Sunday Morning Fights: Senators Graham and Webb Face Off on ‘Meet the Press’
It was quite a donnybrook on “Meet the Press” Sunday morning when Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Jim Webb (D-Virginia) joined Tim Russert to discuss what’s going on in Iraq.
In fact, what began as a civil discussion between two southern gentlemen got quite testy towards the end.
With that in mind, I’m going to roll the tape so to speak, and will only break in when Webb refers to a poll done in May without sharing all the findings (video available here):
MR. TIM RUSSERT, HOST: Senator Webb, do you believe al-Qaeda is the primary enemy in Iraq and threat in Iraq? And do you believe if U.S. troops, in fact, withdrew from Iraq we would leave behind a bloodbath and genocide?
SEN. JIM WEBB: I think they’re going to have problems in Iraq whenever we leave. They have had problems in Iraq for 2,000 years. The question is the circumstances under which we leave, and that’s what we have to work on. And that’s what the people who’ve basically circled their wagons around this administration, rather than moving toward the future like, like, for instance, Senator Warner and Senator Lugar are trying to do, are missing the boat. We have to get strong diplomatic efforts in place that are in consonance with what our military has been doing.
Let me just say a couple things about the points that Senator Graham was making. OK? First of all, with respect to my amendment, 56 senators voted for my amendment. Senator Graham put an amendment in basically supporting the status quo, he got 41 votes. So a majority of the Senate supports what we’re trying to do. And with respect to the idea that any president, you know, would, would not accept this sort of congressional direction, as I said, we have in the past. Presidents have in the past. The best example being when President Truman had to take the recommendation or the requirement of the Congress that you have 120 days in the military before you go overseas.
And with respect to al-Qaeda, quite frankly, al-Qaeda didn’t come to Iraq to try to destroy a democracy. That’s a very, very flimsy democracy there. We all recognize that. Al-Qaeda came to Iraq because the United States was in Iraq, and the people in al-Anbar are not aligning themselves with the United States. It’s “The enemy of the enemy is my friend.” This hasn’t been the Iraqi military, the national military that’s been taking out al-Qaeda. It’s been a redneck justice. It’s been these sectarian groups out there who don’t like al-Qaeda. And if we leave, they still will not like al-Qaeda.
So what we have to have is the proper sort of diplomatic energy, which is actually what the Iraq Study Group is proposing, along with what these military people have been doing. And we got to give them a break. This is where I—this is what I don’t understand, with Senator Graham, Senator Lieberman. Senator Lieberman attacked me on a show on Monday. You know, Senator Lieberman, every day, is calling for a war against Iran and probably Syria. Maybe a, maybe a, maybe they can tell us where the, the line should be drawn. Maybe, maybe the United States military, all of it, should go to the Middle East and stay all the time. Somewhere in here there has to be a rational line that protects the well being of our troops.
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, what happens in September?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think General Petraeus will determine what happens in September, but in July, we’re not going to let politicians deploy troops based on the polling of the moment. And I think the biggest mistake we could make is misunderstanding our enemies. Iran is killing Americans and trying to destabilize this government.
SEN. WEBB: So are Saudis, Senator Graham. So are Saudis, because that’s what the region is.
SEN. GRAHAM: It’s because they fear a moderate form of government. Al-Qaeda has come there to destroy moderation. And if they win—we’ve got a chance to put them on the run, and God bless General Petraeus and these troops. They’re doing things with this surge we could never do before, and it’s been al-Qaeda’s worst nightmare. And the worst thing we could do as a country is when we’re close...
SEN. WEBB: The worst nightmare of al-Qaeda is the Iraqis who’ve stood up to them.
SEN. GRAHAM: ...when we’re close to getting it right is to withdraw because of the next election. They didn’t...
MR. RUSSERT: How long should the...
SEN. WEBB: Hold on, Lindsey.
MR. RUSSERT: How long should the surge last?
SEN. GRAHAM: The surge is set—the—has been in place for two weeks, and we’ve done more in Anbar in last show was September.
SEN. WEBB: We didn’t do that. We didn’t do that in two weeks.
SEN. GRAHAM: It’s been in place for two weeks...
SEN. WEBB: We didn’t do that in two weeks.
SEN. GRAHAM: ...and it’s made enormous progress in areas...
MR. RUSSERT: But how long do you believe the surge will last?
SEN. GRAHAM: When General Petraeus comes back, he will tell us these things. I want to leave. No American wants to occupy Iraq. But history will judge us, my friend, not when we left, but what we left behind. Do we leave a resurgent al-Qaeda that will kill every moderate who helped us? Do we empower Iran? Do they control the south of Iraq? Nobody ever asks the consequences, polls the consequences of this idea, just wash your hands of Iraq.
SEN. WEBB: It’s been, it’s been a hard, it’s been a hard month Lindsey. You need to calm down my friend.
SEN. GRAHAM: I’m going to listen to this general, and I’m not going to let any politician take the place of the general.
MR. RUSSERT: I’ll give you a chance to respond.
SEN. WEBB: Lindsey’s had a hard month. You know, these people who have, you know, gathered around...
SEN. GRAHAM: I don’t know about Lindsey having a hard month.
SEN. WEBB: ...gathered around the president, you know, on the immigration bill, on this bill. I know it’s, I know it’s been tough.
SEN. GRAHAM: It’s about the next 20 and 30 years.
SEN. WEBB: We got to, we got to bring people together, and you know, get a diplomatic solution in place here that’s in consonance with this. When the president announced the surge in January, he said that, by the end of this year, all of the provinces in Iraq would be under the control of Iraqis. That’s clearly not going to happen. And the bottom line here is whether you want to stay for 10 years or whether you want to stay for six months...
SEN. GRAHAM: I want to, I want to beat extremism.
SEN. WEBB: Excuse me. Excuse me, friend. We need to find a formula that takes care of the well-being of our soldiers and our Marines. And there is no...
SEN. GRAHAM: That we can agree on.
SEN. WEBB: There is no operational policy...
SEN. GRAHAM: That we can agree on.
SEN. WEBB: ...that justifies what we’ve been doing. But the tradition...
MR. RUSSERT: But do you...
SEN. WEBB: The traditional operational policy has been if you’ve been gone for a year, you get two years back. We’re now in a situation where the soldiers and the Marines are having less than a one to one ratio, and somebody needs to speak up for them rather than simply defending what this president’s been doing.
SEN. GRAHAM: When they re-enlist in the highest numbers anywhere else in the military, they’re speaking...
SEN. WEBB: You know, this is one thing I really—this is one thing I really take objection to...
SEN. GRAHAM: ...the soldiers are speaking, my friend. Let them win.
SEN. WEBB: ...is politicians who—at the...
SEN. GRAHAM: Let them win.
SEN. WEBB: Politicians who—may I speak?
SEN. GRAHAM: They want to win, let them win.
SEN. WEBB: Is politicians who try to put their political views into the mouths of soldiers. You can look at poll after poll, and the political views of the United States military are no different than the country at large. Go take a look at The New York Times today.
SEN. GRAHAM: The soldiers...
SEN. WEBB: Less than half of the military believes that we should be in Iraq in the first place.
Stop the tape. Our friend Dan Riehl wrote about this today, and the Senator from Virginia – much like today’s Times article – was not representing all the findings from this poll.
As Riehl accurately pointed out, the Times piece referred to a New York Times/CBS News poll done in May. However, as Riehl noted:
There is indeed a May New York Times CBS poll, but if you look at it, you see why it wasn't making bigger news in May. It didn't give the Democrats what they wanted back then.
Why? Well, let’s look at a key paragraph from the May 24 Times article about this poll that doesn’t quite fit into Webb’s view of the world (emphasis added):
While the troops remain in Iraq, the overwhelming majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war, though most want to do so with conditions. Thirteen percent want Congress to block all spending on the war. The majority, 69 percent, including 62 percent of Republicans, say Congress should appropriate money for the war, but on the condition that the United States sets benchmarks for progress and that the Iraqi government meets those goals. Fifteen percent of all respondents want Congress to approve war spending without conditions.
So, Senator, as long as you are willing to reference parts of a poll that seem to support your position, wouldn’t it be decent of you to mention the sections that don’t?
And where was Mr. Russert to challenge his guest on this issue? Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if Tim said something like:
Well, to be fair Senator, there were indeed some findings in that May poll that indicate the American people are in favor of continuing to fund the troops as long as there are specific benchmarks. How do you respond to that?
Oh. That’s right. That would be too much like journalism. So, forget it, and roll the tape, because this is about to get good:
SEN. GRAHAM: Have you been to Iraq? Have you ever been and talked to them? I’ve been seven times.
SEN. WEBB: You know, have you ever been to these—I’ve been—I’ve covered two wars as a correspondent...
SEN. GRAHAM: Have you been to Iraq?
SEN. WEBB: I have been to Afghanistan as a journalist.
SEN. GRAHAM: Have you been to Iraq and—have you been to Iraq and talked to the soldiers?
SEN. WEBB: You know, you haven’t been to Iraq.
SEN. GRAHAM: I’ve been to—I’ve been there seven times.
SEN. WEBB: You know, you go see the dog and pony shows.
SEN. GRAHAM: I’ve been there as a reservist, I have been there and I’m going back in August.
SEN. WEBB: That’s what congressmen do. Yeah, I have, I have—I’ve been a member of the military when the senators come in.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, all—listen, something we can agree on, we both admire the men and women in uniform. I don’t doubt your patriotism.
SEN. WEBB: Don’t put political words in their mouth.
SEN. GRAHAM: You know, my election...
SEN. WEBB: You do it—you’ve been doing it ever since I’ve been in Congress.
SEN. GRAHAM: I’m up for re-election. Every Republican who’s supporting this position is doing it against the polls.
SEN. WEBB: You know, you said on the floor, “Let them win. They want it.”
SEN. GRAHAM: This is not about my election, my friend...
SEN. WEBB: They want it, my friend.
SEN. GRAHAM: ...this is about the next generation.
SEN. WEBB: No, you said on the floor this week, “Let them win.”
SEN. GRAHAM: The troops are not the problem. The troops can win. I...
SEN. WEBB: Thirty-five percent of the United States military agrees with the policy of this president.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, why do they keep...
SEN. WEBB: By poll. By poll.
SEN. GRAHAM: ...re-enlisting? Why do they go back?
SEN. WEBB: Because they love their country.
SEN. GRAHAM: That’s not the problem. No, because...
SEN. WEBB: Because they love their country, they do not do it for political reasons.
SEN. GRAHAM: And they...
SEN. WEBB: My family’s been doing this since the Revolutionary war.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, well, so, so has my family.
SEN. WEBB: They do it for—they do it because they love their country, because they have a tradition, and it is the responsibility of our national leaders to make sure that they are used properly.
SEN. GRAHAM: In conclusion, I think they go back because they see the face of the enemy that we’re fighting. They don’t want their...
SEN. WEBB: Well, you got to look at the polls, Lindsey, instead of...
SEN. GRAHAM: ...kids to go back, they don’t want their grandkids to go back.
SEN. WEBB: ...instead of the seven or eight people they bring in line when you make your congressional visit.
SEN. GRAHAM: Bin Laden said this is the third world war in Iraq. They go back because they know the consequences of losing. God bless them, and let’s make sure they can win, because they can.
SEN. WEBB: I’ll let them judge what you said.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Jim Webb, thank you very much.
SEN. WEBB: Thank you.
SEN. GRAHAM: Good television.
Yes it was.