April 15, 2004 Thursday
SECTION: PRESS CONFERENCE OR SPEECH
HEADLINE: REMARKS BY SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), TO THE CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES POLICY FORUM RE: "IRAQ: LAST CHANCE TO GET IT RIGHT"
MODERATOR: KURT CAMPBELL, DIRECTOR, CSIS INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM
LOCATION: PHOENIX PARK HOTEL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
SEN. BIDEN: (Applause.) Thank you very much, folks. Let me begin by thanking John (Hamre) for the contribution he's made, with his report, to the debate. I will not forget, John, your admonition that the window of opportunity was closing. I am one who believes it has not closed yet. And I come here with a deep and abiding frustration, though, hardened by a nagging belief that time is rapidly running out for us to get it right.
Time is running out, and I think there is a glaring need to be brutally frank about the challenges we face and completely honest with the American people about what is going to be required of them in order for us to succeed. I think it's long past time that the only Americans asked to contribute to this war are middle-class and poor Americans whose children make up the military in Iraq and the overwhelming bulk of the fighting force, as well as our children and grandchildren who are going to be saddled with the debt that we're unwilling to pay front end of the enormous costs of this undertaking.
There are tens of thousands of patriotic Americans who are going to go to bed tonight with a pit in their stomach, torn between their instinct to support, quote, "the war," and a nagging doubt that the president of the United States does not have a workable plan for either victory or bringing home their sons and daughters. And that doubt, in my view, is complicated by a bewilderment as to why the fight against terrorism seems to be uniquely ours and that of our children. And we owe them answers.
But I'm also well aware that anyone who dares suggest how we should proceed from here should be armed with an overwhelming dose of humility.
As I said a year ago when I was with Ambassador Bremer in Iraq, I said, if the Lord Almighty came down and sat in the middle of this conference table and gave you the right answers for the next 20 important decisions you're going to have to make, we still only would have a 65 percent chance of getting it right because this is hard work, and I still feel that way. We still only have, even if we get it all right, not much more than even chance of succeeding.
Having said that, there are certain basic choices, in my view, this administration has made over the past year that were seriously flawed and have further reduced our odds of success. And as the president said in his address the other night, we have to look at the mistakes of the past in order to determine what corrective course should be taken. And it's in that spirit that I suggest the following.
And my critique, I would respectfully suggest, is not the product of 20/20 hindsight. In the lead up to the war, during the war, in the war's aftermath and today, thoughtful people of both parties, from John Kerry to Bill Kristol, urged the administration to correct its course at every stage. But I fear the administration, thus far at least, has been more worried or concerned about conceding to having made any mistakes than concerned about sticking to a failed policy. Some believe we've already lost Iraq and some have basically so stated that, including former four-star generals. But I disagree. I refuse to believe that's the case because that is not an option.
Is this a serious situation? Absolutely. Are we seeing more than "flare-ups," as the secretary of Defense refers to them? Absolutely. In my view, we're somewhere between an insurgency and a widespread insurrection, and the result is that we may be soon confronted with an untenable situation. The American people understand intuitively that the American forces are caught between an increasingly hostile Iraqi population that they were sent to liberate and an increasingly skeptical American public whose support they so badly deserve.
I'm convinced that we can still succeed if we level with the American people about the costs and the risks, if we develop a coherent plan for success, and if we bring the Iraqi people and the rest of the world with us. And that's what I want to talk about today, how to do that.
This administration is full of exceedingly bright, patriotic and well-meaning people, and I'm not being gratuitous. I'm stating the obvious; particularly the neo-conservatives in this administration, among the brightest, most articulate people in the country. But they began this undertaking, in my view, with one fundamentally flawed assumption, and that is that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States of America in its security.
And they compounded that mistake by failing to apply, as Fareed Zakaria has put it, sufficient power and sufficient legitimacy. These deficits of power and legitimacy have cost us the very visible support of a majority of the Iraqi people.
Let me say what I mean by visible support. There is no VISIBLE support coming from the majority of the Iraqi people, who absolutely, based on the polling data and my impression, share our vision for their future; who reject the notion of theocracy based upon an Iranian model and who genuinely want a participatory republic, if not a democracy. But where are they? And it's also cost us the help of major world powers in our effort. The result is a vacuum, filled now by Sunni malcontents and Shi'a extremists and jihadists who are rising up against the American, quote, occupiers.
To understand where we must go from here, it seems to me we have to understand the missteps we've already taken.
The first is the administration failed to plan for the day after; and this despite dozens of congressional hearings, think tank studies and reports, and even the work of the administration itself, such as the State Department's Future of Iraq project, which predicted virtually every problem we now face. Go back and read the transcripts in these reports. Everything is there: the sorry state of the Iraqi infrastructure, which we would find; the likelihood of postwar looting and resistance; the impossibility of Iraqi's oil reserves paying for the reconstruction of Iraq; the need for a minimum of 5,000 gendarmerie, 5,000 European police to immediately establish order in the streets as well as train an Iraqi police force; and the folly, the absolte folly, of relying on Iraqi exiles, and particular Mr. Chalabi, as the answer to our problem.
Secondly, the administration failed to build an effective coalition.
And the reason it failed to build an effective coalition is because they argued that there was an imminent threat, and there was no time.
But there was no imminent threat to American security. We could have taken our time and put together a real coalition, not because we needed, as I said at the time and now, a single, solitary foreign troop to aid us in our effort of toppling Saddam. We did not need a single force for that purpose, and I so stated at the time, as many others did.
But as we also stated at the time, we desperately needed a significant international force to secure the peace and make legitimate our temporary but necessary occupation of Iraq.
Of course, for some of our allies, going to war was never an option, no matter what Saddam had done or was about to do. But by taking more time to bring the world along, we could have increased our credibility, isolated the hypocrites, and instead we did just the opposite.
Third, the administration from the outset-and was counseled against this by four-star generals and others-took Turkey for granted, acted as if we could dictate what the outcome would be in terms of their participation or using Turkey as a pass-through. And we went from taking them for granted to then flip-flopping between trying to bribe them and bully them.
As a consequence, in our arrogance, we lost an opportunity to attack from the north, and the result, according to not Joe Biden, uniformed military personnel, is we lost the opportunity to deal with the Sunni Triangle because we bypassed the Sunni Triangle, which is the source of much of our trouble today.
Fourthly, the administration failed to go in with enough force in the beginning because of the Pentagon and apparently the secretary of Defense's desire to validate a new theory of warfare, over the objection of the vast majority of the uniformed military.
And then General Shinseki was ridiculed for suggesting it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq. He's looking prescient today, and so is whoever wrote the NSC memo that extrapolated from past missions and estimated-this is an internal NSC memo, written contemporaneously, that apparently was never read or, if read, was disregarded-extrapolating from past missions and suggesting that we needed as many as 500,000 troops to stabilize Iraq; not to win, quote, the war, but to stabilize Iraq, which was ultimately, consistently and permanently the problem we all knew was the real problem.
The failure to provide those forces made it difficult to establish full control of Iraq, to stop the looting, prompting the secretary of State to say something to the effect that these kind of things have to happen anyway, as people were walking out of museums with precious pieces; generating, in an area of the world that is rife with conspiracy theories, that we were deliberately doing this to make Iraqis look bad in the eyes of the world. It also failed to give the Iraqi people a sense of security by going in with too few forces, and it produced a power vacuum, the one I mentioned earlier.
The administration also failed to understand that it would take years, not months, to train Iraqis to provide for their own security. Last summer when Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel and I went to Baghdad, we met with our experts. These are serious people. These are people who have been through this before in the Balkans and Afghanistan. These are incredibly competent American bureaucrats, soldiers, policemen and public servants with significant experience.
And they said very candidly at the Iraqi police headquarters in Baghdad, when I asked them, "If you had all the money in the world, how long would it take you to put in place a prison system?" said, "At least 2-1/2 years to house the needs we have."
"How long would it take you to train an Iraqi police force that's genuinely a police force?" They said, "Three years." There is no police force in Iraq in the way we talk about police forces, trained.
The Iraqi police force worked fine. Do you know what one of the former captains told me? He said two things. One, "I don't like the new blue on blue uniforms; I like the green on green because people feared the green. They knew it was Saddam. You shouldn't make us change uniforms."
And secondly, you know how they investigated a murder in an apartment building in Iraq during Saddam's era? No investigator went to the apartment building. A notice was put out that everyone who lived in that apartment building was to report to the police station. Literally, not figuratively. And if they didn't, it was real simple: they got shot dead. That's an investigative technique. One that democracies cannot employ. Apr 15, 2004 12:49 ET .EOF
But the point I'm making to you is we knew, we knew that there was nothing remotely approaching what we would call a trained police force. And our trainers from Pristina, from Sarajevo, from Kabul said, "It's going to take us three years, Senator, three years, to train up an Iraqi police force"-wrong-I misspoke-five years to train an Iraqi police of force of 75,000, the bare minimum needed for the country, and three years to train a 40,000-person Iraqi army.
But this administration insisted on putting uniforms on 200,000 Iraqis right away. We rushed them out the door, and now fewer than 10 percent of the police and army have been fully trained. Virtually none are adequately equipped. And while many have acted with incredible bravery, others abandon their posts and some even took up arms against us in the last two weeks. This week General Abizaid called the Iraqi security forces, and I quote, "a great disappointment."
In addition, the administration relied too heavily on Iraqi exiles who have no constituency in Iraq. That dependence continues to this day. Why are we putting our thumbs on the scale of this new Iraqi democracy in transition by paying Ahmed Chalabi $400,000 a month? Why? Why are we doing that? This is a guy whose information we have been given to us thus far has been less than reliable, and who has seized documents, before we got there, that he will not physically give to us but will share with us by giving us-allowing us to look at it.
I raised this question with the secretary of Defense in-well now I can't tell you what he said; I mentioned who it was. So we'll skip that. (Laughter.)
It's frustrating folks. Is the plan to help Chalabi buy his way into power after June 30th? Is that what this is about? And if so, it's a profoundly misguided plan because he lacks the legitimacy to hold the Iraqis together. Let me say it again: He lacks the legitimacy to hold the Iraqis together.
And finally, the president squandered repeated opportunities to bring the international community back together after, quote, "the war." At the end of major combat operations, when our opponents-when our apparent success gave us the high ground, remember what the French and Germans said? They volunteered that they would play a major part in reconstructing Iraq, but they said we need a U.N. resolution to do it. Those who sat out the war were ready to help if we had asked. Maybe they wouldn't have if we had asked. I can't prove the negative. But I found it strange that we would not ask, and instead the administration tried to freeze them out of contracts and served up "freedom toast" on Air Force One. And the president missed other opportunities to repair the rift over Iraq: at the U.N.-when the U.N. headquarters was bombed; last November, when we abruptly made 180-degree change in policy, with which I happen to agree.
And we talk about mistakes. One of the mistakes I made at the outset of this is I was of the school that we had to have a constitution first before elections. I was wrong in my view in retrospect. I changed my view in November of last year. Apparently the administration changed its view as well.
So what did we decide to do? In an abrupt trip back home, Mr. Bremer met-you'll all remember this-in November and said, no, no-this is after just announcing-and by the way, I, Joe Biden, changed his mind, too-changed my mind, too. I don't cite this to suggest that the change of mind was wrong; it was appropriate. But this is the part that got me. Even though the change, this 180-degree change, to give up power, turn over sovereignty in June, hold elections of some kind first and write a constitution and then hold permanent elections was a change consistent with what the French and others had recommended, I was sitting with President Chirac, making the case that my president-and I never criticize my president when I'm abroad-but my president had moved in the direction that he wanted, and that he now should move. And his response was, it would have been nice had someone told us and we'd not only read it in the newspaper.
I then subsequently checked others in Europe. And apparently, to the best of my knowledge, instead of knowing we were changing the policy-sitting down with our closest allies and saying, you know, you've convinced us; you may be right; we're prepared to change; what are you prepared to do? -- they unceremoniously announced it and they learned through the press.
What a great way to make friends and influence events.
Maybe the French and Germans were beyond reach after March 11th when the terrible bombing in Madrid took place. But not just Joe Biden; serious, articulate neoconservative scholars after March 11th argued that the president should seize the opportunity, get on a plane-or I speak, that was me-but get on a plane, or do the equivalent thereof, and call a meeting of our NATO allies and say, we must agree on a united policy on dealing with international terror. And by the way, what about Iraq? As I said, maybe the French and Germans were beyond reach; but since Saddam was toppled we've denied ourself the help of tens of thousands of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Turks, for example, who could have changed the dynamic on the ground in so many different ways. Remember what they said they needed? Needed a broader U.N. mandate. Would we go back? No. In my view, a squandered opportunity.
But I believe the costliest mistake the president made, and the one he can still rectify, was his failure to level with the American people about what would be required of them. I know I sound like a broken record when I say this. You heard me say it so many times in the last year and a half. The one thing all of us of the Vietnam generation can agree on-whether we went and didn't go, or for or against the war-is that no foreign policy can be sustained in America, no matter how well conceived, without the informed consent of the American people. And in my humble opinion, we never received their informed consent because we never informed them of the details. We didn't tell them that well over 100,000 troops would be needed as far as the eye could see-at a minimum-for the next several years. We didn't tell them that the cost would surpass well beyond the $200 billion, which caused an economic advisor to be fired and would far exceed the oil revenues that could be produced in that time frame.
He didn't tell them that even after paying such a heavy price, success would not be assured because no one had ever succeeded before at forcibly remaking a nation and, indeed, an entire region-as noble and as necessary as that undertaking is. Instead, we were taken to war essentially alone, before it was necessary, on the heels of the largest and most lopsided tax cut in American history, with half the troops we needed to succeed. It reminded me of that calypso song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
How-what kind of mixed message-and I said this at the time, and many of you did as well-did we send the American people, telling them this was going to be a long hard slog, but by the way, on the way I'm not asking you to do anything, and here's the most significant tax cut Americans have ever received. What other president has ever taken us to war led by the most significant tax cut or any tax cut? It's no wonder the American people seemed a little bit surprised.
And then he landed on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and spoke to the American people, dwarfed by a banner that read, "Mission Accomplished," apparently put up by some exuberant Marine or Navy person-sailor.
It's not too late to regain the trust and secure the support of the American people because, quite frankly, if we do not regain it, we are in deep trouble. And I'm glad the president made a start of it on Tuesday night. But it seems to me the president must do more to resolve, more than saying he's resolved, more than reiterating his intention to stay the course, and more than describing a vision for Iraq that is increasingly divorced from reality. He needs to explain the hard road ahead and the commitment he is going to have to demand of the American people in terms of time, troops and treasure, and he needs to spell out the very serious risks to come. But also, to reiterate what he did a good job of stating, what the price would be if we fail; to make the case why we must proceed.
That's a tall order. No president likes to deliver hard truths. And even that's not enough, because the president has to convince the American people, the Iraqi people, and the major powers in the world that we have a strategy for success and secure their active participation in seeing it through.
Yes, the president has a compelling vision, with which I agree, for what Iraq can become but thus far no concrete plan to realize that vision.
So what should that plan be?
I believe we need to start by recognizing two competing realities going forward. The first is that Iraqis desperately need significant political, military and economic support from the outside world for years to come, even as they chafe at being occupied. They need a political referee to mediate their disputes, foreign troops to prevent civil war and tens of billions of more dollars than has already been spent on their reconstruction.
We desperately need-which is the competing and ironically contradictory position-we desperately need to take the American face off the occupation. Iraqi nationalism is on the rise, significantly underestimated, bringing Sunni and Shi'a factions together. And even if their alliance is alliance of convenience, even if it does not hold, we'll continue to be blamed for everything that goes wrong and remain the target of every malcontent in the region.
And we'll continue to bear the heavy burden of securing Iraq virtually alone. Nearly 90 percent of the troops, 90 percent of the non-Iraqi casualties will continue to be American.
So how do we square this circle? I think we do it by augmenting our power and increasing our legitimacy-the two things that were lacking from the outset. That's the only way, in my view, to generate the single most important ingredient for success, and that is the emergence of the Iraqi people, the majority of Iraqis. They're the only ones who can provide an alternative to the extremes and can create a participatory republic that will endure after we leave. They're the only ones who can engage in the hard negotiation among themselves as to what the nature of their governments will be.
The vast majority of Iraqis reject the notion of a strongman or a theocrat, a theocracy based on an Iranian model. But they're the only ones who can do this hard work. And increasing our power and legitimacy is the only way to get the help we need to bring them forward, as well as to get help from the outside, in terms of troops, money and manpower, to see this mission to completion.
To this end, there are three things the president, in my view, should do immediately. First, he needs to send more American troops now, to gain control of the security situation and to give other countries who we'll be seeking help from confidence that we will not walk away and they will not be walking into a quagmire.
Secondly, he should seek agreement right away from major powers with the most at stake in Iraq to form an international board of directors, as it would be, responsible for overseeing the difficult political situation in Iraq. It could be the U.N. Security Council. It could be an ad hoc group like the kind we formed to deal with Bosnia and the Middle East peace process. I'm not married to any one of those models. But its members would include our European allies, Russia and our friends in the Middle East, all of whom have a great deal at stake.
The senior representative of that board would replace Ambassador Bremer (in/and ?) the CPA as Iraq's primary international partner and speak with the authority of the international community, not just the United States, in the incredibly difficult transition that's going to take place from July 30th to January the 31st, when elections are supposed to have been held. He or she would have the authority to seek consensus on a caretaker government, to help Iraqis decide what government will look like in the end and who will run it, to mediate the disputes that are sure to arise between June 30 and elections next January, and to oversee the very elections themselves.
Brahimi has begun to play that role informally. I thought it was interesting last night, or the night before last, the president said, when-who are we going to turn the government over to, he said we're waiting for Brahimi to tell us. Well, he's already begun to play that role; let's make it formal, with clear authoritative mandates from the major powers. That would maximize his leverage and our prospects of success.
Third, the president should ask the U.N. to bless this agreement with a new Security Council resolution. Look, I've been a senator a long time. I don't have any illusions about the U.N. I don't attribute to it any magic powers or any special competence or capability, except in holding elections, but it is a central necessity. The central involvement would do-to quote George Will on this point-usefully blur the clarity of U.S. primacy.
Foreign leaders need political cover to convince their people, who opposed the war from the outset, to invest in helping build the peace.
The Iraqi people are more likely to accept the words of a partner who represents the will of the world than to heed the decree of an American ambassador hunkered down in a new super-embassy. If the president does these things, I believe several major benefits will follow, and I believe this from my personal conversations with the European leaders and others.
I believe that other countries would do much more, would be much more likely to take a part in rebuilding Iraq. During the '90s in the Balkans, in Haiti, in East Timor, the U.S. typically provided about 20 percent of the post-conflict reconstruction resources. By that ratio, the $20 billion that Congress has already appropriated should have garnered $80 billion from the international community. Instead, we raised less than $15 billion.
An international stamp of approval will also open the door for NATO. I know firsthand from President Chirac, from the NATO leadership, from the permanent representatives of NATO with whom I have met that NATO would be prepared to participate. NATO cannot take over security in Iraq tomorrow, but over the months NATO could begin to patrol Iraqis borders-Iraq's borders, take over control in the north and/or in the Polish sector. Just those things would free up as many as 20,000 American forces immediately. They could also and have indicated they're willing to train-train-as was offered by the French and Germans immediately after Saddam's fall, Iraqi military and police. The 20,000 number is coincidentally about the number that General Abizaid is calling for right now. Giving NATO a formal role would also change the complexion of the occupation, which is critical. And it would send an important message to the American people, and that message is we are not alone; other countries are invested in the success of this mission in Iraq.
Our ability to put this plan into motion will answer the vexing question of whether to stick with the June 30 deadline for transferring political sovereignty to the Iraqis. The administration has created an expectations problem. It chose the June 30 date with an eye more toward the political calendar, ours, than theirs. If we push that date back, those who are with us in Iraq will be angry that we're moving the goalposts. And those who are against us will conclude that their thus far mini-insurrection has accomplished its desired goal, just need more.
Conversely, if the turnover occurs on time but the situation remains the same in the eyes of the Iraqi people, including the perception of an ongoing U.S. occupation, we will only add fuel to the fire and the nationalist backlash that we've begun to see strains of already. But it's not the date; it's the plan that matters. If we can develop a coherent plan for a turnover, if we can invest the world in that plan, if we can convince the Iraqi people that turnover will result in a change in their life circumstances, then the June 30 date will cease to matter.
Look, some argue this strategy is unrealistic, and I imagine many of you think it is as well-that it's too late to get all these players in the game. And it's true: The worse the situation gets, the more reluctant other nations and other people are to participate.
It's like that old bad joke about George the center fielder. I played baseball in high school and attempted to in college. And, you know, I had a coach who used to tell the joke about George the center fielder-actually had a different name, but it seems George is more appropriate -- (laughter.) He was a center fielder, and in the first two innings he committed five errors in center field. And the coach became apoplectic; called him out of the game and said, "George, you're out." And he turns around and he said, "Jerry, you're in." And Jerry runs into center field. First pitch, routine fly ball to Jerry in center field; hits his glove and he drops it. Coach is ballistic. Calls timeout, yanks his thumb, says, "Get in here, Jerry." Jerry trots in across the third-base line. And the coach looks and said, "Jerry, what is the matter with you? What are you doing?" And Jerry looks at him and says, "Coach, George screwed up center field so badly, no one can play it." (Laughter.)
It's a bad joke, but travel Europe, travel the Middle East, travel Iraq. And I promise you, that's the sense-that's the sense-that people have, or are acquiring. No one wants to be part of failure. And it makes it harder. But I am convinced it's not too late, and the reason I am is because our European, Arab friends, Russian friends have so much to lose if we fail. We keep focusing, as we should, on the cost to us. But the cost to them will be enormous. Iraq is their front yard. Its failure would endanger the oil supply, rile up Muslim populations-ten percent of the French population is Arab; create a lethal source of instability that fuels terrorism and sparks aggression. Abandoning Iraq to chaos will put radicals in the region on the offensive and moderates and modernizers in retreat for the next decade.
And watch out Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia under such intense pressure.
The Iraqi people themselves have the greatest stake in our success and the most to lose from our failure. Trading a dictator for chaos is an even worse deal for them, in the minds of many, than no trade at all.
At this late hour, it will take some powerful persuasion to get all on board, but one man has the power to do just that, to change the dynamic, to finally make Iraq the world's problem, not just our own. And to state the obvious, that man is the president of the United States of America. And its now time he choose among his advisers and he lead.
The other evening, the president told us he'd been talking to the Italian and Polish prime ministers. Well that's nice, but they're already on board, and they're just simply not enough, as much as we appreciate them.
The president should immediately convene a summit of our traditional allies in Europe, contact our friends in the Arab world and in Asia, representatives of the United Nations Security Council and NATO, and Iraqi political leaders. He should tell them that we need their help. He should acknowledge that the success of Iraq requires the centrists, the bulk of the silent majority in Iraq, to step up; world powers to step in; and Middle East countries to take a chance on a representative government in Iraq, for the alternative, as much as they fear that, is much worse for them.
Then the president should ask each of them what they need in order to participate, and he should work with them to forge a common plan for Iraq that they can support.
That's what I was referring to earlier on when I said we need to put together this "board of directors," in effect, whatever you want to call it.
I'm sure there are people around the president who will tell him that he should reject this idea. I'm also positive there are people around him who are suggesting this idea too, almost literally what I've outlined. But those around him who say "reject the idea" will tell him that reaching out makes him look weak; that it will be an admission of failure. Well, I would say to them that the hour for hubris and arrogance is long past.
It's time for leadership, and right now only the president of the United States has the possibility of providing that leadership.
In conclusion, folks, when the Cold War ended we were left virtually alone, a superpower seemingly secure in our position, driven by our faith in freedom, by our democratic values, and our belief that every man and woman in the world is better off when they are free of tyranny. What we've learned since then should be clear, that the world has changed and so have the demands on our leadership. For the world to follow, we must do more than rattle our sabers and demand allegiance to our vision of the world simply because we know we are right. We must provide a reason for others to aspire to our vision, and that reason must come with more than a repetition of bumper- sticker phrases about freedom and democracy. It must come with more than a restatement of a failed policy. It must come with the wisdom to admit when we are wrong and the resolve to change our course to get it right.
Let me leave you with one thought. I come from Delaware, and I have been to the Dover Air Force Base, the location of our mortuary. When the men and women at the Dover Air Force Base receive our soldiers and sailors and airmen and their families on that long, last journey home, they know what this is about. When those planes fly over Delaware and land in the middle of the night, those of us who live there are reminded that this is not about politics.
This is not about politics. It's about whether we believe with every fiber in our being that we're fundamentally right or that someone else is dangerously wrong. It's not about assigning blame; it's about partnership. This is about the last journey home to the Dover Air Force Base for so many Americans. It's about those brave Americans who have died doing everything in their power to get it right. We owe them no less than acknowledging where we are wrong and making a serious attempt to get it right. This is not merely the stuff of foreign policy wonks like us. This is life and death, and we have a chance-we have a chance-to get it right.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MR. CAMPBELL: Thank you very much, Senator Biden.
He'll now take about five or 10 minutes of questions. Can I ask you to identify yourself first, please?
Q (Off mike) -- Fox Channel 5. Shortly, Secretary Rumsfeld is having a news conference apparently to announce some increased troop deployment. Your reaction to that?
SEN. BIDEN: I am pleased. It's necessary, in my view. I remember coming back again with Dick Lugar and others from Iraq saying we needed more forces, and originally finding that everyone, including my friend John McCain, thought that was a bad idea. And then John and others going, coming back saying we need more troops.
I recently spoke with a four-star former commander of the United States Army and I asked him whether or not, whether or not there was a reluctance on the part of commanders to ask for more troops. And I told him that old joke I once-literally, not a joke, it was a reality. I was the junior member of the Judiciary Committee. I went to Senator Eastland because when Senator Ellender died, I wanted to be made chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime. And I ended the conversation by saying, "Mr. Chairman, should I send you a letter?" He took the cigar out of his mouth and he said, "Joe, let me tell you something, son, never send the chairman a letter he doesn't want to receive." (Laughter.)
And I asked whether that was the case with regard to our field commanders. And this particular general, retired, said he thought it was. And I said, "Well, why do you think that?" He said look and listen to what the commanders say when the press ask them that question: Do you need any force, any additional force? He said they all answer the following way-I don't know this for a fact, it's just his assertion: I have all the troops I need for the mission I've been assigned.
And the mission assigned is not the broad mission that the Iraqi people think is the purpose of U.S. military presence in their country, which is to restore order for them to be able to go to the grocery store, to be out of the hands of these whacko criminals that are wandering around, et cetera.
And so I've believed for a long time, a view shared by my Republican colleague John McCain and many others as well, that we need more force in Iraq. That's not a popular position to take. But we need more force now in order to have less force later. We need to gain control of security in Iraq. And I'm glad the secretary is going to accede to General Abizaid's request.
Q Senator, some are going to think that this reminds them of Vietnam, someplace where we really didn't know where we were going but we continued to send troops and more troops and more troops. Do you have any concerns that this may be like Vietnam in that sense?
SEN. BIDEN: I acknowledge that people will-may conclude that, but that's because they've not been given the plan. That's because they're uncertain about what the plan is. What is the strategy? How are we going to accomplish our goal?
There is no correlation, in my view, between Vietnam and Iraq in fact. The thesis, the premise upon which we moved in Vietnam, from my generation, I thought was faulty from the beginning, and that was the domino theory. I can remember running, as a 29-year-old kid, for the Senate saying I'm willing to bet my career, if I'm elected, that you'll never see a Russian fleet in Cam Ranh Bay. We never have, by the way. So it was a faulty premise to begin with.
In this case, the premise is not faulty. Securing Iraq, ridding the world and Iraqis of Saddam Hussein and beginning the process of establishing a representative government in Iraq can have a profound positive impact on our national security needs for generations to come. And failure now will have an equally profound negative impact. And so there is no correlation in terms of the mission and the necessity of the mission, in my view.
But there is a correlation in the sense that the American people have not been told yet, nor had the military been told, exactly what is going to be expected of them. There isn't anybody I know in uniform who didn't think we were going to need over 100,000 forces there for a long, long time.
You know, we say they're just professionals over there. And all our soldiers are professionals, somehow as if there's no-you know, they signed on for this. You know, folks, the National Guard's making up an increasingly larger percentage of the fighting force in Iraq, necessarily. And they are capable, they are brave, they are committed, and they can do the job.
But we have to understand that when we up them another six months without having told them that this was likely to be expected-which it should have been anticipated-they're a little upset, because they're making 30 to 50 percent less than they were at home. And they have the same mortgage payment. They have the same car payment. They have the same tuition payment for their child. And as we came back from Iraq a year ago reporting, they were already discontented about that.
If you told them flat out, up front-there's not a single thing American men and women in uniform will not do for their country. The thing I find that they resent the most is being basically told-not basically-they'll be greeted as liberators, everything from rose petals-I'm exaggerating now-they'll be greeted with-the duration will be short, and Shinseki was wrong, the economic advisers were wrong, this is all doable quickly. That's what's generating resentment. And I still think the president has to come forward and say, hey folks, look, it's going to be a long haul. This is going to hurt a lot. Everybody's got to be in the deal. And I'm not going to ask your kids to pay for this. We're going to pay for it, up front. Up front. It's just not fair.
Q Senator, Sunny Ephram (sp) with the L.A. Times. Could you comment on what you think Richard Armitage should and can realistically be expected to accomplish in his tour of the Middle East, in terms of drumming allies, as you've outlined? And second, do you think the administration's decision yesterday to back the Sharon plan will undermine ability to generate support from allies?
SEN. BIDEN: Yes. His job is going to be incredibly difficult. It's been made more difficult by the president's-in my view, the president's press conference yesterday. It's not so much what the president said that causes the difficulty; it's what he didn't say I think that causes the difficulty. The corollary to saying what everyone knows-it was in Taba, it was in-I mean, everyone's acknowledged that there will not be an absolute return to the '67 borders. Apr 15, 2004 13:39 ET .EOF
There will be some swap along the way for major Israeli settlements, but the other side of that coin is-that the Palestinians should have heard is, but guess what, all those other settlements have to go.
There is a plan that Sharon put forward, some aspects of which are difficult to take issue with. The question is, what's the American plan? Sharon has had no partner to engage, as he puts it. He's right. But who have we engaged? What is our plan? What happened to the road map? As someone said, the cars are parked on the shoulder of the road on that road map. We've got to start the engines, folks. The president was out in, you know, Indianapolis, "start your engines!" Let's start our engines. What's the plan? I'm not being facetious.
So it's not so much what the president said, it's what he didn't say. And I think it's going to make the single straightest, most honest diplomat I have dealt with in the administration of seven presidents, Rich Armitage-it's going to make his job harder.
Yes. Or-yes. I'm not-you decide. (Laughter.)
MR. CAMPBELL: In the back. Sir.
Q Senator, John Mulligan from the Providence Journal. Your point on the distinction between the premises for Iraq and Vietnam-on the flip side of that, do you believe the cost of failure here is larger than in Vietnam?
SEN. BIDEN: Much larger in terms of our geopolitical interest. It is hopefully, pray to God, not as large in terms of our internal political interest. Vietnam so divided America that we're still litigating this issue in this presidential campaign, Vietnam. We litigated it in the last campaign. As long as anyone in my generation is alive we'll be litigating it. It was the ultimate divisive-the single most divisive thing that happened, in my view, since the Civil War in terms of people's attitudes. So I don't think it runs the risk of that, pray God, but I do think that there is more at stake if we fail in a literal geopolitical sense.
No Russian fleets ended up in Cam Ranh Bay, but the Sunni Triangle in a civil war may become a permanent haven for international terrorism. And all of the democratizers and modernizers will probably go underground in the entire Middle East for the next decade in the face of such a failure.
The prospect of civil war in November of '06 rather than a permanent elected body in November of '06 in Iraq raises an awful lot of frightening questions. I'm not saying it will happen, but I'm saying if the failure is that-results in that, our geopolitical interests will have been badly damaged, not just our reputation, our actual interests.
MR. CAMPBELL: Last question. Sir?
SEN. BIDEN: I'm willing to take more, unless you got to go.
Q My name is Said Arikat from Al-Quds newspaper. Many hope that you continue to say what you're saying, sir. I think many of us need to hear it.
Picking up on your baseball anecdote and on (Glenda's ?) question, why should people across the Arab world, and in Europe, in fact, continue to have faith in the credibility of the U.S., when in fact its attitude towards Iraq and the U.N. is -- (inaudible) -- pick and choose? And on the other hand, really the president yesterday abandoned U.S. commitment to 242 and 338 and, in fact, abandoned his own vision for the road map-that is how it is perceived-and in essence, departed fundamentally from a policy that for a long time held that settlements are an obstacle to peace.
Thank you, sir.
MR. CAMPBELL: The senator has agreed to take a few more after this. So thank you.
SEN. BIDEN: First of all, I wouldn't characterize the president's assertions yesterday as having abandoned both those resolutions. And I-although I think-I wish he had gone further and laid out both sides of this.
But the reason why the people in the Arab world should in fact attempt to-notwithstanding their frustration with us-pitch in and try to help resolve and secure the peace in Iraq is because they have so much at stake. My observation, after 32 years as a United States senator -- 31 years-is that countries act out of their self- interest. And there's an overwhelming self-interest on the part of the people of the Middle East that this not end up in a civil war, but end up in a democratically elected, representative government. So that's the reason.
My mother has an expression. Long ago-not any longer, but long ago I used to have a temper. I don't have a temper anymore. (Laughter.) I gave it to John McCain. (Laughter.) And that was long ago.
And my mother, when I was a kid, when she'd see manifestations of my temper, used to say maybe what your mother said to you in such circumstances: don't bite your nose off to spite your face.
Well, the reason why I think, notwithstanding the frustration, the Arab people and Arab nations should want to work toward helping us and the world establish a stable Iraq is because to fail to do so would give them the satisfaction of seeing us fail, but they would be without a nose. They would be biting their nose off to spite their face. And we may be the face. But it would be against their interest.
And that's why I always assume, as a politician, as a senator, as a lawyer, as a human being, I am required, for me to understand things, to operate on the assumption that if the best interest of an individual is self-evident to that individual, they are more likely to respond to their self-interest than to their anger, frustration or desire to see something else happen to someone else.
Q Senator Biden, I'm Richard (Moss ?) from (King ?) Publishing. If the president is unable to build a large international coalition to stabilize Iraq, are we looking at a large, indefinite U.S. presence?
SEN. BIDEN: Yes.
Q Thank you
Q You were talking about the disproportionate burden being borne by the American sons and daughters of the middle class. I know you're talking about involving other countries. But what do you think about the proposal that Charlie Rangel is again putting out today about reinstituting a draft system here?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I don't think that is necessary now. The way we can deal with this burden is by having those who can afford to pay for it pay for it, those who are in a position to do other positive things relating to the polity of this country, to call on them to do it. We've asked very little of anyone in this war.
But Charlie has a point that may become more obvious as time goes on, because I'm fearful that we're going to see the retention rates and the reenlistment rates, particularly of the National Guard and Reserve, fall off a cliff. I pray I am wrong.
I pray I am wrong.
You know, I'm sure I'm not the only person who was both pleased and apprehensive having a child who not-was not in the military and, when Iraq occurred, based on his experience, decided he had to join the Army, the National Guard. He's married, has a law practice, 35 -- 34 years old, and one day he says to me, "By the way, Dad, what are you doing on Friday?"
I said, "What are you talking about?"
He said, "I'd like you to come and pin my bars on for me."
I said, "What?!"
He said, "Well, Dad," jokingly, "you guys got us into this. Somebody's got to deal with it."
He hasn't been called up yet, but the units he's attached to may or may not.
I'm sure there are tens of thousands of young women and men who similarly responded-in the Guard, outside the Guard, in the military and outside the military.
But I tell you, unless they think there is a workable plan, that there is an endgame-not an exit strategy, just an endgame, how do we accomplish the mission that they signed up for-I think we're going to create a fairly cynical bunch of otherwise incredibly patriotic young Americans.
MR. CAMPBELL: Okay. Really the last question. Up here.
Q I'm Al Millikan, affiliated with Washington Independent Writers. What do you see as the impact of the absence now of the financial rewards provided by Saddam Hussein to the families of the suicide-bombing terrorists who attacked Israelis in the Holy Land? Wasn't that substantial monies Saddam Hussein so generous-was so generous with a real here-and-now incentive to terrorists beyond the deceived desire for a paradise filled with virgins, as well as an imminent threat?
SEN. BIDEN: Look, it wasn't a good thing, but I would ask-I'd answer the question by-really in a rhetorical sense. How many fewer suicide bombers have occurred since Saddam Hussein stopped paying? (Pause.)
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)