Did Biden Flip-Flop on Iraq? Iran's Nuclear Ambition, Saber-Rattling

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from August 23, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I am absolutely confident that Iraq will form a national unity government that will be able to sustain that country.

Politics and not war has broken out in Iraq.

THEN-SENATOR JOE BIDEN: Not in the lifetime including these talented young pages will there be a unity government in Baghdad that has th e confidence of all the Iraqi people, able to maintain security, provide opportunity and have a stable unity government. It will not happen.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Vice President Biden today; Senator Biden back in 2007 -- July of 2007. About Iraq and where we are now, let's bring in our panel: Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio; Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles, thoughts?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, when I hear vice president saying that he -- giving us assurances absolutely, there is going to be unity government, this is the wrong way to go about it, I think.

First of all, you shouldn't announce it publicly if you are working behind the scenes. It gives the impression that this is a U.S. creation, the coalition that he says will emerge and it undermines the legitimacy and independence of such a government.

Secondly, we are not exerting that influence behind the scenes. We have a very weak ambassador. We have a president who has shown no interest whatsoever in Iraq. He talks only about ending the war and leaving, not about success.

And, we have an administration that is linked and tied to a rigid withdrawal schedule, arbitrarily chosen by Obama a year-and-a-half ago, thinking we would have a stable government now. But in the absence of it, we have a drawdown, which weakens whatever influence America has in the first place.

So for all of those reasons we've had little influence. The Iranians have had influence on the shaping of the government, the Saudis have and the Syrians and the Turks, each riding its own horse, each creating a stalemate. We have not.

What essentially has happened with the Biden speech is we are talking loudly and carrying no stick at all. Let's be quiet about this and try to exert influence. But again, having withdrawn our troops down to a level where they are going to be in garrison and nowhere else, I'm not sure how strong that influence could be. We should have at least held out until there was a government formed.

BAIER: Nina, combat troops out by the end of August next week and down to 50,000, then all U.S. troops out by the end of 2011. General Ray Odierno this weekend said in order for that to change something strategic would have to -- the strategic dynamic would have to change. In other words, security forces would have to have big political divisions within them that cause them to fracture. He doesn't see that happening, but said if it did, they would be back n a heartbeat.

That's, perhaps, why some of the eyebrow raising happened today with these statements by the vice president.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: The vice president and the president want to make the case that Iraq is ready to take charge with or without this unity government. And it's -- when you look into the next year, 50,000 troops will be there, will probably be drawn into some combat operations even though they are not formally a combat force.

What's going to happen beyond that? It's not clear that Iraq is going to be able to protect its borders. Syria and Iran are champing at the bit to get in. Violence has dropped 90 percent since 2006, but there is still violence there. And you have to raise the question, which this administration doesn't want to address, of whether we shouldn't be leaving in 10,000 or 20,000 troops for the long-term, like a Bosnia or Kosovo. You have to look at potential sectarian violence reigniting and you have to look at the ability of Iraq to actually defend itself and to defend our interests that we fought hard for all those years in Iraq and we lost lives for.

BAIER: Juan, we have talked about it many times here on the panel, the difference between Senator Biden and Senator Obama speaking about the surge and now president and vice president. What about the soundbite we played at the beginning getting in, the stark difference of whether a unity government could be formed?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I think Senator Biden told you the truth. It's very difficult. I don't think these are people in Iraq who are accustomed to our notions of coalition, compromise -- even throwing spitballs, Republican or Democrat at each other, we try to get something done. That's the history of our country. Over there I think it's much more my guys versus your guys and tribal entities that last for generations.

And so, you know -- but at this point the Vice President Biden, I think has to say, yes. He has some optimism. He believes they can do it; go team, go. He is a cheerleader essentially now for a very difficult process.

It should have been done. Initially even Vice President Biden said it should have been done by the end of the summer. Obviously it will not be done by the end of this summer because Ramadan is taking place so you are not going to see that.

But America has so much invested there -- from the lives to money to our reputation to our ability to engineer in that region -- Nina talked about people who are on the edges of that country who would come into a vacuum if there was one of any kind of political and military strength. So we have a lot at stake and we have to just try to urge them on to get something done.

But I must say, when I look at Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, or the former premier, Allawi, it doesn't sound to me like they have any sense of urgency. On the contrary, it seems to me that they are both holding out, thinking they're the ones who are going to prove that they're more stubborn than the other. That undermines our purpose.

And one last point here. You have to think about American sentiment. Americans are tired of this. That's just honest.

EASTON: I think the domestic problem facing this president is enormous. You have to show in Iraq that you are sticking to this timetable, as unrealistic as it may be, if you want to hold on to any support for Afghanistan. I mean, it plays right into that argument.

BAIER: Quickly, I wasn't going to play this soundbite, but this is Senator Obama from January of 2007 on the same topic -- the surge -- just take a listen:


THEN-SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: This surge concept is, in fact, no different from what we have repeatedly tried, but with 20,000 troops we will not -- in any imaginable way be able to accomplish any new progress. The fact of the matter is that we have tried this road before.

In the end, no amount of American forces can solve the political differences that lie at the heart of somebody else's civil war.


BAIER: Charles, do you still think that he has a speech in him about Iraq in which he praises the Bush administration's fortitude on sending more forces in?

KRAUTHAMMER: I don't think I will live ever to see that, but I don't care about whether he's gracious or not. I care if he is effective. At the time of that speech what Democrats argued is we don't need a military surge, we need a diplomatic surge. And the Republicans are always cowboys who want to use war.

In fact it was a fatuous argument because at the time diplomacy would have been useless. We won the war militarily -- that was Bush and Petraeus. As a result, when they handed it over at the inauguration in 2009, the Obama administration had one task, a diplomatic task. That's what Democrats are good at. A year and a half, get an election done, a government in place. It has absolutely failed on that. It had one task, a diplomatic task and it has left us in a situation where we're winding down, we're leaving and the government is extremely unstable and all that was spent in Iraq is now at risk.

BAIER: Up next, Iran talks peace but prepares for war. Stay with us.



MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (via translator): Whenever they get desperate and beaten by Iran's logic, they say that all options are on the table. We are telling you, the West, that all the options are on the table for you as well.

P.R. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Its nuclear ambitions, we believe, will actually in the long run make Iran less secure. But we're still open to constructive dialogue with Iran to try to clarify the questions that we have and the international community has about the true nature of its nuclear programs.

QUESTION: Would you comment about the "ambassador of death"?

CROWLEY: It's a curious name for a system.



BAIER: A little chuckle at the State Department, but not chuckling elsewhere, perhaps. This is what they unveiled, the Iranians, the unmanned bomber aircraft over the weekend which they claim can travel 620 miles carrying four cruise missiles, calling it the "ambassador of death" to Iran's enemies.

What about all of this and the potential timeline. We're back with the panel. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, it looks like I was wrong. Obama had some success now with the diplomacy, outreach and diplomacy. The Iranians have responded with diplomacy of their own which they call the "ambassador of death." They have a sense of humor about this.

Look, what they're doing now is to create the impression in the region and the world that if there is some strike against them they are going to create utter mayhem. That's what the missile system is about. Its design is to close the Straits of Hormuz. You sink ships in the Straits of Hormuz, about half the world's oil goes through it, if you shut it down, you get doubling of oil prices and you get a worldwide depression.

BAIER: There was also a new assault boat rolled out this weekend named for a famous sword.

KRAUTHAMMER: Small boats with missiles that could do the same. You sink a few tankers the way the Egyptians sank tankers in the Suez Canal in the '67 war and shut it for a decade.

So that's threat number one. It's economic and of course hitting American troops, ships, hitting Arab states nearby that are U.S. allies, hitting Israel of course.

So the idea is a warning that if we are attacked. It knows that Israel will be undeterred because Israel is under existential threat. Its hope is to pressure and to scare the United States, Arab states and Europe into pressuring Israel into not striking.

But it's not working, because if you heard the ambassador of the United Arab Republic speaking just a few weeks -- I'm sorry, the UAE -- United Arab Emirates, a few weeks ago in the U.S., he says despite all the risks and all the costs because Iran will retaliate if it is attacked, it's worse with the -- it's worse if you had Iran acquiring a bomb.

So if had you to do an analysis of the benefits and the costs, even the Arab states, who are the most threatened, think that an attack has to be done.

BAIER: Nina, they are clearly thumbing their nose at the world community and specifically the U.S.

EASTON: Yes, it was a vivid display of what would happen if Israel in particular attacked. This is what we are coming after you with.

And this comes at a time, by the way, when U.S. officials seem to be saying to Israeli officials step down. There is some time. There is going to be some warning before there is going to be an actual nuclear weapon. And so there is the possibility that Israel is stepping back for some time.

But this is even as they built -- they opened this Bushehr plant, which is being run and monitored by the Russians.


BAIER: The fuel rods went in this weekend.

EASTON: But Russia is putting those fuel rods in and taking them out and supposedly -- but we have to rely on the Russians and the willingness of Iran to control that. And we have to rely on the willingness of Iran to let international inspectors in.

It also comes at a time when there's 10 new nuclear processing plants hidden in the mountains that we learned about. So it comes at a very dangerous time, all of this.

BAIER: Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, you have the IAEA in there for the moment. Now, this is as long as the Iranians will tolerate some kind of inspection regime.

The question is when do they kick them out, and the question secondly is about when you use these rods to process fissile material and you can transfer it, of course for missiles.

And we have talked about the drones, and what's impressive about the drone is that it was built in Iran. These are things they have built. Similarly with the boats that you mentioned, Bret.

What's not theirs right now are these F-300s, these missiles that the Russians -- they are trying to get from the Russians. Now, the Russians have an interest. Obviously, the Russians are the ones that built Bushehr and the idea was that the Russians had leverage therefore with the Iranians in terms of trying to mute their nuclear ambitions.

Apparently they feel, you know what, we are done now with this. We are willing to give you Bushehr. We are willing to give you this peaceful facility. At what point do the Russians say, you know what, we are comfortable enough to sell you --

BAIER: S300s. Anti-aircraft missiles.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I'm sorry. I said F. It's S300s -- that would allow you not only to protect yourself, but I think put you in position then really to therefore launch attacks against Israel.

BAIER: And perhaps, Charles, that is the tipping point? Is that when they have these full system of antiaircraft missiles and that can be seen going in, is that the point at which --

KRAUTHAMMER: That would be a red line, because if it happens, the Israelis have to attack immediately. Otherwise, they have no way of attacking.

Other red lines are hidden red lines, stuff we wouldn't see, and that would be intelligence coming into America, Israel, and elsewhere about the Iranians reaching a point where they can actually develop the bomb and install it on a missile.