NBC "Meet the Press" Transcript
MR. RUSSERT: You are the president of the United States. You've examined all the issues. Would you invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein?
SEN. BIDEN: There's a lot more to do before you make that decision. A number of things came through as consensus points with the varied ideas we had that came before the committee from the experts. One was, this is very difficult to do all by yourself, not that it's hard to take him down militarily, but there's a lot to do after he's taken down. There are estimates that we'd need up 75,000 troops in Iraq for a period of anywhere from a year to 10 years.
And so this is something that I think is there's a lot more spade-work has to be done to make a case to the America people and make a case to our allies and make a case to the region, and it makes a difference whether we can make that case.
MR. RUSSERT: The Economist, which is a highly regarded weekly magazine throughout the world, had an editorial in which it weighed the issues back and forth, and in the end, said it's a judgment call, and concluded this way: "The honest choices now are to give up and give in or to remove Mr. Hussein before he gets his bomb. Painful as it is, our vote is for war."
SEN. BIDEN: I think that's where we end up. I think Saddam either has to be separated from his weapons or taken out of power. But again, I think it's very important -- I think the timeline is critical here. Most of the experts that I have spoken with so far, we have spoken with and heard from, indicate that there is a timeline, we probably have some time before he's able to have, quote, "the bomb." And in that interim, it's important to build a case and a consensus that what we're doing is based up a genuine threat and based upon an anticipatory need that the rest of the world would understand. And I think the case can be made, but there's a lot more to do.
MR. RUSSERT: "Genuine threat." Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq, wrote this in Newsday that other day: "For Senator Joe Biden's Iraq hearings to be anything more than a political sham used to invoke a modern-day Gulf of Tonkin Resolution," the resolution for the Vietnam War, "equivalent for Iraq, his committee will need to ask hard questions and demand hard facts concerning the real nature of the weapons threat posed by Iraq. Void of that, it is impossible to speak of Iraq as a grave and imminent risk to American national security worthy of war. Therefore, it is imperative that the Senate discuss means other than war for dealing with this situation, including the need to resume U.N.-led weapons inspections in Iraq."
SEN. BIDEN: He's right.
MR. RUSSERT: What is the real nature of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? He has chemical weapons?
SEN. BIDEN: First of all, we don't know exactly what he has. It's been five years since inspectors have been in there. Number two -- it is clear that he has a residual of chemical weapons and biological weapons, number one. Number two though, the question becomes whether he has the means by which he can in an efficacious way disburse them. It's one thing to have these weapons. It's another thing to weaponize them in a way that they can do great harm. You can put biological weapons in a warhead and it not have very much efficacy, depending upon what you do with that warhead, how you refine the biological weapon, how you define (sic) the -- refine the chemical weapon. We don't know that answer to those things.
We know he continues to attempt to gain access to additional capability, including nuclear capability. There is a real debate how far off that is, whether it's a matter of years or whether it's a matter of less than that. And so there's much we don't know --. But Ritter's point about pushing for inspections, I think it's important we push for real inspections, set down a marker that is a noncompromising marker that we have full access, even if the only result is he rejects that, because part of this process, Tim, is to make a case to the world that this guy is what we believe him to be and is seeking and/or possesses in some for some of what we worry about.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's stop right there. Saddam Hussein has asked for the head of the U.N. inspection team to come to Iraq to negotiate whether or not there should be more inspections. Would you engage in such negotiations?
SEN. BIDEN: No. I would say just what Kofi Annan basically said, which is, we'll go if Saddam shows he has any intention of allowing genuine inspections.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the president of the United States say, "Saddam Hussein, if you want inspections, full, unfettered, fine, you have 90 days to do that. But if you don't, you'll pay a price."?
SEN. BIDEN: I think the president should say what he has been saying, that he doubts whether or not there's any realistic prospect Saddam would allow inspections, but in fact we would support full, unfettered inspections. I don't think this is the time for the president to in any way set down deadlines. I think the president should not tie himself down in a way that he's locked into 60, 90, 120 days. I think the president should do what he's begun to do, get his ducks in a row, begin to assess the capacity that we need, what help we'd get fro the region. Very practical things, Tim. We had 23 airbases last time we went after this. We've got to make sure we've got a significant portion of those this time if we go after him. I would talk less and plan more.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the United States should vaccinate every American against smallpox?
SEN. BIDEN: That's not -- that's beyond my competence. It would seem to me if we had the capacity to do that when you and I were kids, we did that, it would seem to me to be a reasonable thing to do. I am told, as you know, and you've been told, that the risk to people being negatively impacted or dying as a consequence of such large-scale vaccination would exceed the threat. I quite frankly don't -- and again, I'm not a medical person, so I yield to them on this -- but my instinct would be, if we have the capacity to vaccinate people just like they did in our generation.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe Saddam Hussein has anthrax and/or smallpox? And does he have the will to use that against the United States?
SEN. BIDEN: I think he has anthrax. I have not seen any evidence that he has smallpox. What you hear them say, Tim, is that last smallpox outbreak in the world was in Iraq, ergo, he may have a strain. With regard to his will, I don't know how much this guy is -- this is like reading the entrails of goats here, I mean, you know, what's his will? The question is his capacity, as far as I'm concerned. And there is no ability that I'm aware of, short of disseminating whatever he has to terrorist groups and/or through clandestine means, to deliver any of these weapons upon the United States of America. He does not have a missile capability. He does not have a bomber fleet. He does not have the capacity to do that. Now, he does have the capacity, as all terrorist-related operations do, of smuggling stuff into the United States and doing something terrible. That is true. There have been no connection, hard connection made yet between he and al Qaeda or his willingness or effort to do that thus far. Doesn't mean he won't. This is a bad guy.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to get to al Qaeda connection in just a second, but go back to the whole idea of the threat, biological, chemical and potentially nuclear. Four long years ago, President Clinton was trying to rally up public passions about Saddam Hussein, and this is what he had to say:
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow by the knowledge that they can act with impunity, even in the face of a clear message from the United Nations Security Council and clear evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program.
That was four years ago. Inspectors have not been in since then. If the president of the United States was saying four years ago clear evidence of mass destruction, do we have any choice but to eliminated Saddam Hussein as a threat?
SEN. BIDEN: We have no choice but to eliminate the threat. The question is the means by which we eliminate the threat and the means by which you build support to be able to do that. Tim, this is a significant effort. We're talking about the United States preemptively moving upon a country with tens of thousands of people. The American people must be brought along. The world must understand why we must do it. And ultimately, that is going to be a responsibility that rests with the president to be able to make that case. I believe that absent some significant change in the environment -- that is, real, genuine inspections -- absent the smart sanctions really being put into effect, absent inspectors getting back in, I think it's highly unlikely that Saddam Hussein with in any way curtail his activity. The experts who came to speak to us though say, look, the one place you're most likely to assure he'll use his chemical and biological weapons is invade, is go ahead and invade. The question is, what would he do preemptively? Would he preemptively go ahead and do something? What kind of capability does he have. Does have capability to throw these weapons a long distance? He has Scud missiles that have limited range, and so on.
So there's a lot more that we have to look at. But in the meantime, we should be preparing for the possibility and the prospect that we're going to have to do it physically.
MR. RUSSERT: Caspar Weinberger, the former secretary of Defense, said in your hearings, for those who say, well, we just don't know what he has, you have an option: Let him attack first.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think Caspar Weinberger is generically right. We can't wait to see if he'll attack first. But we have to have a clear picture of capacity, not just intentions.
And look, when we do this, Tim, big nations can't bluff. We have to do this and we have to do it right. We have to have the whole deal in place. It's one thing to take him down, as Dick Lugar said in our hearings. Take down Saddam, replace him with someone else. We don't know that that someone else is going to be committed to destroy all those weapons of mass destruction. There's an awful lot that has to be done. It can be done in a relatively near-term, in my view, getting the French, getting the Russians on board. There's ways to do that, in my view. Getting the world to say this is not just, you know, pique on the part of the United States to just go after him. We can make this case. We should make this case. We should pursue the case. But you're asking me, are we ready to go today, this moment, right now, you were president or secretary of State, and I'd say -- or Defense, I'd say Mr. President, we got more work to do.
MR. RUSSERT: The country must go to war, as well as the military. One of the ways a president rallies the nation is by laying our a predicate, a reason, a rationale. This was in the Los Angeles Times on Friday:
"Despite deep doubts by the CIA and FBI, the White House is now backing claims that September 11th skyjacker Mohammad Atta secretly meet five months earlier with an Iraqi agent in the Czech capital, a possible indication that President Saddam Hussein's regime was involved in the terrorist attacks. In an interview, a senior Bush administration official said, 'The available evidence of the long- dispute meeting in Prague holds up. The official added, "We're going to talk more about this case.'"
Do you know of any direct linkage between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and September 11th?
SEN. BIDEN: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Is the administration trying to make a case that doesn't exist?
SEN. BIDEN: I don't know. I hope the administration would not make the case merely on that connection, even if it exists. There are other reasons, larger reasons. This is a guy who's used weapons of mass destruction. This is a guy who's destabilized that whole neighborhood. This is a guy who in a war with the Iranians, over 800,000 people on both sides were killed. This is a guy who's an extreme danger to the world. This is a guy who is in every way possible seeking weapons of mass destruction. That case in and of itself ought to be sufficient. The one thing we cannot do in my view is we cannot go into this on what -- whether it's true or not, what a large portion of the world and our population thinks is a pretext. We should make the case straight out -- straight out as to the nature of the danger, the nature of the threat. And the president should in my view, when the time comes, come to the United States Congress and say, "I want authority. I want you with me to go in after Saddam and take him out, and here's why. Here's the justification. I want your support." He needs that support under the Constitution. That's the way I hope this is approached as we go down the road of eliminating other concerns that exist relative to -- what about the day after? Do we do this alone? Tim, doing this alone is a big deal. And it's not so much a big deal at the front end. It's a big deal at the back end. And I think -- I'm confident the president knows that. And I'm confident that he's going to be working a lot harder to see if he can bring along some other folks with us.
MR. RUSSERT: Do it alone. This was -- these are the words of the king of Jordan, and I'll put them on the screen for you and our our viewers:
"Foreign leaders are increasingly concerned the United States is preparing for war against Iraq. U.S. officials are making a tremendous mistake of the do not heed warnings from abroad against a military campaign," King of Jordan Abdullah said yesterday. Abdullah said. "An invasion of Iraq could splinter the country and spread across the Middle East. In all the years I've seen in the international community, everyone is saying this is a bad idea. It seems America says we want to hit Baghdad; that's not what Jordanians, British, French, Russians, the Chinese, and everybody else."
Could the United States do this alone if we were absolutely convinced Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, was going to use them? Even though others wouldn't join us, should we, could we do it alone?
SEN. BIDEN: If that were the case, yes. But, I can't believe if we could make that case, we can't convince some of those other people. In other words, if the case is that strong, we're going to be able to convince the Brits; we're going to be able to convince Europeans; we're going to be able to convince people in the region. And they won't be excited about it, because no one ever wants to make a difficult decision.
This is a tough judgment call. But the case has not been made in earnest. Think what happened after 9/11, Tim. The president didn't go off half-cocked and just go ahead and invade Afghanistan. He set out the bill of particulars. He went around to everyone capital in the world basically with his people, and he laid out what we had. He made his case. That case has not been made yet. I believe it's possible to make that case. But until you make an attempt to do that, you don't have any notion about any possibility of changing the attitude of the rest of the world, and it matters. It matter what they think.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you go to the United Nations for United Nations authorization of an attack on Iraq?
SEN. BIDEN: I would only go if I knew I could get it. And I would go first to my allies and my friends and make my case to them. If I can do that -- let me give you an example. I had a very brief discussion with Putin, like a lot of us did when he was here, what, six months ago, whenever it was, asking him about Iraq. His comment to me was, "Don't you think I know that Moscow would be more likely to be a target than Washington if Saddam has nuclear capability?" And I said, "Well, can't we work something out?"
What people don't understand is, the Russians think they're owed $45 billion from Iraq. They think if we go in and take down Saddam, they're out of the ballgame. There's ways to work this, I think. And I'm hoping, although I have no direct evidence, that the administration is working these pieces.
But again, if the case is so clear that you can ask the American people to go to war, we can make that case at least to some of world.
MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Congressional authorization. The Republican leader in the Senate, Trent Lott, was asked about that the other day, and this is what he said:
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS): (From videotape.) I think, you know, what you're talking about there is just a blatant political move that's not helpful. You know, what -- what do they want us to say? Oh, Mr. Saddam Hussein, we're coming, we're coming. Get ready. You can expect us, you know, two weeks after Election Day, and by the way, here's the way we're coming. But before we do that, we'll have a huge debate so you'll know full well exactly what's going on. Give me a break.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think he was talking about something slightly different. There was a resolution introduced, two resolutions introduced about seeking -- a resolution saying that before you go, Mr. President, you have to ask us. I think it's self- evident he has to ask us.
What I think -- what I think is necessary, when the president decides, if he decides, that he has to physically take out Saddam Hussein, he has an obligation under the Constitution to come to the Congress and make the case. Then the Congress votes. Then the Congress votes. This in only after the president made a decision.
So I don't think we should be out there debating whether or not to go to war literally, and passing resolutions war or no war. Absent the president saying, "This is what I wish to do. This is it. This is my declaration I'm seeking. Help me. I want you with me. I need your authorization."
MR. RUSSERT: Both legally and politically.
SEN. BIDEN: Legally and politically. Would you dare take a nation to war in these circumstances without the support of the Congress?
MR. RUSSERT: In 1991, the Persian Gulf War, former President Bush did exactly same thing. Senator Joe Biden stood up and voted no, saying that it was not in our nation's vital interests at that time to go to war against Saddam Hussein.
SEN. BIDEN: Let's get our chronology straight. The president came along and said he didn't need any authority from the Congress. Joe Biden stood up and said yes you do need authority from the Congress. We should debate this issue. This should be held hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee over the objection of some of my colleagues. I was not the leader at the time. Sam Nunn, myself and others ended up voting no on that because the case the president made at the time did not seem to be as strong as we thought it should be. It turns out the president made the correct decision. The only question is is what we're going to do -- should we have gone beyond that.
But the issue we're talking about here is, does the president have the obligation to come and make the case to the Congress, make the case to the American people and ask for, as he did there, a specific grant of authority under the Constitution?
MR. RUSSERT: But you would now say that the Persian Gulf War was in the vital interests of the United States?
SEN. BIDEN: I think it was, yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Al Gore, a presidential candidate in the year 2000, spoke up the other day, and let me show you what he said:
AL GORE (Former vice president): (From videotape.) But I serious question why we would be publicly blustering and announcing an invasion a year or two years in advance, and having leaked documents spelling out the order of battle and the plans. I mean -- (laughs) -- what's that all about. (Laughter.) These people were supposed to be good at foreign policy. I don't think they are.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the Bush administration is good at foreign policy?
SEN. BIDEN: I don't want to get into that. I'm trying to help the president here. We should stand united in this. Al has his own need, requirement to speak. I'm not going to speak to that. Let me just --
MR. RUSSERT: Was that irresponsible?
SEN. BIDEN: No, I don't think it's irresponsible. My job is different than his. My job is, I'm the sitting chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee trying to work with the president on what everyone acknowledges is a very --
MR. RUSSERT: But you must be concerned about the leaks.
SEN. BIDEN: I am very concerned, but let's -- let's figure out why there were leaks. You've been around this town a long time. There are leaks because there's a vast disagreement within the administration about the nature of the threat and also the urgency of the threat and thirdly the cost of responding to the threat. And so what I do think, and I think I referenced this earlier in the program, I think we should talk less about taking him down and when we're going to take him down and how, and more about the case. What is the threat? What is going to be the impact if we don't stop him? What are the alternatives we have in order to deal with the threat? What would be the cost of each of the alternatives in terms of what we have to do? That is responsible. That is a responsible way to go, and that's why the administration has been supportive of these hearings.
But, you know, part of the problem here is you have a very divided administration on foreign policy on a number of issues. It's not the first administration to be divided on important foreign policy issues, but this one is. And that's what you're seeing.
MR. RUSSERT: You've mentioned cost several times. What would the cost of a war be if we did it alone? And what would the cost of a post-war reconstruction be?
SEN. BIDEN: Let me tell you what the experts estimates range. I'll give you the ranges. Keep in mind that the last war cost us about $65 billion -- 60 billion, I think it was. They estimate in today's dollars, it would be 75- to $80 billion. Last time, 80 percent of that cost was picked up by our friends, from the Japanese to the Saudis to the English and the -- I mean the French, et cetera. So there you start of with assuming similar in scope. You're talking about a couple hundred thousand forces, if that's the route you go. You're talking about 80- to $100 billion, front end.
Then the back end. The estimates range, it would cost a minimum of 16- to $18 billion a year, because most of the experts believe you've to keep up to 75,000 forces in place to keep Iraq from breaking down, to keep the oil markets in place.
MR. RUSSERT: For how long?
SEN. BIDEN: Estimate range all the way from 1 1/2 years to 20 years. You had Halperin saying we'd be there 20 years from now, and you have an Army colonel whose name escapes me at the moment who's a planner saying it could be as little as 18 months.
Now, if you look at what we've done in other places, Tim, Afghanistan. It's not over in Afghanistan yet. That is not a stable country yet. We have 10,000 forces there now. It's going on a year. Al Qaeda is basically -- our troops are not doing much relative to al Qaeda because most of it's gone.
Look how long we've had people in Bosnia, keeping the peace.
And the basic thing everyone says is, Mr. President, don't kid yourself. This is about nation-building when the war is over. As Dick Lugar says, when you in fact take down Saddam, unless you have a democratic regime in place that will in fact cooperate in giving up all of the weapons of mass destruction, then what have you done if you just replace him with another colonel that says, that's a good idea, I should keep these things?
MR. RUSSERT: We currently have a deficit of $165 billion. Senator Fritz Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, said if you take away the Social Security surplus that's being used, the real deficit's over $400 billion.
SEN. BIDEN: He's right.
MR. RUSSERT: With that in mind, and the costs that you laid out, can we afford an invasion of Iraq and also maintain the Bush tax cut?
SEN. BIDEN: I think it'd be very, very difficult to do that. Look, something's going to have to give, Tim. It may be -- here's what I think we have to do. We have to say to the American people if we decide we have to go in, and it's a judgment call: "We have to go, and this is what it's going to cost us. And these are the sacrifices we're going to have to make. This is a big ticket item." And then we're going to have to make some very hard choices. I'm not saying you should not go against Saddam, who may have eventually a nuclear capacity, because it may cost us a tax cut or because it may cost us education money or because -- we may have to anyway. But the American people are entitled to know what the consequences of us going are -- why we have to go and what the consequence is. And you're talking about a lot of money. Now, some have said, by the way, if we go and win, we'll have all our allies ready to come in there, and they'll be ready to be part of a force and so on. That's possible. But you can't count on that.
MR. RUSSERT: When should the president of the United States lay out the goals, costs and consequences of an invasion of Iraq?
SEN. BIDEN: When he's made a decision whether or not the threat is so real and imminent that he has not chose but to get ready to move.
MR. RUSSERT: Two quick questions on Afghanistan. One, should the FBI administer polygraph tests to the members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees?
SEN. BIDEN: I don't know enough about that. The generic point is, the intelligence committees and the Congress has the ability to administer its own polygraphs. If you think that is needed, it could be done there. The idea of the separation of powers gets pretty dicey. I haven't thought that one through.
MR. RUSSERT: Did the federal judge make the right decision in saying that the names of all those who have been detained post- September 11th should be released probably?
SEN. BIDEN: Based on what I understand, it's hard not to make that decision eventually. And I think -- I think probably yes, but I -- you know, I don't pretend to be an expert on that.
MR. RUSSERT: Bottom line, Senator Biden, do you believe there will be a war with Iraq?
SEN. BIDEN: I believe there will probably be a war in Iraq. The whole question is, is it alone? Is it with others? And how long and how costly will it be?
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Biden, we thank you very much for sharing your views this morning.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you.