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Interview with Vice President Joe Biden

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - September 1, 2010

JIM LEHRER: Shortly before the change-of-command ceremony, Margaret Warner spoke with Vice President Biden. They met in a building north of Baghdad that used to be Saddam Hussein's hunting lodge.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Vice President, thank you for having us.

JOSEPH BIDEN: Happy to be with you, Margaret, really am.

MARGARET WARNER: Last night, President Obama said, we have met our responsibility in Iraq. We have been here a while. A lot of Iraqis say to us: You haven't. You came to a country, dictatorship, but at least we had services and we had security. And now we don't have either.

What do you say to them? I mean, have we met our responsibility?

JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, the vast majority of the Iraqis I speak to acknowledge that there is a great deal more security than there ever has been since the beginning of the war, number one.

Number two, when the president said we have met our combat responsibilities, he means, by that, we have trained up 650,000 Iraqi forces, and, I might add, crack special forces, who really can do the job. But the president also pointed out that this is just the beginning of our engagement with Iraq. We are ramping up our diplomatic and our civilian engagement. We want to participate in helping them develop an economy. They have got great human capital. They have got great natural resource. This is far from finished, far from finished, but there has been progress.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, when the president says that the combat mission is over...

JOSEPH BIDEN: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: ... the fact is, the brigades that are staying are completely combat-ready.

JOSEPH BIDEN: Absolutely.

MARGARET WARNER: They are combat brigades who just have a new name.

JOSEPH BIDEN: They're 50,000 troops that can shoot straight, if they have to, God willing. And we still have -- some of those troops are going to be going out on counterterrorism efforts, mentoring the -- the Iraqis. But what -- what it means is that the lead responsibility for the combat missions will be handed over and has been, quite frankly, as General Odierno points out...

MARGARET WARNER: For months.

JOSEPH BIDEN: ... it's been handed over for months.

MARGARET WARNER: But more American service men and women are going to die here.

JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, it's a heck of a way to put it, but there are still going to be 50,000 American service men and women here. And this is a country where you're at risk, randomly at risk. You have seen these recent bombings that have taken place. You know, the statistic is not comforting to people that it's on average that 12 events kill three people each event. Well, that's not comforting to the three people who got killed, so -- or their families.

So, it's still difficult, but it's nowhere near what it was before. And the Iraqis are now positioned, are now positioned to begin to take over the totality of their security needs. We're -- we're on course to meet President Bush's commitment to withdraw all combat -- all troops by the end of 2011.

MARGARET WARNER: On this question, as you said, the attacks have been on the uptick in the last couple of months. Do you consider that a temporary blip around Ramadan, around this handover, or could it continue to escalate?

JOSEPH BIDEN: I do think it's a temporary blip. And, again, put it in focus. It's still lower than it ever has been, even though there has been an uptick. It took a long time for al-Qaida and the extremist groups to plan that last coordinated effort, which, in a broad sense, was not very successful.

MARGARET WARNER: You are talking about the one last Wednesday...

JOSEPH BIDEN: Yes, last Wednesday.

MARGARET WARNER: ... where about 50 or 60 Iraqi civilians died.

JOSEPH BIDEN: Yes. Yes. And...

MARGARET WARNER: But when you say things are better or safer, what's your benchmark?

JOSEPH BIDEN: I will tell you the benchmark.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you talking about the dark days of '06 to '08?

JOSEPH BIDEN: No. Or six months ago, eight months ago, 12 months ago.

MARGARET WARNER: But to use as the bench -- Iraqis say to us, to use as the benchmark the dark days when they would come out of their houses in the morning and there could be hundreds of people literally in the streets, people had holes drilled through their head with power drills, I mean, it was horrific -- that is not normal life.

JOSEPH BIDEN: I'm not comparing it to that, no. That -- that is not what we're comparing it to. I'm making a comparison. This is a much more functioning society. The bazaars are open. There are still people who are -- who occasionally get killed. It's still, in many cases, a dangerous place. But the vast majority of this country is not today -- people aren't walking out their front door thinking, it's probable I may find myself in a situation where I may get blown up. That's changed.

MARGARET WARNER: Not probable, but possible?

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