Biden: Put the Onus on Iraq's Government

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) has a plan to reduce the number of American troops by the end of 2007. He says it's time for the Iraqi government to step up and make the political concessions necessary to operate as a true unity government. Melissa Block talks with Biden.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In January, when the new Democratic controlled Congress is sworn in, Senator Joseph Biden will chair the Foreign Relations Committee. He favors a plan to decentralize Iraq, giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis their own regions with control over their own security. He's also a strong advocate for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2007 and redeploying some 20,000 forces to a nearby country or Kurdistan.

I asked Senator Biden if a political solution would need to come first.

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): This time next year, one of two conditions are going to prevail. There is a widened civil war in which Americans are caught in the crossfire and have no ability to effect, which means the American people and others will demand we leave because there's no policy for success to win.

Or we will have begun to withdraw American troops substantially because there is a political settlement. There will not be, at least with the consent of the American people, 140,000 American forces in Iraq this time next year. It will break the military. It will be of no value in preventing a civil war if there's not a political settlement, and if there is political settlement, it'll provide the means by which we can rationally leave and leave a more stable country behind.

NORRIS: Let me pursue your first scenario just a little bit longer. Assuming there is no political solution, there is a widening civil war and U.S. troops are withdrawing, what are we leaving behind then? What was the point?

Senator BIDEN: We're leaving behind chaos. We're leaving behind chaos. And what you'll end up having is you'll have a civil war that will end up being fought out and resolved, and God only knows what the repercussions of it will be. There's all kinds of scenarios you could think through, from a strongman in the military taking control of the civilian government, from the Iranians and the Turks for totally different reasons getting engaged in a wider regional war. So it's all bad. The question is how bad it would be.

NORRIS: If you follow that nightmare scenario that you've laid out, I wonder what you say to the families of the 2,800 plus soldiers who've died in Iraq?

Senator BIDEN: I say I'm not going to let your brother die. I'm not going to let your sister die for the same reason your son died. I say that in fact we could have avoided this had we done what I suggested and other suggested four years, three and a half years ago, saying we should have put in another 100,000 troops.

NORRIS: But that was then.

Senator BIDEN: That was then. That's my point. It's passed now. Look, there's certain things that we've passed the point of. We've passed the point of being able to give an open-ended commitment to a country that is unwilling to resolve its political dilemma. We've passed the point where we can add a large number of troops. We've passed the point where we can set out only guide points. We need answers on what are we going to do and not some vague agenda.

NORRIS: Senator Biden, there's a lot of anticipation of the upcoming report from the Baker-Hamilton commission, the Iraq Study Group. Do you think too much emphasis is being placed on that report and have we essentially outsourced our foreign policy to that commission?

Senator BIDEN: Well, we sort of have outsourced the foreign policy, but it is positive in the sense that if it is a unifying bipartisan report that actually does something other than punt the ball down the field. There's three things it has to do. One, it has to tackle the issue of American troop redeployments. I don't know what we need other than a giant megaphone painted on the sky that the American public has said enough is enough is enough. Give us a plan and redeploy rationally our troops.

The second thing, it has to propose a clear political roadmap for Iraq. They're not going to be able to do it alone. It's going to require outside pressure and that's one of the reasons why a year and a half ago I called for an international conference to bring the neighbors in to put pressure on their internal constituencies to reach a political settlement.

Thirdly, it has to speak to the engagement of Iraqis' neighbors because the idea that we're going to have any prospect of ultimate success without the neighbors signing on is not realistic. And people say to me well, Joe, you called for this the last couple of years. What makes you think Iran would have any interest? Let me tell you. Because if we leave, guess what happens? You have 17 million Shia Arabs learning how to shoot straight and form an army sitting on a border of a country with 72 million people, 68 million of whom are Persian Indo-European Shia who in fact don't like their government very much.

NORRIS: So you're saying bring Syria, bring Iran to the table.

Senator BIDEN: Absolutely, and Turkey and Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Because they all have internal constituencies and they all have external interests.

NORRIS: Senator Biden, thanks very much.

Senator BIDEN: Thank you very, very much. It's complicated stuff, but in a sense it's pretty simple. You need a political solution.

NORRIS: That's Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware. He'll be the next chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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