GOP Senator: Bush 'dead right' about 'World War III' with Iran
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appear on CBS' Face the Nation to discuss the Bush Administration's posturing against Iran, and whether or not "World War III" is imminent, given increasing rhetoric among the Administration and the news media alike.
Levin and Graham both see Iran as a danger, and both in one way or another support the "military option" to address it. Levin seeks a more diplomatic approach with a secondary "military option" in light of recent sanctions, and insists that the zeal with which the Administration props up Iran as a threat will only serve to strengthen the "fanatics" that will present themselves as martyrs in the public eye.
Graham calls for the United States to be aggressive in seeking to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Graham insists that "time is not on our side" against a regime that has openly expressed what he says is a desire to "destroy Israel," and that he says seeks to enrich uranium for weapons purposes rather than simply adopt nuclear power.
Video and transcript of the exchange can be viewed below, as broadcast on CBS' Face the Nation on October 28, 2007.
MR. SCHIEFFER: ....Joining us now from Marquette, Michigan, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin. And with us from Greenville, South Carolina, Senator Lindsey Graham.
Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.
Obviously, no news to you that last week the Bush administration levied sweeping new sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard in Iran and Iranian banks in an effort to pressure Iran to change its policy about trying to develop a nuclear weapon. I guess the question that a lot of people are asking -- and I'll start with you, Senator Levin -- does this mean we're headed toward war with Iran if these sanctions don't work?
SEN. LEVIN: Well, I hope not. I think the sanctions are the right way to go, a lot of diplomatic pressure, a lot of economic pressure. Most importantly, keep the world together against Iran. Right now we've got most of the world, I think just about every country, that does not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon. It's in no one's interest that they have it. And I think most countries, including Russia as well as Israel, obviously, but other countries in the region are not going to stand by and just simply watch if Iran gets to the point where they actually are getting to a nuclear weapon.
And so my belief is that we ought to dial-down the rhetoric. We ought to make it clear that there's always a military option if Iran goes nuclear but that we ought to just speak more softly. Because these hot words coming out of the administration, this hot rhetoric plays right into the hands of the fanatics in Iran. They like to be called an evil empire. These fanatics love to have that weapon in their hands that the West is beating up on them and threatening them. So we should speak more softly, carry a big stick as Teddy Roosevelt said.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator, you say that nobody is just standing by including Russia, but President Putin of Russia seems to be standing by. He doesn't seem to want any part of these sanctions. And if you take what he says in public at face value, he seems to be saying that Russia could live with a nuclear-armed Iran.
SEN. LEVIN: Well, I've not spoken with Putin, but I've spoken with the Russian defense minister, and I think also the Russian willingness to support sanctions and enforce the sanctions which have been adopted is an important indicator. They're not going to go quite as far as we would, because they're playing a little bit of politics, too, with Iran. But I think it is clear, and our intelligence community thinks it is very clear that Russia will not stand by while Iran has a nuclear weapon, particularly if there is any likelihood that they could threaten its use.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, do you agree with that, Senator Graham?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I have a little different take. I think Russia's sending all the wrong signals to Iran. When the Russian president goes to Iran and does a news conference with the Iranian president, embraces him, calls for other nations not to consider attacking Iran, it sends the wrong signal. I think the United Nations' efforts to sanction Iran have been pitiful because of Russia and China vetoing a resolution. The European Union has some sanctions. They are fairly weak. We're having stronger sanctions, but they're unilateral. So in this regard, I agree with the following that the diplomatic efforts to control Iran need to continue. They need to be more robust, but we're sending mixed signals. The U.N. is becoming ineffective when it comes to regulating rogue regimes. And Russia is sending all the wrong signals, as far as I'm concerned, so I understand why the president had to do what he did unilaterally.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, let's listen to something that the president said last week.
You talked about some tough rhetoric, Senator Levin. Here's one of the things the president said.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) We've got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So, Senator Graham, is he overstating the case there? Are we heading toward World War III? I think that's what people want to hear -- I mean, they want to know. That's what they want to know the answer to here.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I think the president is dead right that the Iranian president has told the world that he desires to destroy the state of Israel. I don't think they're making any bones about they're trying to develop a nuclear weapon program not peaceful nuclear power. So I'm taking the Iranian president at his word. Their actions speak louder than anything else. They're clearly going down the uranium enrichment road that would lead to weapons material not peaceful nuclear power. So I think the president is justified in trying to wake up the world, wake up Russia, wake up the United Nations, the European Union to do something about this. If everybody likes Israel and loves Israel, as we all say we do, we need to be more aggressive. We don't need to talk softly. We need to act boldly, because time is not on our side.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator Levin, what if these sanctions don't work? Is it fair to start talking about some sort of a strike against Iran? And if so, what kind of a strike would that be?
SEN. LEVIN: It's important we keep a military option on the table. But it is also important that we not play right into the hands of the same fanatic who threatens Israel by talking about attacking Iran so much. What we've got to do is let Iran know and let the world know that it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I agree with what Lindsey has said. That is Iran's goal. By the way, when the president says that we're not going to tolerate them having the knowledge, that is too far, that is an overstatement. I don't think we can stop them from having the knowledge. What we've got to stop them from doing is acquiring a nuclear weapon.
It's important that we do that, and there's two ways to do it. One is to unite the world, to have very strong sanctions, to keep tightening that rope around Iran to make sure that they don't get to where they want to go, to do everything possible to avoid it. But not just give Iran the propaganda weapon. Don't give them the can of gasoline that they want to pour onto the fire. Don't give them the weapon that they use against us that we're trying to bully them, we're trying to dominate them. And that's what this hot rhetoric does when it's just constantly repeated about World War III or that we're going to use a military option. Vice President Cheney just goes way too far. The president went too far this week.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, do you think the president ought to tell Vice President Cheney to kind of tone down what he's been saying here?
SEN. LEVIN: Well, lots of luck.