MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Dec. 13, 2011
Location: Unknown

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MADDOW: Mr. Vice president, thank you for doing this.

BIDEN: Nice to be with you.

MADDOW: The Iraq war, the end of the Iraq war in particular, has really been your brief as vice president. The administration has been open about the fact that the president really tasked this to you --

BIDEN: Yes.

MADDOW: -- in terms of winding this down.

Your son served there. You`ve been involved as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before being vice president. You were involved intimately in all of these decisions.

Do you -- do you feel -- do you feel emotional about the end of the war?

BIDEN: I tell you, I feel like -- I feel like I did something that, or participated in something being done that I can be proud of the rest of my life. I -- had I stayed as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,
no matter how engaged I was, I don`t think I would have been in a position to be able to affect events on a day to day basis to bring us to this point.

I`m now saying -- our troops brought us to this point. Our diplomats brought us to this point. But to be able to -- I`ll be blunt with you. After I made that speech in the palace with Maliki and Talabani, the president and prime minister to Iraqi and American assembled troops, I left, got on the phone and called Barack, the president and said, thank you, thank you for giving me the opportunity to do something that meant a
great deal to me personally and to the country, to end this war in Iraq. That makes everything worthwhile in this job for me.

MADDOW: Looking back nine years now, to the fall of 2002. You voted for the authorization of use of force to go to Iraq. Over the course of those nine years, how do you think the Iraq war changed us as a country?
Is there a lesson learned about how we debate the use of force, how we debate whether or not to go to war?

BIDEN: I hope to God there is, because, you know, when that original debate took place, what is easy to forget -- I don`t expect people to remember -- those of us like Dick Lugar and myself and others who voted to authorize to use force were based on the president`s commitment not to use force. He had no intention of using force.

It was to demonstrate to the United Nations and to the world that we were united in wanting to stop Saddam Hussein. That`s what we were united in. We were united in him coming clean on what he had under his control.

And it really -- it really spiraled out of control pretty quickly. And so, the fact is that I think one of the lessons we`ve learned is you can go -- America is so powerful, has such an incredible military capability that you can go into any dictatorship and you can try to impose, as was stated, democracy, but it`s going to take you $1 trillion, a decade, and you`re going to have to make a judgment whether or not you`d better
spend your time and effort doing something else to make the world safer than that.

So, I think it`s -- it`s really -- I would give Libya as an example. It was clear that Moammar Gadhafi, who I personally knew, was really not a good guy at all. But what did the president do? The president because of
the confidence he had and the reestablished leadership in the world, people looked to him as a leader, look to America as a leader.

But what did he do? We spent several billion dollars, but we didn`t lose one American life. We didn`t put one boot on the ground. And we had a shared responsibility with the rest of the world, including Arab nations
as well as NATO to deal with that issue.

And now, there`s a shared responsibility to the world to help them establish a democracy. That`s very different than going it alone.

I hope we`ve learned the lesson that going it alone, unless our immediate vital national interest is at stake, going it alone should be the very last option.

MADDOW: When applying that sort of world view and thinking about that logic and the conflict in Afghanistan that we are still involved in -- I mean, right now the horizon on Afghanistan is that that war does not end for America this year or next year or the year after that, but at the end of the year after that. At the end of 2014 is the horizon that the president described for the end of the Afghanistan war.

Is it possible -- that`s also a war you did not start, started by the previous administration. But is it possible that that war could end sooner than the American people are already expecting at this point? Could that
be wound down as well?

BIDEN: It has the potential to be wound down. It`s in direct proportion to how wound up the Afghan military is, how good they are, how quickly they come online. And how much responsibility the Afghan
government, Kabul, is able to exert politically within Afghanistan.

For example, the president said that we were going to withdraw, quote, "the surge," 33,000 forces by the end of this summer. And he said we would continue to keep a pace, that pace. We`re not going to slow this down. This doesn`t mean that we`re going to wait until the last minute to say the other 60,000-some folks are going to come out at the end of 2014.

So, we are -- the president`s plan, and he kept his commitment exactly as he stated it in Iraq, and he`ll keep it as it relates to Afghanistan -- is we are going to continue to drawdown forces on a continuous basis,
continuing to turn over responsibility to the Afghans, because at the end of the day, we cannot want stability and peace in Afghanistan more than they want it. And so, our objective is to as responsibly as we can withdraw American forces in the numbers we have from Afghanistan.

MADDOW: Iran borders both Afghanistan and Iraq.

BIDEN: Yes.

MADDOW: Bottom line, after the Iraq war, is Iran in a stronger position than it would have been without the Iraq war? Because for all of Saddam Hussein`s faults, he was Iran`s sworn enemy, and now, a new Iraq is
in some ways a de facto ally of Iran or at least a closely allied nation.

BIDEN: Well, the argument was made early on that we remove two of Iran`s most greatest concerns, Saddam in Afghanistan -- I mean, in Iraq, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the result now with regard to Iran, in large part because of some very significant moves the president made, and some really outrageous moves that Iran has made, it actually has lost power in the entire region. The fact of the matter is its only ally left in the region is about to be toppled. That is in Syria with Bashar Assad.

You also have a circumstance where -- since they flouted every international norm, from refusing to protect diplomats, to violating international agreements relating to nuclear arms and nuclear weapons, attempt to get nuclear weapons, to actually attempting to assassinate on foreign soil a diplomat of an Arab nation. They`ve been continually marginalized.

But the biggest thing that`s happened is the president has been able to unite the world, including Russia and China, in continuing to ostracize and to isolate Iran. So, the truth is -- and I really mean this, Rachel --
the talk about the projection, the capacity of Iraq to project power in the Gulf is actually diminished. They are less feared. They are less -- they have less influence than they have had any time, I would argue, in the last 20 years.

And there will be a relationship between Iraq and Iran because they have a very long border. They will trade. They should have a normal relationship. But they are not allies.

Remember, these are the guys that, in fact, fought against Iran. Even the Shia in Iraq found great difficulty with Iran. You`ve seen a Shia leader now who`s the prime minister sharing power with other of his
colleagues, moving against the forces of the militias that are supplied by and have been in part supplied by Iran.

So, I would argue that I see no evidence, no evidence that Iran`s influence has produced a de facto alliance with Iraq, nor has their influence grown in the last three years under the president`s policies in the region.

MADDOW: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for your time today. It`s a real honor.

BIDEN: Thanks.

MADDOW: Thank you, sir.

BIDEN: Great to be with you.

MADDOW: Thank you.

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