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Public Statements

MSNBC "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" - Transcript

Interview

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MADDOW: He"s the Obama administration"s point man on Iraq. Political crisis over the Iraqi election it was Vice President Joe Biden who flew to Baghdad to try to diffuse the crisis.

When the Iraqi leaders dead-locked on creating a new government Vice President Joe Biden flew to Baghdad to talk to them. When U.S. combat operations officially ended last month, Vice President Joe Biden flew to Baghdad for the official ceremony.

He has been there six times since taking office. While back in D.C., he runs the administration"s monthly meetings on Iraq. And when I spoke with Vice President Biden yesterday, he had just met with the president and with the former commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW: I know you"re just out of a meeting with General Odierno.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.

MADDOW: The departing commander of the U.S. You"ve been in Iraq a number of times including quite recently. You told "The New York Times" last week--they published the transcript of you speaking with them about Iraq.

And you said, "The bottom line is there are a lot of bad ass 50,000 troops that are left. These guys can shoot straight. Fifty thousand troops in country is still a big, big contingent."

With 50,000, as you put it bad ass troops --

BIDEN: Guys who can shoot.

MADDOW: Guys who can definitely shoot.

BIDEN: And women who can shoot.

MADDOW: I was in there. I know they are.

BIDEN: And the women can shoot, too. By the way.

MADDOW: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: And they are--they are in peril. Since the handover, we have had U.S. killed in action. We have had U.S. wounded in action.

Does it undercut their service and their sacrifice to say this is no longer a combat mission? Why do we need to use that phraseology when it seems like they"re in combat?

BIDEN: No. I"ll tell you why we have to use the phraseology.

Because the Iraqis--we"ve trained up 650,000 Iraqi forces. They actually

and here"s the point, and I know you know this.

They have been taking over since January of last year. We have made a

we made a firm commitment to the Iraqi people and the American people.

One, we get all combat troops out of the city last year. We would get--we would bring down from 100,000 to 50,000 -- which we"ve done--troops in the country this--by this end of this August. And all 50,000 remaining will be out by the end of next year.

We have fundamentally shifted our positions where we are located. So we"re in a very different role. It"s a support role. But we are there in case the Iraqis need additional help to use our combat. And by the way, it was used recently.

You know, so--so it really isn"t--the technical definition of the combat lead means that you"re the commander out there, leading the troops, the Iraqis are behind you, and you"re saying up over the hill and you"re leading the way.

We"re not doing that anymore. But it was very important to--for the sovereignty of the Iraqis to let them know we recognize the fact they are now capable. They are capable. We"ll continue to train them. We"ll continue to help them.

But by the end of next year, we"re out. We"re gone. And so it may be, you know, a bit of a misnomer. But in literal military terms, we are no longer in a combat position. We are doing support. We are protecting American facilities, the embassies. We are protecting American personnel, American citizens and we"re training Iraqis.

MADDOW: One last question. I know your time is short. But on the issue of Iraq, having come back from there, I felt like--if I forget all the history and I just think in very, very broad strokes about the fact that we have had 7 ½ years of American presence in Iraq, a trillion dollars, all of those lives lost. All of the--everything that was spent there in every sense.

To be leaving there with there being no electricity in Baghdad and the suffering that that causes the Iraqi people, the effect that that has on the prospects of stability and peace and civil society taking hold in Iraq after all those years, electricity seems to be not just one of a list of things. It seems like the thing that we could most to do for the Iraqi people if we could do anything.

Why hasn"t that been the U.S. priority, to leave them with at least that to remember us by?

BIDEN: By the way we will. By the time we leave, we will. Number one. Two, I"ve been there 13 -- I don"t know, 14, 15 times. There is a great deal more electricity there was than when the war first started. And when there was before.

MADDOW: In Baghdad.

BIDEN: Well --

MADDOW: In Baghdad, Saddam gave back a lot of power to the rest of the country.

BIDEN: Yes--no, no. No. But nationwide. Nationwide.

MADDOW: Yes.

BIDEN: Thirdly, what"s happened is, as we--as the Iraqi--as we, and now the Iraqis, when they go eliminate the al Qaeda that"s left in Iraq as well as the--there"s a difference between terrorism and insurgency.

The insurgency was out there trying to form a new civil war. It hasn"t worked. It hasn"t taken root. And--but they were also doing a great deal of damage to the electrical infrastructure and the electrical grid and the deliver of services.

This is going to just get better and better and better, but it"s a long process. And we"re going to--look. When we leave Iraq next year, we are not--we are leaving militarily. But we are significantly ramping up our civilian presence.

I mean, significantly. And we are working--I conduct a meeting once a month with the--our folks in Iraq as well as with our every Cabinet member. I have the secretary of commerce, the secretary of education, the secretary of treasury, the secretary of agriculture.

We"re all there working now with the Iraqis. Providing for the ability to help them build their institutions so they can function, including how to make the electric grid function. So that is a process. We"re not walking away from that.

We are--we are increasing our civilian commitment. And we"re trying to work out what they call a--you know, a strategic arrangement long term with them that is not military but it is on the civilian side.

And look. The Iraqis are not in a position now. But by the year 2013, they"re going to be in surplus. By the year 2015, "16, "17 and "18, they"ll--they have enough natural resources to be pumping as much oil as Saudi Arabia.

So this is about stabilizing them, getting the functioning government in place, having eliminated the insurgency, putting the Iraqis in a position they can take care of their own physical security. And now help them to build their institutions.

This is going to work.

MADDOW: It"s going to take a long time.

BIDEN: It is taking--absolutely. Nothing easy about it. But we"re bringing those kids home including my son.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Mr. Vice president, thank you so much for your time.

BIDEN: Thanks.

MADDOW: It"s a real honor to have this much time with you. Thank you, sir.

BIDEN: Well, thank you.

MADDOW: Thanks.

BIDEN: Thank you.

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