Thursday, May 31, 2007

Transcript of Senator Chris Dodd's live vlog event at FireDogLake.com 30-MAY-07

(courtesy of commenter 'egregious')

Dodd: “We hold the Bush administration accountable during the redeployment period by requiring the Secretary of Defense to regularly report to Congress on the draw-down of forces during that period; we institute measures that would make funding within the redeployment period contingent on the progress of the phrased redeployment; we restore the readiness of our military, we use additional funds that come in, the Reserves, National Guard, by transferring portions of the moneys that would have otherwise been available for combat activities. That’s the outline of the amendment. It hasn’t been drawn up as an amendment yet but those are the major provisions we would include in the bill. Again, we abbreviate the period between the enactment date and the beginning of redeployment, we maintain the same date at the end of March of 2008; we utilize the resources that come in to support Reserves, National Guard, military readiness. We have benchmarks in there to require reporting out of the Secretary of Defense office as to how that redeployment is working over that period of 8 or 9 months. Again, I invite your comments on this and thoughts. I thank you for what you did a week or so ago in building up support for the effort to oppose the supplemental but this time now with more than a month on our hands, I think we can lay this out in very clear terms here. This is not a time for us to be waiting around for the next president. We’ve gotta have the courage of our convictions to stand up to this one before we find even greater problems here to deal with in Iraq and elsewhere. So again I invite your comments and thoughts on it. Again I thank FireDogLake for hosting me today to give me a chance to lay this out a little bit for you and then to respond to some questions that have come in already about this proposal as well as comments that have come in about these ideas. Again thanks for listening, I look forward to your questions.”

Matt: Welcome everyone, this is Matt Browner-Hamlin, campaign blogger for the Dodd campaign. You’re gonna hear my voice off-screen as I relay questions from you to Senator Dodd. Before we start with that, Senator, could you clarify for us what the defense authorization bill is and why this is the best legislation to add your amendment to.

Dodd: Theoretically before you can appropriate any money for anything the programs have to be authorized by Congress. This is not always adhered to as I’m sure all of you know and we have continuing resolutions or supplemental appropriations that include items that have never been authorized. But theoretically you’re supposed to authorize something before you appropriate. Historically we’ve done that in the defense area. So the authorization numbers can be a lot of times much higher than the appropriation numbers. But nonetheless they give you the authority to then appropriate the funds. The reason that we’re gonna try to attach it in the authorization bill is one, this is legislative language. You’re not allowed to put legislative language theoretically on an appropriations bill. That happens from time to time depending on how you draft it. But the best place to put legislative language is on an authorization bill. That’s the number one reason for including this language on the defense authorization bill next month but also it’s our next bite out of the apple if you will. After the defense authorization bill there will be a defense appropriations bill and then they’ll have to come back to the supplemental again sometime in the early fall. And I thought it made some sense since this is the next game in town so to speak that we ought to be ready to make the case. I was telling folks in NH last weekend that I intend to continue fighting on this. I didn’t just go through this last week to drop the ball after this but rather to continue to make the case. And so over Memorial Day weekend as I read about more of our servicemen losing their lives, more Iraqi losing their lives, this hole getting deeper and deeper for us, that it seemed to me we ought to come back with something much more quickly than we did the last time and to make our case early on to build some support. So the defense authorization bill is really the right vehicle in many many ways for us to address this issue.

Matt: Thank you Senator. We’re now going to go to commenters who are asking questions in today’s thread.

The commenter named HotFlash asks, can you explain what redeployment of US combat troops means in the context of your proposed bill.

Dodd: My redeployment would be that they be redeployed at least over the next 9 or 10 months within Iraq itself. I’m not opposed to the idea of some training functions, some border security issues, some counter-terrorism activities. I understand that as well even some of that may go on afterwards. But the idea is to get our troops out of Iraq, to redeploy them either into Afghanistan where there are clearly some needs, the re-emergence of the Taliban is occurring in the country to redeploy them to bases that may exist in the region but out of Iraq or redeploy for many of our soldiers there back to the United States. So redeployment’s pretty comprehensive. Lemme just maybe anticipate a question some of you may have. I’m opposed to the idea of permanent US bases in Iraq. I don’t think there’s any need for that. And I know that many have been concerned about whether or not redeployment would mean keeping these bases in operation in Iraq itself. I think that would be a mistake.

Matt: The next question comes from the blogger Swopa. Can you provide us with some background in why the effort to include a timeline in the supplemental failed. Why were there not enough votes in the Senate to pass this bill.

Dodd: I’d have to ask each one of the people who voted for it for their rationale. But I think part of it was that time was running out in their minds and they thought they had to agree to a compromise early on. Look, I respect what leaders have to go through here to some degree. I understand they try to look at these things. I say respectfully to them and I have prior to the vote that my view is we should keep the pressure on here. We’re already seeing Republican members of the Congress having strong second thoughts about this military involvement in the Iraq civil war. They’d like to see us get out of it. They’re talking about benchmarks. They’re already moving not as fast as I am but moving in a direction that would limit our continued military presence in Iraq and so I think there was some of that. Also I think people were operating under the false assumption here that we’re gonna somehow immediately cut off funding for the troops in Iraq. That’s not the case at all. We’re talking about probably something close to 80B$ that would be spent. If we’re spending at 2B$ a week 8B$ a month we’re talking about redeployment which is gonna have some additional costs to it. That’s a lot of money to be spending over the next year in Iraq itself. We’re not gonna leave our soldiers sailors marines and airmen vulnerable. That’s a bogus argument. Has no validity. In fact the soldiers and sailors airmen and marines know that. They understand that better in fact than people out there using that argument. So I think some people were confused, that somehow we’re gonna abandon our troops. I hear it all. None of us want to be part of that at all. We realize that to make this message clear we have to end this policy. This is a failed policy. We’re more vulnerable less secure more isolated we’re weaker today in many many ways because of this president’s policy in Iraq.

Matt: Senator, the next question comes from commenter Massaccio, who asks, If we leave Iraq now there’s a significant chance that there will be enormous death and destruction as well as serious consequences for the oil reserves located throughout the country what do you propose to do with the misery that will follow our departure?

Dodd: Well let me say to you how much more misery 75,000 Iraqis I’m told have lost their lives in Iraq 100 more yesterday 10 more of our soldiers yesterday 5 today by the way have lost their lives 2 million people have left Iraq for Iran Syria or Jordan, a million in the country more displaced I don’t know how much more chaotic it can get And look I don’t have any absolute certainty when we leave the country the certainty of this A continued status quo without any decision to move our military out will only make the matters worse. I hereby defining very clearly our the time frame here in many ways will force the Iraqis to make some very difficult decisions if they want one at all. I think in the absence of that continued delay or procrastination when it comes to those issues So I think the time certainty here works to our advantage and by the way once we’ve done that I believe once we’ve done that surge in diplomacy politics economic resources We’ve got an awful lot in our arsenal available to us to encourage neighboring Arab states to become more involved in securing or helping Iraq some stability So this debate is not just redeployment but the other things engaging other nations to play an active role I think it’s harder for us to do that quite candidly with a continued unending presence in Iraq civil war Once we make it clear we’re terminating our military involvement in Iraq there’s a greater likelihood greater participation greater support for the non military actions if Iraq is to remain a nation-state and to bring some stability to the region.The oil resouces belong to the Iraqi people. The idea we’re going to stay to guarantee contracts to a handful of oil companies no rationale continuing chaos that in that country.

Matt: Senator, the next question comes from Oklahoma Kiddo, who asks: Would President Dodd advocate a reassessment of policy and place diplomacy front and center

Dodd: This has been stunning to me in a way the first administration Republican or Democratic treats diplomacy as a gift to your enemy a sign of weakness. This administration’s ideas use military force first, if that doesn’t work try diplomacy. Historically you try diplomacy and politics. The failure of that draws you to military action. This administration treats military action as the first arrow you draw out of your quiver last one I want to see us get back to the very successful efforts of the previous administration try and bring some reconciliation restore our credibility our legitimacy honest broker in these areas, it’s gonna be almost impossible to do by perpetuating the current policy in Iraq.

Matt: Senator, the next question comes from my good friend TRex, who wants to know if the resolution we are talking about today, the Dodd amendment, is binding on President Bush.

Dodd: Well it would be. It’s an authorization number. Now as I say you also have to deal with the appropriation because would be very powerful Could not appropriate funds that have not been authorized. So it would make it very very difficult for the administration to move in a different direction. I know they’d probably try. They would try have to watch the appropriations process as well. This president is determined I think to continue funding this operation regardless of the opposition he faces. But I think this is a very important first step to clarify what we think needs to be done and to invite people to participate support this effort.

Matt: Senator, there is a process question here, Sparkles the Iguana wants to know who is reading the questions, I will shout-out here Matt Browner-Hamlin, I work for the Dodd campaign as a blogger and I’m happy to be here facilitating this conversation.

Next question from dakine01 Are you going to introduce a stand alone bill to fully re-institute habeas corpus and all the other rights taken away by the Patriot Act.

Dodd: Well I already have, I invite your attention, you can look at my website chrisdodd.com, I hope it is anyway, introduced a number of weeks ago to do exactly what you’re talking about to restore habeas corpus. By the way you should know in drawing up the legislation By the way my strongest supporters are senior military commanders judges advocate general at the Pentagon. This is not some idea that came out of left field if you will. People who are serious about military justice believe this was a huge mistake for us to do what the Military Commissions Act did last fall. I consider people serious military justice one of the most serious negative votes Congress has taken in a long long time it was a major retreat from the rule of law and something we have prided ourselves on over the years So I will do everything possible to try and build support for this legislation and if not will use the powers of the presidency, executive order, to change as much of that as I can regarding habeas corpus.

Matt: Senator, the next question comes from two Ohio University students who say they have lost faith in our elected representatives due to the invasion of Iraq. How would you encourage two 19 year old students to get involved in the democratic process?

Dodd: Look this a major issue, there’s no question about it. But if you don’t speak up and participate people will assume that the country is overwhelmingly in favor of it. I believe that people don’t realize not that this ought to be the deciding factor. and The first job of a president is to keep our country secure and safe I believe that our policy in Iraq has done just the opposite. less secure, lot more vulnerable we’ve got some serious issues our strength as a nation what it’s done to our military capacity on almost every single level this policy is doing us great damage. losing our moral authority. Those of the words of Colin Powell not my words, back almost a year go So we need your involvement here. I’m running for president because I care about issues like this. I wanna see our country get back on track again both at home and abroad. I wanna see values and ideals most of us stand for in this country so that once again we become the positive force in the world to make a difference gives a sense of hope and carry that message to people in these respective caucus and primary states to involved in the electoral process of our country Those who don’t get involved, who sit on the sidelines give the opposition more power, more influence if you will. If you’re not involved someone else gets your vote and their vote when it comes to being involved in these issues. I understand why you can be down about the outcomes here and certainly I would have liked a better outcome last week. But I’m not a quitter and I suspect you’re not either, and so quitters don’t pack up and leave. The vote last week just fires me up to be more serious about it and more determined about it than ever before. That’s why I’m offering this idea to day asking for your comments, what you think about it. Let’s try to finalize it in the coming days then let’s make it something we ask more members of Congress We need to stand up to this administration before we lose more lives and the credibility of our country suffers even more. When I was there finishing up college back well let’s call it a couple of years ago I went off and joined the Peace Corps. Many people have asked me over the years why did I do that. And a very simple answer I’ve given for many years :An American president asked me to. A generation of us got very excited about that Some joined the Justice department Vista, Civil rights movement, military, Peace Corps. We all thought we were part of something good happening. Making a contribution, Make this world a better place. Become in something larger than ourselves. I hope you’ll feel that same thing. We invite you to get involved with our campaign, get involved in someone else’s campaign. I’d love to have you help us, the the most important to get involved and make a difference. If you do I think you’ll find the same kind of rewards We won’t win every battle I think the country turning in our direction they want a different mission, a different change in policy. If you get involved I think you can help us get there.

Matt: question comes from commenter Woodhall Hollow, who writes: Senator Dodd, thank you so very much for speaking truth to power. The invasion of Iraq as Al Gore and others have pointed out was a catastrophic mistake, yet we are there. I am interested in the role that other Arab countries can play in helping us to see that the Iraqi people have an opportunity to move forward. Specifically how would you use diplomacy to encourage these countries, most especially Saudi Arabia to play a more constructive role in these efforts.

Dodd: Well it’s a great question one that too often we’ve left out of our discussion. The focusing on military presence in the Iraq civil war but obviously it’s not a question of waiting for that to end and then picking up the political, diplomatic approach. I think that ought to be going on simultaneously. Now let me just say I was pleased to see that the administration had conversation with the Iranians a few days ago. I’ve been calling for that for months. I think a similar conversation ought to occur with Syria. Not because we like them or we want to sit down and have dinner with them, but because great nations understand that if you’re going to make a difference in the world, you end up negotiating with people you disagree with. That’s certainly been true of almost every administration over the last 50 or 60 years. And the idea that we don’t engage these countries, asking them to become involved, I think has been a huge mistake. So we need to energize Saudi Arabia. Jordan has been helpful. Egypt needs to become more involved in it. To inquire whether there isn’t some common ground with Syria, I hear they share such a huge border with Iraq and has a vested interest in the outcome of policies in Iraq. So we need to utilize the good offices of our country to find ways in which these countries can become more involved politically, diplomatically, economically in stabilizing Iraq and offer some real answers here. I think one of the reasons that we are reluctant to do that today is because of our military involvement in the civil war. It’s very difficult to find the space where Saudi Arabia and these other countries can be helpful, other than welcoming refugees who are coming out of the country or some training facilities here and there. I think, frankly, as we make it clear that after four and a half, going on five years, longer than WWII, that our military presence in Iraq is coming to an end. I think if we use the kind of influence I believe we have, that decision, that time frame will open the door for these other countries to step up and assume a greater responsibility. I believe that will happen. And under the right kind of national leadership, I’d make that happen.

Matt: Senator Dodd, next to last question, there have been few questions in the comments about this. Specifically Badwater asks Condolezza Rice’s threat about defying troop withdrawal legislation seems to involve the use of signing statements by the President. What is your position on the use of signing statements?

Dodd: Signing statements have been used on legislation where the president makes up his own mind what he thinks the legislation is all about. It’s rather remarkable. It’s so antithetical to our Constitution. about the idea that a president’s thoughts about the bill where he had little or nothing to do except to offer ideas. He has no vote in Congress, the coequal branch of government. So signing statements I think are very dangerous and a bad precedent for disrupting what legislative history is. Legislative history is never perfect, I’m not suggesting it is. But if you’re going to have a president decide what legislation means, and disregard what the Congressional intent was, then it seems to me you make it more difficult for the Supreme Court which ultimately is asked to decide what the intent of Congress is. Signing statements by the president I think can be interesting, I don’t have any objection to a president offering ideas, but the idea they would have any legislative weight, or judicial weight, is something that I think is totally wrong.

Matt: The last question comes from commenter egregious: Is there more the federal government can do to help New Orleans?

Dodd: Well there ought to be. The first one is the kind of leadership that’s been absent here. We’ve seen some steps made recently but an awful lot more needs to be done. We need some real support behind the efforts to make sure people can get insurance in New Orleans and these other Gulf states where the insurance has basically left. Without insurance you cant get mortgages, it’s difficult to rebuild down there. There needs to be far more of an effort. This has been a disgrace, a national disgrace, that a major American city hit by a natural disaster has had to find itself this many months and years after the fact, still scrambling to get back on its feet again. That’s been disgraceful in my view. We’ve just recently passed legislation that Mary Landrieu, my colleague from Louisiana, authored, that enjoyed broad based support in the Congress, provides some assistance and support. Now I’ll tell you, it was part of this supplemental, which I disagreed with. I would like those kinds of issues to be separate, rather than confusing the support for the continued military presence in Iraq tied up with things like Katrina support. That should have been separated out in my view. I shouldn’t be forced to be put in position to have to oppose efforts to do something about Katrina, while simultaneously supporting the conflict in Iraq. I didn’t like that but I had to make a choice. I made the choice to be opposed to the supplemental. You can come back again with another supplemental. I’d be delighted to help out on these domestic issues. But Iraq is the major issue of the issue of the day: 2 billion dollars a week, 8 billion dollars a month, day after day people losing their lives, and destroying our ability to be a far greater influence in the world. I think it’s terribly dangerous for our country.

Matt: Thank you very much, Senator, I think that concludes our chat.

Dodd: Thanks very much I appreciate again FireDogLake for providing the forum here, the venue for me to speak to people about this. We’ll keep the lines open obviously. We’re very interested in your comments and thoughts about our proposal. Thanks.

-end-


[Note: to watch the recorded video of the live vlog event hosted at FireDogLake, click on this link.]

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