NARRATOR: "In a world this dangerous, with a crisis as tough as Iraq, hard truths need to be told. Joe Biden says this war must end now."Q: In 2005, you said: "We can call it quits and withdraw from Iraq. I think that would be a gigantic mistake. Or we can set a deadline for pulling out, which I fear will only encourage our enemies to wait us out--equally a mistake." You've changed your mind?
A: Well, I have changed my mind, but I haven't changed my mind in any fundamental way. If you go back, I [always said] you need a political solution. And there's time, I thought back then, if the administration had been wiser, to generate a political solution allowing us to pull out. Now the situation we're in, if the president continues to insist on this strategically-flawed notion of being able to establish a central government that can control Iraq before we leave, I ain't buying into that.
A: I will insist on a target date to get American combat forces out, all but those who are necessary to protect our civilians that are remaining there, and to deal with al-Qaeda.
Q: If the president does not accept a firm withdrawal date, will you vote to cut off funding?
A: I will vote, as long as there's a single troop in there, for the money necessary to protect them, period.
Q: Many Democrats who will vote in the primary will say "The only way to stop this war is to cut off funding. Everything else is small talk, and unless you're willing to do that, you will not be the Democratic nominee."
A: You need 67 votes to cut that off. All 51 votes will do is delay building these vehicles [with armor to protect troops]. And if you tell me I've got to take away this protection for these kids in order to win the election, some things aren't worth it. Some things are worth losing over. That would be worth losing over.
A: I still am opposed to public funding for abortion. It goes to the question of whether or not you're going to impose a view to support something that is not a guaranteed right but an affirmative action to promote.
A: I did and I do.
And the Supreme Court came and basically upheld that ban, and you criticized the Supreme Court.
Q: They upheld the ban, and then they engaged in what we lawyers call dicta that is frightening. You had an intellectually dishonest rationale for an honest justification for upholding the ban. I know this is going to sound arcane--they blurred the distinction between the government's role in being involved in the first day and the ninth month. They became paternalistic, talking about the court could consider the impact on the mother and keeping her from making a mistake. This is all code for saying, "Here we come to undo Roe v. Wade." What they did is not so much the decision, the actual outcome of the decision, it's what attended the decision that portends for a real hard move on the court to undo the right of privacy. That's what I'm criticizing about the court's decision.
A: Well, I was 29 years old when I came to the US Senate, and I have learned a lot. Look, I'm a practicing Catholic, and it is the biggest dilemma for me in terms of comporting my religious and cultural views with my political responsibility.
Q: Do you believe that life begins at conception?
A: I am prepared to accept my church's view. I think it's a tough one. I have to accept that on faith. That's why the late-term abortion ban, where there's clearly viability.
Q: But, senator, we have a deficit. We have Social Security and Medicare looming.
A: The answer is you have to put it all on the table. We put Social Security on the right path for 60 years. Social Security's not the hard one to solve. Medicare, that is the gorilla in the room, and you've got to put all of it on the table.
A: Well, I think it probably is because social mores change. But I don't think the government can dictate the definition of marriage to religious institutions. But government does have an obligation to guarantee that every individual is free of discrimination. And there's a distinction. I think government should not be able to dictate to religions the definition of marriage, but on a civil side, government has the obligation to strip away every vestige of discrimination as to what individuals are able to do in terms of their personal conduct.
So New Hampshire coming out in favor of civil unions is OK by you?
A: Yes. Yes, it is.
A: Look, this is a very rough game. My referring to Barack as articulate, it was a mistake. The good thing about being around a long time is people have a basis upon which to judge you. And I didn't find any serious person in the civil rights community, because of my long history and long support for civil rights, thinking that I was trying to insult Barack Obama in any way. I didn't find anyone suggesting that anything else I have said goes to the heart of whether or not my record is being undercut by what I've stated. But it is true. It is true that my candor sometimes get me in trouble.
A: It was.
Q: And you learned from it?
A: I did. It was 20 years ago, and I learned from it. People have had 20 years to judge since then whether or not I am the man they see or I am what I was characterized as being 20 years ago. I learned a lot from it, and, let me tell you, it was a bitter way to learn it.
A: That language is actually the language that Carl Levin and I drafted, which said that, "Mr. President, you got to start moving combat troops out of harm's way now." This tries to get this president to change his strategy. He operates on the premise that, if we put enough troops in the middle of a civil war, we can give breeding room to a group of people in Baghdad to get together and form a strong central government that's a democracy. That will not happen in your lifetime or mine. I said that four years ago; I say it now. The only rational purpose for troops in Iraq now: train Iraqis, prevent al-Qaeda from occupying large chunks of territory, and we should begin to decentralize the government. That's the underlying essence of what the language in this bill is about.
BIDEN: I think it is unconstitutional to say we're going to tell you, "You can go, but we're going to micromanage the war." When we wrote the Constitution, the intention was to give the commander in chief the authority how to use the forces when you authorize him to be able to use the forces.Q: [By linking spending authorization to a withdrawal date,] aren't you now micromanaging?
(Videotape, January 7, 2007)
BIDEN: Not at all. We have authority to tell him how to use the forces. We have a responsibility to tell him what the mission is. He does not have the authority to engage in a mission of the use of our force that we do not authorize. And that's the thrust of what we're trying to do here. We're trying to fundamentally change what this president is using our forces for. He's in the midst of a civil war with a flawed objective of establishing a strong central government.
A: No, we're not setting a deadline. Read what the bill says. It says the target date, left up to the generals to determine whether or not it is appropriate to withdraw all forces.
Q: Well, a target date is setting a deadline.
A: No, no, but it leaves forces behind. We're trying to change the mission. The problem here is this is also a moving target. I also called for more troops a couple years ago, in order to stop a civil war. Once the civil war began I said all the troops in the world cannot settle a civil war. So what I'm having to respond to, like everyone else, is the president's initiatives and his failures that required different answers at different times.
A: Before we went to war, I wrote a report saying the decade after, and everyone was talking about the day after. And the point I was making was, if you went in and used force, which he should not have done when he did it, that we were committing and signing on to a decade. That was the minimum requirement. I also pointed out we needed more troops. I also pointed out at that time we would not be greeted with open arms. I also pointed out at that time oil would not pay for this. It was a warning to the president. The objective of us giving [Bush the Iraq war] authority was to get inspectors back in, bring the pressure of the world community. [And to decide] are we going to lift sanctions on Iraq or are we going to put more sanctions on Iraq? That was the context.
A: They are mistaken. They are making a mistake that is not practical. I don't know how that can work.
Q: Senators Reid & Feingold have a bill that says: "No funds appropriated may be expended to continue the deployment in Iraq after March 31st, "2008." Do you support that?
A: Here's where we may end up. This president makes it so difficult to reach the objective--which is to leave Iraq, leaving behind a country secure within its own borders, not a threat to its neighbors, that is a loosely federated republic. It may get so bad that we do not have that option, and the only option we have available to us is to withdraw and try to contain the civil war inside Iraq. We are not there yet. And until we reach that point, I am not prepared to say there are no circumstances under which, after a date certain, we would not have a single troop inside of Iraq.
A: I was correct about that. I also said at the time that I did not think he had weaponized his material, but he did have these stockpiles everywhere.
A: It turned out they didn't, but everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them. What he did with them, who knows?
Q: Gen. Zinni, when he heard the discussion about WMD that Saddam had, said, "I've never heard that" in any of the briefings he had as head of the Central Command. How could you as a US Senator be so wrong?
A: I wasn't wrong. When asked about aluminum tubes, I said they're for artillery. I don't believe they're for cascading.
Q: But you said Saddam was a threat.
A: He was a threat.
Q: In what way?
A: If Saddam was left unfettered, with sanctions lifted and billions in his coffers, then he had the ability to purchase a tactical nuclear weapon.
A: That's unfair. I said it was a mistake between, and you make it sound like I went to Iowa and all of a sudden [changed my position].
Q: Well, there was a change from being a just vote to a mistake.
A: Yeah, because I learned more. We were told at the time that all these Iraqi generals were ready to step up and take on Saddam. We had commitments at the time from the president that he would not move without the international community. There were a whole lot of things that changed.
Q: So what do you regret?
A: I regret having believed that this administration had any competence. If I'd known they were going to misuse the authority we gave them, I would have never ever given them the authority.
A: Oh, I did. I called every intelligence agency before the Foreign Relations Committee, had them all sit there at once. I pointed out to all my colleagues who came that there was vast disagreement among the intelligence community.
Q: But despite the doubts you heard, you voted for the war.
A: I voted to give the president the authority to avoid a war. We had a more constrictive amendment, but he had 55 votes no matter what.
A: It allowed the president to go to war. It did not authorize him to go to it. You make it sound like it said, "Mr. President, go to war." It said, "Mr President, don't go to war." It said "go to the United Nations. Try to get a deal. Get the inspectors back in. Tell us that that's what you're about to do. And, Mr. President, if all else fails, you have authority to use force." That's what it said.
A: I believe we are less safe as a nation now because what has happened is the conduct of this war has so badly damaged our readiness. It has limited our credibility around the world and limited our flexibility in terms of the use of force. We could end the carnage in Darfur tomorrow, but why aren't we doing it? In part we're not doing it because we are so tied down. We could fundamentally change the dynamic in Afghanistan. Why aren't we doing it? Because we are tied down. Saddam was a butcher, the world's happy, may he burn in hell. He deserves it. But in terms of our global positioning, our geopolitical strategy, we are worse off than we were when we had Saddam sitting there because of the impact on our military and the impact on our credibility.
A: Basically, Baker's in a minority. Henry Kissinger & Madeleine Albright have signed onto the plan. If you look at the Baker report, it goes on to say "We may get where Biden is talking about." Guess what? We're getting there. What is this administration implicitly acknowledging by building a wall? They're building a wall, and they're talking about a centralized government? There's never been a time in history where there's been a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence that has ended even remotely reasonably without a federated system. Never. What for the 1st time in history is different? There's an inevitability to what I'm talking about.
The above quotations are from Meet the Press: Meet the Candidates 2008 series, individual interviews with Tim Russert, throughout 2007.
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