee. It passed with the vote of all the Democrats on the committee and only one Republican, Chuck Hagel. The rest of us voted against Hagel-Biden. I tried to amend it, I tried to add an amendment. And by the way, Hugh, you know that I have expressed concern about the part of the President’s plan, just a part of the President’s plan that talks about a surge in Baghdad. I think the Iraqis, they’ve got to produce, they’ve got to put up, they’ve got to show a resolve to take on al-Sadr, just as much as they take on the insurgents. I’ve had a concern about that. On the other hand, I’ve also talked to the Marines in Anbar who are doing what Marines do very well. They’re killing the enemy. They’re killing the foreign fighters. They’re seizing ground. But to hold it, they need Iraqis, and they need Sunnis in the army there, and Sunnis in the police force. But the commanders in Anbar say that we need more forces and we need more troops. And so I had a resolution that said the Iraqis need to deal with the sectarian violence, but the bottom line of it was that the commanders on the ground in places like Anbar, that are fighting the war against insurgents and foreign fighters, if they need increases, if they need more troops, then we should support them. That was substantially voted down. Bottom line is I voted against the resolution that I think is…I’m going to be very blunt…is a pull-out resolution. This isn’t an abandon Iraq resolution. The words don’t exactly say that, but I listened to John Murtha testify, and I listened to the reaction of my colleagues across the aisle, that’s their position. They talk about redeployment, and redeployment really means get out, regardless of the consequences. I have concerns about a portion of the President’s plan, I have articulated those concerns, but I’m not ready to give up on victory or success in Iraq, Hugh.

HH: Now I’d like to play for you and the audience an exchange yesterday between Joe Lieberman and David Petraeus, the general that was confirmed by the Senate today, to take over ground operations, all operations in Iraq. Here is that tape, Senator Coleman:

DP: Sir, as I stated in the opening statement, this is a test of wills at the end of the day. And in that regard, speaking purely as a military commander if confirmed, albeit one who frankly does understand enormously, and treasures the value of free and open debate, free speech, who has put himself in harm’s way to protect those great features of our democracy, nonetheless having said that, a commander in such an endeavor would obviously like for the enemy to feel that there’s no hope.

JL: And a resolution…if the Senate passed a resolution of disapproval for this new strategy in Iraq, would give the enemy some encouragement, some feeling that…well, some clear expression that the American people were divided?

DP: That’s correct, sir.

HH: Now Senator Coleman, hearing what General Petraeus said, have you rethought support for Senator Warner’s supposed resolution?

NC: Two observations: One, David Petraeus is one of the finest military leaders certainly in my brief time I’ve met, but put me aside. When General Barry McCaffrey came before the Senate, he said that Petraeus is the best, brightest military leader that he’s met in his entire life. So Petraeus is awesome. Hugh, I’m not going to vote for any resolution that communicates to our enemy the prospect of shaken resolve. I don’t think the Warner resolution does that. The Warner resolution does what the Hagel-Biden resolution doesn’t. It talks about the consequences of a failed state. The Warner resolution does what the Hagel-Biden resolution doesn’t. It says nothing in this resolution…should infer pulling out, lessening resolve, et cetera, et cetera. It highlights a disagreement over an aspect of the strategy, it urges the President to consider to look at all options, but I don’t think it does what is the bottom line to me, and that is communicate the prospect of shaken resolve. We have to succeed in Iraq. We have some questions about how we do it. But I think we’ve got to communicate, by the way, not just to the Iraqis, but to the Iranians and the Syrians, the reality that we’re going to be there, that we are going to prevail, and I just don’t think the Warner resolution does what you and many of your listeners, and I appreciate the deep concern, what you are concerned about. I don’t think if you read the resolution, it doesn’t do that, and I’m not going to support a resolution that I believe communicates shaken resolve.

HH: Now Senator Coleman, General Petraeus testified under oath yesterday that the Warner resolution does in fact encourage the enemy. It can’t be understood…

NC: Well, I don’t think he testified about…again, there is a big distinction between the Hagel-Biden resolution, which by the way, was on the floor. The Warner resolution, by the way, was just introduced today. It had been discussed in the media, but those…there’s a reason why nine Republicans, all of us but Hagel voted against Hagel-Biden.

HH: And that’s correct, but I’d like to replay it again, Senator, because General Petraeus is very clear, and I want to make sure I’m not sidewinding you here.

NC: I hear you. No, I’m listening, and I have great respect for David Petraeus.

HH: It’s in the follow up from Senator Lieberman.

DP: Sir, as I stated in the opening statement, this is a test of wills at the end of the day. And in that regard, speaking purely as a military commander if confirmed, albeit one who frankly does understand enormously, and treasures the value of free and open debate, free speech, who has put himself in harm’s way to protect those great features of our democracy, nonetheless having said that, a commander in such an endeavor would obviously like for the enemy to feel that there’s no hope.

JL: And a resolution…if the Senate passed a resolution of disapproval for this new strategy in Iraq, would give the enemy some encouragement, some feeling that…well, some clear expression that the American people were divided?

DP: That’s correct, sir.

HH: Senator Coleman, I understand it, as does my audience, as do most of the military I’ve talked to. We understand the Warner resolution to express disapproval of the new strategy.

NC: Well, two observations. By the way, one, Hugh, there’s an unfortunate reality, an unfortunate reality, that the American public is divide. That is the reality. We see it. The question is, what are we communicating to our enemy? And I think it’s important that we communicate, which the Warner resolution does…again, which Hagel-Biden didn’t, that is, I keep going back, because the reason nine of us uniformly said we can’t support this, because it specifically says, specifically says that these are the consequences of a failure in Iraq. So we don’t want to fail. It specifically says, specifically says that nothing in this should infer any kind of pull-out or reduction or resolve. That’s really what it’s saying. And if it needs to say it stronger, I’ll say it. I want to communicate to our enemies that though we may have debates, which is the nature of democracy, that the reality is that there are consequences to failure in Iraq. That was one of the resolutions I was also going to offer today. And by the way, Hugh, it was right out of the Iraqi Study Group. Read the Iraqi Study Group report, which you don’t agree with a number of things in there, but I’ve got to tell you, they laid out very, very clearly in there, and I’ve quoted it, that Iraq remains a key battleground in the Global War On Terror, and I quote a premature American departure from Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence, and further deterioration of conditions with near term results including, “greater human suffering, regional destabilization, and a threat to the global economy.” I think a resolution that lays that out is not communicating to our enemy any lessening of resolve, and should not give our enemy any hope.

HH: Senator Coleman, there is an old Irish saying, “When everybody says you’re drunk, you’d better sit down.” Now if you get…if you hear from your constituents, and from Americans, that the Warner resolution in fact communicates a vote of no confidence, will you change your mind?

NC: I’m always going to listen, Hugh. What I would like is for my constituents to read the resolution, because again, I want to articulate, and I want to make it very, very clear that I’m not going to vote, I’m not going to vote for a resolution that communicates to our enemy lessened resolve. And if I need to strengthen the resolution to do that, I think it’s legitimate to express some concerns for the President, as we have privately, as we have publicly, but to do it then in a way that recognizes his role as Commander-In-Chief. But I’ve got to communicate. And Hugh, by the way, my concerns, my concerns are because I want to succeed.

HH: But Senator, you have communicated. I’ve read it, everyone’s read it, you’ve been to the White House, you’ve told the President. But this resolution has shaped up, whatever you think the optics are, the resolution has shaped up, including the Warner resolution, as a vote of no confidence on the President, and General Petraeus said people who are questioning the strategy, including the Baghdad deployment, are encouraging the enemy.

NC: Well, and again, I think there is a huge distinction between those of us who have supported what Senator Warner and Senator Nelson are putting on the floor, and what Hagel and Biden proposed today, which the other side voted for unanimously, and only one of us stepped over that line.

HH: And can I keep you one more segment?

NC: Absolutely, Hugh.

– – – – – –

HH: Welcome back, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt with Senator Norm Coleman, one of my favorite Senators, and I hope I’m going to be able to be side by side with him as he campaigns for reelection throughout 2007 and 2008. Senator Coleman, earlier today, Tony Snow on this program had this to say…

NC: Hugh, a question if I can.

HH: Okay, go ahead.

NC: And here’s the question. You know, I’m in Iraq, I’m talking to Dr. Rubai, which is Maliki’s chief advisor, and this is three weeks before the surge. He’s telling me we don’t need more American troops, we can take care of this. You know, the Iraqis haven’t shown the resolve yet to take on al Sadr, they haven’t shown the resolve to do what needs to be done to really change rules of engagement, so that when we go after folks, all of a sudden, we don’t get kind of stopped in mid-stream by some political decision that stops the military action. If you have concerns about the Iraqi…if you say hey, before we put more lives on the line, let them put up first, how do you…if you have those concerns, what do you do? How do I do what’s my Constitutional responsibility, while still having that resolve that I want to win, I want to succeed, I understand the consequences of failure in Iraq. What do you do?

HH: Senator Coleman, with all due respect, you bring up General Petraeus, you ask him questions, you listen to him, and you follow his advice, which is not to pass the Warner resolution. You also listen to your constituents, and most importantly, to the people in the uniforms that I have been hearing from. I just want to give you a couple of e-mails which are representative. “I have never, ever seen any issue that has made me angrier than the gutter-level, yellow cowardice that is being displayed by our party in the Congress. I would rather see the Whig party reform than stand with Warner. Fight the enemy, support the troops, back the President. Or as the Spartans would say, with your shield or on it.” Here’s another one. “I’ve signed the pledge and linked to the pledge site. My brother is in either Kuwait or Ramadi as I write. We haven’t heard from him yet with the 3rd I.D. Before he deployed, he was already upset that he was going now, when he sensed the country was forgetting that we were in a war. It’s hard enough to be overseas with a family, but to be risking your life for a country that appears to be divided makes it all the worse. I am so angry, I cannot even convey my thoughts.” And so I think first, do no harm, Senator Coleman. And the Warner amendment is tremendously damaging to the troops, and as General Petraeus said, it encourages the enemy to kill more Americans.

NC: Again, a couple of observations. First, you know, the issue about listen to your constituents, that’s a two-edged sword. I can tell you that unfortunately, we haven’t done a good enough job of convincing the American public, of connecting this with the War On Terror with what’s happening in Iraq.

HH: Agreed.

NC: And that’s part of our fault, and it’s partly the President’s fault, but we needed to do a better job of that. But the bottom line is even if the country is divided, the reality is that there are consequences of failure in Iraq. The Senator from Illinois, Obama, was saying oh, Iraq’s a mess, so in effect, it’s not going to get any worse. Hugh, if we fail, it will get much worse. Sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, Iran having greater strength in the region, al Qaeda celebrating the victory and using it as a recruitment tool. I understand all that. My goal is to do the best we can to support those in uniform, to express concerns when I think something’s wrong, but in the end, understanding the consequences of failure. But to simply…to do that, and to at least what’s being…if you read the entire Warner resolution, I don’t believe it does what the folks who…again, heartfelt in their concerns…but this is not an abandonment.

HH: Senator Coleman, the resolution says that the President needs to consider all alternatives and options. And do you think he has not done that? Or that he finds them insufficient to achieve victory? Again, that’s in the resolution.

NC: By the way, I think he has, and I think one of the intents of the resolution, by the way, is that this is going to be an ongoing conversation. The President has said himself, if things change, he will reconsider. I think the thought…and I’m not going to speak for John Warner here. He articulated a sense that let us go in and do an increase in one or two areas in Baghdad, see if the Iraqis live up to their end of the bargain before we go any further. I think it’s legitimate to ask the President to look at all the options. I think that’s what he’s doing. I don’t think this…I don’t think the disagreement is as much as you would make it. This resolution also, by the way, as you know, because you’ve read it, talks about the incredible bravery of our folks, talks about the consequences of a failed state, talks about what the Iraqis must do to deal with their end of the bargain. There’s a lot in this resolution. But to say that the President should continue to listen, I think he is. I think that’s stating the obvious.

HH: Why not wait? I mean, General Petraeus has asked you not to do this. Why not give…

NC: Hugh, where I disagree, and by the way, I will sit down with General Petraeus, okay? I’m going to have that conversation. I’m on Foreign Relations. We dealt…that conversation took place in Armed Services. But I will tell you and your listeners, I have the greatest respect for David Petraeus, and I met him in Iraq a few years ago. He’s the best darned general that I’ve ever run across, and I will sit down with him, and have a conversation with him. Again, my commitment is clear. I do not want to do anything that undermines or communicates to our enemies lack of resolve, and I certainly don’t want to do anything to undercut the magnificent effort being made by our young men and women in Iraq. But I think…I do have a responsibility, a Constitutional responsibility, when I think that something doesn’t make sense, an aspect of a policy, to articulate that. And in this case, to urge the President and say get the Iraqis to put up first. That’s something that I observed and have communicated.

HH: Will you wait to vote on the Warner resolution until you’ve talked with General Petraeus?

NC: Yes. Yes, I will. Absolutely.

HH: And so, to the bigger question…that’s huge. I think that’s important.

NC: Absolutely.

HH: Would you also free him up to tell us what he tells you?

NC: Yeah. That’s his prerogative, but I will visit with General Petraeus, and then have a conversation with him before we get a chance to vote on the Warner resolution. Hagel will come up, I think, since it passed through committee, you’ll have the Hagel resolution on the floor. The Warner resolution, I anticipate would be offered as a substitute.

HH: Will you support the filibuster of the Hagel resolution?

NC: I will not…yeah, I will…and I’m not a big filibuster guy, but in the end, I’m not going to do anything to further the Hagel resolution.

HH: Let me ask you, Senator, as well, the one that I get over and over again, is why not wait? Why not…because there’s been huge progress in the last week of engagement, there’s evidence that it is working, there was another battle today in the middle of Baghdad. Why not simply ask Senator Warner to shelve this for a period of three to six months?

NC: Hugh, I actually think it’s a positive…and it was part of my message to the Iraqis. I actually think this discussion puts a little pressure on the Iraqis. They have to know that they’ve got to produce, that this is simply not a blank check. And Krauthammer had a piece the other day, which I thought was kind of interesting, because he talked about some of this discussion, and basically said you know, tell the Iraqis if they don’t produce, we’ll abandon the Green Zone, but we’re not going to abandon Iraq. We’re not going to do that, and in the end, he says that maybe will make them more responsible. So I think it’s actually responsible to let the Iraqis know that they’ve got to put up, they have to produce, they have to live up to some of their end of the bargain.

HH: But Charles Krauthammer was on the program on Friday, and I believe he said he does not favor any of these resolutions, Senator. So I think, what I come back to again and again, is that the leadership of the party, the President, your supporters in Minnesota, the uniformed military I’ve spoken with, and General Petraeus are all against the Warner resolution. Are you listening…will you take it into account? Will you reconsider?

NC: I always listen, Hugh. I always listen. Again, I don’t want to get too repetitive here, but I think the Iraqis need to step up. I think this discussion aids in that. I don’t think that what we’re doing communicates any lack of resolve, and again, I will not support any resolution that communicates that to our enemies.

HH: Well, it communicates that to me, Senator, but I really respect that you came on so you could hear it from me first person.

NC: And I will listen…I’ll talk to David Petraeus before I have a chance to cast a final ballot.

HH: And I will encourage your constituents and your supporters to contact you, Senator, and let them know.

NC: It’s always a pleasure. You’re a great American, and I appreciate what you say and do, Hugh.

HH: You are too, Senator, and I hope we stay on the same team.

End of interview.


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