Former Democratic senator Bob Kerrey is making his case for a refocused mission in Iraq. The 9/11 Commission member and Vietnam War veteran tells Bill Moyers why having US military forces in Iraq is necessary in fighting terrorism.
BILL MOYERS: The man you’re about to meet created quite a stir a few days ago with an essay on the opinion page of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Bob Kerrey seemed to be saying that America must stay the course in Iraq or hand Osama bin Laden a substantial psychological victory. What got people’s attention is that Bob Kerrey is a Democrat, former governor of Nebraska, who went on to serve two terms in the U.S. Senate and was the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee.
After leaving the Senate in 2001, Bob Kerrey became president of the New School University here in New York. He was also a member of the independent, bipartisan 9-11 Commission that investigated the attacks and made recommendations for the future. During the Vietnam War, Kerrey fought with the Navy Seals Special Operations Forces. He was wounded in combat and received the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest honor. It’s good to see you again.
BOB KERREY: Nice to be with you.
BILL MOYERS: In 2004, during those 9-11 hearings that you were participating in, you said, quote, “I think we’re going to end up with civil war if we continue down the military operation strategies that we have in place now.” Well, that’s what we have, isn’t it?
BOB KERREY: Well, it is what we have. I mean, the administration first of all, needs to say to the American people, this is not the 2003 war. That’s over. It’s a different kind of effort. It’s very difficult, secondly, to overcome the tragic mistakes in May of ’03, saying we’re going to eliminate anybody that’s been in the Ba’thist Party and stand down their military and police force, not allow early elections and go to Security Council to ask permission to be the occupying force. It’s very difficult to undo those mistakes.
But it is possible, it seems to me, to leave Iraq with the Iraqi people saying that we’re their ally, that we’re supporting their effort to establish democracy. But that we have limits.
BILL MOYERS: You know, I think just about everybody I know, including critics of the President, critics of the war, acknowledge that a unilateral withdrawal would lead to more murder, more mayhem. But how many lives should we expend? How many lives should we sacrifice to reach a state of equilibrium?
BOB KERREY: My belief is that a strategy that necessitates us being the police force for the Iraqis, is a mistake. I do not think that we can be a police.
BILL MOYERS: But what do we do?
BOB KERREY: The Iraqis say to me, well, will you be our police force? I think the answer should be no. I think we — I mean, I think this idea that we’re going to train them up to some level before we withdraw is a mistake.
BILL MOYERS: So what do we do?
BOB KERREY: I think you’ve got to identify the jihadist as the enemy. We’ve given them a sanctuary in Syria. We’ve given them a sanctuary in Iran. And personally, I think that is a mistake.
Our current — I think you have to say our current instructions are flawed, in saying that you can’t target — we know where these camps are in Syria. We know where the — the stream flow is that’s flowing into Iraq. I don’t think you can do that simultaneously with moving into Baghdad and knocking doors down and being the police force for the Iraqi government.
BOB KERREY: Look, Jim Webb said something in his campaign.
BILL MOYERS: The United States Senator from Virginia.
BOB KERREY: The United States Senator from Virginia. Said that you don’t have to occupy a country in order to be able to go after the terrorists inside of that country. It’s absolutely true. That’s the mistake that we made in Afghanistan prior to 9-11. And you — it — it — we had the capability, and the question is, do we have the will to — to target organizations. We’re not pursuing Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and wherever they are in the northwest territories. And we ought to be.
BILL MOYERS: So we’re wasting our resources on this guerilla war?
BOB KERREY: Well, I don’t think necessarily it’s been said that we’re wasting our resources. I would say that it’s — it’s — I personally believe it’s not an appropriate use of our resources to be a police force for Iraq.
BILL MOYERS: So pull them back, put them on the bases?
BOB KERREY: I think you could get —
BILL MOYERS: People want to know. They — they really that that we can’t unilaterally pull out —
BOB KERREY: Well, I’m not —
BILL MOYERS: They don’t know what we should do.
BOB KERREY: Bill I’m the president of The New School at the moment. I’m not in the Senate, so I haven’t worked out all the details.
BILL MOYERS: They didn’t quote that piece in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and the blogs all weekend because you’re the President of the New School.
BOB KERREY: No, I understand.
BILL MOYERS: They quoted you because you were a Democrat —
BOB KERREY: No, I understand.
BILL MOYERS: — identifying with the President’s policy.
BOB KERREY: I’m probably the most vocal critic of the president in all of higher education so it’s not… But what I am saying in the op-ed piece is that Democrats should not presume just because George Bush says it, that it’s wrong. And I think that in this particular case, if you begin by saying that global jihadism is a genuine threat —
BILL MOYERS: I agree with that.
BOB KERREY: — and you target those individual groups and target the individuals that are leading young people astray using technology to do it, you can build a bipartisan policy. Iraq is more difficult. Personally, this is what I would do. I would say to the Iraqi people, we’re ending the occupation.
BILL MOYERS: When?
BOB KERREY: I would say we end the occupation today. Our mission should not be to occupy Iraq. Our mission should be to be a reliable ally of the Iraqi government in their effort to survive. Now, I would —
BILL MOYERS: Number two? That’s a very specific point.
BOB KERREY: I think it’s likely that the Iraqi government will say, we need some kind of U.S. force to make certain that a much stronger in Syria, much stronger military in Iran, and much stronger military in Turkey don’t take advantage of a potential power vacuum. But they have to ask us what they want. And I would say in some — I would say yes to maintaining some kind of military force for that purpose. And if they ask us to have forces left not as occupiers, but to help make certain that those borders are protected, I would say yes. But they ask us for economic and military assistance, I would say yes, up to a point. But I would not — I think where we get in trouble is where we are out there operating their prisons, operating their jails, operating and even training their police force. It’s very difficult to get that done in a fashion in the modern age, without these images of us knocking down doors, which I think undercuts essentially what we’re trying to do.
BILL MOYERS: Well, you’ve been there. I mean, you were caught in that guerilla war in Vietnam.
BOB KERREY: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: You never know who you’re shooting at. You never know who the enemy is. I mean, is — is it fair to ask our troops to be doing that?
BOB KERREY: I think it is not fair to ask our troops to be doing that in that — in that sense that you’re asking right now. Because what we have is actually in some ways, worse. I don’t think Iraq and Vietnam are the same. But there are things that are very much alike. The first is, you’re occupying this country. And you can’t expect a kid that we’ve trained to be a good soldier to understand the difference between Shi’a and Sunni, we’re trying to sensitize them. But at the same time, you’re training them as soldiers. And they’re not — they’re not — they’re not trained as diplomats. They’re not trained as aid workers. They’re not trained as policemen. I do not think a mission of occupying Iraq is going to be successful.
I think that going after radical Islamic jihadists is absolutely essential. And I think as well, remaining a reliable ally of Iraq is important. But a reliable ally does not mean that we have to say yes to everything that’s asked of us. And I think finally I would say, I think you have to, within reason — and there’s a lot in that statement, “within reason” — you have to constantly press to expand the negotiations that are going on, both in the region and internationally, about what to do to make certain that Iraq has a chance of becoming a stable government in the aftermath of this war.
Let me play something that you said last Fall to Chris Matthews on HARDBALL. Matthews asked you if you agreed with Senator John McCain that America needs another 125,000 troops over there. Here’s what you answered.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Will that help us?
BOB KERREY (D), FORMER NEBRASKA SENATOR: I don’t think it will help us. I mean, maybe you get down to 500,000. The problem is contained in two pieces of polling data in Iraq. Seventy percent of the Iraqis want us to leave. And 60 percent say it’s OK to kill Americans. You can’t remain in an environment like that.
We’re trying to save the Iraqi government, and in order to do that, we’re operating, killing other Iraqis who were fighting with each other. It just — you can’t sustain that. At some point, you’ve got to design a strategy to get out of there to allow the Iraqi people to do it on their own.
Because we’re — I do think that we are creating a force that makes it hard for the Iraqi people to resolve their political conflicts. I’m not talking about expeditious, put them all on planes and get them out of there. But you’ve got to get in your head that you cannot finish this job with a military effort. It is a — it’s going to require the Iraqi people to resolve their political conflicts, and it’s not, I think, likely to occur as a sequence of U.S. forces being there.
When I saw that, I thought, by george he is right. More force is not going to do it. That was six or seven months ago. So you were right then, right?
BOB KERREY: Right, but you notice what I said was expeditious withdrawal is not the right option, either. And-
BILL MOYERS: So how do we get them out of there? I mean, how do we get them out of the occupation?
BOB KERREY: First of all, you say openly, the occup — we’re not the occupying force any longer. We went to the Security Council to get named the occupying force. Zell Miller gave this very impassioned speech at the Republican convention and said this Marine objects to being called the occupier. Well, you can object to being called the occupier, but that’s what the document says. We requested from the Security Council ato be named the occupying force. That’s the mistake, in my view.
And it followed – it followed on the heels of us saying we don’t trust you enough to allow you to have early elections. And another decision that nobody seems to understand where it came from, which is stand down the Iraqi army and police force.
Once you do that, we create an even worse power vacuum than was there before. I’m not calling — I do not think expeditious withdrawal is the right thing. But I do believe that as I said there, that the irony for us is that the tactics that we have to use to fight, do the fighting for the Iraqi people, produces a backlash, produces the very thing that we don’t want, which is public opinion saying get out as quickly as possible.
BILL MOYERS: I know you don’t write headlines of the essays you do in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. The headline on the one the other day said, “The Left Iraq Muddle”. Now, it’s well and good to call the liberal left a muddle, as THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and Rush Limbaugh do. But in all seriousness, it’s not the liberal left that created the quagmire in Iraq or the disaster that seems to have no end, right?
BOB KERREY: Well, first of all, I’ve watched the presidential debate in South Carolina and — the Republicans are muddled. The left and the right is muddled about what to do in Iraq. I don’t hear anybody with a clear, simple declaratory about what needs to be done.
So the problem is that we don’t have a bipartisan foreign policy today to deal with these radical Islamic jihadists. And we’ve got in the middle of this debate, for the sake of our — of our soldiers that we’re sending over there and for the sake of this larger battle, find a way to get bipartisan consensus on what to do about global jihadists.
BILL MOYERS: Democrats routed the Republicans in last November in so small part because the people who were voting were saying the war is our first issue. But here, six months later, you have more troops in Iraq, more troops on their way. The President seems to be escalating. The Democrats have capitulated. I mean, it’s just the opposite is happening of what was assumed to have been the message sent from the voters to the politicians.
BOB KERREY: I don’t think so. I think that the politicians in Washington understand that they can’t survive the status quo. I don’t believe that you’re going to get Republican members of Congress very smiling ear to ear when they hear the President and the Vice President say we don’t care about public opinion because we don’t have to face the voters again. Republican Congress, people in Congress do face the voters. And they understand that that status quo us unacceptable. That’s what the voters are saying. Now, one of the things that we have to do —
BILL MOYERS: Well, what we got is the opposite.
BOB KERREY: Well, we got an escalation. That is absolutely true. And that has provoked, I think, even greater anger about the meaning of the election itself. But I don’t think that that is an indication that Congress doesn’t understand that the status quo us unacceptable.
I mean, you saw Gordon Smith, who faces the voters in 2008, immediately after the election, go to the floor of the Senate, and raise the possibility that what the President was doing is illegal. A Republican senator from Oregon making that statement. So I do not believe Congress misunderstands what happened in that election. Republicans and Democrats understand that the status quo is unacceptable. And I do not believe that the surge in Baghdad is going to produce change in public opinion. I think it’s after — it actually increased the number of Americans that are saying you guys have got — you’ve not got this thing right yet.
BILL MOYERS: Do you —
BOB KERREY: The casualties are up. The cost is up. And though we’re not — we have fewer members of the press in Iraq and you’re not getting the full stories as we once did. And the President still refuses to go to funerals. And the coverage of the caskets coming back are not national news. At home, they are.
BILL MOYERS: Yes.
BOB KERREY: Those kids are coming home and they’re being buried, and their families are grieving them, and their families are welcoming back their sons and daughters without legs, with brain damage, et cetera. And they don’t like it. And I do not believe that Republicans or Democrats in Washington, D.C. misunderstand that. They know it.
BILL MOYERS: What a paradox, that the Democrats appear to capitulate, while the Republicans start talking about the Fall being a time to get out. Are the Democrats going to be hoisted on their own petard?
BOB KERREY: Well, they could be, because it — it appears to be a capitulation. It’s not a capitulation. They were — the — the Democrats were faced with this. The President vetoes the supplemental that calls for timetables. And what do they do? Send him another bill that he vetoes? That supplemental funds the troops. So at some point, you either just keep sending him bills that he vetoes and score points with your base, or you do the right thing. And I think they did the right thing by sending the President a bill that he will sign. They made their point, that they would prefer to have timetables.
BILL MOYERS: How bad do things have to get before you’re willing to say enough’s enough? I mean, is there a level of loss, of casualties beyond which you won’t go even to sustain the possibility of democratic —
BOB KERREY:Look, I’m — I am — I’ve reached — I’ve gone beyond the point, enough is enough. I mean, I want change to happen. And I campaigned vigorously for John Kerry, because I believed that it was more likely that he would resolve the conflict in Iraq in a better way than George Bush. That — that he would bring Republicans into the process and ask the question, what are we going to do now?
BILL MOYERS: How do you do it? The President does not appear to be willing to compromise.
BOB KERREY: He’s either going to have to compromise or the Congress is going to have to make him do it. His numbers are in decline. It’s not here that his policies are wrong. It’s the way he’s been approaching those policies. It’s that he’s mis-described what’s going on in Iraq today. It is not the 2003 war. You can’t say that one day, that — that bin Laden doesn’t matter, that he’s irrelevant, and the next day at the Coast Guard Academy, put his name 12 times in your speech.
BILL MOYERS: That brings me to your THE WALL STREET JOURNAL piece, you said in there that if the U.S. pulls out prematurely, it would — it would hand Osama bin Laden a psychological victory.
BOB KERREY: The only mistake in that sentence is it’s probably not a psychological victory. It probably is a real victory.
BILL MOYERS: But he still — he’s still around. I mean, that’s a pretty big psychological victory right there. Six years after.
BOB KERREY: Not only is he around, but as a consequence of technology, the Internet, specifically — but also Al Jazeera. The impact that they have on young Muslim men throughout the world. What’s happening is Bin Laden is inspiring other people to become a part of a jihadist movement in Gaza, in Lebanon and elsewhere. So it’s beginning to spread.
Bin Laden himself, in his own writings, says that I saw what the United States did in Vietnam, what they did in Lebanon, what they did in Somalia. They are, in his words, a paper tiger.
You didn’t see Hezbollah congratulate Israel when they withdrew from southern Lebanon. You heard him declare it as a big victory.
BILL MOYERS: Let me read you from the traffic on the Internet. “Perhaps Kerrey’s missed it. But we were reminded just a few days ago that Al Qaeda is using the war in Iraq to raise money, recruit terrorists, train terrorists and grow stronger than they were before we invaded. By staying the course, as Kerrey recommends, we’re helping Al Qaeda achieve its goals. That should be far more of a concern than whether a sensible U.S. policy is a psychological victory for Osama bin Laden.”
BOB KERREY: But Bin Laden would be using the Internet to recruit young Muslim men worldwide, had we never invaded Iraq. That is undeniably true. What the statement presumes is that we’d been better off leaving a dictator in Iraq. That we would have been better off leaving Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
BILL MOYERS: Saddam Hussein was brutal, but would we have the chaos —
BOB KERREY: But the problem is, the very people who criticize us getting rid of dictatorships will then go on to say our problem is we’re supporting all those dictators in the Middle East.
BILL MOYERS: Well, we are –
BOB KERREY: Well, but which way do you want it? Do you want us to support dictators or oppose dictators.
BILL MOYERS: But how many American lives can we spend to bring down a dictator?
BOB KERREY: We brought the dictator down. The problem isn’t, the — the — the lives spent to bring the dic — that — that war is over. In the spring of 2003, bin Laden — Saddam Hussein was gone. He was eventually arrested and brought to justice. What’s going on now is a war against a government.
BILL MOYERS: And you want to end it? You want —
BOB KERREY: I want us to first of all, say that that war against — against that government is being fought by people who not just see liberal democracy in the United States as a problem, but liberal democracy in Iraq as an even bigger problem.
BILL MOYERS: But if we do what you want to do, pull the troops back to some forward base, or — and use elements from outside the country to strike at the terrorists, those very people that our troops are fighting right now in the neighborhoods of Baghdad, are going to keep doing that, right?
BOB KERREY: But what I’m saying, first of all, is that you’ve got to get the debate about we have an — we have an ally in Iraq, a government of Iraq that has asked for our help. What’s our answer? Do we help?
BILL MOYERS: So what is the answer?
BOB KERREY: Well, but — but we have to answer the question, first of all, is the answer yes or no? And many people — I’m not sure that’s the individual who wrote the message on the blog has this view — but many people in this debate are saying get out, period. Bring them all home tomorrow. That’s — that basically says the answer is no, we’re not going to help you in any way, shape or form. It was a mistake for us to go in. It’s your problem. You fix it.
And what we’re doing is making the same mistake that many people made prior to the 2003 invasion, imposing our own ideas upon them. So if — if you answered question yes, then you can get into a discussion about what to do. And it may be that the Iraqi government will say — they’ll have a list of things that they’re going to want. And some of those things we’ll say yes to, and some of them we should say no to. And I would say, if they ask me do I support sending our forces into Baghdad to become the police force for the Iraqi government, my answer would be no.
BILL MOYERS: War, like politics, makes strange bedfellows. Let me play something that Rush Limbaugh said recently about your essay in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. And we’ll listen to it right now.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Bob Kerrey is back. He’s the president of the New School, former Democrat senator from Nebraska, has an amazing piece at OpinionJournal.com today on “The Left’s Iraq Muddle.” Yes, it is central to the fight against Islamic radicalism. It may be one of the best summations of where we are that I’ve read in a long time, and it comes from a Democrat…
I told you there are smarter people in the Democratic Party than what you’re hearing about and they know that the Democrats are on a suicide mission with this, and this is one of the first efforts I’ve seen to try to prevent the suicide led by Nancy Pelosi and Dingy Harry.
BILL MOYERS: What do you say to Rush Limbaugh, who reacted to your essay in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL with those remarks?
BOB KERREY: Well, it’s hard to say that I agree with that, because he’s praising me. But I do think he understands what it is I’m saying. I’m not — but as I’ve indicated earlier, my concern is that both the left and the right are muddled about what to do about Iraq. I’m careful not to take the bait of this sort of thing, because it can lead in the wrong direction.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
BOB KERREY: Well, because — I do think that what Rush Limbaugh represents is — it’s a part of the political debate. It’s on the right of the political debate. And it’s largely attack and criticism of everybody else that’s going out on the left. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are trying to figure out what to do. None of the presidential candidates, in my view, are doing anything other than struggling with the question, what do we do? And it’s up to the public, those of us who are not elected, to help them, by answering, I think, very important questions about Iraq.
And one of them that I’ve attempted to answer is, yes, Iraq has become central to the war on terror. But the question now is, what do you do about it? And how do we responsibly respond to that fact? And it’s very difficult to do because you could play an Air America piece and get a radio piece that was critical of what I said. And — and all of a sudden, there’s — It’s sort of what’s going on in many parts of the world. People who are trying to express a moderate view get driven out of the debate because they become the most important target. It — it’s uncomfortable.
BILL MOYERS: Does it make you uncomfortable to realize that you were wrong on the war in the beginning? I mean, you said regime change would lead — is the only way. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein is the only way to reduce our military commitment in that region. And here we are with an increased military commitment in that region, because we executed regime change.
BOB KERREY: Yes it does. It bothers me very much. Because I don’t like the status quo of us saying, well, we have to support these dictators, because look what happened in Iraq. I think that — I mean, for the United States foreign policy to say we’re just going to accept the status quo and go back to the status quo, putting our arms and cozying up to dictators because at least they provide stability. Saddam Hussein provided stability in Iraq by killing any Shi’a and any Kurd and anybody who opposed him. That’s what he — that’s what he did. Was it stable? Yes. Was there violence inside of Iraq? Yes. If you were a Kurd, if you were a Shi’a, if you were anybody who opposed, he drove you either into prison or he drove you out of the country.
But there was — it was more acceptable for us, because it wasn’t the kind of sectarian violence and brutality that we’re seeing right now. And our troops weren’t on the ground.
So yes, it bothers me very, very much. Both because of the consequences of being wrong. But also because of the consequences of going back to where we were prior to the Iraq war.
BILL MOYERS: I used to hear Lyndon Johnson say time and again, you know, it’s just not right – what we’re doing there. We’re in a quagmire, we’re in a mess. He said, but I’ve got to get out with our honor intact.
BOB KERREY: Well, this is not about honor. I’m not trying to preserve honor. What I’m — what — what we’re dealing with here is a real global enemy. This was not Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese coming down to the south and taking over South Vietnam. That could be reasonably contained. This is the Middle East. Now, when people say, well, this is all about oil. No, it’s not all about oil. But that’s an important source of our energy and an important source of our jobs, and yeah, it becomes more important as a consequence.
BILL MOYERS: You’re saying we’re fighting it the wrong way?
BOB KERREY: I’m saying we’re fighting it the wrong way.
BILL MOYERS: Occupying and staying in Iraq?
BOB KERREY: And I’m saying that if you embolden — embolden bin Laden in the same way we did in the 1990s, and I think we are, by saying to him, don’t worry, we’re not going to come after you in the northwest territories, because we’re afraid that we’re going to destabilize Pakistan, if we’re going — if we give him a free ride and then say in addition to that, that we’re going to give you a victory in Iraq, which he will celebrate as a victory and use it was a way to increase his recruiting capabilities then I think we’re going to increase the risk to the United States of America.
BILL MOYERS: Why do you think we aren’t going after him in Afghanistan? That’s where — somewhere on the border is where he is, if he’s still live, and I think he is still alive. Why aren’t we doing it? Why are we putting all this effort in Baghdad and Iraq when the culprit is in this —
BOB KERREY: Well, I don’t think it’s an either-or choice. I think the stage that we’re at right now, it’s a — it’s an “and”. You have to do both. But my guess is, it seems like the answer to your question is, we’re afraid of destabilizing the Musharraf government. I personally think that’s a mistake. I think we are more likely to destabilize the Musharraf government if bin Laden runs free in the Northwest Territories or wherever he is. And I mean — so I would — I mean, I think that we — I think that we should use military forces to intervene, to try to either drive him into — to an area that’s not friendly to him, or to kill or capture him.
BILL MOYERS: Bob — you’re a brave man. You’ve done something I’ve never done. You’ve been in combat. You’ve fired upon, been fired upon. You risked your life. You lost a leg. What do you say to the mothers of all those Americans who are over there right now about what their young people are dying for, and why should they continue to die for it?
BOB KERREY: Well, I’d say first of all, I’m terribly sorry. I mean, the loss is incalculable. I mean, you’ve got a young person who dies and never develops, never, you know, sees their kids, never sees their-. It’s an incomparable loss. And I think it’s one of the things that I think the President has made a mistake in not doing — going to funerals and allowing us to grieve these losses.
And the losses are as great in Iraq, with families who are losing — losing loved ones as well. Two million refugees that have left Iraq.
Allowing yourself to feel that. Otherwise, it’s not possible, it seems to me, to proceed in a correct fashion. You can be paralyzed by it. I would definitely say I do think that if this government of Iraq survives, if — and defies all odds. And it is — there are considerable odds against them surviving. The odds favor the reestablishment of some kind of a dictatorship moving into the power vacuum, or the country being divided up by Syria, Iran and Turkey. It’s much more likely that power prevails, rather than moderate voices inside of a democracy.
But if it survives as a democracy, I do believe that you’re going to be able to say that the price was worth it
BILL MOYERS: What is the end game, Bob Kerrey? What is the end game?
BOB KERREY: The end game for me is one, we have to say we are not the occupying force. And it’s not a small matter. We’re not occupying Iraq any longer. We’re ending the occupation. Secondly, that we — we are going to work to create bipartisan domestic and global strategies to deal with global jihadism. And thirdly, that we will remain an ally of Iraq and let the Iraqi government get — make — make your requests. Tell us what you want. And we will say yes or no, depending upon whether or not we believe that it’s an appropriate mission and appropriate for us to do it, or we have the resources.
BILL MOYERS: What if they say to get out? Is that acceptable to you? If the Iraqi parliament or the Iraqi government says get out?
BOB KERREY: My answer to that is yes. If the Iraqi government —
BILL MOYERS: But you said that we have to agree that what they’re doing is acceptable to us? What they’re asking us to do is acceptable to us.
BOB KERREY: Well, I promise you the Iraqi government is not going to ask us to go. Even that parliamentary request was qualified. Not today, it said. Not —
BILL MOYERS: That’s right .
BOB KERREY: They want us — they — but end the occupation.
BILL MOYERS: When?
BOB KERREY: I would say now.
BILL MOYERS: You said a moment ago — if only the public would give our politicians space in which to develop a bipartisan consensus — but I would argue that the American people have done that, and that the politicians, from the President on down, have not used that space to try to get us out of there.
BOB KERREY: You may be right. But I, just having been there and watched these kinds of things, especially – in the modern era. I mean, I just see both the left and the right choosing to use words like betrayal and treachery any time somebody reaches a compromise that has them saying I’m going —
BOB KERREY: You see it on immigration. You see John Kyl and John McCain, they’re — you know, they’re hanging them in effigy down in Arizona for trying to produce a comprehensive bill on immigration.
BILL MOYERS: You know I was thinking as we talked that I think you and I come from essentially common ground and yet disagree on so many issues on this war and that essay suggest how hard it is for us to resolve what’s going on over there.
BOB KERREY: Well the problem is in your statement, since we disagree, the problem is we don’t have the conversation to find out where we agree and that’s what’s missing – the means by which the public can have a conversation and discover where the agreement is and then urge the Congress to do something in that area.
BILL MOYERS: Don’t you think the voters did that last November?
BOB KERREY:No. Voters basically said “no” and that’s not very clear instructions. In Nebraska, it’s the number one issue. 49% of Nebraskans self-identify the Iraq war as the number one issue. Now healthcare is ten. I’ve never seen that situation, but if you poll then poll them what should be done. Equally divided – withdraw, stay the course.
BILL MOYERS:That’s not promising.
BOB KERREY: No, but neither answer is an answer that’s the problem. So when you say it’s interesting that you and I disagree on so much about the Iraq war, the question really is not where we disagree that’s easy, we have to find the place where we agree.
BILL MOYERS: But isn’t it the president’s responsibility to do that, to come up with an answer to that desire of the people to get out? Isn’t that his job?
BOB KERREY: The problem is if he doesn’t do it what do we do? Just throw up our hands and say we’re on our own? The answer is, I think, don’t throw up your hands we got to figure out and find an answer.
BILL MOYERS: Bob Kerrey, thank you very much for a very interesting discussion.
This transcript was entered on May 20, 2015.