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NBC "Today"-Transcript

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC


NBC "Today"-Transcript

MS. VIEIRA: Gordon Brown waited for years to become a world leader. The man sitting across from me has bigger ambitions as well.

Democratic Senator Joe Biden is running for president. He is also the author of a new book, "Promises to Keep on Life and Politics."

Senator, good morning to you.

SEN. BIDEN: Nice to be with you, Meredith.

MS. VIEIRA: I want to get to the book, which is terrific, but first I have to ask you about Iraq, because The New York Times is reporting that your plan to establish autonomous regions in Iraq is actually making some headway within the Bush administration.

You first came up with this over a year ago. So is this a little bit of "I told you so"?

SEN. BIDEN: No, no. Look, I don't care how they get there, but the bottom lie is there's no possibility of establishing a strong central government based in Baghdad, based on a coalition of Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds. And what's starting to happen is they're giving more emphasis to the local regions. You've got to give people control over --

MS. VIEIRA: So no chance of political reconciliation at all?

SEN. BIDEN: Not -- in my view, no. You might be able to do both; as they say, build from the bottom up and the top down. You could make things a little better. But the idea that the central government would gain the confidence of the entire country, that the Sunnis would trust the Kurds, the Kurds the Sunnis, et cetera, that's not going to happen in the near term.

MS. VIEIRA: You know, there has been a lot of criticism of the Bush administration's position in Iraq. But recently two of the critics, members of the Brooking Institution, went over to Iraq and they witnessed it first-hand. They talked to members of the military and citizens, and they came back and they wrote an op-ed for The New York Times.

Among other things, it says, "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms." And they recommend that Congress sustain the surge at least until 2008. If, in fact, things are getting better on the ground, would you recommend that the surge be continued?

SEN. BIDEN: No. The operative point that Pollack and O'Hanlon make -- and O'Hanlon supports the plan that I've proposed -- is that there's military success, but there's not any political success. If you can't -- all the military success does -- if we have enough forces there, we work hard enough, we can quell things in neighborhoods. But once we leave, unless there's a political agreement among the parties, it explodes.

MS. VIEIRA: But they still say sustain the surge until at least 2008.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I assume that -- my staff has spoken with O'Hanlon yesterday. My guess is they both say that assuming there's political progress being made. But the idea we stay there with no change in the attitude among Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds in cooperating with one another, no local control, then once we leave, it's going to -- we've been through this before in a place called Tall Afar, where we went in, we brought in these teams, we pacified, we built the city up, we left, and the city reduced its population by almost three- quarters.

MS. VIEIRA: Let's talk a little bit about your presidency -- your attempt to become president.

SEN. BIDEN: I like that. (Laughs.)

MS. VIEIRA: I know, I'm getting ahead of myself.

SEN. BIDEN: That's right.

MS. VIEIRA: Your attempt to become president. Why don't you think you're doing better than you probably had hoped?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, you know, I think it's because this is an unusual year. You have an incredibly talented female senator and African-American senator. These are really talented people. And --

MS. VIEIRA: But you've been a senator for 35 years.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, yes, but this is novel. It's new. It's exciting. If I had been shipped off to Mars for the last 40 years and came back after being a young activist in the Democratic Party and they said, "You know, we've got two nominees; one's an African- American, one's a woman," I'd go, "Great, that's what the Democratic Party is about."

But if you notice, only 8 percent of the people in the country who are Democrats have made up their mind. This is wide open.

So you still think you could be a factor?

SEN. BIDEN: Oh, absolutely. I'm going to win. That's what I think. I really do.

MS. VIEIRA: Do you honestly believe that, deep in your heart?

SEN. BIDEN: I honest-to-God believe that deep in my heart, because this is not -- look, I've been down this road before; you know that old expression, "But for the honor, you know, I'd rather not be ridden out of town on a rail." You know, I'm doing this exclusively to become the president of the United States. If I'm not, I'll die a happy man not hearing "Hail to the Chief," but that's why I'm doing it. And I think, if you take a look, again, fewer than 10 percent of the American people have made up their mind.

MS. VIEIRA: I want to talk about your book, "Promises to Keep." Why that title?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, because I think it's how I was raised. It's about -- my dad had an expression, "A promise made is a promise kept." There are so many promises we have to keep to the country, so many promises you have to keep to yourself.

What I'm trying to say in the book is that the most important promise to keep is the promises you make to yourself about what you're going to do and how you're doing to do it. I almost named the book "Get Up." My dad had an expression, you know, "The measure of success is not whether you get knocked down, but how quickly you get up." And that's kind of the story of America. America is always getting back up.

MS. VIEIRA: Well, you've been knocked down a lot in your own life. You lost your wife and your little girl quite a few years ago now, and, I mean, you suffered two brain aneurysms, received last rites after one of them. How did that change you as a man? What did you learn about yourself as a man, going through those experiences?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, what I learned mostly is about other people, how many people there are there to help, I mean, how many people, and also how many ordinary people, people right outside there about to watch that concert, who are putting one foot in front of the other, who have gone through a lot more than I've gone through, and get up every day and, without the help I had, they keep going. This is -- there's a lot of truly heroic people. And we've got to count on them more.

One of the things I think we've lost in both parties the last 15, 20 years is trust their instincts. They've never let the country down. Challenge them. Actually, actually go out and ask them to make things better. They'll do it if you give them a rational option.

MS. VIEIRA: The book is called "Promises to Keep." Senator Joe Biden, thank you so much.

SEN. BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot, Meredith; appreciate it.

MS. VIEIRA: Nice to see you.


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