Transcript: Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) on Fox News Sunday

The following is a transcribed excerpt from Fox News Sunday, June 29, 2003.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: Israeli forces plan to begin withdrawing tomorrow from the Gaza Strip. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has arrived in the region for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Both have been repeating long-standing demands of the other side. Palestinian militants have suspended discussions about a proposed three-month truce with Israel because they can't agree on conditions for laying down or taking up arms.

And in Iraq, U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer has told the BBC that capturing or killing Saddam Hussein would go a long way toward stabilizing the country. He says Hussein's apparent survival has boosted the morale and aggression of remaining members of his Baath Socialist Party.

Iraq remains very much in the news. U.S. forces yesterday found and identified the remains of Army Sgt. 1st Class Gladimir Philippe and Army Pfc. Kevin Ott. The two went missing last Wednesday outside Baghdad.

Last week, the Pentagon indicated a new series of deployments to Iraq may be in the offing. Joining us now to discuss this and more, Senator Joseph Biden, who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq.

Senator Biden, first, I want to get your impression of the status of U.S. troops in Iraq today.

U.S. SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): In peril. The war is still on, Tony. I met with a lot of our military guys out there, and they basically said the war is not over, mission is not accomplished, long, long way to go, need more troops and need significant infusion of European police officers, roughly 5,800, so we can begin to stand up an Iraqi police force while we have order.

SNOW: Exactly how many troops do you think we need?

BIDEN: Well, I don't know exactly. I'm not a military man, but I think we need somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 other troops.

Look, Tony, one of the problems I found is that we are not able to communicate very effectively to the Iraqi people why the water is not on, why the electric's not working and why the sabotage is occurring.

And there's two ways to communicate it. One, we should be up on the air more, literally, with Iraqi spokespersons talking to the Iraqi people.

And secondly, I want to see French, German, I want to see Turkish patches on people's arms sitting on the street corners, standing there in Iraq. That's one way to communicate to the Iraqi people we are not there as occupiers. The international community is there as liberators.

And we've got to get over this ideological fixation on the part of Mr. Rumsfeld and Cheney of not letting the Europeans and NATO come in. I met with George Robertson, the head of NATO, he said they're ready to come in in large numbers.

SNOW: OK, Senator, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says he would like to see an international force. To your knowledge, are the French, who were opposed to the war, ready to send troops there?

BIDEN: They are ready to send troops there, to my knowledge, and I've gotten that from NATO.

The international troops they're talking about are Indian and Bangladeshi. They're putting great pressure on the Indians to send 20,000 forces, that's fine. But NATO, NATO, NATO, NATO should be in, NATO's trained with us, NATO can coordinate with us, NATO can operate under a U.S. command.

SNOW: But, Senator, NATO has been involved in a number of these missions, and we were told 10 years ago or so that they would already be done in Bosnia. They're still there.

BIDEN: That's not true, Tony. That's not true. You never heard anybody who knew anything, including me, saying that.

SNOW: Well, President -- you heard American officials saying, but let's not quibble over what was said at the time. They're still there.

BIDEN: Well, no, but President Clinton changed his mind on it. President Clinton grew up on that one. He changed his mind on that.

Tony, we're in Baghdad, as Senator Lugar and I have been saying on your program since last August, we're in Baghdad for a decade, not a day. This isn't a day after, this is decade after.

Hopefully, we're going to be there a hell of a lot -- heck of a lot less time than five years, but right now it's unrealistic to think we're not going to be required to be there, in transition, even once there's an Iraqi government, for a long time with a lot of forces. Shinseki was right.

SNOW: Senator, in your opinion, based on what you've heard from American military officials, they're not going to speak freely before members of Congress, they're not going to try to stand up directly to the commander in chief.

Do they think right now that they're being shorted on personnel and equipment?


SNOW: So they...

BIDEN: Not on equipment, just on personnel and on the willingness to expand this responsibility internationally. They all understand it. These guys are on the ground. I'm talking about everything from the private first class you meet with to the full colonel you meet with. They understand. This is still a war.

And for example...

SNOW: Senator -- sorry, go ahead.

BIDEN: And getting Bremer is correct. You may recall that some of us had disagreement with the secretary of defense saying it wasn't that important that Saddam be captured. It's critically important Saddam be captured or killed, critically important, because the people of Baghdad, after three decades, look out there and wonder whether he's coming back.

Not coming back to take over the country, but coming back to reap retribution on them if they cooperate, to kill them, to, in fact, assassinate their families. That's what they're used to.

It matters a great deal whether or not we get Saddam Hussein, and Bremer's finally saying it.

SNOW: Senator, a couple of questions related to that. First, when it comes to U.S. troops, should they be more free to go ahead and try as best they can preemptively to go ahead and start striking targets, Baath Party targets and others, within Iraq?

BIDEN: I don't get the impression they're being restrained if they have a reasonable target. And so I think they should have a free hand.

Again, I believe, Tony, this is still a war. He is gone, the regime is toppled. But, for example, I'll give you one example. One general I spoke with said, look, Senator, this is a fairly sophisticated group. What they do is -- it's the old Fedayeen, we believe, and it's the old Republican Guard, and they're beginning to mobilize and organize.

And he said, for example, they give instructions to those who come out of the crowd, don't shoot an American in the chest or in the head, shoot for his face or the four-inch space behind his helmet and above -- below his helmet and above his flak jacket. So that's why you carried the other day, a young soldier, someone came out of the crowd and shot him in the back of the head.

This is not a bunch of rag-tag folks who are -- they may be rag- tag in organization, but these are trained folks, and this is a war zone.

SNOW: Senator, that raises a question that I wanted to ask you anyway, which is, the opposition, at this point, you think it is more rag-tag than organized. Do you see it organizing?

BIDEN: Yes...

SNOW: Is there any sign that there is a central organization? If so, who's responsible?

BIDEN: Well, it's hard to say it's central. But it does seem as thought it's being organized by people who are trained military, serious military people, maybe even the Fedayeen or the Republican Guard.

The idea that there's a network nationwide that is fully coordinated, I don't believe that exists at this point. The intelligence community may have something of late that I'm unaware of. But it is increasingly becoming bolder and increasingly becoming more coordinated.

And I think that's why Ambassador Bremer -- who is firstrate, by the way, we have firstrate people on the ground -- who is saying now it's important that we get Saddam Hussein because they'll become boldened.

And if we don't get this done relatively soon -- and again, Tony, it's so important to bring in the Europeans. It's so important to bring in NATO, not only for what it shows, but what they can do. These are a gang that can shoot straight.

SNOW: Understood.

What about the presence of foreign fighters? We're told that fighters from a number of places, including even Chechnya, may be making their way into Iraq over the Syrian border. Is that still a concern?

BIDEN: It is a concern, and also the Iranian border. What's also a concern is some of the more radical clerics in the south are apparently having some consultation, one in particular, with Iranian top officials.

And so there is a concern -- I think the way this works, Tony, to the degree to which it looks like its starting to spin out of control, this will increase. To the degree to which the lights come on, the water comes on, the streets are safe and we begin to look like we are gaining control, it diminishes.

SNOW: All right, Senator, I want to get a sense of your faith, or lack thereof, in American intelligence so far.

First, I want to play a quote from General Abizaid, who is now the head of Central Command. He was speaking before the Senate last week on the intelligence during and after the war. Let's listen in.


GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, CENTRAL COMMAND: My overall assessment of how intelligence served us throughout the campaign would be that intelligence was the most accurate that I've ever seen on the tactical level, probably the best I've ever seen on the operational level, and perplexingly incomplete on the strategic level with regard to weapons of mass destruction.


SNOW: Senator, you've noted in the past that every intelligence service on earth seemed to believe that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. What do you think?

BIDEN: I think, first of all, the general's assessment, the way he breaks it down is precisely accurate.

And when he talks about the larger strategic notion of weapons of mass destruction, everybody knew Saddam, including the last head of the inspection team that left in '98, that he had chemical weapons and that he was working on biological and that he had used them and he had them stockpiled. I believe that to be true. I believed it then. I believe it now.

What I did not believe then, on your show, Tony, and I do not believe now, is that there was a full-blown, about-to-be-reconstituted nuclear capability, that there was an ability to disseminate these weapons of mass destruction with a lethality that could kill tens of thousands of people. That was either implied or said by the administration. I think they were exaggerations, the last two pieces.

And that's why you heard me say repeatedly during the last year that we should stick with what we know. We had a sufficient case to go into Iraq, merely on the cataloguing of what he had in 1998. The international community knew he had that and knew he used it. That was sufficient. We shouldn't have exaggerated it.

SNOW: So you think, looking back on it, still, that it was a just war, in your opinion?

BIDEN: Oh, I do think it was a just war.

SNOW: Senator, also, one last question about Saddam: Is it your sense, based again on your conversations with people there, that they think they're drawing a beat on him?

BIDEN: No, that's not my sense. My sense is, they don't know.

SNOW: All right. Senator, let's turn to Iran. You mentioned that apparently some people are coming across the border. How significant, in your opinion, is Iranian meddling right now in Iraq?

BIDEN: I think it is -- and again, I don't have the latest intelligence, meaning in the last three or four days, but my impression is that it is troublesome but, so far, not significant.

But again, Tony, if it looks like -- I think the whole purpose of the Fedayeen, if it's the Fedayeen, and the old Republican Guard, and ginning up their efforts here, is to demoralize us.

To the extent that we're demoralized, to the extent that we continue to try to own this all ourselves, I think this will increase. I think they're willing to, like the Syrians, like Bashar Assad, I think they're willing to just see how far they can go to meddle.

SNOW: So...

BIDEN: And...

SNOW: OK, so they...

BIDEN: ... so I think it's increasingly a problem if we don't get this under control.

SNOW: Should the United -- there was an interesting poll that came out last week that indicated that some stunning percentage of the American public, and I forget exactly what it was right now, actually supported the use of military force in Iran.

Should we -- should the United States government at this point rule out the use of force against the government of Iran?

BIDEN: We should never rule out the use of force against anyone. We should not talk about the use of force against Iran now. We should take care of first things first.

And the way to take care of what we have now, and the way to effect events in Iran most stunningly, is to lock down and get control of Iraq. That will have a really salutary impact upon Iran. As opposed to threatening Iran while we know we are going to have seven of 10 divisions of the United States Army tied down in Iraq and other places.

SNOW: OK. Senator Biden, let me switch to the Middle East. Are you at all optimistic about the prospects of a cease-fire? Do you trust a cease-fire, at least as it's presently contemplated, between Israel and the Palestinians?

BIDEN: No, but I think the Israelis are prepared to take a chance on it.

Look, this is all premised on the proposition -- and I met with the foreign minister, I met with -- when I was in Jordan, I met with some of the Palestinian leadership.

BIDEN: And it's all premised on the proposition that if they gain control of Gaza, can demonstrate to their people that they control the north-south road in Gaza, which is control of Gaza and there's free movement there, that, in turn, the people will back them up in taking on the extreme elements, particularly Hamas in Gaza.

That's a bit of a bet. The Israelis, I think, are taking a chance on that, knowing that they can go back in if, in fact, Abu Mazen and the new Palestinian Authority does not step up to the ball.

The real problem here is they don't have the wherewithal right now to step up. I'm not sure they have the will. They don't have the wherewithal. So this is going to be a dicey moment here.

But I do not trust Hamas at all. I think it's a flat terrorist organization. And that's why I urge that we should be giving Abu Mazen some significant financial help now, internationally, so that he can go out there and pick up those social functions that Hamas is doing that he doesn't have the money to do now, to demonstrate to the people they don't need Hamas, that they have to go to him in order to get the road, the water, the sewer, the hospital, et cetera.

SNOW: All right, and that he and not Yasser Arafat is the go-to guy.

Finally, Senator, there's been speculation -- there are nine people running for president in your party. Are you likely to join -- do you think -- have you -- let me back it away.

BIDEN: Good.

SNOW: Let me try to get you in a corner first. Have you ruled out running for president?

BIDEN: I'm sorry, I'm not being smart, I didn't hear you.

SNOW: Have you ruled out running for president?

BIDEN: No, I have not ruled out running for president. I haven't changed my position, that I would make my decision in the fall. If I were to run, I would announce sometime in October. If I decide not to run, I would announce sometime between September and October that I'm not going to run.

SNOW: OK. You've got Howard Dean saying that he's -- let me just play a quick Howard Dean clip for you. I want to get a quick reaction to that.

BIDEN: Sure. OK.


HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I stood up against what this administration was doing, even when 70 percent of the American people supported the war, and I believed that the evidence was not there. I refused to change my view. And as it turned out, I was right.


SNOW: Do you think that ought to be the view of the Democratic Party?


SNOW: So do you -- do you think you would like to see somebody challenging him a little more vigorously on the hustings?

BIDEN: Oh, I think it's hard for anybody to challenge anybody right now. No one's listening. And the difficulty all the candidates now have, as you know, Tony, there's no bar over which they can jump to demonstrate anything right now. It's kind of a doldrum period, and so we play things -- I'm not being critical -- we play things like Howard Dean's assertion that he was right. What was he right about?

SNOW: OK, Senator, I will leave that rhetorical question for another day. Thanks so much for joining us.

BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot, Tony. It's always a pleasure to be on your show.