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News Conference with Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr (D-DE)

Location: Washington, DC


SEN. BIDEN: All right, everybody. As you know, Senators Lugar and Hagel and I just returned from Iraq. I suspect you're going to get to hear from them as well today. I doubt whether you will hear a much different note coming from each of us. We have all been basically singing from the same hymnal. But it was kind of hard to put us all together at one spot, so I apologize you're, you know, getting this in pieces here.

We met in Iraq with a remarkable group of people working under the toughest conditions and the longest odds to try to help Iraq and the Iraqi people put themselves back on their feet. And I was tremendously impressed with Ambassador Bremer and his team, and with our men and women in uniform. And that sounds corny. But, I mean, when you're there and see them under the conditions they're working, they're really doing one -- one hell of a group of talented people we have. But frankly, we made their incredibly tough job even tougher, because the administration went into this process with, quite frankly, the wrong assumptions.

Now, I would suggest that I'm not just saying this now. I mean, when you go back and look at the hearings we held, we've argued what assumptions they should operate on, and disagreed with the three basic assumptions they made.

The first one was this administration expected and told us all they expected to find a functioning bureaucracy, that all they'd have to do is decapitate the Ba'athist Party members, they'd have up-and- running, functioning agencies -- bureaucracies.

Secondly, they expected to find an army. Remember all the talk about the generals, whom they were talking with during the war, the notion they were going to have this -- the essence of the army would stay in place, stay in uniform, and again, decapitate the Ba'ath leadership and they'd have a functioning system with which they could work and from which they could build.

And the third thing is they expected to find a police force being there. But it not only melted away like the army, it never really existed in anything remotely approaching what we will call a police force, which I'll speak to later.

The results have been massive problems in terms of getting basic services back and restoring security. We've seen looting, political sabotage against power, oil and water plants, and some organized resistance. All of this has been compounded by what nobody really expected, as I -- from my perspective, anyway, and that is the extent of the neglect of Saddam Hussein's regime over the past 30 decades -- or, excuse me, 30 years, three decades, on the totality of the infrastructure there.

So not only was he in bad shape the last year and before that, the previous 10 years of the time of sanctions, but even worse, he hadn't paid attention to the infrastructure, on the oil fields or the electric grid, for 30 years.

And so ultimately the Iraqis need to do all these jobs I've just mentioned, but it's going to take a very long time, in my view, to stand them up in a position whereby they can do that. Meanwhile, we and, I would argue, the international community have to fill that gap.

What's worse is we should have known better about a lot of this. This is not rocket science. We know from our experience in the Balkans. We know from the dozens of hearings we held back in July, from the experts on both sides of the equation, from Democrats and Republicans who were beating the drum about this. This is not a partisan thing. This is truly a -- sort of a -- I don't know, there's a gigantic gap between expectation and reality in terms of what the administration, in my view, had anticipated.

And also -- well, I'll go back to that.

So the question is, where do we go from here? It seems to me first we need a significant infusion of military and civilian police to fill the gap before the Iraqi police force is stood up. We spent a couple hours out at the police academy. And the people we have there are people I've worked with and I know because of my years in law enforcement issues as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the people I spent hours with in the Balkans, hours with, actually, in Afghanistan. These are really solid people. This is the best damn team you can imagine. They do not have the resources. And they inherited something that is astounding. There are 79,000 cops, none of whom had been a cop. They weren't cops before. There was basically the military.

For example, the way the system functioned before, quote, "the defeat" was that if there was a murder in a neighborhood, a community, they would call -- sent our fliers and have all the people in the community come in to the headquarters. They didn't go out and investigate. There's nothing remotely approaching what we would call a police force. They had traffic cops, and what they had is they had goon squads that would go out and kill people who did things that were inconsistent with the regime's objective. A little easier to control things under that circumstance.

So we not only have to stand up the police force of 73,000 people and 18,000 cars that are needed. There are now about 30,000 Iraqi police and 200 cars that they have, and they all need retraining and retreading. How long this is going to take to get 73,000 forces, which is a very thin blue line, is -- five years is the estimate.

When I met with the guy who we over there now -- he's going to -- in charge of the prison system, I said, "If we give you" -- and there are no functioning prisons, no functioning prisons in all of Iraq. They have a clear plan to have three major prisons in the three sections of Iraq. I said, "If you had all the money you needed and you could start now, how long would it take you to stand up the prison system?" He said, "Three years."

The guy running the whole show over there for the police said, "Look, we need right now 5,800" -- 5,800 -- "Carabinieri from Europe." We need them right now. We need them now, just to put us in a position where, while we're standing up an Iraqi police force just in Baghdad -- just in Baghdad -- somebody's got to fill this gap. Somebody's got to fill this gap. And most of you know most of our MPs are National Guard or Reservist.

Which leads me to another point. Not only have we not leveled with the American people about the nature of the commitment that we've been banging the drum about here, which I support -- the commitment to stay there a long time, spend a lot of money, keep a lot of forces and rebuild that country -- but the military -- some of you are going to be assigned by your papers to go over there. You go over there, just start interviewing the guy sitting on top of the Humvee with a 9- millimeter. He said, "When I am I going home, Senator? I didn't know I was going to be staying here." I mean, this is not a -- anyway.

We also have to sustain and probably increase our military force in Iraq. It's going to take years to stand up a competent Iraqi army that can defend the country. And meanwhile, the notion that we can get down to 30,000 Americans at the end of the year, as Rumsfeld suggested six weeks ago, I think is absolute fantasy, absolute fantasy. We need to get more troops in. They need to be more effective. We need to take a look at how we get more NATO forces in.

I met with General -- Secretary-General Lord Robertson, the head of NATO, in Jordan. And he says what everybody else says: NATO's willing to step in. Nobody's asking them. Nobody's asking them.

Wolfowitz went over to Brussels. The secretary of State went over. I'm told that they're ready to commit forces, a gang who can shoot straight. These are serious forces. We need them in now. We need the process now to get under way. There's no evidence of that, talking to our military over there, that that is -- they have any anticipation of that.

We're told that we are imploring the Indians and the Bangladeshis. I have great respect for the Indians and Bangladeshis, but they are not NATO. They are not NATO.

And third, we're going to need significant resources to get all this done. One of the things that I was impressed with about Bremer -- he is actually in the process, by the end of this month, of presenting a budget, as if he were running the country, which he is, just like, you know, OMB presents a budget and sends it up.

These guys are serious guys. The people we have there are serious people. Walt Slocombe, doing the Defense side of this -- serious guy. Ryan Crocker, an ambassador -- serious guy. And they're preparing a budget.

Now, what everybody back here thinks, notwithstanding our hearings, is that there's so much Iraqi oil money, not to worry. We met with a guy who's running the operation. They brought in, I'm embarrassed to say -- and I just forgot his name -- I think he ran Chevron before; I'm not sure it was Chevron -- serious oil guy came in. They brought him in from the oil fields to sit down as an American. And we said, "What the best you can hope for, realistically?" Well, he hopes we can get to 1 million barrels per day by the middle of the summer and move toward a number that is about 50 percent less than anyone in the administration has been suggesting so far. And our oil revenues for this year will be, if everything goes well, about $5 billion. And maybe next year -- maybe, if everything goes well, $14 billion.

And look at the amount of money that is going to be required to invest. We have frozen some assets, Iraqi assets, some money appropriated by Congress, and there's going to be a pledging conference this fall. But the debts are massive. So are the compensation claims. And it costs $3 billion a month to keep our troops there, never mind the cost to run and rebuild Iraq. So, there's a massive bill that's going to land in the laps of somebody -- somebody, most probably, the American people.

And as one conservative House member in the -- who was attending the World Economic Forum, when we met with Mr. Bremer and with the secretary of State in a private meeting, he said: When are you going to tell us the truth? How much is going to be needed? You've got to have some estimates of what we're going to be asked of -- asked to come up with in terms of appropriations. The number's going to be gigantic -- it's going to be gigantic.

And the point is not to suggest we shouldn't appropriate the money. The point is to suggest that we should be telling the American people now. The president should be telling the American people now the parameters of this commitment. Obviously, he can't know exactly how long we're going to stay, with exactly how many troops, for exactly how much money. But we sure know it's going to be a lot of money, a long time and a lot of troops.

Maybe the most important impression I came with is that our folks on the ground really are doing a tremendous job. But no one back home understands how monumental this undertaking is going to be, how long it's going to take, how much it will cost, how many troops it will take. The president needs to level with the American people about this, because no foreign policy -- I know you're tired of hearing me say this over the last year -- no foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people. I believe they're prepared to consent, because so much is at stake. We have to inform them of what it is they are about to be asked to do.

And so, that's the nature of my impressions. The one place that I was positively -- I felt better about than before I went was the political process. I think the -- obviously, I don't know who made -- well, the president made the judgment that the Garner model of bringing in an expatriate -- a former Iraqi to come in and stand up the Iraqi government is something that no longer is viewed as credible.

And Bremer is a very smart guy, and Bremer has a game plan. We met with some of the clerics representing different interests in Iraq. I think Bremer is on the right track. I think Bremer is moving in a way where we're going to have a organization roughly of 25 or 30 people within the next month, month and a half, selected from all the indigenous groups. I think you're going to see a constitutional committee; Iraqis begin to write a constitution with -- hopefully within -- by the early fall there will be a constitution upon which they can start to determine whether or not they wish it to be the basis upon which we are going to -- they are going to begin to form a government.

I met with Mr. de Mello of the United Nations. He's their representative there. A first-class guy. Everybody respects him. He's working closely with Bremer, which is a change from before, not having the U.N. around. The U.N. has vast experience in providing an electoral role -- I mean, there can't even be an election now. There's census, there's no -- there's no registered voters, there's no way to put it on. And Bremer is in the process of talking with Ambassador de Mello of the United Nations to come up with what they have done many times in many countries, the organizational structure within which to hold elections.

So in that score, I feel better because the administration changed the path around. Now it's time to change their path about NATO. Now it's time to change their path about bringing in European police officers. Now's the time for them, in my view, to change their path about the amount of commitment that's going to be required in dollars to be able to stand up the possibility of an Iraqi government.

That's -- there's sort of the totality of the broad impressions of my trip. I'd be happy to try to respond to any questions you have.


Q Senator, why do you think the administration -- two questions. Why has the administration not asked NATO to help, number one. And two, you mentioned that oil revenues over the next two years will total, I think, $19 billion --

SEN. BIDEN: Nineteen, maybe, yeah.

Q How far short of that -- is that of the number that's needed?

SEN. BIDEN: Oh, it's probably short by fivefold. I mean, look, even though we were not going to use any of this money to sustain American forces there, if we're going to be spending $3 billion a month to keep a hundred and sixty-some-thousand American forces there, just gives you a sense of the magnitude. That's without doing a single thing. That's without doing anything out there rebuilds, you know, a grid; stands up a police force; rebuilds an army; puts together a political process; gives budget to each of the -- their equivalent of our agencies, Department of Defense, Education, et cetera.

And so -- and now what is happening is you're going to have -- the World Bank has agreed to come in. And this -- again, I compliment Bremer. The World Bank is coming in and doing what they did in Afghanistan and other places. They're going to give a pretty hard- nosed estimate of the cost of rebuilding Iraq; that is to get all the basic functions, services up and functioning. And we'll have a better sense then.

But there's no -- and, by the way, we have several billions of dollars now from seized assets, from frozen assets, and from debts. But this doesn't even deal with the issue, which -- you attended our hearing -- of about the $250 billion in claims that are on Iraq now from European and other governments, either as a consequence of literally debt owed and/or cost of recompensing those countries for the damage done to them.

So, there was an awful lot to be done. The point is this: the oil revenues will not, cannot, will not be the cornucopia that everybody -- not everybody, that many people think it is, to solve all these problems. And that's why we should be aggressive in these donor conferences. That's why, also, we should be aggressive in internationalizing this process. The likelihood of a country to agree to commit to -- commit financial resources I believe is going to be in direct proportion to their -- how much they have at stake and how involved they are in the rest of the process in Iraq. And so, there's a lot of work to be done.

This can still be turned around. The president, although I -- I'm not asking him to announce anything about this, but the president obviously understood that the Garner model -- and Garner's a good guy. But the original Cheney-Rumsfeld model with Garner and company wasn't workable. And they changed. They changed. They've got to change their attitude, in my humble opinion, about NATO, about the international community, about the United Nations, about the donor countries, and about telling the American people what is needed, in my view.

Q Senator, Tommy Franks' successor General Abizaid said this morning in the Armed Services confirmation hearing that he's been -- (off mike) -- have not found weapons of mass destruction. A State Department official in front of the House Intel Committee said that he might have been pressured, pressured to alter intelligence -- (off mike). Is Congress doing enough to uncover what exactly is going on here?

SEN. BIDEN: I think so. The Intelligence Committee has begun its hearing process. And I think we've got to be a little patient. As that old saying goes, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating -- how thorough that investigation was. But the House -- as a matter of fact, that testimony you referenced, as I understood from the press today, came out of a House hearing, a closed hearing about a State Department person saying Mr. Bolton had pressured him. I don't know whether that's true or not. It doesn't surprise me a bit. I mean, again, I've been consistent on this since last September. I think there were those weapons -- we had to assume that the weapons that were catalogued by the United Nations inspectors in 1998 that was a report handed to the Security Council, everyone from the French to the Chinese to the Americans all believed that they had those weapons which were VX and anthrax and some other chemical weapons.

So I don't fault the administration on that at all. The burden was on Saddam Hussein to prove he didn't have them; he didn't. We had to assume he had them and, in my view, assume he would use them.

I've said from the outset I have never believed their assertions about -- you've covered my committee -- I've never believed the assertions about nuclear capability; I've never believed the assertions about the capability of being able to disseminate, in ways that would kill large numbers of American people or any other citizens, those chemical weapons they had. And I never saw any hard evidence. I didn't say I didn't believe it; I never saw any evidence of this massive biological capability that we were told or implied that they had.

And so I have said from the outset that I believe they hyped that, and I believe they hyped that for a specific reason: to create a sense of urgency, to create a sense of urgency. And there were an awful lot of people, including the Brits, who thought we could wait till the fall, we could let the process run out the string. And my argument all along was -- and a lot of you have had to cover me for a long time, and this will not be a surprise to you -- my argument was that the reason why it was worth waiting was to build a genuine coalition for when we went in.

Why did I keep saying that? Because we were going to need a genuine coalition after we won. I never for a moment doubted, was on record since last fall, that this would take a matter of weeks, a month at the outside. That never surprised me. Never surprised me. What did concern me, and now, in my view, has been confirmed, having been there, is the failure to generate enough support around the world to deal with the enormous problems that it was totally predictable -- in terms of scope, anyway -- that we were going to face once, quote, "we won."

One other point. I think -- and I understand why the Defense Department may do this, but I would not dumb down the consequence of failing to capture Saddam Hussein and his sons. I think that is critical because it is having an impact in Iraq on the willingness, particularly in the Sunni areas, of cooperation with our forces, because you -- literally, just walking on the street -- and we weren't walking casually. We did not have the free run like I want to have. I understood the security reasons for it. But the Iraqis with whom I met, you ask them -- and when you all go there, and you talk to your colleagues who are there, they'll tell you the same thing I tell you -- they are very concerned, as they're about willing, they might be willing to say, "Charlie here was Fedayeen and he's my next-door neighbor, and by the way, the reason where that ambush came from, it came from over here" -- the reason they're not willing to cooperate more than that is they think Saddam is coming back.

They don't necessarily think he's coming back to the run the country again, but they think his long arm, as do some of our own military -- what are you hearing now?

You're hearing that some of these attacks may be coordinated. As pointed out to me by a general who will remain unnamed, who I spent a good time -- we all spent a good deal of time with, he said let me tell you how professional these guys are, Senator. This is not a bunch of ragtag, you know, Palestinian kids -- God love 'em -- who, you know, think by strapping something on them they're going to go to go see Allah. These are people who, when the American forces are gathered, or Brits, in a crowd -- when they're presented with a crowd, they slip out of a crowd and they're given instructions. They've actually seen some of the pamphlets: take your pistol or revolver or rifle; make sure you point it in the space between the helmet and the vest at the neck and blow their heads off. These are serious, serious, serious guys. These are the people killing our guys and our women -- so far guys.

And so this is not -- this is not sort of a ragtag group that, you know, decides we're going to rise up because we're angry, like a bunch of students in Iran or something. These are people who know exactly what they're doing. And because they see that happening in the population, in my view -- and you might ask Senator Hagel and Lugar have spoken more of this than I have, even. Because of that, there is an unwillingness to sort of step forward. It's kind of like living in the hood, and you're afraid to tell anybody where the drug dealer is because you're fearful that once he's arrested, he's not going to stay in jail; he's going to come back to the hood. Well, that's sort of the feeling, and it's palpable. I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but I really mean it. Literally, ask of your corresponding news organizations who you have in Iraq, ask your counterpart who's covering your paper or your network in Iraq, I think they'll tell you the same thing.


Q Senator, when -- (off mike) -- asking for support from NATO, the international community, U.N., two questions. What do you think will be the payback the United States is going to have to offer -- (off mike)? And number two, do you think this can carry over into the United States and the road map between Israel and the Palestinians?

SEN. BIDEN: I would start the other way. It's already carried over in the road map. You already have the Europeans and the EU involved in that. I spent three days on that, meeting with EU leaders. I met with Javier Solana; I met at length with Joschka Fischer; I met with, you know, all the major players in the EU in the previous three days before I went in -- or two days before I went into Baghdad. And so the idea that there's any price to paid, it's not a price being paid, we have an actual agreement, which is a good thing.

Now, people say to me, well, why do you think NATO would be willing to come in? Because they've already said they would. I don't have this -- I can't confirm this, but I have been told that the French have already offered combat troops; they've already offered them, and they've been stiff-armed so far; no thanks, we don't need them, or we don't want them or whatever.

Speaking with the secretary-general of NATO, he said: NATO's ready to do more; you just have to ask us, Joe. I don't think there's any price to be paid.

So, you say, well, why would they go in? The reason they go in, this is their front yard. This is their front yard. Imagine what happens in Europe if somehow, this comes a cropper a year from now: there's a civil war, the Iranians are in southern Iraq, the Turks have moved in and are in conflict with the Kurds, et cetera -- imagine what that means to Europe. That's a little like this happening in Venezuela or in Mexico for us. So, what is their motive? Their motive is that they want to get it right. So, I don't think they're going to demand it. No one thinks that any NATO forces in there would require wearing blue helmets; that is, U.N. helmets. No one thinks that there would have to be a fight over command. It's a U.S. operation, a U.S. general would run it. Nobody doubts that. But they're ready to take on responsibility.

Q Will the United States have to make a concession still on those claims that have been made by various entities in Europe against --

SEN. BIDEN: Iraqi government. The answer is, I don't think so, because again, these are very sophisticated governments. They know there ain't no money there. And they know if they were to push -- if I can make a somewhat strained historical analysis, pushing the Iraqis at this moment or the next several years on the claims that countries legitimately have against them, particularly European countries, it would be a little bit like we did to Germany in the Versailles -- after Versailles. They don't have the capacity to pay it, no matter how well-intended they would be. (Chuckles.) And so, I think you're going to see, especially with the G-8 nations and the EU generally, a much more mature attitude about what is realistically -- can be expected.

That will, in large part, depend on what I'm certain we'll do right, because I'm certain Bremer will do this right. If they thought that we, in turn, in effect, were collecting claims and they weren't, that's a different deal. But I think as long as there's transparency -- with Bremer, I'm confident there will be -- as long as there's transparency and he lays it out, I don't think there's any demand -- the Russians may be an exception. The Russians are owed an awful lot of money and have an awful lot of expectations, and that may be more difficult. But in terms of the EU, I don't see any real difficulty for that at all.

How much time on the vote?

STAFF: (Off mike.)


Q Can I ask a political question? Are you or your colleagues receiving a lot of e-mails -- (inaudible) -- about --

SEN. BIDEN: We are.

Q -- and about the continued killings of our soldiers over there; any kind of indication that the American public is not going to put up with this for a long period of time?

SEN. BIDEN: No, I don't think -- I have no evidence of that. And again, I operate on the following premise -- I really mean this -- I believe the American people know this is a very difficult job. I believe to the extent that they believe they're being leveled with, what the dangers are and what the expectations are, that they'll step up to the ball, and that we will not, after another, God forbid -- when we had a 138 or 136 killed in the war, and we're up close to 60 now killed just since the president said, "Mission accomplished."

As long as we don't mislead the American people, and say, "Mission is not accomplished; there's a lot more to be done, there will be more casualties, but here is the -- here is why it's important we stay the course, and here is what we're doing to make this not just our responsibility," that's the case that has to be made.

In my view, failure to make that case means that a year from now, if, God forbid, two to 10 body bags a week are still coming home, that's when the American people will say, "Pull the plug." And that would be a disaster. That would be a disaster.

This is doable. This is doable. And we have the team in -- the leadership team in Baghdad to be able to do this job. They're really impressive people. We have to give them the resources.

Thank you all very much.

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