Sen. Biden Talks about the Crocker-Petraeus Iraq Hearings on CNN American Morning
JOHN ROBERTS: He has declared the troop buildup in Iraq a failure and yesterday said we can't keep treading water in Iraq without exhausting ourselves. Senator Joe Biden is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He joins us now this morning, live from Wilmington, Delaware. Senator Biden, always good to see you. Thanks for coming on today.
JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Good to see you, John. Good to be with you.
ROBERTS: Let's listen to just a little bit of what General Petraeus said yesterday before your committee about the situation on the ground there in Iraq.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR., MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: OK. We haven't turned any corners. We haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator, and the progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible.
ROBERTS: Fragile and reversible were the two key words. He also wants a pause in the troop draw down beginning in July. A month and a half is the shortest assessment. What did you make of what he said about Iraq yesterday?
BIDEN: Well, I think he was straightforward and honest, John. I think that, look, our military has done everything we've asked them. Remember what the President said the purpose of the surge was. The purpose of the surge was that there was no military solution, but the surge would provide breathing room, bring down the violence, allow the Iraqi warring factions to work out a political solution with our guidance. The first part worked. It brought down the violence, although there's still 30 to 40 Americans being killed per month, 225 being wounded a month. And we're still spending $3 billion a month. But it brought down the violence. But what it hasn't done, it hasn't produced any political accommodation, and that's acknowledged by General Petraeus when he says things are fragile. 90,000 Sunnis --
ROBERTS: Ambassador Crocker did point to some political progress, not enough for you?
BIDEN: No, because the progress he pointed to was progress all from the bottom up. You know, John, I have been pushing for years now, a couple years now, with Les Gelb, this idea of federalism, giving more control to the local governments. That's the only thing that's working even though the administration continues to reject the idea. Everything he pointed to shows that when you give local control, you give the Sunnis control over their neighborhoods, you give the Shia control over their neighborhoods, et cetera, you get some progress. And it's based on tribal allegiances more than it is based on anything else, but that doesn't a government make. That doesn't come up with this overall political solution, as you saw when all of a sudden Maliki decides to end the truce and there's a war in Basra among the Shia, and what happens tomorrow is General Petraeus acknowledges with 90,000 Sunnis who we're paying don't get integrated into the main government, and they decide to begin to go after the Shia. I mean, it's very fragile.
ROBERTS: But it's not enough, as you say, but it is a beginning, and if we are to look at plans...
BIDEN: It is.
ROBERTS: ...that the presidential candidates on the Democratic side had to pull these troops out, do you risk losing that beginning and going back to the bad old days?
BIDEN: Well, I think not, John. Let me give you an example. They say one of the major reasons to stay and the numbers we have is Al Qaeda in Iraq. Yet when I asked the ambassador is the threat of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan where we don't have enough troops and we can't get more because of Iraq, is the threat in Afghanistan of Al Qaeda greater than it is in Iraq? He said, yes, it is.
Look, we've debated the cost, which we should. The cost of drawing down troops. What are the threats? A lot of people equally as informed as our two witnesses say the threats aren't nearly as severe as they paint. Conversely, we have not debated the cost of staying. They're knowable. We know it fundamentally affects our troop readiness. We don't have even a battalion available to fight another war or to fight another circumstance anywhere in the world. We know, according to our army, we're breaking the United States Army. We know we are spending $120 billion a year, which is helping break our economy. So what do we do about those costs? How do we balance this? That's our job.
ROBERTS: Senator, time is growing short, I'm told, and there's a couple other things I want to get to quickly. One of them on this topic of cost. Iraq apparently has billions of dollars in oil revenues sitting in the bank, money that could be used for reconstruction, money that we as the United States citizens are paying out of our pockets for reconstruction in Iraq. Ambassador Crocker said yesterday, hey, the United States is out of the reconstruction funding business. It doesn't quite seem to add up.
BIDEN: No, it doesn't add up because we're still funding a lot of things, and we're still funding and paying, for example, their military and their military training. Let me give you one example, John. Every military man says the idea that Senator Luger and I have to spend $150 million in - I mean, yes, $150 million in Pakistan is essential to stabilize Pakistan. Yet, we're told by the administration we don't have $150 million. If the Iraqis just paid -- picked up $150 million of the cost for paying for training of their military which we're now paying for, we'd be able to do something consequential in Pakistan. Their the kind of trade off, John. That's why they should be paying more.
ROBERTS: But one of the big questions that people are asking is should -- because they're taking in all this oil money, should Iraq be paying the United States back for a lot of money that we spent there?
BIDEN: Well, I'd be happy if they just started paying our costs for being there. The ability to pay us back, we're way above what -- we're approaching having spent $600 billion with a commitment of between $1.7 billion - trillion, in $2 trillion. So, I'd be happy if they just took the burden off us now of spending $3 billion a week over there.
ROBERTS: I want to ask you a quick political question, if I could. You have so far resisted the siren call of endorsing a candidate, but who did, which one of the Democratic candidates do you think is best versed on this issue of Iraq?
BIDEN: Well, I think they're both equally versed on it. I watched Hillary and Barack was in my committee. He did a stellar job yesterday of questioning. I think they're both far superior to my friend John McCain in terms of their approach as to how to deal with Iraq from this point on. This administration has no plan to end the war, no plan to draw them down. It's just going to hand it off to the next administration.
ROBERTS: Earlier on a different program you said that you thought Obama was the only one who really knew what was going on.
BIDEN: No, no. What I said was I only one I heard specifically was in my committee, and he did a great job. That's what I was saying. I just heard clips of Hillary and clips of John McCain, but I sat there with Barack and he did an excellent job.
ROBERTS: All right. Senator Joe Biden, it's always great to have you on. And we hope to do it again soon. Appreciate you joining us this morning from Wilmington.
BIDEN: Thanks, John.
ROBERTS: All right. See you again soon. Kiran.
BIDEN: I appreciate it.