Biden Pushes Plan for Partitioned Iraq After Troop Drawdown
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
JIM LEHRER: Now, the third of our senator conversations this week on leaving Iraq. Judy Woodruff has talked with Democrat Carl Levin and Republican Lindsey Graham. Earlier this evening, she interviewed Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Biden, thank you for joining us.
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: Happy to be with you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The future of Iraq, you spoke on the Senate floor today about the Levin-Reed amendment. It didn’t pass, but it would have by next April have all U.S. troops out except for three specific purposes: to defend against al-Qaida; to protect diplomats; and also to train Iraqi troops. How many U.S. troops would it take to do that?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Probably close to 50,000, Judy, but it’s hard to tell. That would be a military decision. When I first wrote that legislation back in January, which became — it was originally the Biden-Hagel, then it became Levin and Biden, and now it’s all the same thing, which is basically to say: Get out of this civil war.
When I spoke to the military, it would be somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 for a while, assuming you’ve got a political settlement in addition to getting us out of the cities and the civil war, to just do those functions.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And how long would they have to stay?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, it would depend on how sure the political settlement was. If I can make an analogy, Judy, look at what we did in Bosnia. There was more sectarian violence in Bosnia from Vlad the Impaler to Milosevic than in 5,000 years of history in what’s now called Iraq.
And what did we do? We had a thing called the Dayton Accords. We separated the parties. Everybody bought onto the separation, that is the Bosniaks were Muslims, the Croats, and the Serbs, and they bought onto it. We’ve had for 10 years — NATO has roughly averaged 20,000 people there. Not one single solitary troop has been killed, thank God, in 10 years. And now they’re uniting to become part of Europe.
So it depends on how solid the political agreement among the parties is in order to determine how long or if it makes any sense in keeping any forces there to try to maintain a political settlement, not trying to enter in the midst of a civil war.
Challenge of leaving smaller force
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you're aware of the skeptics who say leaving a force behind, whether it's 30,000, 50,000, that size or smaller, invites its own problems, because the challenge of defending themselves would be that much harder?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, I think that's true. Look, Judy, absent something along the lines of a so-called Biden-Gelb plan, where you let Iraq become what its constitution calls for, a federal system, where you separate the parties, give them breathing room and control over their own areas, with a limited central government, but allow local police forces and the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish areas, you give them the control over their education, jobs, et cetera, absent that kind of political settlement, including the equal distribution based on population of the oil, then, in fact, they're right, you'd have to get all troops out.
This is not one of these things -- well, look, here's my problem, Judy. When you listen to a lot of Democrats, they say, "Let's leave and hope for the best, because maybe that will get the Iraqis to come to their senses." And you hear the president say, "Just do more of the same and hand it off to the next guy." None of them offer a political solution.
What is the political solution? As General Hayden said -- and I want to quote him, the head of the CIA -- he said, "The inability of the central government to govern is irreversible." I've been saying that for three years. The fatal fundamental strategic flaw everybody is making is to think that there's any combination of actions we could take to generate a strong central government, representing all of the factions in Baghdad that was trusted by the Iraqi people. It will not happen in your lifetime or mine.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, then, how do you create this three-part government, divided into three provinces, Shia, Sunni and Kurds? How does that get created? Is it done by the Iraqis themselves? Does it have to be imposed from the outside?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, first of all, it's what the Iraqi constitution calls for. The Iraqi constitution in Article One says, "We are a decentralized, federal system." Then in Articles 15, 16 and 17, if I'm not mistaken, it says, "Any one of the 18 governates," the 18 political subdivisions of Iraq, "can join with any other or on their own and become a region." The comparable example would be like a state in the United States of America.
If you become a region, you write your own constitution that can't supersede the federal constitution, but gives you control over your security and all of the apparatus like you do in a state, like the state of Delaware, the state of New York. And so the constitution already says it, number one.
Number two, because we have no credibility any longer in the region, I believe this can only occur -- and I suggested this to Secretary Rice today in my meeting -- if, in fact, you've got the permanent five of the Security Council to call for a regional conference on Iraq, including bringing in all of its neighbors, like we did in Dayton to settle the situation in Bosnia, and agreed on the constitutional construct that the Iraqis have, and have the imperator of the international community.
That's the only way it will be brought about. Absent that, Judy, absent a political settlement, it's either all or nothing. You either get completely out, which is the only option I would choose, or you put a considerably greater number of American forces in there, which is not within our capacity to do so.
Consistent with the constitution
JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're talking about a political solution imposed by a U.N.-sponsored regional conference?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: No, not imposed. No, a political solution consistent with the Iraqi constitution. What do you have now? You have a group of leaders -- Sunni, Shia and Kurds -- who have a vested interest in each trying to struggle to gain total control. Yet there are a number of people with -- my eight trips in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq -- a number of Sunni, Shia and Kurds, tribal leaders, who are very interested in the idea of having more local control, as long as there is a central government that has control over the army, the borders, and the distribution of the oil revenues.
Now, you say they won't do that. Well, they will do that if they understand that getting -- the Kurds get 50 percent of $10 now, figuratively speaking, whereas if there were a political settlement, they could get 40 percent of $10,000, because no major oil company is going to invest in Iraqi oil in those wells, which need $60 billion put into the ground over time in order to be able to generate the kind of wealth that's there. But we have no imaginative diplomacy, Judy. We're doing none of this.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Senator, you're not concerned -- and just quickly here, there's so many questions about this -- but about the Shia province aligning itself with Iran?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: No, I'm not.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Kurdish province becoming a problem with Turkey?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: No, it's a problem with Turkey only if it splits up. Here's the alternative, Judy. We try to stay there with 160,000 troops, which we can't. We leave. The place splinters. It won't splinter in three neat parts. It will splinter in six, eight, ten parts. It will splinter along tribal lines.
And then that's when the Kurds declare independence, and that's when the Turks attack them. But if they're a republic within a country with defined borders, that's the only hope for Turkey and the only hope for the Kurds. And if you take a look at what's going on with the Shia, the reason why it makes sense to localize it is you have five different militias or Shia battling with one another. Here you have Sadr in a life-and-death fight with the other militia in that area, and they're not all going to side with or even a majority of them with Iran.
Ultimately leaving Iraq
JUDY WOODRUFF: So how do you decide, Senator, whether to leave U.S. troops there or not?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: If there's a political settlement and the international community's imperator is on it, and it's real, I leave troops there. If there is no political settlement, all the king's horses and all of king's men can't put Iraq together. My son, whose likely to be going over there with his unit next year, they've gotten the notification as a captain, I don't want him going.
But guess what? I don't want my grandson going 15 years from now. And how we leave, what we leave behind will determine whether our grandkids go. But we'll have no choice, in my view, absent a political settlement, no choice but ultimately completely leave Iraq.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what responsibility do you think the United States has to the people of Iraq after it leaves, whether there's a U.S. troop force left or not?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: It has a serious responsibility it will not be able to meet. It will not be able to meet. Let's be honest with one another, Judy. When the American forces leave, absent a political accommodation among the parties, with the international community signing onto it, which is the reason why it could be enforced, just like it was in Bosnia, without that, what's going to happen?
You're going to see the fraction -- you're going to see four or five major Sunni militias killing each other. You're going to see -- I mean, Shia. You're going to see a couple in Anbar province. God only knows what happens between Barzani and Talabani in the north with the Kurds. So you're going to see chaos, and there's going to be a lot of people that will die.
But the flip of it is, there's not enough American forces, absent a political settlement, to prevent that from happening. And one thing the American people won't tolerate, Judy, they will not tolerate losing their sons and daughters just to keep things from getting worse. They'll tolerate losing their sons and daughters if you're making things considerably better and safer for America and the region in the long run.
The need for accommodation
JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, what do the Iraq people have to look forward to?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: The Iraqi people have to look forward to a prayer that their leaders begin to understand the need for accommodation, and that the American government will rally the international community to help them enforce their constitution. And right now, with this president, it does not give them much hope. This president seems impervious to the facts.
There's a famous justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who once said, "Prejudice is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more tightly it closes." Well, for this president, information is like the pupil of the eye. The more information you give it, the more tightly he rejects it. He is living in an unrealistic fantasyland about the state of affairs on the ground in Iraq.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Joe Biden, we thank you very much for being with us.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Tomorrow night's senator conversation will be with Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander. He's a co-sponsor of legislation calling for the president to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.