ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. And Happy Father's Day. It's been a week of turmoil in the Middle East with Hamas taking over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup. And U.S. forces on a new offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq after the sacred Golden Dome Mosque was bombed for the second time.
That's where we begin today with the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden. Welcome back to "This Week," and happy Father's Day, Senator.
SEN. BIDEN: That's nice. Happy Father's Day to you.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you. Let's begin with Iraq. There seems to be a double offensive going on right now. Military going after al Qaeda and a real diplomatic push. Just this week we saw Admiral Fallon, Secretary Gates, Undersecretary Negroponte all going in to push the Iraqi government for reform. Is there anything the U.S. military can achieve or anything the Iraqi government can do right now that could convince you to sustain support for the surge?
SEN. BIDEN: I find it very hard to figure that out, George. I doubt it. So far, as you know, the report the Pentagon just issued, violence is up, not down. There has been no real change. Now, if you notice what they're doing, George, they're doing two things that I and others have been recommending. They're focusing on al Qaeda, that's out in Anbar Province, and they're now beginning to talk to the tribal leaders. As Gates said, I'm paraphrasing him, "Maybe we have overlooked focusing on the tribal leaders." That gets down to local country, local autonomy, local impact. And I think they're beginning to figure out, at least I hope they are, that a strong central democratic government is not in the cards, one that can be trusted by all the people. You need a limited central government and you need to give more autonomy to the regions.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it didn't seem like they're quite at that point yet. They're not only talking to the
SEN. BIDEN: No, no, no. They're not talking a strong central government anymore.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they're talking to Maliki and I think they're still trying to bolster him. But let me get to the point of the tribes, because they're not only talking to the tribes, they're also arming them. And Prime Minister Maliki and his supporters are concerned about that because they think it's arming their enemies.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, that's true. Look, as long as you're in the midst of a civil war, you're in the middle of those cities, you're in the middle of Baghdad, you're in the middle of this cleanout operation, not just al Qaeda, but you're taking on extremists in each of the factions, to the extent that you arm one faction, you're going to be perceived as weighing in the midst of what is a civil war. Don't forget, I know you know this, this is first and foremost a civil war.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, congressional approval ratings have plummeted in the last several weeks and in part because a lot of anti-war Democrats think that the Democrats in Congress and the Senate haven't done enough to stop the war. What do you say to them?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think it's understandable. Their expectations are raised when the Democrats took back the House and Senate. But as you know, George, we don't have effective control of either of those two bodies. We have essentially 50 U.S. senators, one being ill, not back in the United States Senate. You need 67 votes to stop this war, to override a presidential veto. You need 60 votes just to get by a filibuster. And the same in the House. It's not the same rules, but they don't have the kind of control that we have, where we have serious majorities. And so it's understandable, their frustration. But I think as they become more and more aware of the limitation based on the number of Democrats we actually have in the Senate, they'll beginning to understand. But we're going to keep pushing and I think you're going to see people change, Republicans.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: After the president's veto of the funding bill, you voted to fund the troops. Your colleague, Senator Obama, opponents, as well, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton voted the other way. I know you don't want to criticize your opponents but it's clear you believe that a no-vote puts the troops at additional risk, correct?
SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely, positively, unquestionably it would have delayed -- let's say we had 51 "no" votes, it would have kicked the can down the road another week, month, month and a half and in the meantime, George, we would have built 300, 500, 1,000 less of the mine-resistant vehicles that have taken 70 percent of the lives and 70 percent of the injuries. It would have just delayed that with no possibility, emphasize, no possibility of overriding the presidential veto. I wasn't prepared to play chicken with the lives of the American troops. Bush maybe, not me.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Why do you think Senators Obama and Clinton did?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, you'd have to ask them, George. I think it was a mistake. I know it was and I know I'm being criticized within my party for not voting the way they did but you know, as I said, and I'm not kidding, there's some things worth losing elections over. I could not in good faith, after having worked so hard to put that money into the bill, to be able to rapidly build these vehicles that reduce by 2/3 the number of injuries and the number of deaths based upon these roadside bombs and these EFPs. I could not even countenance the idea of not voting to get them built immediately, knowing there was no prospect, emphasize none, zero, of anybody being able in the Congress with 50 democratic votes to force the president to override his veto.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Reid this week said that General Pace, the outgoing Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, is incompetent, and General Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, appears out of touch and not giving the straight story in Iraq. That provoked a reaction from the White House. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow suggested Senator Reid needs to apologize and also said this.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: (From videotape.) In a time of war, for a leader of a party that says it supports the military, it seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who is responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Did Senator Reid slander the generals and does he owe them an apology?
SEN. BIDEN: No and no. The fact of the matter is, this policy, the president's policy is an abject failure. It continues to be a failure.
There continues to be denial about the progress that is not being made. And maybe it could have been more artfully stated. I've made mistakes myself in how I phrase things, but the bottom line is, this is a failure, this policy, and I think it might have been better to direct it at the president's policy, but nonetheless, the truth is the truth. This is a failure, this policy.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you trust General Petraeus to give a straight, credible report in September?
SEN. BIDEN: Yes, I do. I think at the end of the day, I know the general well. I think he will. He's very invested in this working. He has put a lot of his career on the line here to do it. But notwithstanding that, I think he's a man of honor, and I think at the end of the day, he will give us a straight scoop.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn to the situation in the Gaza Strip and in Palestine. Hamas has taken over the Gaza Strip. We saw those chilling pictures this week. What should the United States' response be?
SEN. BIDEN: It's really tough now, George. Our response, I don't want to Monday morning quarterback, but back in '05, Dick Lugar, and I, after the Palestinian president was elected, Mr. Abbas, we wrote to the president on two occasions, urging him to do what Sharon had urged me in my meetings with him to get the president to do, that is to back Abbas. He had no political standing. We virtually did nothing to give him any credibility. We, as a consequence, I think, of our negligence and our malfeasance, or nonfeasance, I should say, ended up making Hamas look even stronger.
We insisted on elections when we should not have insisted on elections a year later and now we're reaping what we didn't sow. We didn't sow the effort we should have made. Now we have one last chance. I think Fayyad, the newly named Prime Minister, is a serious, serious person with real capability. I think we should be supporting him. I'm confident the Israelis are going to do that. But it's a very difficult situation. We've got to get the Egyptians in on this deal to seal their border more clearly, add more responsibility there. We also have to do what we can along with the Israelis to ease the burden on the West Bank to give Abbas and Fayyad an opportunity to demonstrate some progress while containing Hamas in Gaza.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: In all of these conflicts we see the hand of Iran at work. They're arming Hamas.
SEN. BIDEN: Yep.
SEN. BIDEN: They're arming Hezbollah. We heard this week from Secretary Gates that he believes they're now arming the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well. They're accelerating their nuclear program. They're also arming insurgents in Iraq. Isn't it a fair conclusion to say that Iran is now waging war against the United States and our allies?
SEN. BIDEN: I think Iran is waging war against the United States and our allies in a similar way that the Soviet Union waged war against us and our allies, whether it was in Africa or Latin America or wherever. And, but that -- well, yes, that's the answer.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And what do we do about it?
SEN. BIDEN: Unless you want to follow.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I do want to follow up.
SEN. BIDEN: Yeah. Well, what we don't want to do about it is we don't want to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world, so if and when any diplomatic or military action need be taken down the road, we're by ourselves. And that's why staying with the Europeans, that's why not using military force at this time, that's why continuing to tighten the diplomatic noose and sanctions around Iran is the way to go.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But your colleague Senator Lieberman says there's extensive evidence that Iran is actually -- has camps inside Iran that is training insurgents and arming insurgents which are killing Americans right now. Here's what he said he would do about it.
SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I-CT): (From videotape.) I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq and to me that would include a strike over the border into Iran.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: If Iranian camps are being used to kill Americans, why shouldn't we take them out?
SEN. BIDEN: Because we should factor in -- morally, there is no reason why we shouldn't, if that is true, but practically, we have 12 divisions, 10 of which are tied up coming and going in and out of Iraq, a country of 27 million people, Iran 72 million people. The one way for us to be able to unify the Iraqi -- the Iranian people is to attack their soil. Right now there's real stark divisions within Iraq (sic) politically and with between the theocracy and the Iranian people, between Ahmadinejad and theocracy. We should be using a lot more imaginative diplomacy. We should be engaged in isolating Iran. We should be engaged in attracting the support of the Iranian people.
Now, if Joe could come up with me and tell me how he's going to not even being able to quell things in Iraq, how he's going to go into a country of 72 million people, attack, and not have our problems metastasize well beyond what they are now, I'd like to know what that is.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn to another difference on national security between you and Senator Clinton. For months, you have been saying the United States is not safer than it was on 9/11. You've also said the notion of a war on terror is simply wrong, but here's what Senator Clinton said at the last debate when she was asked if she agreed with Senator Edwards' contention that the war on terror is just a bumper sticker.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): (From videotape.) No, I do not. I am a Senator from New York. I have lived with the aftermath of 9/11, and I believe we are safer than we were. We are not yet safe enough.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Why do you think she's wrong?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think she's right about the bumper sticker.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But she said she disagreed. Go ahead.
SEN. BIDEN: No, but I disagree with him, as well. This is not a bumper sticker. There is terror. It is serious. It's real, but it is being conflated with every other problem we have around the world. The problem with this administration is it doesn't make any distinction between a terrorist act which is not an ideology but, in fact, is a tactic and what's going on by a state sponsoring, building nuclear weapons. They're two different things, and if you conflate them as this administration always does, then you end up with the bizarre notion that if you're not in the middle of Baghdad in the middle of a civil war, you're going to have terrorists attacking the United States here. Terrorists are going to attack the United States whether or not we're in Iraq, and terrorists are going -- and there's going to be war in Iraq whether or not there's terrorists. That's the generic point I'm making. The Shining Path in Peru is the terrorist organization. No one in America thinks it's a threat to the cities of the United States of America at this point. Al Qaeda is a threat. It's real. But it's fundamentally different than the government in Tehran. It is fundamentally different than the government in North Korea and that's the only generic point I'm making.
When you talk about every problem we have relating to our physical safety in terms of terror, you end up with this hodgepodge of a policy that makes virtually no sense. That's my point.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are we safer now than we were six years ago?
SEN. BIDEN: Marginally, but not nearly as much. We have created more terrorists. They haven't struck us yet. We have created more terrorists than existed before six years ago. That's not Joe Biden saying that. That's the National Intelligence Estimate. All our security agencies reaching that conclusion, the beginning of this year. We have not funded the 9/11 recommendations that should be funded. You still have the majority of major cities in America without fancy words, without inner operability. If a crisis strikes, if a terrorist attack occurs, you still have the National Guard not being able to talk to the local police. So in this case, this administration has been criminally negligent in how it has been dealt with the prospect of preventing another terrorist attack in the United States of America, in my view.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Who is better qualified to be commander in chief, you or Senator Clinton?
SEN. BIDEN: Me, by a long shot. And the reason I say by a long shot, I think she is a very qualified person, but I've been doing this for 34 years of my life. My recommendations as I've put forward, whether it's been on Bosnia or Afghanistan or the Middle East have been more on target and correct than anyone running in either political party thus far. I have a track record to demonstrate that I know what I'm talking about, and no one ever has to wonder about whether I mean what I say. Not that they do with her. They do with everybody. I mean, the fact of the matter is, I know I've been doing this for a long time, focusing particularly on organized crime, terror, national security issues, foreign policy and I think I am ready to be president because the next president of the United States, George, when he or she walks into office, better know a lot more than their advisers, better have a very clear view what he or she thinks about our place in the world and exactly what he or she is going to do about it because when power is transferred from Bush to the next president, the next president is going to have virtually no margin for error, none. I'm the only one that's even put together a plan on Iraq.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're just about out of time. You're inching up in the polls right now. We're almost at the end of the fund-raising period. Are you going to raise enough money to stay in the race?
SEN. BIDEN: Yes, I'll raise enough money to stay in the race, but I want to call your attention to what you know. Big "L.A. Times" article today that I've been saying for a long time. Even though the front-runners are good people and they're making a lot of news, they're still getting beaten by the Republicans, who are generically not preferred by the American public. This is just milepost two of this race. They're going to be looking for someone who can win. I believe I can demonstrate in Iowa that I'm the one who can win.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, thanks very much. Take care.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you.