Senator Hillary Clinton will be interviewed by Anderson Cooper tonight. Cooper is in San Antonio, Texas for the opening ceremony of the Center for the Intrepid rehabilitation facility. The two-hour AC 360, titled THE TOUGHEST BATTLE: HEALING HEROES, takes a look inside the rehabilitation center for men and women of the Armed Forces who were severely injured in the current global war on terrorism. The transcript of Cooper’s interview with Senator Clinton follows…
ANDERSON COOPER: HOW MOVING WAS IT FOR YOU TO BE HERE TODAY?
Senator Hillary Clinton: it was extremely moving. Because we had several hundred wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan who were really not only part of the ceremony but the reason we’re here. This center for the intrepid is going to provide highest rehab services available really anywhere in the world to our young men and women who have been wounded and come here to do everything they can to heal and regain as much mobility as they can and lead as productive a life as they can.
Cooper: CENTER COST $15 MIL. AMERICAN CITIZENS SOME GIVING A DOLLAR HERE, OTHERS LARGE DONATIONS. HAVE GIVEN A LOT. IT SAYS A LOT ABOUT AMERICAN PEOPLE WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT THE GOVT?
Clinton: that’s a really good question Anderson. Obviously we’re unique in America b/c we have the partnership between our government and our citizens unlike anyone anywhere in the world. and we do meet needs that are not gonna be met. but this doesn’t relieve the government responsibility for doing everything we can to fund the VA, to make sure every VA in the country is ready to prepare a welcome with the services that are necessary. so one of the reasons that I fight to get VA fund is b/c that is national obligation. but what the fisher family and 600,000 donors decided to do was to speed the process. unfortunately it takes a long time to get things done in our govt.
Cooper: MONEY HAS BEEN EARMARKED FOR WALTER REED FACILITY THAT HASN’T BEEN BUILT.
Clinton: in fact, there’s even talk about closing Walter Reed. So we don’t have facilities in place to deal with more than nearly now 23,000 wounded coming out of these conflicts. this is a great facility where we are right now, the fisher houses are really a truly private philanthropy. that is to set up these living quarters so that families can come and be near their loved ones when they’re recuperating. I’ve met a lot of families who’ve been living in fisher houses for a year, year and a half because it takes that long. so we have this partnership but that doesn’t mean we should let govt off the hook.
Cooper: WE’RE NOT READY TO MEET THE NEEDS OF OUR SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN?
Clinton: no, we’re not.
Cooper: THAT’LL SURPRISE A LOT OF PEOPLE.
Clinton: well I think it should surprise ppl. because we are not prepared to handle all the needs. because don’t forget we have the ww2 generation that is aging, and passing on, but as they get older, they have more and more needs. we have the big group from Vietnam has serious needs and obviously our other conflicts. now these men and women coming back from these wars today.
Clinton: we should have guaranteed funding for VA. we shouldn’t have to fight in the congress every year to just determine how much we appropriate for the VA. we’ve had so many problems int the last several years getting really good estimates about what we’re going to need. then being able to get the appropriations and get the money out. so we have waiting lists. we have people waiting several months to get in and get appointment for the specialty that they have. so i hope that by your coming here and highlighting what the generosity have been able to accomplish here at the center for the intrepid, that we don’t lose sight of what govt still has to do. because that’s the way American works best.
Cooper: READ WHAT PAUL BEGALA SAID. – IT’S AN OBSCENITY THAT GOVT CAN FIND BILLIONS IN NO-BID CONTRACTS FOR HALLIBURTON AND TAX CUTS FOR THE WEALTHY CAN’T FIND A FEW MIL TO BIND UP THE WOUNDS OF ITS HEROES.
Clinton: and I say amen. you know. we’re going to try to get to the bottom of these contract abuses, waste and fraud that has gone on in these wars. there’s been no oversight, no accountability. first time we’ve had a war where literally the govt has been given blank check and the congress didn’t do its job. we’re going to try to begin to find out what happened. but the fact is, if we owe anyone anything it will be these young men and women. and we should make sure we put whatever resources are needed into their care and their support.
Cooper: YOU SAID CONGRESS DIDN’T DO ITS JOB. YOU WERE PART OF THAT CONGRESS
Clinton: well it was republican majority. and the republic majority wouldn’t hold hearings, wouldn’t have the kind of oversight that we called for time and time again. the dems did on our own without official powers of the congress hold such hearings, but if majority doesn’t want to lift its head up and look at facts, which until we replaced them, I think American public decided to do that, it’s very hard to get to the bottom of these scandals.
Cooper: WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON NAJAF? SOME 200 INSURGENTS KILLED, HUNDREDS OF INSURGENTS INVOLVED IN A MASSIVE OPERATION.
Clinton: I think there are hundreds of thousands, insurgents willing to fight us and engage in sectarian warfare in Iraq. one of the reasons I oppose escalation is I don’t believe that putting more Americans troops into Baghdad will stem this insurgency. Iraqis have to do it themselves. and unfortunately they’ve been given an open-ended commitment. that’s why I’ve called for capping troops and putting more pressure on the Iraqi govt to begin to take the actions we expect them to take on their own behalf.
Cooper: PRES SAYS HE SEES POSITIVE SIGNS, QUOTE THEY ARE SHOWING ME SOMETHING. ARE THE IRAQIS BEGINNING TO…
Clinton: no. within a week, we had Najaf. we had Karbala. where we had insurgents posing as Americans, but hardly looking like Americans being waved thru police and army checkpoints. going into a conference of American military, essentially capturing 5 of our soldiers, taking them off, again back thru the checkpoints and murdering them. we had the fight that has been ongoing in Haifa. where a lot of Iraqis who were supposed to be there fighting side by side with our forces either never showed up or when they did, hardly participated. so yeah, there are isolated instances you can point to and I’m well aware of those and very grateful for them. but overall, we don’t have level of commitment and the real dedication to mission that we have to have. and we’re sending more of our forces in, we don’t have overall command, we’re splitting command with Iraqis which will make it very difficult for our military leaders to determine what the mission is and have the forces under their command to be able to fulfill them. i think that’s a recipe for failure. and we have consistently underestimated both the insurgency and the level of troops that were needed.
Cooper: VP CHENEY SAID TO WOLF BLITZER HE TRUSTS AL MALIKI. DO YOU?
Clinton: no. but i also don’t trust vp Cheney. so I really think it’s fair to say his assessments have been wrong consistently. he has been unwilling to deal in a straightforward, factual-based way with a lot of what’s going on. he continues to make assertions that have no foundation in fact, in reality. I don’t think American people are listening to him any longer.
Cooper: DURBIN CALLED HIM DELUSIONAL.
Clinton: well I’m not gonna put labels on it. but I am gonna say that his efforts to continue to put best face on what they have so terribly mismanaged in Iraq no longer has any credibility attached to it.
Cooper: PRES SAID HE LOOKED INTO PUTIN’S EYES, SAW HIS SOUL. HE SAID AL MALIKI’S A STANDUP GUY, TAKEN MEASURE OF THE MAN. YOU THINK PRES IS GOOD JUDGE OF CHARACTER?
Clinton: I think the pres has made a lot of mistakes. and his judgment in the undertaking in Iraq certainly hasn’t been borne out. obviously he’s also not brought the world together. we were united after 9/11, we’ve lost that unity. so I regret deeply that he continues to go down the course that he has set when there seems to be not only very little support left for it, but very little chance of it being a successful strategy.
Clinton: this is about saving American lives. this is about saving Iraqi lives. this is about trying to stabilize a very dangerous situation that you’re familiar with and I am, having been there. this is about trying to protect and further America’s vital national security interests. and I think on all of those fronts, we just don’t have the right leadership or strategy going forward.
Cooper: YOU SAID THIS WEEKEND, THE PRES IS RESPONSIBLE TO EXTRICATE THE US. YOU SAID IT WOULD BE IRRESPONSIBLE NOT TO. DO YOU MEAN US TROOPS PULLED OUT OF IRAQ BY THE TIME THE NEXT ADMIN COMES TO POWER?
Clinton: what I mean is it is the height of responsibility for the pres to say, as he’s said on several occasions, he’s going to leave this to his successor. this was his war. he conceived it poorly. he executed it incompetently. he’s pursuing a strategy that’s more of the same. i see no change in direction. and that’s what I’ve been calling for. i want to begin a phased re-deployment of our troops.
Clinton: I think there are still vital natl interests in Iraq, particularly in al-anbar province, where we’re fighting insurgents. particularly against Iran trying to extend its influence. particularly in north, we have to work with Kurds to make sure they’re able to continue building a better future. I just don’t see that the pres strategy is working or workable. I really don’t understand how he’s just so willing to pass this on without understanding what needs to be done to change direction to whoever comes after him.
Cooper: EXTRICATE– YOU THINK THEY SHOULD BE OUT?
Clinton: you know it’s problematic to set a deadline. I’d like to see a process, I’d like to see a strategy that is moving toward us beginning to move our troops as I’ve called for over a year and a half.
Cooper: YOU CALLED FOR A CAP. OBAMA SAID JAN 10. CRITICS SAY IF YOU BELIEVE THERE HAVEN’T BEEN ENOUGH HERETOFOR, WHAT DOES CAPPING DO?
Clinton: well cap is meant to send a signal, as is our efforts to get a resolution of disapproval, that he no longer has political support in the country or the congress for pursuing this policy. the cap is to literally cap the number of troops so that we can begin redeploying them out of iraq. and we’ve got to start somewhere. and this gives us a way of making the argument that this pres shouldn’t be adding troops, he should begin subtracting troops. now i’m a realist, and i know that we’re still fighting to get just the resolution of disapproval thru the congress on a bipartisan basis. but i think it’s important to start laying down these markers and send this signal to the white house, to this pres and this VP.
Cooper: CRITICS SAY THAT SENDS MIXED SIGNAL TO US TROOPS. CRITICS SAY WHETHER OR NOT IT EMBOLDENS ENEMY, IT SENDS MIXED SIGNAL.
Clinton: I respectfully disagree with that. I’ve spoken to a lot of men and women and talked with a lot of them here today. the ones who’ve been there, wounded, they have seen the difficulties of working with Iraqis who have not yet decided they want to live in a peaceful, secure state of everyone having role and rights within it. what I hear is every different from that.
Clinton: service members are connected to the world, they’re on the internet, they know what’s going on. they know the debate. the debate is self-evident to everyone. they are participating in the debate. when they’re there, they have a mission to perform and they do it admirably. but when they’re talking with friends back home, when they’re sitting around visiting with their comrades, they’re saying the same things. what are we doing? this isn’t working. we can’t count on the Iraqi counterparts. we take one place and then we move on. why is this the strategy we’re expected to try to execute? so I think we’re doing a service to our young men and women in uniform by standing up and saying we’ve got to change direction.
Cooper: OTHER CRITICISM IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE NOT ADDRESSING IS WHAT HAPPENS REDEPLOYS OR PULLS OUT. IF THERE’S A GENOCIDAL BLOODLETTING, WHAT THEN?
Clinton: this is kind of a curious argument b/c we need a comprehensive strategy. everyone that I know of that who has studied this believes there is no military solution. there has to be political component and an international component. i see very little evidence that the administration is making progress pushing the Iraqi govt on the political front. I’ve heard now for 2 years we’re going to have a bill that will allocate oil revenues. when I was in Iraq 2 weeks ago, i heard we’re right on the brink of having such a law. we don’t have it yet because they can’t figure out what to do about it and we don’t have enough leverage to make them make a decision. I’ve heard over and over again we’re going to begin to reverse de-baathification. we’re going to begin to disarm the militias, we’re going to revise the constitution, provisions about minority rights as we said we do. none of it ever happens Anderson. they can’t even get a quarum (?) in their legislature.
Clinton: so I don’t see how we can expect just putting more troops in to really get us where we can avoid any kind of bad outcome because we’re not on a path to achieve that. we need to put more pressure on the Iraqi govt, which I why I have said if we’re cutting troops funding, let’s cut Iraqi troops funding or threaten to do so to get their attention focused on what they have to do. and finally we have to have international process that looks at how to prevent it from spilling over.
Clinton: that means not only bringing countries together that we already have relations with and we are engaged with but it means being engaged with countries that our president will not engage with. I don’t understand this philosophy that we don’t talk to bad guys. we talked to soviet union all during cold war.
Clinton: I think you have to engage the people who are enemies or potential adversaries in order to find out what is on their mind. what are they thinking? how do we influence their behavior? so we’re not looking at this comprehensively. we’re sticking our fist in the water, which makes an impact. when you pull it out, no matter whether it’s today, tomorrow or 10 years from now, it goes back to what it was. if we don’t have a plan that brings the Iraqi govt and the neighbors to the table to start dealing with this, we can’t make progress.
Clinton: just an aside, just this weekend, (?) old arm of IRA finally agreed to have policing in Northern Ireland. that took 14 years. starting back in 1993 when Clinton admin gave Gerry Adams a visa. and a long, slow, diplomatic process happened. and over time, the sides began to find some room for accommodation. they began to give up their weapons. they began to look how they could govern together.
Clinton: this takes time, it takes patience. i see none of that on the part of the admin. I would feel very different about where we are today if we had full force diplomatic underway the way we had in Bosnia. we went in there, we had a political strategy plus a military strategy. they dovetailed together. we brought in ppl who had different stakes in what’s going on, the Russians, the Europeans and others. that’s not happening.
Cooper: TODAY PRES TOLD NPR IF IRAN ESCALATES MILITARY ACTION IN IRAQ TO DETRIMENT OF OUR TROOPS, WE WILL RESPOND FIRMLY.
Clinton: we’re playing a very dangerous game of chicken here. for domestic political consumption, Iranians believe they can continue to be belligerent, make outrageous claims against Israel, the U.S., interfere with what’s going on in Iraq. we’re standing back here you know threatening and pointing fingers, and i think we’re hearing same rhetoric we heard before the pres decision to launch a pre-emptive war in Iraq.
Clinton: again I would say please, let’s get on tough-minded diplomatic track. we did have negotiations with Iran when we first went to Afghanistan. they were fruitful in the beginning. then we pulled away from that, and we refused to let either our civilian or our military leadership in the Persian gulf in any way engage with Iran in any ongoing basis. I think that’s a mistake. I never take any option off the table when we’re dealing with potential threats to our vital natl security interests or those of our friends and our allies. but I think we should do everything possible to engage in toughest-minded, most effective diplomatic process we can, and this admin will not do that. and I call on them again to do that.
Cooper: YOU THINK HE’S PREPARING FOR MILITARY ACTION?
Clinton: I don’t know. i think we in the congress is going to have a lot of questions about that.