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A Conversation with Joseph R. Biden

Moderator: Vin Weber, member, U.S. Congress
Speaker: Joseph R. Biden Jr., member, U.S. Senate (D-Del.)
October 22, 2001
Council on Foreign Relations

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DAVID E. SANGER:  Good afternoon.  If everybody would grab a seat, w

ALTON FRYE: (In progress)—from the beginning, those of us who are Congress watchers have spotted and counted Joe Biden as a growth stock, a legislator who could and would assume great responsibilities. Having chaired bot

ALTON FRYE: (In progress)—from the beginning, those of us who are Congress watchers have spotted and counted Joe Biden as a growth stock, a legislator who could and would assume great responsibilities. Having chaired both the Foreign Relations and the Judiciary Committees, at this stage, I think one would have to say that Joe Biden is a grown stock.

That fact is confirmed by the finding in a recent National Journal survey that Senator Biden has become the most trusted voice on foreign policy in the Democratic Party.

He has also shown a gift for bipartisanship, reflected in his collaboration with the current chairman, Richard Lugar, and in his earlier working relationship with Senator Jesse Helms, notably in the Helms-Biden legislation that has been crucial in shaping American policy toward the United Nations.

The senator recently returned from his seventh—that’s seven—trip to Iraq. He brings powerful independent perspective on the war, making clear his sharp criticism of the administration’s performance while struggling to frame a balanced approach.

We meet a day after dire warnings have come from the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan group led by Lee Hamilton and James Baker, and after the announcement that there is no likelihood of a reduction in the American military presence until after next spring.

Senator, with that context as the day’s setting, we look forward very much to hearing your current assessment. (Applause.)

SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, thank you very much. It is true; we’ve been treading platforms together for a long, long time. And I have always valued your advice and your counsel. And if I had listened to it a little earlier, when I was a little younger, I’d be a little further along. But I want to thank you very, very much for having me here today, and it’s an honor to be before all of you.

Ladies and gentlemen, five months ago, Les Gelb and I laid out a detailed plan that we thought would be able to keep Iraq together, protect America’s interest and bring our troops home in a reasonable time frame. Our plan generated what I view to be a much-needed debate about alternatives beyond the Bush administration’s “Stay the course” rhetoric and those who suggest that we leave now.

Many experts here and in Iraq embraced the plan. Others raised legitimate concerns. Still others mischaracterized or misunderstood the plan, calling it a partition and when in fact it was designed to be the exact opposite of a partition.

Today I’d like to explain in more detail what that plan does and what that plan does not do. But first I believe it’s worth taking just a few moments to review the current situation in Iraq, at least as I see it.

The central reality today is that violence between the Shi’a and Sunnis has surpassed the insurgency and foreign terrorists as the main security threat in Iraq. Sectarian militias are the main instrument of that violence, and instead of disarming, they’re growing, and they’re growing for a very basic, simple reason. Young men have no jobs, and the militias give them a steady pay and a nice gun to carry.

Although half the Iraqi army divisions are capable of leading their operations with American support, the nuts and bolts that any military needs to be self-sustaining are woefully inadequate or totally missing. There are enormous problems with logistics, the ability literally to pay these forces, transportation, procurement, and even food delivery.

On my last trip, our number-two general in country was literally on the phone on his way in, calling his counterpart in the department—in the Ministry of Defense, pointing out that an entire division was left without any food, any water or any supplies for the entire weekend because the local contractor did not show up to deliver them, and they had gone home at 3:00.

The ranks of the Iraqi police are riddled with sectarian forces. The Facilities Protection Force, which no one talks much about here in this country, made up of 140,000 well-armed men answerable and assigned to specific ministries and only to that ministry, also are heavily involved in sectarian violence.

On the surface, Iraq has a unity government, but privately Sunnis and Kurds complain that they are no part of the decision-making process of that unity government. Political competition among the parties made up of the Shi’a coalition prevent any genuine outreach to the Sunnis or any serious attempt to rein in the militias. And on the other side, too many Sunnis continue to aid and abet the insurgency. And as a result, the political process is stalled and polarized.

While sectarianism is the major new reality in Iraq, the old reality, the insurgency and foreign jihadists, are still very much alive. Al Qaeda is so firmly entrenched in Anbar Province that it has morphed into an indigenous jihadist movement. And as a result, Iraq risks becoming what it was not before the war—a haven for terror and al Qaeda, in what I call a Bush-fulfilling prophecy.

And no number of troops can solve the sectarian problem, and we don’t have enough troops to definitively deal with the jihadist threat. And nothing makes that point more clearly, in my view, than the fact that we just pulled troops from Anbar Province to deal with the insurgency and jihadists, where they were fighting and fighting well, and we sent them into Baghdad to secure neighborhoods to stop sectarian violence.

Security operations in one neighborhood are able to force the death squads into another neighborhood, but the moment we leave, they come back in and fill the vacuum. They regroup, return to the neighborhoods we’ve cleaned when our troops have to move on to the next neighborhood. And when they all leave, I see nothing—nothing—nothing—that indicates to me there will be peace and security in those neighborhoods.

So that’s where we are, in my view. But the more important question is, where are we going, something you’ve been discussing here at the council for months.

Unfortunately, this administration, in my view, does not have any discernible strategy for success in Iraq. I believe the strategy it has is to prevent defeat and to hand the problem over to the next person who occupies the White House. Meanwhile, more and more Americans, understandably frustrated, support an immediate withdrawal even at the risk of trading a dictator for chaos and a civil war that may very well morph into a regional war.

Both—both—to state the obvious, are bad alternatives. That’s why we put forward this plan. The five-point plan that I have laid out, I think, offers a better way. We start from the premise that the only way to break the vicious cycle of violence and to create the conditions for our armed forces to responsibly leave Iraq is to give Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds incentives to pursue their interests peacefully. This requires a sustainable political settlement, and the essence of that settlement is to give each of these parties some breathing room.

To get there, we promote five specific steps.

First, the plan calls for maintaining a unified Iraq by decentralizing Iraq and giving the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’a some limited control over their own regions. Let me emphasize that again. Maintaining a unified Iraq by giving decentralization an opportunity, for I am prepared to bet any of you here my remaining part of my career that this unity government will not be able to—with a strong, central government, absent giving additional leeway to each of these regions, each of these constituencies—be able to hold that country together.

The central government, under our plan, would be left in charge of common interests such as border security and the distribution of oil revenue. While we proposed three regions, the exact number should be left to the constitution. The constitution now calls for any single region—any one of the 18 governors can declare themselves a region and be separate. So we leave it to the Iraqis. We talk about three regions, but the Iraqi constitution allows for more. My guess is it would be three.

What matters is the principle of federalism is a way to manage competing interests and visions while keeping Iraq together. But federalism will only work if each group believes that it has an economic stake in a unified government. The Sunnis are in a unique position; they do not have any oil, and they fear being permanently cut off from the natural wealth of Iraq—oil. That’s why some of their leaders continue to resist federalism.

So the second element of our plan is to guarantee that each group will get a proportionate share of the oil revenues. For the Sunnis, that would represent roughly 20 percent of those revenues.

Why would Shi’a and Kurds, you might ask, want to share oil revenues? Well, quite frankly, because it’s better for the bottom line for both the Shi’a and the Kurds if they share oil revenues. For without a(n) oil-sharing agreement, Iraq will not attract—and from my personal discussions with oil companies, my discussions with those who know the oil industry—it will not attract—I emphasize, will not attract the massive investment needed to maximize production in Iraq. If all sides agree on a formula for the distribution of proceeds in a unified oil ministry and policy, investment will begin to flow in large amounts and production will rise, and it will give each group, including the Sunnis and the Kurds—or the Shi’a and the Kurds, a much bigger piece of a much bigger pie. The end result—they’ll be much better off. Oil can and should become the glue that binds this country together.

The third piece of the plan is to improve the living conditions of the Iraqi people and generate and create a significant number of new jobs. But that requires increasing reconstruction aid. But it also requires altering the way in which we spend the money for reconstruction and by tying it as well to protection of minority rights within the regions.

The administration’s early fixation on multinational megaprojects has wasted literally billions of dollars on mismanagement, corruption and security for foreign reconstruction teams, and it has virtually shown no results—no results in electrical generation, sewage treatment, potable water as well as oil production. This incompetence on reconstruction, I acknowledge to you, makes it a very tough sell to the American Congress or to any of our friends. But we must ramp up and revamp our reconstruction program in concert with others, not do what the administration is suggesting, and that is wind down the reconstruction money. To fund this effort, we should insist that our Gulf allies, who have reaped huge oil profits, step up and put up in their own naked self-interest.

The fourth part of this plan calls for an international conference that would produce a regional, non-aggression pact and create a contact group to enforce regional commitments. There can be no lasting solution unless the neighbors of Iraq buy in to whatever the agreement the Iraqis agree upon. And unless they use their respective influence on each of the factions within Iraq to promote stability, most of the neighbors—contrary to popular opinion and what is said, in my view, in this administration—most of Iraq’s neighbors do not want to do us any favors. But being drawn into a civil war that morphs into a regional war is clearly in none of their interests as well, and they know it. It’s not in Syria’s interest, it’s not in Iran’s interest. And even if a contact group can’t prevent a civil war, the more we can restrain the interventionist tendencies of Iraq’s neighbors, the greater the odds that violence can be confined within Iraq’s borders and regional conflagration prevented if we do not stem what is becoming a full-blown civil war in Iraq.

Fifth and finally, under this plan, we would begin a phase redeployment of U.S. troops this year and withdraw most of them by the end of the year 2007. We would need to maintain, in my view, a small follow-on force to keep the neighbors honest, strike at concentration of terrorists and train Iraqi security forces. In the meantime, U.S. troops would concentrate on securing sectarian fault lines.

I said at the outset that some critics have mischaracterized and misunderstood parts of our plan. So let me conclude by telling you what the plan is and what it is not.

Our plan is consistent with Iraq’s constitution, which already provides for Iraqi provinces to form regions, jointly or individually, with their own security forces, and control over most of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Our plan is the only idea on the table for dealing with the militias, which are likely to retreat to the respective provinces and regions instead of continuing to engage in sectarian violence.

Our plan is consistent with a strong central government that has clearly defined responsibilities. Indeed, it provides an agenda for that government whose mere existence—I emphasize, whose mere existence will not end the sectarian violence.

Our plan is not partition. In fact, it may be the only way to prevent a violent partition and preserve a unified Iraq. To be sure, the plan presents real challenges, especially with regard to large cities with mixed populations. We would maintain Baghdad as a federal city belonging to no one region, as stipulated in their constitution. And we would require international peacekeepers there, and in other mixed cities, to support local security forces and further protect minorities. To state the obvious, for now, participation of any other country in a peacekeeping force is a nonstarter. But a political settlement of the nature I have outlined, a regional conference, and a contact group to demonstrate international resolve, could change their calculus and willingness to participate in such a force.

At best, the course we’re on in Iraq has no happy end in sight. At worst, it leads to a terrible civil war that turns into a regional war and leaves a new haven for fundamentalist jihadists in the heart of the Middle East.

This plan offers a way to bring our troops home, protect our security interests, and preserve Iraq as a unified country. And to those who understandably reject the plan, those who reject it out of hand, I have one simple question: What is your option?

I thank you all very much, and I’m looking forward to your questions. (Applause.)

FRYE: We’ll take a moment, Senator, while you get a lapel mike on.

Let me reflect on one aspect of what you’re raising, because it’s the central truth that you bring, that constitution-making in Iraq, as in our own experience, requires the creation of a balance of incentives. Madison faced that issue in leading some of the efforts after our own Revolutionary period. And a key test came when the federal government, with Jefferson joining Hamilton and Madison, agreed to assume the hangover debts from the states that had come out of the Revolutionary period. That was all part of a process of shaping incentives.

And it’s hard to dispute your basic argument that unless the unity government can move toward a recrafting of those incentives among the disparate interests, it is probably doomed. I think that’s not too hasty a judgment, based on the rise in sectarian violence that we’ve seen.

But there are some tensions in your proposal that I think we should explicate. And perhaps I can do it in the following manner. At the heart of your proposition is the argument that the Sunnis have to have a stake, they have to feel that they are part of the continuing Iraqi enterprise. But it’s also the case that there is a tension between the proposal that you want to give the Sunnis a stake, and their wariness of decentralization. The Sunnis obviously are expressing considerable reticence about decentralization, along the lines that you and others have proposed, and there’s even substantial Shi’a reticence among the Sadr faction, from what we’ve been told by the reports.

My question is simple. Have you identified significant Sunni leadership within Iraq who will buy into your plan?

BIDEN: Yes. Let me point out that—let’s take the example of what’s happening in their Parliament right now. You have Hakim calling for this establishment—for a process to establish a Shi’a region made up of roughly nine provinces—nine areas. And you have Sadr, the very guy who’s leading the charge to kill as many Sunnis as he can in other parts of Baghdad and Anbar province, siding with the Sunnis in resisting this. You have the Sunnis saying the main reason they’re resisting is what’s in it for them. They know they get left in the middle of a province that in fact has no natural resources.

It seems to me that Sadr siding with the Sunnis makes my very point on two fronts.

Sadr knows, as the British general in Basra told us in my last trip, that if in fact there is a Shi’a region, there will be intense competition among the multiple Shi’a militia for who is going to be the equivalent of their state police, their Maryland or Virginia State Police, who is going to be in charge. Matter of fact, this general referenced the fact, we have no insurgency, we have no civil war; we have the equivalent of a group of mafia dons waiting to see who leaves and is going to control the region.

The second point is the Shi’a have realized that they are no longer able to control Iraq as they did in the past. And they’ve concluded—the bulk of the tribal leaders—that they are better off in the deal if in fact they have a part of the action, because they know they cannot rely on a parliament dominated or a government dominated by the Shi’a and expect to get their water project funded in Fallujah three years from now.

So I would argue that the very split you’re seeing makes the point that I am arguing—the incentive to stay in and stop supporting the insurgency is a piece of the action. And the fact that Sadr is taking issue as hard as he is with a Shi’a province knows that he is going to be left outside of that because Baghdad is part of the capital city, and his influence inside—he’ll have to compete with the Badr Brigade and other militia for ascendancy.

FRYE: Senator, let me ask you to address one other thing that you’ve spoken to in other settings.

There is a concern among Iraqis about the scale and perhaps duration of the American presence. Without stepping on another organization’s study that will be revealed in the next few days, the trend seems to be that a rising majority of Iraqis favor attacks on American forces. Even though they may not all want to participate in those attacks, there’s a sympathy curve running in that direction. You’ve argued that we should make very clear, in legislation if necessary, that there will be no permanent American bases in Iraq. That hasn’t taken. Do you see any prospect that there are ways to signal to the broad majority of Iraqis that we are there for the short term rather than the long term? And how does that relate to the need to reassure them in the short term?

BIDEN: I don’t think much is going to flow positively, absent a national consensus on a political solution. I don’t think many people in Iraq, no matter what their sectarian preference is, view the unity government as the answer to their problem. I don’t think many Shi’a think that their mosques are no longer going to be bombed, now that there’s a Shi’a-controlled government, even if calm is restored in Baghdad temporarily. I don’t know many Sunnis, as I’ve gone in and out of that country, who believe that there is a likelihood that their interests will be preserved in any way under this unity government.

And when the constitution was voted on—and I came back and I was one of the official representatives there at the voting and going to the polling places—I came back and debriefed the president and his war Cabinet, and he told me what a great democratic demonstration it was. And I said, “Mr. President, it was democratic, but it was not a democratic—it was not the notion of democracy that spurred them to the polls. It was a sectarian vote.” They were going to learn 92 percent of the votes cast were cast along sectarian lines. That a democracy does not make.

So you’ve got to figure out how in fact you get the Sunnis to conclude that support of the insurgency is not the only way in which they can have any prospect of not being overrun by Shi’a death squads and being dominated completely.

And as a consequence of all this, there is this lack of ease anywhere, including in Kurdistan, on the part of Iraqis that think there is a solution at hand. When they voted for that constitution, particularly the Sunnis, it was on the implied promise two things would change: the constitution would change, they’d get a say in regionalism and they’d get a say in resources. Remember at the very last minute when our ambassador got them to amend the constitution so that it could be further amended, and they didn’t even—weren’t able even to write out the language of that amendment? That’s what brought the Sunnis to the polls.

And so when you—and I’m making this answer too long—but when you bump along in any one of these regions seeing no long-term solution, you lose in rapid time frame any empathy or sympathy for the forces who are there allegedly to protect you. And therefore, although you may not engage in it, you choose a method, you choose a side. You choose the insurgency, you choose the sectarian militia, you choose to isolate yourself in the north. All of that adds up to very bad news for American forces sitting in the middle.

And folks, as the old saying goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You’ve not seen anything yet. Wait until, God forbid, the conclusion is there is no hope here and the militias all begin to, figuratively speaking, open fire on American forces.

And that’s why I introduced the amendment to just signal that there would be no permanent bases in Iraq, because the view of the people now is, “I see no end in sight of this occupation,” for a whole range of reasons. Not because of just U.S. intent, but because of a lack of any hope out there that there will be peace and unity flowing from the present circumstance.

FRYE: You’re very well familiar with the old political maxim that if you want to change the policy, you have to change the people. And I want to press you a bit on the prospects for American policy in this interval that is before us. Whatever the outcome of this November’s congressional elections, President Bush has more than two years running in his term. You’ve suggested that Secretary Rumsfeld—(laughter)—you’ve suggested that Secretary Rumsfeld should resign or be fired. But what difference would that make, given the president’s deep convictions about his view of staying the course?

BIDEN: Optimism is an occupational requirement in my business. I refuse to allow myself to believe that faced with irrefutable facts over time, intelligent men will not change their course. Even if they won’t, what choice do I have? I mean it sincerely. A lot of people have said to me, “Why put this plan out there, Biden? It’s only going to get shot at.” You notice, nobody else has put a plan out, not because there’s not brilliant women and men in this town and around the country. Nobody, not a single person. Why? Because, A, you either believe it won’t matter because the administration will pay no attention to it; or B, it just allows those who support the administration to have something to shoot at.

And the truth of the matter is, it’s my responsibility. I think I have a responsibility to lay out what I think the best plan is. And I can hope. I believe it is still possible because there are so many people in the military, so many generals on the ground, so many people who know the essence of what we’re saying—maybe not the exact plan, the essence of what we’re saying—is true. Ask the rhetorical question, including how can you possibly figure out a positive outcome for Iraq if you don’t get all the parties to conclude that they’re better in the detail than out of the deal? I mean, it’s pretty basic stuff.

So I don’t know what else to tell you.

FRYE: Well, that is part of the dilemma that we face at this stage in our life.

We turn now to questions among our collective participants here. In the general discussion, our focus having been on Iraq, I hope you will stay with it, but the senator is amenable to queries on issues other than Iraq, and obviously both Iran and Afghanistan are related to the campaign undertaken in Iraq as well.

I’ll ask you please to wait for the microphone, speak directly into it. It will be helpful if you stand, state your name and affiliation. And remember that brevity is the soul of wit. (Laughter.) And apart from that, the presider is instructed to enforce that rule.

Right here, please.

QUESTIONER: Thanks very much. Thank you, Senator, for your steadfastness on this issue.

FRYE: Name?

QUESTIONER: My name is David Apgar. I’m with the Corporate Executive Board. A quick question. Within your plan, why not split up Baghdad, split it down the river? That way, the Sunni part of the country would at least have a capital. It would be 40 percent of today’s Baghdad as a commercial

country that otherwise would have only natural resource remittances, 20 percent of the oil revenues if all went well. And on the eastern side of the river, Sadr’s base would be united with the Shi’ite part of the country, so at least he might start pulling for the kind of decentralization which you, I think probably rightly, say is the only way to get where you hope to end up.

BIDEN: Two reasons. One, the Iraqi constitution calls for Baghdad to be the unified capital. Two, I don’t know how you have a unified country without a capital that all parties believe is their capital. That’s the reason. It does make it more difficult. It does make it more difficult. If I were going to go that route, I would be inclined—and I’m not. I would go the route of our friend—oh, my goodness; I’m having a senior moment here. Worked in the Foreign Relations Committee, who recently wrote a book—

FRYE: Peter Galbraith.

BIDEN: Peter. Peter. Ambassador Galbraith’s proposal just to completely separate the country. My intention is to have—end up with a unified country in the region with a single capital. It is harder. It is—will take more work. It is difficult. But I also think it has the benefit of putting Sadr in a circumstance where he has to deal with the other Shi’a in order to be able to maintain any political base. And it also requires the Sunnis to buy into a total government, a government that’s a central government. That’s the reason.

FRYE: Question here in the front. Microphone is coming.

BIDEN: Excuse my cold. I apologize.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Senator.

BIDEN: And don’t tell Peter I didn’t remember his name! (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Amy Bondurant. My question is simply the incentive part of your plan, the oil revenues, is that likely to destabilize further the Shi’a into more factions?

BIDEN: Well, it does have that possibility. As you well know, there is a new Shi’a faction and militia that has called for the establishment of an independent country regarding four—encompassing Basra and four adjoining provinces, and argued by the leader of that faction that in fact they have access to the sea, they have oil, they have all they need; they can be an independent country.

I am sure that it will, in part, do that. But the main overriding forces within the Shi’a coalition remain Sistani, and on the moral side of the equation here and the unifying side of the equation, as well as the Badr Brigade and the two major parties. And I think they will work it out.

But it could. It could.

I’m making—you know, the longer this goes on, folks, the more difficult any plan becomes to implement. So I can’t guarantee what would happen. But I believe the likely prospect would be the major parties and the major militias working out an agreement among themselves to deal with the local control of their region.

FRYE: On the aisle in the middle, please, with the microphone there. The logistics are slightly slower in a room configured this way. But we’ll get a mike there in half a moment.

QUESTIONER: Good morning. Babak Yektafar with Washington Prism and Center for Defense Information. My question, Senator, is that what guarantees are there in your plan that once these regions are set up, they will not be absorbed by the neighbors, such as Shi’ites towards Iran; Kurds focusing on Turkey, and so on and so forth.

BIDEN: That’s why the need for the regional conference. That’s why the significant part of this plan is to get the Permanent 5 of the United Nations to call for a regional conference, have a real knock-down, drag-out agreement based upon the negative alternatives failing to reach an agreement, and have them see that light. And it will even place a contact group. And that’s the second reason why there’s a need to have a capital city that is in charge of distribution of these assets, so that if in fact you have a central government that has control of the borders, control of the national army, and control of the natural resources, it diminishes the prospect that there will be the tendency or desire to either engulf and/or separate from this unified government.

FRYE: Right here.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Jeff Morley, WashingtonPost.com. I’m wondering what you make of Hakim’s decentralization proposal. It seems to fulfill some of what you talked about: Iraqis deciding on their own to decentralize. So is that program a step forward or not? And I think that it’s going to be brought up for a vote again. That’s the first question.

The second question is, what’s your message to the people on the other side who are resisting that proposal? Why should they buy into your plan?

BIDEN: Well, I don’t think the militia—some of the militia, I don’t think the jihadis, and I don’t think the—a lot of the former Saddamists are going to buy into it under any circumstance. The question is how do you buy away their support? How do you undermine their ability to continue to have the kind of sway and impact they have? And that’s the answer to your second question.

The answer to the first question, Hakim’s got it half right. And everybody understands what Hakim is doing; it is not automatic—he’s setting up the mechanism that would allow this to take place in a vote within their parliament to set up these regions. I think Hakim is going for the trifecta here, and that is the region, the oil and the control. And that’s why he’s getting resistance from Sunnis and some Shi’a. And the Kurds are sitting there kind of observing. So I think Hakim’s plan, absent a Sunni guarantee, is a non-starter.

FRYE: Right here, please.

QUESTIONER: Nancy Bearg from Search for Common Ground. Senator, I wonder if you would comment on the prospects for bipartisan support of this? And you may already have it and I just don’t know. And also, how it could get implemented, what your role would be and how it could become implemented.

BIDEN: Well, the truth of the matter is, there’s only two ways this plan could get implemented. One is that the president of the United States decides that he thinks it’s the way to go, and he instructs our ambassador and all our moldable pressure points to put pressure upon this existing unity government to make these kinds of offers and concessions.

A second, indirect way is to do what it has done. The national security adviser, among the Shi’a, has endorsed this plan. There’s others in Iraq who have endorsed this plan and parts of the plan. So it’s at least had the benefit of generating a debate within Iraq. And that’s another way, in a burgeoning democratic system, to be able to get ideas into that debate.

With regard to bipartisanship, I do not want to hurt his reputation, but if you notice, the language being used by Senator Lugar and many of my colleagues now mirrors very closely what we’re talking about. Dick Lugar and I were on the Lehrer hour last night, and Lehrer asked him about my plan, and he thinks—he said, “Yeah, Joe’s plan, I think, is the essence”—I don’t want to quote him.

But the point is, everybody’s arriving at the following conclusion. How do you get the Sunnis in? How do you stop the militia from killing each other? And there’s a need to get the neighbors to buy in to a deal. I mean, all those pieces—(chuckling)—whether you buy the Biden plan or not, I don’t care. And I have no pride of authorship, and nor does Les have on the five points. You may have a seven-point plan—(chuckling)—a two-point plan. The bottom line is, there is no plan now. There is no plan now.

And folks, we continue to argue that soon as we train them up, we’ll stand down. What are we talking about? Folks, there is no—let me emphasize this now—there is no civil side of the equation over there. There is no Agriculture Department that is able to function. There is no Department of Education. There is no—just go down the list. They don’t know how to turn the traffic lights on and off. Saddam did that.

I’ll give you one little example. I’m meeting with Chiarelli, a really first-rate guy. And I’m paraphrasing him now. He said, “Joe, if you—I ever—you ever hear me criticize the bureaucracy again, pop me. I need a bureaucracy.” And then he gave an example. He said, “Look, they have the date palm,” which is the natural fruit—the national symbol of their agriculture. They used to be the bread basket of the region, as you all remember, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, right? Forties, fifties and sixties.

Now he says, “So I went to the embassy, and I said, ‘You got to spray these date palms,’” because there’s the equivalent of the boll weevil for cotton, whatever it is, for date palms. It’s been five years. It’ll get wiped out if you don’t spray them. He said, “They told me that’s up to the Department of Agriculture. I went there. They don’t know how to do it.”

So he basically said—my words, not his—“I did what Saddam did. I took our helicopters, our guys. I went out and sprayed the date palms. Then I went back, and I sat down with the Department of Agriculture. I said, ‘Look, this is what you’ve got to plan for next year.’”

Folks, there ain’t nobody there. If you were president of the United States, I’d be saying as your secretary of State, “Madame President, go make a speech at the Department of Agriculture today, for real, and plead for volunteers from the Department of Agriculture to go to—to go to—Iraq, go to the State Department, and say, ‘It’s no longer optional. We need about 500 more of you to come. We need you to help set up these agencies.’”

So what’s going to happen, folks, the most likely outcome—and this is going to get me in trouble—most likely outcome is, when we do stand up—and we’re making progress in standing up their army—you’re going to find, Joe, six months from now, a year from now, two years from now, the Army saying, “There is no civilian control. We must take over.” And we’ll have supplanted one strongman for another, hopefully one that is more benign.

But folks, there’s no there there, and you’d better figure out pretty quickly how to begin to deal with it.

So I think that it is—can only occur when the president reaches the conclusion that we’re kind of at the end of our rope here, and there needs to be a Plan B.

And again, it doesn’t have to be exactly what I’ve said, and you watch—I predict to you: More and more people of your caliber and all of you in this room are signing on to this approach, more and more people in Iraq are signing on to this approach, and more and more of my Democratic and Republican colleagues are signing on to this approach. And I don’t mean sign on to what Biden says. They’re signing on to the need to deal with the elements that I’ve laid out in this plan.

FRYE: Senator, you’ve been very flexible about the elements of a plan to deal with this problem, but you do reject a one-element plan that would involve withdrawal of the American forces by a date certain. Is that accurate?

BIDEN: That is not a plan. That is not a plan, that is an action. That is a tactical decision. I said to a group of my colleagues—we were arguing about this and someone was talking about withdrawing. And there were eight of us in this room in a meeting. And I said, “Let me ask you all a question.” And I ask you this rhetorical question. If the president of the United States invited you to the Oval Office today and said, “Sam, Harry, Mary, tell me what to do, and I guarantee you I will do it,” would your plan be—would you say to him, “My plan is, withdraw”? Anybody here? Raise your hand. Is that a plan?

That may be a forced decision because of the incompetence of this administration leading us to a point where there is no alternative but to pick that choice among other bad choices, but is that a plan? That’s why I reject it. It’s not a plan. It may become a necessity because there’s no option, but it’s not a plan.

FRYE: Right here. Margaret.

QUESTIONER: Margaret Daly Hayes from EBR Associates, and once upon a time a Foreign Relations Committee staffer too. Thank you, Senator, for your interest in this issue and the attention you’ve given to it.

Can you comment on what the incentives are to the militias of these different groups not to just—under a separate geography—not to just continue the sectarian violence and civil war? And secondly, and particularly given your comments on the absence of governance in the current situation, what does this central authority that’s going to guarantee the distribution of equitable portions of revenue look like? How robust does it have to be?

BIDEN: Well, it has to be fairly robust. I’ll start at the end. It has to be fairly robust. And we’re going to have to continue to be involved and get our European friends to take on some version of Tony Blair’s suggestion a year and a half ago of “adopt a ministry,” the European governments. We have to get more civilian capability in to help them build this government. You’re more inclined to do that if in fact you have the violence at—you know, if not evaporating, the violence significantly reduced.

So now, why militia? Why would the militia be inclined to turn in rather than out? Militia are all about power. This is all about each of these militia leaders are seeking some ascendancy of their own. Sadr would like to run the country. Sadr would like to run the region. If Sadr has to concentrate on figuring out what part of the Sunni plan he becomes part of, what part of the Sunni operation he has—I mean Shi’a—excuse me—operation he has control of, he’s going to have to concentrate internally. He’s going to have to concentrate in dealing with that portion of the population that he has to draw his sustenance from and his support from. So the competition will necessarily turn inward. And I think that is almost a guarantee.

Now, how that plays out, could it play out very violently? It may. It may. I don’t know enough to know the answer to that question. But I know that it will—I don’t know—I strongly believe that it will greatly diminish his or anyone else’s desire to merely seek retribution and/or civil war.

The other piece of this is—I start from the basic premise that about a year and a half ago there was a bit—as we Catholics say—a bit of an epiphany that took place in Iraq. And that is, although the Kurds would love nothing more than absolute independence, they have realized that they’re not about to give up on reclaiming Kirkuk. They know if they reclaim Kirkuk and, quote, “cleanse” it and de—de—get the Arabs out—(laughter)—they know that the Turks are not going to stand by and they know that the Iranians aren’t going to stand by if they claim an independent state. They’re very smart. They’re the most sophisticated group. They’ve got most of it together. They know their autonomy is best preserved within a united Iraq.

The vast majority of the tribal leaders among the Sunnis have reached a conclusion there is no future in the insurgency where they’re going to be able to control Iraq for another five generations. So how do they maintain their interest and increase their influence and their independence of action within their own region?

And the Shi’a have come to the conclusion that they can dominate politically but they cannot dominate—they cannot dominate physically. They’re still going to have their mosques blown up. So there is an incentive on each of their parts.

Do they like it? No. Is this one of those marriages everybody says, “Let’s reconcile and make up?” No. Most times that’s not how countries function.

And so I think it is a realization of the changed circumstance for their own physical well-being on the ground that makes this plan or some version of it much more probable today than it was if you did it a year and a half ago.

And I would note another analogy, if I may make it; you’ve talked about the need to deal with absorbing debt in the national government. Well, you know, look at this way. What do you think would have happened, folks—and I realize this is trite sounding—what do you think would have happened if at Yorktown—two months after Yorktown we tried to pass the American Constitution as it was eventually written in Philadelphia 11 and—finally ratified 13 years later? Does anybody think Delaware and Georgia would be in the same outfit? Does anybody think Massachusetts and Maryland would be part of the same outfit?

It took us 11 years to get to our Philadelphia moment. And so you’ve got to give them some breathing room while keeping them together, and I’d offer Bosnia as another example, Kosovo. There’s all imperfect examples, but the same principle’s at play.

FRYE: Right here. Microphone to the front.

QUESTIONER: John Alterman, Center for Strategic International Studies. Thank you very much for your presentation. I agree with a lot of it, and there’s part of it that bothers me. And I’m hoping that you can help explain it, and it has to do with the role of the central government in a federal system. The role that I understand you to have laid out is not only sort of the U.S. government before World War II, it feels a lot like the U.S. government before the Civil War.

With all the assets outside, most of the firepower in state and local militia, why does anybody listen to the central government? What authority do they have? I mean, you can set up the embassies, except the Kurds wanted Kurdish representatives in all the embassies. I mean, it feels in some ways like it becomes unified in name only and not the sort of flexible system we have, but instead a papering over of essentially dividing the country.

BIDEN: It could very well become that if it is not done well. That’s why Baghdad is the capital. That’s why a national army controlled by Baghdad and the unity government and the parliament in Baghdad. That’s why the need for the heads of each of the departments, including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the departments, et cetera, are controlled by that parliament and that government sitting in Baghdad.

And the incentive there relates to the same reason why we ended up with a commerce clause. There is no real likelihood of each of the regions realizing their economic incentives, their economic prosperity absent a unified country, absent a central government. And I would again go back to oil as the example. You are not—and many of you probably have forgotten more about the oil industry than I know, but I’ve taken the time to go out and try over the last year and a half to understand what incentives are required for the major oil companies to deal with this second or third, depending on the—on whose judgment you take, oil reserves in the world.

They want two things. They want a unified oil market, and they want some stability in Iraq. And so the incentive is—the incentive is the prize. The prize is hundreds of billions of more dollars. The prize is that through this unity and a centrally-controlled Oil Ministry, everybody—they don’t care about the others—everybody in the Shi’a area does a lot better than they would attempting to control it by themselves.

So there are the incentives that are built-in, and that’s why I’m not calling for—I’m calling for loosely federated here in the sense that the constitution calls for, their present constitution allows for local police control, and it allows for local control over local issues—marriage, property distribution, education. And that’s what we’re talking about. What are the things that ultimately are separating these people besides vendettas that have been built up, which are a big deal?

FRYE: I’m going to take two last questions. One right here in the front, and then, back—I saw Ed in the—yeah, right there. Mike there. Mike here first.

BIDEN: If you ask a “yes/no,” you might get in four.

FRYE: Let’s take them both before you respond, Senator, okay?

QUESTIONER: I’ll speak quickly then. Senator, my name’s Jim Sosnicky. For two years, I was an Army Civil Affairs officer in Iraq. In my travels around the country, I never got a sense of an Iraqi identity. I got a sense of an Anbar identity, a Shi’a identity. My question is, why is the idea of a unified Iraq sacrosanct?

When the Ottomans ruled it, they ruled it as three different provinces. It’s been held together for 90 years as an artificial country through draconian measures. And I’ve heard the argument made that well, if it breaks into three parts, it will cause all this turmoil in the region.

But breaking it down into the three, wouldn’t you think that the Turks could be appeased by using leverage to EU membership as an incentive to get them to cooperate with an independent Kurdistan? In the south, the Shi’as are always identified with Iran, but in fact, they’re two completely different ethnic groups with two languages. And during eight years of the Iran-Iraq war, you did not see a mass of Shi’a guys defecting to the other side. And then in the central region, one could make the argument since we’re the ones who turned everything upside down, maybe the province—or the new country of Al Anbar becomes the, you know, third-largest recipient of aid, after Jordan, or whatever, from the U.S. (Laughter.)

So that is my question to you, is why is this—why is the idea of holding—it just strikes me as odd that when the Soviet Union broke up, no one really complained about that. But we are trying with all our might to hold together Iraq. And do you see a way forward that deviates a bit from your plan where it could break up and it wouldn’t be that bad? Thank you.

MR. FYRE: You can hold your comment on that. Pete Galbraith might not be here, but he has a very effective surrogate. (Laughter.)

BIDEN: No, it’s a good point. A good point.

QUESTIONER: Edwin Williamson from Sullivan & Cromwell. I must say, the last question has been one that I’ve always wondered, too, is what’s so sacred about the unified Iraq.

But my question is sort of a variation on that. And trying—and, Senator, trying to understand exactly what your plan is that’s different from now, what is it different—

BIDEN: Let me say, if you haven’t figured that out yet, I’m not going to be able to explain it.

QUESTIONER: Well, I would just ask, and how different would things be in the Kurdish section under your plan than they are now, just the Kurdish—

BIDEN: “Fear,” and “not very different” are the answers.

We can get two more in. (Laughter.)

MR. FYRE: Ah! All the way to the back.

QUESTIONER: Senator, Jim Slattery. I’m just curious, we’ve talked here for an hour about Iraq with very little discussion of Iran. And I’m just curious about what role you see Iran playing in Iraq as we go forward. And two, how do we engage Iran?

BIDEN: A, we should engage Iran, we should engage Iran directly, in my view. B, Iran likes it just like it is now. We are bleeding red blood and treasure, and we are occupied (sic) in a way that has freed them up in a profound way by our actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and they like it just the way it is.

The only thing they don’t like is the prospect of 17 million Shi’a learning how to organize and shoot straight, who are Arab in background and not just Shi’a, who may very well destabilize the 60 million out of 72 million Iranians who are Shi’a who don’t like their central government. So the last thing they want is a civil war in Iraq. So the incentive need be that they get involved in how we make an agreement on non-aggressions; how they are satisfied, along with the Turks, along with the Syrians, along with the Egyptians, along with the Sunni states, how are they best served by a unified Iraq. Which is in a way is a backdoor way of answering the question that was asked, which is a profound question: Why not look at the historical composition of this part of the world and recognize reality and say let’s go back to the that? The problem is the rest of the world around it has changed so drastically that I think it makes it very difficult for that to happen without further and greater conflagration than would be by trying to keep this outfit together in a way that they all marshal their interests and make the basic conclusion, in conclusion, that it’s better in the deal than out of the deal; that it’s better inside this entity than outside this entity. And that’s the conclusion I think the majority have reached.

And I would make one parenthetical note here.

What’s your name again? I’m sorry.

QUESTIONER: Jim.

BIDEN: Jim represents one of the most impressive things I observed in 33 years as a United States senator. I went to those provinces as well. I watched you and your counterparts in the military doing outstanding things. I watched in the beginning young captains, young lieutenants, young majors and colonels, sit there in the midst—in a mosque with 250 people from neighborhoods around, Shi’a and Sunni, and these kids, basically, bringing those neighborhoods together and actually, actually making progress, until we, in terms of our overall approach to this, began to really screw it up. I’m telling you, you would be—you know, we all talk about those guys out there shoot straight and they’re able to kill and they’re risking their lives. They’re great fighters. But the thing that people don’t know about the U.S. military and the young women and men we have out there, they are incredible diplomats. They solve problems on the ground. They do it all.

And so I want to tell you something. I have nothing—and I’m not being—this isn’t the old “God bless the military.” I have nothing but respect for these kids we’ve put out there in the middle of these neighborhoods who have diminished the problems. As bad as things are, my God, how much worse they’d be for you guys not being out there. It’s really amazing.

FRYE: Senator, as we come to the end, I’m going to ask you for 30 seconds of a net assessment regarding the Iran dimension of this problem. The president spoke at some length yesterday at the United Nations. Iran was a large part of it. Did his approach, as he articulated it yesterday, help or hinder the engagement of Iran in the kind of supportive resolution of the Iraqi conflict that you mentioned?

BIDEN: Thirty seconds—the president’s audience, I think, was the United States, not intended to be Iran, number one.

Number two, he did something very good, in my view, in talking to the Iranian people, talking to the Syrian people. I think that was important. I don’t know why that doesn’t underscore for him the need to actually talk.

And thirdly, I think the rhetoric was sharp enough that it probably did not move the ball forward. I don’t think it’s useful when you’re in that setting to talk about regimes and about, you know, the way in which he phrased these things. I think—but the audience was here, in my view. It wasn’t the international community. I think there was a missed opportunity in the third part of the way—in his style and in the way in which he referenced these other countries. I think it was—I think (he) missed an opportunity.

FRYE: Senator, I think we’re still puzzling over the problem that Winston Churchill commented on in a note to Lloyd George when Churchill was responsible for the British role, the question being, “Why are we investing vast sums for the privilege of sitting on an ungrateful volcano,” in Churchill’s phrase.

We want to thank you very much for exploring these problems with us, and we are most honored by your presence and instructed by your views. (Applause.)

BIDEN: I would suggest the lesson to that is don’t fool with Mother Nature. (Laughs, laughter.)

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

h the Foreign Relations and the Judiciary Committees, at this stage, I think one would have to say that Joe Biden is a grown stock.

That fact is confirmed by the finding in a recent National Journal survey that Senator Biden has become the most trusted voice on foreign policy in the Democratic Party.

He has also shown a gift for bipartisanship, reflected in his collaboration with the current chairman, Richard Lugar, and in his earlier working relationship with Senator Jesse Helms, notably in the Helms-Biden legislation that has been crucial in shaping American policy toward the United Nations.

The senator recently returned from his seventh—that’s seven—trip to Iraq. He brings powerful independent perspective on the war, making clear his sharp criticism of the administration’s performance while struggling to frame a balanced approach.

We meet a day after dire warnings have come from the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan group led by Lee Hamilton and James Baker, and after the announcement that there is no likelihood of a reduction in the American military presence until after next spring.

Senator, with that context as the day’s setting, we look forward very much to hearing your current assessment. (Applause.)

SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, thank you very much. It is true; we’ve been treading platforms together for a long, long time. And I have always valued your advice and your counsel. And if I had listened to it a little earlier, when I was a little younger, I’d be a little further along. But I want to thank you very, very much for having me here today, and it’s an honor to be before all of you.

Ladies and gentlemen, five months ago, Les Gelb and I laid out a detailed plan that we thought would be able to keep Iraq together, protect America’s interest and bring our troops home in a reasonable time frame. Our plan generated what I view to be a much-needed debate about alternatives beyond the Bush administration’s “Stay the course” rhetoric and those who suggest that we leave now.

Many experts here and in Iraq embraced the plan. Others raised legitimate concerns. Still others mischaracterized or misunderstood the plan, calling it a partition and when in fact it was designed to be the exact opposite of a partition.

Today I’d like to explain in more detail what that plan does and what that plan does not do. But first I believe it’s worth taking just a few moments to review the current situation in Iraq, at least as I see it.

The central reality today is that violence between the Shi’a and Sunnis has surpassed the insurgency and foreign terrorists as the main security threat in Iraq. Sectarian militias are the main instrument of that violence, and instead of disarming, they’re growing, and they’re growing for a very basic, simple reason. Young men have no jobs, and the militias give them a steady pay and a nice gun to carry.

Although half the Iraqi army divisions are capable of leading their operations with American support, the nuts and bolts that any military needs to be self-sustaining are woefully inadequate or totally missing. There are enormous problems with logistics, the ability literally to pay these forces, transportation, procurement, and even food delivery.

On my last trip, our number-two general in country was literally on the phone on his way in, calling his counterpart in the department—in the Ministry of Defense, pointing out that an entire division was left without any food, any water or any supplies for the entire weekend because the local contractor did not show up to deliver them, and they had gone home at 3:00.

The ranks of the Iraqi police are riddled with sectarian forces. The Facilities Protection Force, which no one talks much about here in this country, made up of 140,000 well-armed men answerable and assigned to specific ministries and only to that ministry, also are heavily involved in sectarian violence.

On the surface, Iraq has a unity government, but privately Sunnis and Kurds complain that they are no part of the decision-making process of that unity government. Political competition among the parties made up of the Shi’a coalition prevent any genuine outreach to the Sunnis or any serious attempt to rein in the militias. And on the other side, too many Sunnis continue to aid and abet the insurgency. And as a result, the political process is stalled and polarized.

While sectarianism is the major new reality in Iraq, the old reality, the insurgency and foreign jihadists, are still very much alive. Al Qaeda is so firmly entrenched in Anbar Province that it has morphed into an indigenous jihadist movement. And as a result, Iraq risks becoming what it was not before the war—a haven for terror and al Qaeda, in what I call a Bush-fulfilling prophecy.

And no number of troops can solve the sectarian problem, and we don’t have enough troops to definitively deal with the jihadist threat. And nothing makes that point more clearly, in my view, than the fact that we just pulled troops from Anbar Province to deal with the insurgency and jihadists, where they were fighting and fighting well, and we sent them into Baghdad to secure neighborhoods to stop sectarian violence.

Security operations in one neighborhood are able to force the death squads into another neighborhood, but the moment we leave, they come back in and fill the vacuum. They regroup, return to the neighborhoods we’ve cleaned when our troops have to move on to the next neighborhood. And when they all leave, I see nothing—nothing—nothing—that indicates to me there will be peace and security in those neighborhoods.

So that’s where we are, in my view. But the more important question is, where are we going, something you’ve been discussing here at the council for months.

Unfortunately, this administration, in my view, does not have any discernible strategy for success in Iraq. I believe the strategy it has is to prevent defeat and to hand the problem over to the next person who occupies the White House. Meanwhile, more and more Americans, understandably frustrated, support an immediate withdrawal even at the risk of trading a dictator for chaos and a civil war that may very well morph into a regional war.

Both—both—to state the obvious, are bad alternatives. That’s why we put forward this plan. The five-point plan that I have laid out, I think, offers a better way. We start from the premise that the only way to break the vicious cycle of violence and to create the conditions for our armed forces to responsibly leave Iraq is to give Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds incentives to pursue their interests peacefully. This requires a sustainable political settlement, and the essence of that settlement is to give each of these parties some breathing room.

To get there, we promote five specific steps.

First, the plan calls for maintaining a unified Iraq by decentralizing Iraq and giving the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’a some limited control over their own regions. Let me emphasize that again. Maintaining a unified Iraq by giving decentralization an opportunity, for I am prepared to bet any of you here my remaining part of my career that this unity government will not be able to—with a strong, central government, absent giving additional leeway to each of these regions, each of these constituencies—be able to hold that country together.

The central government, under our plan, would be left in charge of common interests such as border security and the distribution of oil revenue. While we proposed three regions, the exact number should be left to the constitution. The constitution now calls for any single region—any one of the 18 governors can declare themselves a region and be separate. So we leave it to the Iraqis. We talk about three regions, but the Iraqi constitution allows for more. My guess is it would be three.

What matters is the principle of federalism is a way to manage competing interests and visions while keeping Iraq together. But federalism will only work if each group believes that it has an economic stake in a unified government. The Sunnis are in a unique position; they do not have any oil, and they fear being permanently cut off from the natural wealth of Iraq—oil. That’s why some of their leaders continue to resist federalism.

So the second element of our plan is to guarantee that each group will get a proportionate share of the oil revenues. For the Sunnis, that would represent roughly 20 percent of those revenues.

Why would Shi’a and Kurds, you might ask, want to share oil revenues? Well, quite frankly, because it’s better for the bottom line for both the Shi’a and the Kurds if they share oil revenues. For without a(n) oil-sharing agreement, Iraq will not attract—and from my personal discussions with oil companies, my discussions with those who know the oil industry—it will not attract—I emphasize, will not attract the massive investment needed to maximize production in Iraq. If all sides agree on a formula for the distribution of proceeds in a unified oil ministry and policy, investment will begin to flow in large amounts and production will rise, and it will give each group, including the Sunnis and the Kurds—or the Shi’a and the Kurds, a much bigger piece of a much bigger pie. The end result—they’ll be much better off. Oil can and should become the glue that binds this country together.

The third piece of the plan is to improve the living conditions of the Iraqi people and generate and create a significant number of new jobs. But that requires increasing reconstruction aid. But it also requires altering the way in which we spend the money for reconstruction and by tying it as well to protection of minority rights within the regions.

The administration’s early fixation on multinational megaprojects has wasted literally billions of dollars on mismanagement, corruption and security for foreign reconstruction teams, and it has virtually shown no results—no results in electrical generation, sewage treatment, potable water as well as oil production. This incompetence on reconstruction, I acknowledge to you, makes it a very tough sell to the American Congress or to any of our friends. But we must ramp up and revamp our reconstruction program in concert with others, not do what the administration is suggesting, and that is wind down the reconstruction money. To fund this effort, we should insist that our Gulf allies, who have reaped huge oil profits, step up and put up in their own naked self-interest.

The fourth part of this plan calls for an international conference that would produce a regional, non-aggression pact and create a contact group to enforce regional commitments. There can be no lasting solution unless the neighbors of Iraq buy in to whatever the agreement the Iraqis agree upon. And unless they use their respective influence on each of the factions within Iraq to promote stability, most of the neighbors—contrary to popular opinion and what is said, in my view, in this administration—most of Iraq’s neighbors do not want to do us any favors. But being drawn into a civil war that morphs into a regional war is clearly in none of their interests as well, and they know it. It’s not in Syria’s interest, it’s not in Iran’s interest. And even if a contact group can’t prevent a civil war, the more we can restrain the interventionist tendencies of Iraq’s neighbors, the greater the odds that violence can be confined within Iraq’s borders and regional conflagration prevented if we do not stem what is becoming a full-blown civil war in Iraq.

Fifth and finally, under this plan, we would begin a phase redeployment of U.S. troops this year and withdraw most of them by the end of the year 2007. We would need to maintain, in my view, a small follow-on force to keep the neighbors honest, strike at concentration of terrorists and train Iraqi security forces. In the meantime, U.S. troops would concentrate on securing sectarian fault lines.

I said at the outset that some critics have mischaracterized and misunderstood parts of our plan. So let me conclude by telling you what the plan is and what it is not.

Our plan is consistent with Iraq’s constitution, which already provides for Iraqi provinces to form regions, jointly or individually, with their own security forces, and control over most of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Our plan is the only idea on the table for dealing with the militias, which are likely to retreat to the respective provinces and regions instead of continuing to engage in sectarian violence.

Our plan is consistent with a strong central government that has clearly defined responsibilities. Indeed, it provides an agenda for that government whose mere existence—I emphasize, whose mere existence will not end the sectarian violence.

Our plan is not partition. In fact, it may be the only way to prevent a violent partition and preserve a unified Iraq. To be sure, the plan presents real challenges, especially with regard to large cities with mixed populations. We would maintain Baghdad as a federal city belonging to no one region, as stipulated in their constitution. And we would require international peacekeepers there, and in other mixed cities, to support local security forces and further protect minorities. To state the obvious, for now, participation of any other country in a peacekeeping force is a nonstarter. But a political settlement of the nature I have outlined, a regional conference, and a contact group to demonstrate international resolve, could change their calculus and willingness to participate in such a force.

At best, the course we’re on in Iraq has no happy end in sight. At worst, it leads to a terrible civil war that turns into a regional war and leaves a new haven for fundamentalist jihadists in the heart of the Middle East.

This plan offers a way to bring our troops home, protect our security interests, and preserve Iraq as a unified country. And to those who understandably reject the plan, those who reject it out of hand, I have one simple question: What is your option?

I thank you all very much, and I’m looking forward to your questions. (Applause.)

FRYE: We’ll take a moment, Senator, while you get a lapel mike on.

Let me reflect on one aspect of what you’re raising, because it’s the central truth that you bring, that constitution-making in Iraq, as in our own experience, requires the creation of a balance of incentives. Madison faced that issue in leading some of the efforts after our own Revolutionary period. And a key test came when the federal government, with Jefferson joining Hamilton and Madison, agreed to assume the hangover debts from the states that had come out of the Revolutionary period. That was all part of a process of shaping incentives.

And it’s hard to dispute your basic argument that unless the unity government can move toward a recrafting of those incentives among the disparate interests, it is probably doomed. I think that’s not too hasty a judgment, based on the rise in sectarian violence that we’ve seen.

But there are some tensions in your proposal that I think we should explicate. And perhaps I can do it in the following manner. At the heart of your proposition is the argument that the Sunnis have to have a stake, they have to feel that they are part of the continuing Iraqi enterprise. But it’s also the case that there is a tension between the proposal that you want to give the Sunnis a stake, and their wariness of decentralization. The Sunnis obviously are expressing considerable reticence about decentralization, along the lines that you and others have proposed, and there’s even substantial Shi’a reticence among the Sadr faction, from what we’ve been told by the reports.

My question is simple. Have you identified significant Sunni leadership within Iraq who will buy into your plan?

BIDEN: Yes. Let me point out that—let’s take the example of what’s happening in their Parliament right now. You have Hakim calling for this establishment—for a process to establish a Shi’a region made up of roughly nine provinces—nine areas. And you have Sadr, the very guy who’s leading the charge to kill as many Sunnis as he can in other parts of Baghdad and Anbar province, siding with the Sunnis in resisting this. You have the Sunnis saying the main reason they’re resisting is what’s in it for them. They know they get left in the middle of a province that in fact has no natural resources.

It seems to me that Sadr siding with the Sunnis makes my very point on two fronts.

Sadr knows, as the British general in Basra told us in my last trip, that if in fact there is a Shi’a region, there will be intense competition among the multiple Shi’a militia for who is going to be the equivalent of their state police, their Maryland or Virginia State Police, who is going to be in charge. Matter of fact, this general referenced the fact, we have no insurgency, we have no civil war; we have the equivalent of a group of mafia dons waiting to see who leaves and is going to control the region.

The second point is the Shi’a have realized that they are no longer able to control Iraq as they did in the past. And they’ve concluded—the bulk of the tribal leaders—that they are better off in the deal if in fact they have a part of the action, because they know they cannot rely on a parliament dominated or a government dominated by the Shi’a and expect to get their water project funded in Fallujah three years from now.

So I would argue that the very split you’re seeing makes the point that I am arguing—the incentive to stay in and stop supporting the insurgency is a piece of the action. And the fact that Sadr is taking issue as hard as he is with a Shi’a province knows that he is going to be left outside of that because Baghdad is part of the capital city, and his influence inside—he’ll have to compete with the Badr Brigade and other militia for ascendancy.

FRYE: Senator, let me ask you to address one other thing that you’ve spoken to in other settings.

There is a concern among Iraqis about the scale and perhaps duration of the American presence. Without stepping on another organization’s study that will be revealed in the next few days, the trend seems to be that a rising majority of Iraqis favor attacks on American forces. Even though they may not all want to participate in those attacks, there’s a sympathy curve running in that direction. You’ve argued that we should make very clear, in legislation if necessary, that there will be no permanent American bases in Iraq. That hasn’t taken. Do you see any prospect that there are ways to signal to the broad majority of Iraqis that we are there for the short term rather than the long term? And how does that relate to the need to reassure them in the short term?

BIDEN: I don’t think much is going to flow positively, absent a national consensus on a political solution. I don’t think many people in Iraq, no matter what their sectarian preference is, view the unity government as the answer to their problem. I don’t think many Shi’a think that their mosques are no longer going to be bombed, now that there’s a Shi’a-controlled government, even if calm is restored in Baghdad temporarily. I don’t know many Sunnis, as I’ve gone in and out of that country, who believe that there is a likelihood that their interests will be preserved in any way under this unity government.

And when the constitution was voted on—and I came back and I was one of the official representatives there at the voting and going to the polling places—I came back and debriefed the president and his war Cabinet, and he told me what a great democratic demonstration it was. And I said, “Mr. President, it was democratic, but it was not a democratic—it was not the notion of democracy that spurred them to the polls. It was a sectarian vote.” They were going to learn 92 percent of the votes cast were cast along sectarian lines. That a democracy does not make.

So you’ve got to figure out how in fact you get the Sunnis to conclude that support of the insurgency is not the only way in which they can have any prospect of not being overrun by Shi’a death squads and being dominated completely.

And as a consequence of all this, there is this lack of ease anywhere, including in Kurdistan, on the part of Iraqis that think there is a solution at hand. When they voted for that constitution, particularly the Sunnis, it was on the implied promise two things would change: the constitution would change, they’d get a say in regionalism and they’d get a say in resources. Remember at the very last minute when our ambassador got them to amend the constitution so that it could be further amended, and they didn’t even—weren’t able even to write out the language of that amendment? That’s what brought the Sunnis to the polls.

And so when you—and I’m making this answer too long—but when you bump along in any one of these regions seeing no long-term solution, you lose in rapid time frame any empathy or sympathy for the forces who are there allegedly to protect you. And therefore, although you may not engage in it, you choose a method, you choose a side. You choose the insurgency, you choose the sectarian militia, you choose to isolate yourself in the north. All of that adds up to very bad news for American forces sitting in the middle.

And folks, as the old saying goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You’ve not seen anything yet. Wait until, God forbid, the conclusion is there is no hope here and the militias all begin to, figuratively speaking, open fire on American forces.

And that’s why I introduced the amendment to just signal that there would be no permanent bases in Iraq, because the view of the people now is, “I see no end in sight of this occupation,” for a whole range of reasons. Not because of just U.S. intent, but because of a lack of any hope out there that there will be peace and unity flowing from the present circumstance.

FRYE: You’re very well familiar with the old political maxim that if you want to change the policy, you have to change the people. And I want to press you a bit on the prospects for American policy in this interval that is before us. Whatever the outcome of this November’s congressional elections, President Bush has more than two years running in his term. You’ve suggested that Secretary Rumsfeld—(laughter)—you’ve suggested that Secretary Rumsfeld should resign or be fired. But what difference would that make, given the president’s deep convictions about his view of staying the course?

BIDEN: Optimism is an occupational requirement in my business. I refuse to allow myself to believe that faced with irrefutable facts over time, intelligent men will not change their course. Even if they won’t, what choice do I have? I mean it sincerely. A lot of people have said to me, “Why put this plan out there, Biden? It’s only going to get shot at.” You notice, nobody else has put a plan out, not because there’s not brilliant women and men in this town and around the country. Nobody, not a single person. Why? Because, A, you either believe it won’t matter because the administration will pay no attention to it; or B, it just allows those who support the administration to have something to shoot at.

And the truth of the matter is, it’s my responsibility. I think I have a responsibility to lay out what I think the best plan is. And I can hope. I believe it is still possible because there are so many people in the military, so many generals on the ground, so many people who know the essence of what we’re saying—maybe not the exact plan, the essence of what we’re saying—is true. Ask the rhetorical question, including how can you possibly figure out a positive outcome for Iraq if you don’t get all the parties to conclude that they’re better in the detail than out of the deal? I mean, it’s pretty basic stuff.

So I don’t know what else to tell you.

FRYE: Well, that is part of the dilemma that we face at this stage in our life.

We turn now to questions among our collective participants here. In the general discussion, our focus having been on Iraq, I hope you will stay with it, but the senator is amenable to queries on issues other than Iraq, and obviously both Iran and Afghanistan are related to the campaign undertaken in Iraq as well.

I’ll ask you please to wait for the microphone, speak directly into it. It will be helpful if you stand, state your name and affiliation. And remember that brevity is the soul of wit. (Laughter.) And apart from that, the presider is instructed to enforce that rule.

Right here, please.

QUESTIONER: Thanks very much. Thank you, Senator, for your steadfastness on this issue.

FRYE: Name?

QUESTIONER: My name is David Apgar. I’m with the Corporate Executive Board. A quick question. Within your plan, why not split up Baghdad, split it down the river? That way, the Sunni part of the country would at least have a capital. It would be 40 percent of today’s Baghdad as a commercial

country that otherwise would have only natural resource remittances, 20 percent of the oil revenues if all went well. And on the eastern side of the river, Sadr’s base would be united with the Shi’ite part of the country, so at least he might start pulling for the kind of decentralization which you, I think probably rightly, say is the only way to get where you hope to end up.

BIDEN: Two reasons. One, the Iraqi constitution calls for Baghdad to be the unified capital. Two, I don’t know how you have a unified country without a capital that all parties believe is their capital. That’s the reason. It does make it more difficult. It does make it more difficult. If I were going to go that route, I would be inclined—and I’m not. I would go the route of our friend—oh, my goodness; I’m having a senior moment here. Worked in the Foreign Relations Committee, who recently wrote a book—

FRYE: Peter Galbraith.

BIDEN: Peter. Peter. Ambassador Galbraith’s proposal just to completely separate the country. My intention is to have—end up with a unified country in the region with a single capital. It is harder. It is—will take more work. It is difficult. But I also think it has the benefit of putting Sadr in a circumstance where he has to deal with the other Shi’a in order to be able to maintain any political base. And it also requires the Sunnis to buy into a total government, a government that’s a central government. That’s the reason.

FRYE: Question here in the front. Microphone is coming.

BIDEN: Excuse my cold. I apologize.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Senator.

BIDEN: And don’t tell Peter I didn’t remember his name! (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Amy Bondurant. My question is simply the incentive part of your plan, the oil revenues, is that likely to destabilize further the Shi’a into more factions?

BIDEN: Well, it does have that possibility. As you well know, there is a new Shi’a faction and militia that has called for the establishment of an independent country regarding four—encompassing Basra and four adjoining provinces, and argued by the leader of that faction that in fact they have access to the sea, they have oil, they have all they need; they can be an independent country.

I am sure that it will, in part, do that. But the main overriding forces within the Shi’a coalition remain Sistani, and on the moral side of the equation here and the unifying side of the equation, as well as the Badr Brigade and the two major parties. And I think they will work it out.

But it could. It could.

I’m making—you know, the longer this goes on, folks, the more difficult any plan becomes to implement. So I can’t guarantee what would happen. But I believe the likely prospect would be the major parties and the major militias working out an agreement among themselves to deal with the local control of their region.

FRYE: On the aisle in the middle, please, with the microphone there. The logistics are slightly slower in a room configured this way. But we’ll get a mike there in half a moment.

QUESTIONER: Good morning. Babak Yektafar with Washington Prism and Center for Defense Information. My question, Senator, is that what guarantees are there in your plan that once these regions are set up, they will not be absorbed by the neighbors, such as Shi’ites towards Iran; Kurds focusing on Turkey, and so on and so forth.

BIDEN: That’s why the need for the regional conference. That’s why the significant part of this plan is to get the Permanent 5 of the United Nations to call for a regional conference, have a real knock-down, drag-out agreement based upon the negative alternatives failing to reach an agreement, and have them see that light. And it will even place a contact group. And that’s the second reason why there’s a need to have a capital city that is in charge of distribution of these assets, so that if in fact you have a central government that has control of the borders, control of the national army, and control of the natural resources, it diminishes the prospect that there will be the tendency or desire to either engulf and/or separate from this unified government.

FRYE: Right here.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Jeff Morley, WashingtonPost.com. I’m wondering what you make of Hakim’s decentralization proposal. It seems to fulfill some of what you talked about: Iraqis deciding on their own to decentralize. So is that program a step forward or not? And I think that it’s going to be brought up for a vote again. That’s the first question.

The second question is, what’s your message to the people on the other side who are resisting that proposal? Why should they buy into your plan?

BIDEN: Well, I don’t think the militia—some of the militia, I don’t think the jihadis, and I don’t think the—a lot of the former Saddamists are going to buy into it under any circumstance. The question is how do you buy away their support? How do you undermine their ability to continue to have the kind of sway and impact they have? And that’s the answer to your second question.

The answer to the first question, Hakim’s got it half right. And everybody understands what Hakim is doing; it is not automatic—he’s setting up the mechanism that would allow this to take place in a vote within their parliament to set up these regions. I think Hakim is going for the trifecta here, and that is the region, the oil and the control. And that’s why he’s getting resistance from Sunnis and some Shi’a. And the Kurds are sitting there kind of observing. So I think Hakim’s plan, absent a Sunni guarantee, is a non-starter.

FRYE: Right here, please.

QUESTIONER: Nancy Bearg from Search for Common Ground. Senator, I wonder if you would comment on the prospects for bipartisan support of this? And you may already have it and I just don’t know. And also, how it could get implemented, what your role would be and how it could become implemented.

BIDEN: Well, the truth of the matter is, there’s only two ways this plan could get implemented. One is that the president of the United States decides that he thinks it’s the way to go, and he instructs our ambassador and all our moldable pressure points to put pressure upon this existing unity government to make these kinds of offers and concessions.

A second, indirect way is to do what it has done. The national security adviser, among the Shi’a, has endorsed this plan. There’s others in Iraq who have endorsed this plan and parts of the plan. So it’s at least had the benefit of generating a debate within Iraq. And that’s another way, in a burgeoning democratic system, to be able to get ideas into that debate.

With regard to bipartisanship, I do not want to hurt his reputation, but if you notice, the language being used by Senator Lugar and many of my colleagues now mirrors very closely what we’re talking about. Dick Lugar and I were on the Lehrer hour last night, and Lehrer asked him about my plan, and he thinks—he said, “Yeah, Joe’s plan, I think, is the essence”—I don’t want to quote him.

But the point is, everybody’s arriving at the following conclusion. How do you get the Sunnis in? How do you stop the militia from killing each other? And there’s a need to get the neighbors to buy in to a deal. I mean, all those pieces—(chuckling)—whether you buy the Biden plan or not, I don’t care. And I have no pride of authorship, and nor does Les have on the five points. You may have a seven-point plan—(chuckling)—a two-point plan. The bottom line is, there is no plan now. There is no plan now.

And folks, we continue to argue that soon as we train them up, we’ll stand down. What are we talking about? Folks, there is no—let me emphasize this now—there is no civil side of the equation over there. There is no Agriculture Department that is able to function. There is no Department of Education. There is no—just go down the list. They don’t know how to turn the traffic lights on and off. Saddam did that.

I’ll give you one little example. I’m meeting with Chiarelli, a really first-rate guy. And I’m paraphrasing him now. He said, “Joe, if you—I ever—you ever hear me criticize the bureaucracy again, pop me. I need a bureaucracy.” And then he gave an example. He said, “Look, they have the date palm,” which is the natural fruit—the national symbol of their agriculture. They used to be the bread basket of the region, as you all remember, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, right? Forties, fifties and sixties.

Now he says, “So I went to the embassy, and I said, ‘You got to spray these date palms,’” because there’s the equivalent of the boll weevil for cotton, whatever it is, for date palms. It’s been five years. It’ll get wiped out if you don’t spray them. He said, “They told me that’s up to the Department of Agriculture. I went there. They don’t know how to do it.”

So he basically said—my words, not his—“I did what Saddam did. I took our helicopters, our guys. I went out and sprayed the date palms. Then I went back, and I sat down with the Department of Agriculture. I said, ‘Look, this is what you’ve got to plan for next year.’”

Folks, there ain’t nobody there. If you were president of the United States, I’d be saying as your secretary of State, “Madame President, go make a speech at the Department of Agriculture today, for real, and plead for volunteers from the Department of Agriculture to go to—to go to—Iraq, go to the State Department, and say, ‘It’s no longer optional. We need about 500 more of you to come. We need you to help set up these agencies.’”

So what’s going to happen, folks, the most likely outcome—and this is going to get me in trouble—most likely outcome is, when we do stand up—and we’re making progress in standing up their army—you’re going to find, Joe, six months from now, a year from now, two years from now, the Army saying, “There is no civilian control. We must take over.” And we’ll have supplanted one strongman for another, hopefully one that is more benign.

But folks, there’s no there there, and you’d better figure out pretty quickly how to begin to deal with it.

So I think that it is—can only occur when the president reaches the conclusion that we’re kind of at the end of our rope here, and there needs to be a Plan B.

And again, it doesn’t have to be exactly what I’ve said, and you watch—I predict to you: More and more people of your caliber and all of you in this room are signing on to this approach, more and more people in Iraq are signing on to this approach, and more and more of my Democratic and Republican colleagues are signing on to this approach. And I don’t mean sign on to what Biden says. They’re signing on to the need to deal with the elements that I’ve laid out in this plan.

FRYE: Senator, you’ve been very flexible about the elements of a plan to deal with this problem, but you do reject a one-element plan that would involve withdrawal of the American forces by a date certain. Is that accurate?

BIDEN: That is not a plan. That is not a plan, that is an action. That is a tactical decision. I said to a group of my colleagues—we were arguing about this and someone was talking about withdrawing. And there were eight of us in this room in a meeting. And I said, “Let me ask you all a question.” And I ask you this rhetorical question. If the president of the United States invited you to the Oval Office today and said, “Sam, Harry, Mary, tell me what to do, and I guarantee you I will do it,” would your plan be—would you say to him, “My plan is, withdraw”? Anybody here? Raise your hand. Is that a plan?

That may be a forced decision because of the incompetence of this administration leading us to a point where there is no alternative but to pick that choice among other bad choices, but is that a plan? That’s why I reject it. It’s not a plan. It may become a necessity because there’s no option, but it’s not a plan.

FRYE: Right here. Margaret.

QUESTIONER: Margaret Daly Hayes from EBR Associates, and once upon a time a Foreign Relations Committee staffer too. Thank you, Senator, for your interest in this issue and the attention you’ve given to it.

Can you comment on what the incentives are to the militias of these different groups not to just—under a separate geography—not to just continue the sectarian violence and civil war? And secondly, and particularly given your comments on the absence of governance in the current situation, what does this central authority that’s going to guarantee the distribution of equitable portions of revenue look like? How robust does it have to be?

BIDEN: Well, it has to be fairly robust. I’ll start at the end. It has to be fairly robust. And we’re going to have to continue to be involved and get our European friends to take on some version of Tony Blair’s suggestion a year and a half ago of “adopt a ministry,” the European governments. We have to get more civilian capability in to help them build this government. You’re more inclined to do that if in fact you have the violence at—you know, if not evaporating, the violence significantly reduced.

So now, why militia? Why would the militia be inclined to turn in rather than out? Militia are all about power. This is all about each of these militia leaders are seeking some ascendancy of their own. Sadr would like to run the country. Sadr would like to run the region. If Sadr has to concentrate on figuring out what part of the Sunni plan he becomes part of, what part of the Sunni operation he has—I mean Shi’a—excuse me—operation he has control of, he’s going to have to concentrate internally. He’s going to have to concentrate in dealing with that portion of the population that he has to draw his sustenance from and his support from. So the competition will necessarily turn inward. And I think that is almost a guarantee.

Now, how that plays out, could it play out very violently? It may. It may. I don’t know enough to know the answer to that question. But I know that it will—I don’t know—I strongly believe that it will greatly diminish his or anyone else’s desire to merely seek retribution and/or civil war.

The other piece of this is—I start from the basic premise that about a year and a half ago there was a bit—as we Catholics say—a bit of an epiphany that took place in Iraq. And that is, although the Kurds would love nothing more than absolute independence, they have realized that they’re not about to give up on reclaiming Kirkuk. They know if they reclaim Kirkuk and, quote, “cleanse” it and de—de—get the Arabs out—(laughter)—they know that the Turks are not going to stand by and they know that the Iranians aren’t going to stand by if they claim an independent state. They’re very smart. They’re the most sophisticated group. They’ve got most of it together. They know their autonomy is best preserved within a united Iraq.

The vast majority of the tribal leaders among the Sunnis have reached a conclusion there is no future in the insurgency where they’re going to be able to control Iraq for another five generations. So how do they maintain their interest and increase their influence and their independence of action within their own region?

And the Shi’a have come to the conclusion that they can dominate politically but they cannot dominate—they cannot dominate physically. They’re still going to have their mosques blown up. So there is an incentive on each of their parts.

Do they like it? No. Is this one of those marriages everybody says, “Let’s reconcile and make up?” No. Most times that’s not how countries function.

And so I think it is a realization of the changed circumstance for their own physical well-being on the ground that makes this plan or some version of it much more probable today than it was if you did it a year and a half ago.

And I would note another analogy, if I may make it; you’ve talked about the need to deal with absorbing debt in the national government. Well, you know, look at this way. What do you think would have happened, folks—and I realize this is trite sounding—what do you think would have happened if at Yorktown—two months after Yorktown we tried to pass the American Constitution as it was eventually written in Philadelphia 11 and—finally ratified 13 years later? Does anybody think Delaware and Georgia would be in the same outfit? Does anybody think Massachusetts and Maryland would be part of the same outfit?

It took us 11 years to get to our Philadelphia moment. And so you’ve got to give them some breathing room while keeping them together, and I’d offer Bosnia as another example, Kosovo. There’s all imperfect examples, but the same principle’s at play.

FRYE: Right here. Microphone to the front.

QUESTIONER: John Alterman, Center for Strategic International Studies. Thank you very much for your presentation. I agree with a lot of it, and there’s part of it that bothers me. And I’m hoping that you can help explain it, and it has to do with the role of the central government in a federal system. The role that I understand you to have laid out is not only sort of the U.S. government before World War II, it feels a lot like the U.S. government before the Civil War.

With all the assets outside, most of the firepower in state and local militia, why does anybody listen to the central government? What authority do they have? I mean, you can set up the embassies, except the Kurds wanted Kurdish representatives in all the embassies. I mean, it feels in some ways like it becomes unified in name only and not the sort of flexible system we have, but instead a papering over of essentially dividing the country.

BIDEN: It could very well become that if it is not done well. That’s why Baghdad is the capital. That’s why a national army controlled by Baghdad and the unity government and the parliament in Baghdad. That’s why the need for the heads of each of the departments, including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the departments, et cetera, are controlled by that parliament and that government sitting in Baghdad.

And the incentive there relates to the same reason why we ended up with a commerce clause. There is no real likelihood of each of the regions realizing their economic incentives, their economic prosperity absent a unified country, absent a central government. And I would again go back to oil as the example. You are not—and many of you probably have forgotten more about the oil industry than I know, but I’ve taken the time to go out and try over the last year and a half to understand what incentives are required for the major oil companies to deal with this second or third, depending on the—on whose judgment you take, oil reserves in the world.

They want two things. They want a unified oil market, and they want some stability in Iraq. And so the incentive is—the incentive is the prize. The prize is hundreds of billions of more dollars. The prize is that through this unity and a centrally-controlled Oil Ministry, everybody—they don’t care about the others—everybody in the Shi’a area does a lot better than they would attempting to control it by themselves.

So there are the incentives that are built-in, and that’s why I’m not calling for—I’m calling for loosely federated here in the sense that the constitution calls for, their present constitution allows for local police control, and it allows for local control over local issues—marriage, property distribution, education. And that’s what we’re talking about. What are the things that ultimately are separating these people besides vendettas that have been built up, which are a big deal?

FRYE: I’m going to take two last questions. One right here in the front, and then, back—I saw Ed in the—yeah, right there. Mike there. Mike here first.

BIDEN: If you ask a “yes/no,” you might get in four.

FRYE: Let’s take them both before you respond, Senator, okay?

QUESTIONER: I’ll speak quickly then. Senator, my name’s Jim Sosnicky. For two years, I was an Army Civil Affairs officer in Iraq. In my travels around the country, I never got a sense of an Iraqi identity. I got a sense of an Anbar identity, a Shi’a identity. My question is, why is the idea of a unified Iraq sacrosanct?

When the Ottomans ruled it, they ruled it as three different provinces. It’s been held together for 90 years as an artificial country through draconian measures. And I’ve heard the argument made that well, if it breaks into three parts, it will cause all this turmoil in the region.

But breaking it down into the three, wouldn’t you think that the Turks could be appeased by using leverage to EU membership as an incentive to get them to cooperate with an independent Kurdistan? In the south, the Shi’as are always identified with Iran, but in fact, they’re two completely different ethnic groups with two languages. And during eight years of the Iran-Iraq war, you did not see a mass of Shi’a guys defecting to the other side. And then in the central region, one could make the argument since we’re the ones who turned everything upside down, maybe the province—or the new country of Al Anbar becomes the, you know, third-largest recipient of aid, after Jordan, or whatever, from the U.S. (Laughter.)

So that is my question to you, is why is this—why is the idea of holding—it just strikes me as odd that when the Soviet Union broke up, no one really complained about that. But we are trying with all our might to hold together Iraq. And do you see a way forward that deviates a bit from your plan where it could break up and it wouldn’t be that bad? Thank you.

MR. FYRE: You can hold your comment on that. Pete Galbraith might not be here, but he has a very effective surrogate. (Laughter.)

BIDEN: No, it’s a good point. A good point.

QUESTIONER: Edwin Williamson from Sullivan & Cromwell. I must say, the last question has been one that I’ve always wondered, too, is what’s so sacred about the unified Iraq.

But my question is sort of a variation on that. And trying—and, Senator, trying to understand exactly what your plan is that’s different from now, what is it different—

BIDEN: Let me say, if you haven’t figured that out yet, I’m not going to be able to explain it.

QUESTIONER: Well, I would just ask, and how different would things be in the Kurdish section under your plan than they are now, just the Kurdish—

BIDEN: “Fear,” and “not very different” are the answers.

We can get two more in. (Laughter.)

MR. FYRE: Ah! All the way to the back.

QUESTIONER: Senator, Jim Slattery. I’m just curious, we’ve talked here for an hour about Iraq with very little discussion of Iran. And I’m just curious about what role you see Iran playing in Iraq as we go forward. And two, how do we engage Iran?

BIDEN: A, we should engage Iran, we should engage Iran directly, in my view. B, Iran likes it just like it is now. We are bleeding red blood and treasure, and we are occupied (sic) in a way that has freed them up in a profound way by our actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and they like it just the way it is.

The only thing they don’t like is the prospect of 17 million Shi’a learning how to organize and shoot straight, who are Arab in background and not just Shi’a, who may very well destabilize the 60 million out of 72 million Iranians who are Shi’a who don’t like their central government. So the last thing they want is a civil war in Iraq. So the incentive need be that they get involved in how we make an agreement on non-aggressions; how they are satisfied, along with the Turks, along with the Syrians, along with the Egyptians, along with the Sunni states, how are they best served by a unified Iraq. Which is in a way is a backdoor way of answering the question that was asked, which is a profound question: Why not look at the historical composition of this part of the world and recognize reality and say let’s go back to the that? The problem is the rest of the world around it has changed so drastically that I think it makes it very difficult for that to happen without further and greater conflagration than would be by trying to keep this outfit together in a way that they all marshal their interests and make the basic conclusion, in conclusion, that it’s better in the deal than out of the deal; that it’s better inside this entity than outside this entity. And that’s the conclusion I think the majority have reached.

And I would make one parenthetical note here.

What’s your name again? I’m sorry.

QUESTIONER: Jim.

BIDEN: Jim represents one of the most impressive things I observed in 33 years as a United States senator. I went to those provinces as well. I watched you and your counterparts in the military doing outstanding things. I watched in the beginning young captains, young lieutenants, young majors and colonels, sit there in the midst—in a mosque with 250 people from neighborhoods around, Shi’a and Sunni, and these kids, basically, bringing those neighborhoods together and actually, actually making progress, until we, in terms of our overall approach to this, began to really screw it up. I’m telling you, you would be—you know, we all talk about those guys out there shoot straight and they’re able to kill and they’re risking their lives. They’re great fighters. But the thing that people don’t know about the U.S. military and the young women and men we have out there, they are incredible diplomats. They solve problems on the ground. They do it all.

And so I want to tell you something. I have nothing—and I’m not being—this isn’t the old “God bless the military.” I have nothing but respect for these kids we’ve put out there in the middle of these neighborhoods who have diminished the problems. As bad as things are, my God, how much worse they’d be for you guys not being out there. It’s really amazing.

FRYE: Senator, as we come to the end, I’m going to ask you for 30 seconds of a net assessment regarding the Iran dimension of this problem. The president spoke at some length yesterday at the United Nations. Iran was a large part of it. Did his approach, as he articulated it yesterday, help or hinder the engagement of Iran in the kind of supportive resolution of the Iraqi conflict that you mentioned?

BIDEN: Thirty seconds—the president’s audience, I think, was the United States, not intended to be Iran, number one.

Number two, he did something very good, in my view, in talking to the Iranian people, talking to the Syrian people. I think that was important. I don’t know why that doesn’t underscore for him the need to actually talk.

And thirdly, I think the rhetoric was sharp enough that it probably did not move the ball forward. I don’t think it’s useful when you’re in that setting to talk about regimes and about, you know, the way in which he phrased these things. I think—but the audience was here, in my view. It wasn’t the international community. I think there was a missed opportunity in the third part of the way—in his style and in the way in which he referenced these other countries. I think it was—I think (he) missed an opportunity.

FRYE: Senator, I think we’re still puzzling over the problem that Winston Churchill commented on in a note to Lloyd George when Churchill was responsible for the British role, the question being, “Why are we investing vast sums for the privilege of sitting on an ungrateful volcano,” in Churchill’s phrase.

We want to thank you very much for exploring these problems with us, and we are most honored by your presence and instructed by your views. (Applause.)

BIDEN: I would suggest the lesson to that is don’t fool with Mother Nature. (Laughs, laughter.)

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ALTON FRYE: (In progress)—from the beginning, those of us who are Congress watchers have spotted and counted Joe Biden as a growth stock, a legislator who could and would assume great responsibilities. Having chaired both the Foreign Relations and the Judiciary Committees, at this stage, I think one would have to say that Joe Biden is a grown stock.

That fact is confirmed by the finding in a recent National Journal survey that Senator Biden has become the most trusted voice on foreign policy in the Democratic Party.

He has also shown a gift for bipartisanship, reflected in his collaboration with the current chairman, Richard Lugar, and in his earlier working relationship with Senator Jesse Helms, notably in the Helms-Biden legislation that has been crucial in shaping American policy toward the United Nations.

The senator recently returned from his seventh—that’s seven—trip to Iraq. He brings powerful independent perspective on the war, making clear his sharp criticism of the administration’s performance while struggling to frame a balanced approach.

We meet a day after dire warnings have come from the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan group led by Lee Hamilton and James Baker, and after the announcement that there is no likelihood of a reduction in the American military presence until after next spring.

Senator, with that context as the day’s setting, we look forward very much to hearing your current assessment. (Applause.)

SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, thank you very much. It is true; we’ve been treading platforms together for a long, long time. And I have always valued your advice and your counsel. And if I had listened to it a little earlier, when I was a little younger, I’d be a little further along. But I want to thank you very, very much for having me here today, and it’s an honor to be before all of you.

Ladies and gentlemen, five months ago, Les Gelb and I laid out a detailed plan that we thought would be able to keep Iraq together, protect America’s interest and bring our troops home in a reasonable time frame. Our plan generated what I view to be a much-needed debate about alternatives beyond the Bush administration’s “Stay the course” rhetoric and those who suggest that we leave now.

Many experts here and in Iraq embraced the plan. Others raised legitimate concerns. Still others mischaracterized or misunderstood the plan, calling it a partition and when in fact it was designed to be the exact opposite of a partition.

Today I’d like to explain in more detail what that plan does and what that plan does not do. But first I believe it’s worth taking just a few moments to review the current situation in Iraq, at least as I see it.

The central reality today is that violence between the Shi’a and Sunnis has surpassed the insurgency and foreign terrorists as the main security threat in Iraq. Sectarian militias are the main instrument of that violence, and instead of disarming, they’re growing, and they’re growing for a very basic, simple reason. Young men have no jobs, and the militias give them a steady pay and a nice gun to carry.

Although half the Iraqi army divisions are capable of leading their operations with American support, the nuts and bolts that any military needs to be self-sustaining are woefully inadequate or totally missing. There are enormous problems with logistics, the ability literally to pay these forces, transportation, procurement, and even food delivery.

On my last trip, our number-two general in country was literally on the phone on his way in, calling his counterpart in the department—in the Ministry of Defense, pointing out that an entire division was left without any food, any water or any supplies for the entire weekend because the local contractor did not show up to deliver them, and they had gone home at 3:00.

The ranks of the Iraqi police are riddled with sectarian forces. The Facilities Protection Force, which no one talks much about here in this country, made up of 140,000 well-armed men answerable and assigned to specific ministries and only to that ministry, also are heavily involved in sectarian violence.

On the surface, Iraq has a unity government, but privately Sunnis and Kurds complain that they are no part of the decision-making process of that unity government. Political competition among the parties made up of the Shi’a coalition prevent any genuine outreach to the Sunnis or any serious attempt to rein in the militias. And on the other side, too many Sunnis continue to aid and abet the insurgency. And as a result, the political process is stalled and polarized.

While sectarianism is the major new reality in Iraq, the old reality, the insurgency and foreign jihadists, are still very much alive. Al Qaeda is so firmly entrenched in Anbar Province that it has morphed into an indigenous jihadist movement. And as a result, Iraq risks becoming what it was not before the war—a haven for terror and al Qaeda, in what I call a Bush-fulfilling prophecy.

And no number of troops can solve the sectarian problem, and we don’t have enough troops to definitively deal with the jihadist threat. And nothing makes that point more clearly, in my view, than the fact that we just pulled troops from Anbar Province to deal with the insurgency and jihadists, where they were fighting and fighting well, and we sent them into Baghdad to secure neighborhoods to stop sectarian violence.

Security operations in one neighborhood are able to force the death squads into another neighborhood, but the moment we leave, they come back in and fill the vacuum. They regroup, return to the neighborhoods we’ve cleaned when our troops have to move on to the next neighborhood. And when they all leave, I see nothing—nothing—nothing—that indicates to me there will be peace and security in those neighborhoods.

So that’s where we are, in my view. But the more important question is, where are we going, something you’ve been discussing here at the council for months.

Unfortunately, this administration, in my view, does not have any discernible strategy for success in Iraq. I believe the strategy it has is to prevent defeat and to hand the problem over to the next person who occupies the White House. Meanwhile, more and more Americans, understandably frustrated, support an immediate withdrawal even at the risk of trading a dictator for chaos and a civil war that may very well morph into a regional war.

Both—both—to state the obvious, are bad alternatives. That’s why we put forward this plan. The five-point plan that I have laid out, I think, offers a better way. We start from the premise that the only way to break the vicious cycle of violence and to create the conditions for our armed forces to responsibly leave Iraq is to give Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds incentives to pursue their interests peacefully. This requires a sustainable political settlement, and the essence of that settlement is to give each of these parties some breathing room.

To get there, we promote five specific steps.

First, the plan calls for maintaining a unified Iraq by decentralizing Iraq and giving the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’a some limited control over their own regions. Let me emphasize that again. Maintaining a unified Iraq by giving decentralization an opportunity, for I am prepared to bet any of you here my remaining part of my career that this unity government will not be able to—with a strong, central government, absent giving additional leeway to each of these regions, each of these constituencies—be able to hold that country together.

The central government, under our plan, would be left in charge of common interests such as border security and the distribution of oil revenue. While we proposed three regions, the exact number should be left to the constitution. The constitution now calls for any single region—any one of the 18 governors can declare themselves a region and be separate. So we leave it to the Iraqis. We talk about three regions, but the Iraqi constitution allows for more. My guess is it would be three.

What matters is the principle of federalism is a way to manage competing interests and visions while keeping Iraq together. But federalism will only work if each group believes that it has an economic stake in a unified government. The Sunnis are in a unique position; they do not have any oil, and they fear being permanently cut off from the natural wealth of Iraq—oil. That’s why some of their leaders continue to resist federalism.

So the second element of our plan is to guarantee that each group will get a proportionate share of the oil revenues. For the Sunnis, that would represent roughly 20 percent of those revenues.

Why would Shi’a and Kurds, you might ask, want to share oil revenues? Well, quite frankly, because it’s better for the bottom line for both the Shi’a and the Kurds if they share oil revenues. For without a(n) oil-sharing agreement, Iraq will not attract—and from my personal discussions with oil companies, my discussions with those who know the oil industry—it will not attract—I emphasize, will not attract the massive investment needed to maximize production in Iraq. If all sides agree on a formula for the distribution of proceeds in a unified oil ministry and policy, investment will begin to flow in large amounts and production will rise, and it will give each group, including the Sunnis and the Kurds—or the Shi’a and the Kurds, a much bigger piece of a much bigger pie. The end result—they’ll be much better off. Oil can and should become the glue that binds this country together.

The third piece of the plan is to improve the living conditions of the Iraqi people and generate and create a significant number of new jobs. But that requires increasing reconstruction aid. But it also requires altering the way in which we spend the money for reconstruction and by tying it as well to protection of minority rights within the regions.

The administration’s early fixation on multinational megaprojects has wasted literally billions of dollars on mismanagement, corruption and security for foreign reconstruction teams, and it has virtually shown no results—no results in electrical generation, sewage treatment, potable water as well as oil production. This incompetence on reconstruction, I acknowledge to you, makes it a very tough sell to the American Congress or to any of our friends. But we must ramp up and revamp our reconstruction program in concert with others, not do what the administration is suggesting, and that is wind down the reconstruction money. To fund this effort, we should insist that our Gulf allies, who have reaped huge oil profits, step up and put up in their own naked self-interest.

The fourth part of this plan calls for an international conference that would produce a regional, non-aggression pact and create a contact group to enforce regional commitments. There can be no lasting solution unless the neighbors of Iraq buy in to whatever the agreement the Iraqis agree upon. And unless they use their respective influence on each of the factions within Iraq to promote stability, most of the neighbors—contrary to popular opinion and what is said, in my view, in this administration—most of Iraq’s neighbors do not want to do us any favors. But being drawn into a civil war that morphs into a regional war is clearly in none of their interests as well, and they know it. It’s not in Syria’s interest, it’s not in Iran’s interest. And even if a contact group can’t prevent a civil war, the more we can restrain the interventionist tendencies of Iraq’s neighbors, the greater the odds that violence can be confined within Iraq’s borders and regional conflagration prevented if we do not stem what is becoming a full-blown civil war in Iraq.

Fifth and finally, under this plan, we would begin a phase redeployment of U.S. troops this year and withdraw most of them by the end of the year 2007. We would need to maintain, in my view, a small follow-on force to keep the neighbors honest, strike at concentration of terrorists and train Iraqi security forces. In the meantime, U.S. troops would concentrate on securing sectarian fault lines.

I said at the outset that some critics have mischaracterized and misunderstood parts of our plan. So let me conclude by telling you what the plan is and what it is not.

Our plan is consistent with Iraq’s constitution, which already provides for Iraqi provinces to form regions, jointly or individually, with their own security forces, and control over most of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Our plan is the only idea on the table for dealing with the militias, which are likely to retreat to the respective provinces and regions instead of continuing to engage in sectarian violence.

Our plan is consistent with a strong central government that has clearly defined responsibilities. Indeed, it provides an agenda for that government whose mere existence—I emphasize, whose mere existence will not end the sectarian violence.

Our plan is not partition. In fact, it may be the only way to prevent a violent partition and preserve a unified Iraq. To be sure, the plan presents real challenges, especially with regard to large cities with mixed populations. We would maintain Baghdad as a federal city belonging to no one region, as stipulated in their constitution. And we would require international peacekeepers there, and in other mixed cities, to support local security forces and further protect minorities. To state the obvious, for now, participation of any other country in a peacekeeping force is a nonstarter. But a political settlement of the nature I have outlined, a regional conference, and a contact group to demonstrate international resolve, could change their calculus and willingness to participate in such a force.

At best, the course we’re on in Iraq has no happy end in sight. At worst, it leads to a terrible civil war that turns into a regional war and leaves a new haven for fundamentalist jihadists in the heart of the Middle East.

This plan offers a way to bring our troops home, protect our security interests, and preserve Iraq as a unified country. And to those who understandably reject the plan, those who reject it out of hand, I have one simple question: What is your option?

I thank you all very much, and I’m looking forward to your questions. (Applause.)

FRYE: We’ll take a moment, Senator, while you get a lapel mike on.

Let me reflect on one aspect of what you’re raising, because it’s the central truth that you bring, that constitution-making in Iraq, as in our own experience, requires the creation of a balance of incentives. Madison faced that issue in leading some of the efforts after our own Revolutionary period. And a key test came when the federal government, with Jefferson joining Hamilton and Madison, agreed to assume the hangover debts from the states that had come out of the Revolutionary period. That was all part of a process of shaping incentives.

And it’s hard to dispute your basic argument that unless the unity government can move toward a recrafting of those incentives among the disparate interests, it is probably doomed. I think that’s not too hasty a judgment, based on the rise in sectarian violence that we’ve seen.

But there are some tensions in your proposal that I think we should explicate. And perhaps I can do it in the following manner. At the heart of your proposition is the argument that the Sunnis have to have a stake, they have to feel that they are part of the continuing Iraqi enterprise. But it’s also the case that there is a tension between the proposal that you want to give the Sunnis a stake, and their wariness of decentralization. The Sunnis obviously are expressing considerable reticence about decentralization, along the lines that you and others have proposed, and there’s even substantial Shi’a reticence among the Sadr faction, from what we’ve been told by the reports.

My question is simple. Have you identified significant Sunni leadership within Iraq who will buy into your plan?

BIDEN: Yes. Let me point out that—let’s take the example of what’s happening in their Parliament right now. You have Hakim calling for this establishment—for a process to establish a Shi’a region made up of roughly nine provinces—nine areas. And you have Sadr, the very guy who’s leading the charge to kill as many Sunnis as he can in other parts of Baghdad and Anbar province, siding with the Sunnis in resisting this. You have the Sunnis saying the main reason they’re resisting is what’s in it for them. They know they get left in the middle of a province that in fact has no natural resources.

It seems to me that Sadr siding with the Sunnis makes my very point on two fronts.

Sadr knows, as the British general in Basra told us in my last trip, that if in fact there is a Shi’a region, there will be intense competition among the multiple Shi’a militia for who is going to be the equivalent of their state police, their Maryland or Virginia State Police, who is going to be in charge. Matter of fact, this general referenced the fact, we have no insurgency, we have no civil war; we have the equivalent of a group of mafia dons waiting to see who leaves and is going to control the region.

The second point is the Shi’a have realized that they are no longer able to control Iraq as they did in the past. And they’ve concluded—the bulk of the tribal leaders—that they are better off in the deal if in fact they have a part of the action, because they know they cannot rely on a parliament dominated or a government dominated by the Shi’a and expect to get their water project funded in Fallujah three years from now.

So I would argue that the very split you’re seeing makes the point that I am arguing—the incentive to stay in and stop supporting the insurgency is a piece of the action. And the fact that Sadr is taking issue as hard as he is with a Shi’a province knows that he is going to be left outside of that because Baghdad is part of the capital city, and his influence inside—he’ll have to compete with the Badr Brigade and other militia for ascendancy.

FRYE: Senator, let me ask you to address one other thing that you’ve spoken to in other settings.

There is a concern among Iraqis about the scale and perhaps duration of the American presence. Without stepping on another organization’s study that will be revealed in the next few days, the trend seems to be that a rising majority of Iraqis favor attacks on American forces. Even though they may not all want to participate in those attacks, there’s a sympathy curve running in that direction. You’ve argued that we should make very clear, in legislation if necessary, that there will be no permanent American bases in Iraq. That hasn’t taken. Do you see any prospect that there are ways to signal to the broad majority of Iraqis that we are there for the short term rather than the long term? And how does that relate to the need to reassure them in the short term?

BIDEN: I don’t think much is going to flow positively, absent a national consensus on a political solution. I don’t think many people in Iraq, no matter what their sectarian preference is, view the unity government as the answer to their problem. I don’t think many Shi’a think that their mosques are no longer going to be bombed, now that there’s a Shi’a-controlled government, even if calm is restored in Baghdad temporarily. I don’t know many Sunnis, as I’ve gone in and out of that country, who believe that there is a likelihood that their interests will be preserved in any way under this unity government.

And when the constitution was voted on—and I came back and I was one of the official representatives there at the voting and going to the polling places—I came back and debriefed the president and his war Cabinet, and he told me what a great democratic demonstration it was. And I said, “Mr. President, it was democratic, but it was not a democratic—it was not the notion of democracy that spurred them to the polls. It was a sectarian vote.” They were going to learn 92 percent of the votes cast were cast along sectarian lines. That a democracy does not make.

So you’ve got to figure out how in fact you get the Sunnis to conclude that support of the insurgency is not the only way in which they can have any prospect of not being overrun by Shi’a death squads and being dominated completely.

And as a consequence of all this, there is this lack of ease anywhere, including in Kurdistan, on the part of Iraqis that think there is a solution at hand. When they voted for that constitution, particularly the Sunnis, it was on the implied promise two things would change: the constitution would change, they’d get a say in regionalism and they’d get a say in resources. Remember at the very last minute when our ambassador got them to amend the constitution so that it could be further amended, and they didn’t even—weren’t able even to write out the language of that amendment? That’s what brought the Sunnis to the polls.

And so when you—and I’m making this answer too long—but when you bump along in any one of these regions seeing no long-term solution, you lose in rapid time frame any empathy or sympathy for the forces who are there allegedly to protect you. And therefore, although you may not engage in it, you choose a method, you choose a side. You choose the insurgency, you choose the sectarian militia, you choose to isolate yourself in the north. All of that adds up to very bad news for American forces sitting in the middle.

And folks, as the old saying goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You’ve not seen anything yet. Wait until, God forbid, the conclusion is there is no hope here and the militias all begin to, figuratively speaking, open fire on American forces.

And that’s why I introduced the amendment to just signal that there would be no permanent bases in Iraq, because the view of the people now is, “I see no end in sight of this occupation,” for a whole range of reasons. Not because of just U.S. intent, but because of a lack of any hope out there that there will be peace and unity flowing from the present circumstance.

FRYE: You’re very well familiar with the old political maxim that if you want to change the policy, you have to change the people. And I want to press you a bit on the prospects for American policy in this interval that is before us. Whatever the outcome of this November’s congressional elections, President Bush has more than two years running in his term. You’ve suggested that Secretary Rumsfeld—(laughter)—you’ve suggested that Secretary Rumsfeld should resign or be fired. But what difference would that make, given the president’s deep convictions about his view of staying the course?

BIDEN: Optimism is an occupational requirement in my business. I refuse to allow myself to believe that faced with irrefutable facts over time, intelligent men will not change their course. Even if they won’t, what choice do I have? I mean it sincerely. A lot of people have said to me, “Why put this plan out there, Biden? It’s only going to get shot at.” You notice, nobody else has put a plan out, not because there’s not brilliant women and men in this town and around the country. Nobody, not a single person. Why? Because, A, you either believe it won’t matter because the administration will pay no attention to it; or B, it just allows those who support the administration to have something to shoot at.

And the truth of the matter is, it’s my responsibility. I think I have a responsibility to lay out what I think the best plan is. And I can hope. I believe it is still possible because there are so many people in the military, so many generals on the ground, so many people who know the essence of what we’re saying—maybe not the exact plan, the essence of what we’re saying—is true. Ask the rhetorical question, including how can you possibly figure out a positive outcome for Iraq if you don’t get all the parties to conclude that they’re better in the detail than out of the deal? I mean, it’s pretty basic stuff.

So I don’t know what else to tell you.

FRYE: Well, that is part of the dilemma that we face at this stage in our life.

We turn now to questions among our collective participants here. In the general discussion, our focus having been on Iraq, I hope you will stay with it, but the senator is amenable to queries on issues other than Iraq, and obviously both Iran and Afghanistan are related to the campaign undertaken in Iraq as well.

I’ll ask you please to wait for the microphone, speak directly into it. It will be helpful if you stand, state your name and affiliation. And remember that brevity is the soul of wit. (Laughter.) And apart from that, the presider is instructed to enforce that rule.

Right here, please.

QUESTIONER: Thanks very much. Thank you, Senator, for your steadfastness on this issue.

FRYE: Name?

QUESTIONER: My name is David Apgar. I’m with the Corporate Executive Board. A quick question. Within your plan, why not split up Baghdad, split it down the river? That way, the Sunni part of the country would at least have a capital. It would be 40 percent of today’s Baghdad as a commercial

country that otherwise would have only natural resource remittances, 20 percent of the oil revenues if all went well. And on the eastern side of the river, Sadr’s base would be united with the Shi’ite part of the country, so at least he might start pulling for the kind of decentralization which you, I think probably rightly, say is the only way to get where you hope to end up.

BIDEN: Two reasons. One, the Iraqi constitution calls for Baghdad to be the unified capital. Two, I don’t know how you have a unified country without a capital that all parties believe is their capital. That’s the reason. It does make it more difficult. It does make it more difficult. If I were going to go that route, I would be inclined—and I’m not. I would go the route of our friend—oh, my goodness; I’m having a senior moment here. Worked in the Foreign Relations Committee, who recently wrote a book—

FRYE: Peter Galbraith.

BIDEN: Peter. Peter. Ambassador Galbraith’s proposal just to completely separate the country. My intention is to have—end up with a unified country in the region with a single capital. It is harder. It is—will take more work. It is difficult. But I also think it has the benefit of putting Sadr in a circumstance where he has to deal with the other Shi’a in order to be able to maintain any political base. And it also requires the Sunnis to buy into a total government, a government that’s a central government. That’s the reason.

FRYE: Question here in the front. Microphone is coming.

BIDEN: Excuse my cold. I apologize.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Senator.

BIDEN: And don’t tell Peter I didn’t remember his name! (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Amy Bondurant. My question is simply the incentive part of your plan, the oil revenues, is that likely to destabilize further the Shi’a into more factions?

BIDEN: Well, it does have that possibility. As you well know, there is a new Shi’a faction and militia that has called for the establishment of an independent country regarding four—encompassing Basra and four adjoining provinces, and argued by the leader of that faction that in fact they have access to the sea, they have oil, they have all they need; they can be an independent country.

I am sure that it will, in part, do that. But the main overriding forces within the Shi’a coalition remain Sistani, and on the moral side of the equation here and the unifying side of the equation, as well as the Badr Brigade and the two major parties. And I think they will work it out.

But it could. It could.

I’m making—you know, the longer this goes on, folks, the more difficult any plan becomes to implement. So I can’t guarantee what would happen. But I believe the likely prospect would be the major parties and the major militias working out an agreement among themselves to deal with the local control of their region.

FRYE: On the aisle in the middle, please, with the microphone there. The logistics are slightly slower in a room configured this way. But we’ll get a mike there in half a moment.

QUESTIONER: Good morning. Babak Yektafar with Washington Prism and Center for Defense Information. My question, Senator, is that what guarantees are there in your plan that once these regions are set up, they will not be absorbed by the neighbors, such as Shi’ites towards Iran; Kurds focusing on Turkey, and so on and so forth.

BIDEN: That’s why the need for the regional conference. That’s why the significant part of this plan is to get the Permanent 5 of the United Nations to call for a regional conference, have a real knock-down, drag-out agreement based upon the negative alternatives failing to reach an agreement, and have them see that light. And it will even place a contact group. And that’s the second reason why there’s a need to have a capital city that is in charge of distribution of these assets, so that if in fact you have a central government that has control of the borders, control of the national army, and control of the natural resources, it diminishes the prospect that there will be the tendency or desire to either engulf and/or separate from this unified government.

FRYE: Right here.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Jeff Morley, WashingtonPost.com. I’m wondering what you make of Hakim’s decentralization proposal. It seems to fulfill some of what you talked about: Iraqis deciding on their own to decentralize. So is that program a step forward or not? And I think that it’s going to be brought up for a vote again. That’s the first question.

The second question is, what’s your message to the people on the other side who are resisting that proposal? Why should they buy into your plan?

BIDEN: Well, I don’t think the militia—some of the militia, I don’t think the jihadis, and I don’t think the—a lot of the former Saddamists are going to buy into it under any circumstance. The question is how do you buy away their support? How do you undermine their ability to continue to have the kind of sway and impact they have? And that’s the answer to your second question.

The answer to the first question, Hakim’s got it half right. And everybody understands what Hakim is doing; it is not automatic—he’s setting up the mechanism that would allow this to take place in a vote within their parliament to set up these regions. I think Hakim is going for the trifecta here, and that is the region, the oil and the control. And that’s why he’s getting resistance from Sunnis and some Shi’a. And the Kurds are sitting there kind of observing. So I think Hakim’s plan, absent a Sunni guarantee, is a non-starter.

FRYE: Right here, please.

QUESTIONER: Nancy Bearg from Search for Common Ground. Senator, I wonder if you would comment on the prospects for bipartisan support of this? And you may already have it and I just don’t know. And also, how it could get implemented, what your role would be and how it could become implemented.

BIDEN: Well, the truth of the matter is, there’s only two ways this plan could get implemented. One is that the president of the United States decides that he thinks it’s the way to go, and he instructs our ambassador and all our moldable pressure points to put pressure upon this existing unity government to make these kinds of offers and concessions.

A second, indirect way is to do what it has done. The national security adviser, among the Shi’a, has endorsed this plan. There’s others in Iraq who have endorsed this plan and parts of the plan. So it’s at least had the benefit of generating a debate within Iraq. And that’s another way, in a burgeoning democratic system, to be able to get ideas into that debate.

With regard to bipartisanship, I do not want to hurt his reputation, but if you notice, the language being used by Senator Lugar and many of my colleagues now mirrors very closely what we’re talking about. Dick Lugar and I were on the Lehrer hour last night, and Lehrer asked him about my plan, and he thinks—he said, “Yeah, Joe’s plan, I think, is the essence”—I don’t want to quote him.

But the point is, everybody’s arriving at the following conclusion. How do you get the Sunnis in? How do you stop the militia from killing each other? And there’s a need to get the neighbors to buy in to a deal. I mean, all those pieces—(chuckling)—whether you buy the Biden plan or not, I don’t care. And I have no pride of authorship, and nor does Les have on the five points. You may have a seven-point plan—(chuckling)—a two-point plan. The bottom line is, there is no plan now. There is no plan now.

And folks, we continue to argue that soon as we train them up, we’ll stand down. What are we talking about? Folks, there is no—let me emphasize this now—there is no civil side of the equation over there. There is no Agriculture Department that is able to function. There is no Department of Education. There is no—just go down the list. They don’t know how to turn the traffic lights on and off. Saddam did that.

I’ll give you one little example. I’m meeting with Chiarelli, a really first-rate guy. And I’m paraphrasing him now. He said, “Joe, if you—I ever—you ever hear me criticize the bureaucracy again, pop me. I need a bureaucracy.” And then he gave an example. He said, “Look, they have the date palm,” which is the natural fruit—the national symbol of their agriculture. They used to be the bread basket of the region, as you all remember, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, right? Forties, fifties and sixties.

Now he says, “So I went to the embassy, and I said, ‘You got to spray these date palms,’” because there’s the equivalent of the boll weevil for cotton, whatever it is, for date palms. It’s been five years. It’ll get wiped out if you don’t spray them. He said, “They told me that’s up to the Department of Agriculture. I went there. They don’t know how to do it.”

So he basically said—my words, not his—“I did what Saddam did. I took our helicopters, our guys. I went out and sprayed the date palms. Then I went back, and I sat down with the Department of Agriculture. I said, ‘Look, this is what you’ve got to plan for next year.’”

Folks, there ain’t nobody there. If you were president of the United States, I’d be saying as your secretary of State, “Madame President, go make a speech at the Department of Agriculture today, for real, and plead for volunteers from the Department of Agriculture to go to—to go to—Iraq, go to the State Department, and say, ‘It’s no longer optional. We need about 500 more of you to come. We need you to help set up these agencies.’”

So what’s going to happen, folks, the most likely outcome—and this is going to get me in trouble—most likely outcome is, when we do stand up—and we’re making progress in standing up their army—you’re going to find, Joe, six months from now, a year from now, two years from now, the Army saying, “There is no civilian control. We must take over.” And we’ll have supplanted one strongman for another, hopefully one that is more benign.

But folks, there’s no there there, and you’d better figure out pretty quickly how to begin to deal with it.

So I think that it is—can only occur when the president reaches the conclusion that we’re kind of at the end of our rope here, and there needs to be a Plan B.

And again, it doesn’t have to be exactly what I’ve said, and you watch—I predict to you: More and more people of your caliber and all of you in this room are signing on to this approach, more and more people in Iraq are signing on to this approach, and more and more of my Democratic and Republican colleagues are signing on to this approach. And I don’t mean sign on to what Biden says. They’re signing on to the need to deal with the elements that I’ve laid out in this plan.

FRYE: Senator, you’ve been very flexible about the elements of a plan to deal with this problem, but you do reject a one-element plan that would involve withdrawal of the American forces by a date certain. Is that accurate?

BIDEN: That is not a plan. That is not a plan, that is an action. That is a tactical decision. I said to a group of my colleagues—we were arguing about this and someone was talking about withdrawing. And there were eight of us in this room in a meeting. And I said, “Let me ask you all a question.” And I ask you this rhetorical question. If the president of the United States invited you to the Oval Office today and said, “Sam, Harry, Mary, tell me what to do, and I guarantee you I will do it,” would your plan be—would you say to him, “My plan is, withdraw”? Anybody here? Raise your hand. Is that a plan?

That may be a forced decision because of the incompetence of this administration leading us to a point where there is no alternative but to pick that choice among other bad choices, but is that a plan? That’s why I reject it. It’s not a plan. It may become a necessity because there’s no option, but it’s not a plan.

FRYE: Right here. Margaret.

QUESTIONER: Margaret Daly Hayes from EBR Associates, and once upon a time a Foreign Relations Committee staffer too. Thank you, Senator, for your interest in this issue and the attention you’ve given to it.

Can you comment on what the incentives are to the militias of these different groups not to just—under a separate geography—not to just continue the sectarian violence and civil war? And secondly, and particularly given your comments on the absence of governance in the current situation, what does this central authority that’s going to guarantee the distribution of equitable portions of revenue look like? How robust does it have to be?

BIDEN: Well, it has to be fairly robust. I’ll start at the end. It has to be fairly robust. And we’re going to have to continue to be involved and get our European friends to take on some version of Tony Blair’s suggestion a year and a half ago of “adopt a ministry,” the European governments. We have to get more civilian capability in to help them build this government. You’re more inclined to do that if in fact you have the violence at—you know, if not evaporating, the violence significantly reduced.

So now, why militia? Why would the militia be inclined to turn in rather than out? Militia are all about power. This is all about each of these militia leaders are seeking some ascendancy of their own. Sadr would like to run the country. Sadr would like to run the region. If Sadr has to concentrate on figuring out what part of the Sunni plan he becomes part of, what part of the Sunni operation he has—I mean Shi’a—excuse me—operation he has control of, he’s going to have to concentrate internally. He’s going to have to concentrate in dealing with that portion of the population that he has to draw his sustenance from and his support from. So the competition will necessarily turn inward. And I think that is almost a guarantee.

Now, how that plays out, could it play out very violently? It may. It may. I don’t know enough to know the answer to that question. But I know that it will—I don’t know—I strongly believe that it will greatly diminish his or anyone else’s desire to merely seek retribution and/or civil war.

The other piece of this is—I start from the basic premise that about a year and a half ago there was a bit—as we Catholics say—a bit of an epiphany that took place in Iraq. And that is, although the Kurds would love nothing more than absolute independence, they have realized that they’re not about to give up on reclaiming Kirkuk. They know if they reclaim Kirkuk and, quote, “cleanse” it and de—de—get the Arabs out—(laughter)—they know that the Turks are not going to stand by and they know that the Iranians aren’t going to stand by if they claim an independent state. They’re very smart. They’re the most sophisticated group. They’ve got most of it together. They know their autonomy is best preserved within a united Iraq.

The vast majority of the tribal leaders among the Sunnis have reached a conclusion there is no future in the insurgency where they’re going to be able to control Iraq for another five generations. So how do they maintain their interest and increase their influence and their independence of action within their own region?

And the Shi’a have come to the conclusion that they can dominate politically but they cannot dominate—they cannot dominate physically. They’re still going to have their mosques blown up. So there is an incentive on each of their parts.

Do they like it? No. Is this one of those marriages everybody says, “Let’s reconcile and make up?” No. Most times that’s not how countries function.

And so I think it is a realization of the changed circumstance for their own physical well-being on the ground that makes this plan or some version of it much more probable today than it was if you did it a year and a half ago.

And I would note another analogy, if I may make it; you’ve talked about the need to deal with absorbing debt in the national government. Well, you know, look at this way. What do you think would have happened, folks—and I realize this is trite sounding—what do you think would have happened if at Yorktown—two months after Yorktown we tried to pass the American Constitution as it was eventually written in Philadelphia 11 and—finally ratified 13 years later? Does anybody think Delaware and Georgia would be in the same outfit? Does anybody think Massachusetts and Maryland would be part of the same outfit?

It took us 11 years to get to our Philadelphia moment. And so you’ve got to give them some breathing room while keeping them together, and I’d offer Bosnia as another example, Kosovo. There’s all imperfect examples, but the same principle’s at play.

FRYE: Right here. Microphone to the front.

QUESTIONER: John Alterman, Center for Strategic International Studies. Thank you very much for your presentation. I agree with a lot of it, and there’s part of it that bothers me. And I’m hoping that you can help explain it, and it has to do with the role of the central government in a federal system. The role that I understand you to have laid out is not only sort of the U.S. government before World War II, it feels a lot like the U.S. government before the Civil War.

With all the assets outside, most of the firepower in state and local militia, why does anybody listen to the central government? What authority do they have? I mean, you can set up the embassies, except the Kurds wanted Kurdish representatives in all the embassies. I mean, it feels in some ways like it becomes unified in name only and not the sort of flexible system we have, but instead a papering over of essentially dividing the country.

BIDEN: It could very well become that if it is not done well. That’s why Baghdad is the capital. That’s why a national army controlled by Baghdad and the unity government and the parliament in Baghdad. That’s why the need for the heads of each of the departments, including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the departments, et cetera, are controlled by that parliament and that government sitting in Baghdad.

And the incentive there relates to the same reason why we ended up with a commerce clause. There is no real likelihood of each of the regions realizing their economic incentives, their economic prosperity absent a unified country, absent a central government. And I would again go back to oil as the example. You are not—and many of you probably have forgotten more about the oil industry than I know, but I’ve taken the time to go out and try over the last year and a half to understand what incentives are required for the major oil companies to deal with this second or third, depending on the—on whose judgment you take, oil reserves in the world.

They want two things. They want a unified oil market, and they want some stability in Iraq. And so the incentive is—the incentive is the prize. The prize is hundreds of billions of more dollars. The prize is that through this unity and a centrally-controlled Oil Ministry, everybody—they don’t care about the others—everybody in the Shi’a area does a lot better than they would attempting to control it by themselves.

So there are the incentives that are built-in, and that’s why I’m not calling for—I’m calling for loosely federated here in the sense that the constitution calls for, their present constitution allows for local police control, and it allows for local control over local issues—marriage, property distribution, education. And that’s what we’re talking about. What are the things that ultimately are separating these people besides vendettas that have been built up, which are a big deal?

FRYE: I’m going to take two last questions. One right here in the front, and then, back—I saw Ed in the—yeah, right there. Mike there. Mike here first.

BIDEN: If you ask a “yes/no,” you might get in four.

FRYE: Let’s take them both before you respond, Senator, okay?

QUESTIONER: I’ll speak quickly then. Senator, my name’s Jim Sosnicky. For two years, I was an Army Civil Affairs officer in Iraq. In my travels around the country, I never got a sense of an Iraqi identity. I got a sense of an Anbar identity, a Shi’a identity. My question is, why is the idea of a unified Iraq sacrosanct?

When the Ottomans ruled it, they ruled it as three different provinces. It’s been held together for 90 years as an artificial country through draconian measures. And I’ve heard the argument made that well, if it breaks into three parts, it will cause all this turmoil in the region.

But breaking it down into the three, wouldn’t you think that the Turks could be appeased by using leverage to EU membership as an incentive to get them to cooperate with an independent Kurdistan? In the south, the Shi’as are always identified with Iran, but in fact, they’re two completely different ethnic groups with two languages. And during eight years of the Iran-Iraq war, you did not see a mass of Shi’a guys defecting to the other side. And then in the central region, one could make the argument since we’re the ones who turned everything upside down, maybe the province—or the new country of Al Anbar becomes the, you know, third-largest recipient of aid, after Jordan, or whatever, from the U.S. (Laughter.)

So that is my question to you, is why is this—why is the idea of holding—it just strikes me as odd that when the Soviet Union broke up, no one really complained about that. But we are trying with all our might to hold together Iraq. And do you see a way forward that deviates a bit from your plan where it could break up and it wouldn’t be that bad? Thank you.

MR. FYRE: You can hold your comment on that. Pete Galbraith might not be here, but he has a very effective surrogate. (Laughter.)

BIDEN: No, it’s a good point. A good point.

QUESTIONER: Edwin Williamson from Sullivan & Cromwell. I must say, the last question has been one that I’ve always wondered, too, is what’s so sacred about the unified Iraq.

But my question is sort of a variation on that. And trying—and, Senator, trying to understand exactly what your plan is that’s different from now, what is it different—

BIDEN: Let me say, if you haven’t figured that out yet, I’m not going to be able to explain it.

QUESTIONER: Well, I would just ask, and how different would things be in the Kurdish section under your plan than they are now, just the Kurdish—

BIDEN: “Fear,” and “not very different” are the answers.

We can get two more in. (Laughter.)

MR. FYRE: Ah! All the way to the back.

QUESTIONER: Senator, Jim Slattery. I’m just curious, we’ve talked here for an hour about Iraq with very little discussion of Iran. And I’m just curious about what role you see Iran playing in Iraq as we go forward. And two, how do we engage Iran?

BIDEN: A, we should engage Iran, we should engage Iran directly, in my view. B, Iran likes it just like it is now. We are bleeding red blood and treasure, and we are occupied (sic) in a way that has freed them up in a profound way by our actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and they like it just the way it is.

The only thing they don’t like is the prospect of 17 million Shi’a learning how to organize and shoot straight, who are Arab in background and not just Shi’a, who may very well destabilize the 60 million out of 72 million Iranians who are Shi’a who don’t like their central government. So the last thing they want is a civil war in Iraq. So the incentive need be that they get involved in how we make an agreement on non-aggressions; how they are satisfied, along with the Turks, along with the Syrians, along with the Egyptians, along with the Sunni states, how are they best served by a unified Iraq. Which is in a way is a backdoor way of answering the question that was asked, which is a profound question: Why not look at the historical composition of this part of the world and recognize reality and say let’s go back to the that? The problem is the rest of the world around it has changed so drastically that I think it makes it very difficult for that to happen without further and greater conflagration than would be by trying to keep this outfit together in a way that they all marshal their interests and make the basic conclusion, in conclusion, that it’s better in the deal than out of the deal; that it’s better inside this entity than outside this entity. And that’s the conclusion I think the majority have reached.

And I would make one parenthetical note here.

What’s your name again? I’m sorry.

QUESTIONER: Jim.

BIDEN: Jim represents one of the most impressive things I observed in 33 years as a United States senator. I went to those provinces as well. I watched you and your counterparts in the military doing outstanding things. I watched in the beginning young captains, young lieutenants, young majors and colonels, sit there in the midst—in a mosque with 250 people from neighborhoods around, Shi’a and Sunni, and these kids, basically, bringing those neighborhoods together and actually, actually making progress, until we, in terms of our overall approach to this, began to really screw it up. I’m telling you, you would be—you know, we all talk about those guys out there shoot straight and they’re able to kill and they’re risking their lives. They’re great fighters. But the thing that people don’t know about the U.S. military and the young women and men we have out there, they are incredible diplomats. They solve problems on the ground. They do it all.

And so I want to tell you something. I have nothing—and I’m not being—this isn’t the old “God bless the military.” I have nothing but respect for these kids we’ve put out there in the middle of these neighborhoods who have diminished the problems. As bad as things are, my God, how much worse they’d be for you guys not being out there. It’s really amazing.

FRYE: Senator, as we come to the end, I’m going to ask you for 30 seconds of a net assessment regarding the Iran dimension of this problem. The president spoke at some length yesterday at the United Nations. Iran was a large part of it. Did his approach, as he articulated it yesterday, help or hinder the engagement of Iran in the kind of supportive resolution of the Iraqi conflict that you mentioned?

BIDEN: Thirty seconds—the president’s audience, I think, was the United States, not intended to be Iran, number one.

Number two, he did something very good, in my view, in talking to the Iranian people, talking to the Syrian people. I think that was important. I don’t know why that doesn’t underscore for him the need to actually talk.

And thirdly, I think the rhetoric was sharp enough that it probably did not move the ball forward. I don’t think it’s useful when you’re in that setting to talk about regimes and about, you know, the way in which he phrased these things. I think—but the audience was here, in my view. It wasn’t the international community. I think there was a missed opportunity in the third part of the way—in his style and in the way in which he referenced these other countries. I think it was—I think (he) missed an opportunity.

FRYE: Senator, I think we’re still puzzling over the problem that Winston Churchill commented on in a note to Lloyd George when Churchill was responsible for the British role, the question being, “Why are we investing vast sums for the privilege of sitting on an ungrateful volcano,” in Churchill’s phrase.

We want to thank you very much for exploring these problems with us, and we are most honored by your presence and instructed by your views. (Applause.)

BIDEN: I would suggest the lesson to that is don’t fool with Mother Nature. (Laughs, laughter.)

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, and welcome to this discussion about Condoleezza Rice's foreign policy.  It should be an exciting conversation.  I can't remember at any point in time when there were three books out on a sitting secretary of State before she's even finished her term.  So that tells you how much interest there is in what has happened.

A few reminders:

If you would turn your cellphones to "stun," that would be great.

Normally, council sessions are off the record.  With three reporters -- four reporters sitting up front, it seems kind of ridiculous, in this case.  So we are thoroughly on the record, but we all promise not to make any news.

And we will run until the stroke of 1:30, at which point we will let you get back to whatever it is you were doing.

Let me briefly introduce our three speakers today.  You have more formal bios in the back here.  On the far left is Marcus Mabry, who has written "Twice as Good:  Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power."  It is a remarkable book in many ways, but particularly interesting for me, as somebody who had covered Dr. Rice at her time at National Security Council and as secretary, but had never really known much about how she had dealt with many of the issues of her youth and particularly finding her place in Alabama and in Denver and elsewhere.  And the book is -- really, I think, takes us into areas that I personally had never read before there.  And I think you'll find all parts of the book interesting but that in particular.

On -- Marcus was, I should say, the chief of correspondents at Newsweek but has come over to The New York Times.  He has gone immediately to the dark side.  He's an editor.  (Laughter.)  But let -- but that is where he is today.

On my immediate left, Elisabeth Bumiller, whose book is not yet out, so you will get today sort of the first preview.  I don't think I've -- have you talked publicly about what's in the book before?

ELISABETH BUMILLER:  No.  First time.  (Chuckles.)

SANGER:  This is it.  See, she -- we may get news.

And Elisabeth's book, which is out in January --

BUMILLER:  December.

SANGER:  I'm sorry.  December.

BUMILLER:  They changed.  It's changed.  (Chuckles.)

SANGER:  Oh.  (Laughter.)  This just in:  It's out in December!

"Condoleezza Rice:  An American Life," available for Christmas purchases.  And Elisabeth was -- had many jobs at The New York Times.  I first met her when she was at The Washington Post and showed up in Tokyo with her husband, Steve Weisman, and we all covered Japan together, and then had the great fortune of covering the White House with Elisabeth -- tremendous colleague.  She started on a slow news day.  It was September 10th, 2001.  But we got her some news stories the next day and kept rolling after that.  And Elisabeth and I would have great late-night and early-morning conversations that would usually begin with things like "So which one of us is going to Duluth tomorrow to cover a speech in front of the Kiwanis Club?"

BUMILLER:  (Chuckles.)

SANGER:  So Elisabeth covered the White House for -- five years?

BUMILLER:  Not quite five.

SANGER:  Not quite five.

BUMILLER:  I didn't make your record.  (Chuckles.)

SANGER:  She saw what happened to me and bailed out slightly earlier.

And her book is more of a classic biography that runs from Dr. Rice's roots all the way up through her time in secretary of State.

And our diversity addition here is Glenn Kessler.  He does not actually work for The New York Times.  He works for a small local paper in Washington.  Its name escapes me.  (Soft laughter.)

He has written "The Confidante:  Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy."  It was the only one of these books that was actually on my desk as I was leaving to come over here, which is why I show it to you now.  And it is really focused in on Dr. Rice's first two years as secretary of State and gives you a real ground view of that that comes -- it could have been subtitled "My Travels with Condi."  I realized that Glenn had dug deeply into his subject matte when I was reading the North Korea chapter, a particular passion of mine, and he had some description of a memo sent by somebody to somebody, and I realized I didn't know either of these participants.  And I thought:  This guy really did his research.

But it is great in its -- I just read the Sudan chapter.  It's wonderful for an explanation of how she has handled each of these.

So we are going to have each of our participants talk for about five minutes.  I'll ask them a few questions to get them started, and then we will turn to your questions.

Marcus, why don't we start with you?

MARCUS B. MABRY:  Sure.  Great.

David, thank you for that introduction, and it's lovely to be here at the council in Washington.  I spend a lot more of my time at the council in New York, where I was Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow about seven years ago, at the turn of the millennium.  So it's great to be here in Washington.  It's always interesting, the different cultures between -- at the council between our New York and Washington offices, having spent a lot of time in it.  And I find that interesting always.

The book is called -- my book is called "Twice as Good:  Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power."  I think it says a lot, as David mentioned, that Condoleezza Rice has three biographies that will be out about her at the same time while she's still in office, while she will still have, you know, at that point more than a year in office as secretary of State.

I think it goes to the heart of who she is, the role she has played in American public life, the extraordinary role she has played in American public life.  She is not the first female secretary of State; she's not the first African-American secretary of State, yet she has wielded a power, I think, that is beyond what her predecessors in those other historic roles wielded, and I think that's been very significant.

I think also as an individual, not to cast aspersions on General Powell, who I admire greatly, and also Secretary Albright, who I also admire, but they are not the interesting, complex personality that Condoleezza Rice is.  And I think that's why you see three books about her at this point -- her closeness to this president, the influence she's had on American foreign policy, influence that may last for generations, for good or bad, and then I think also who she is personally.

So what this book does is -- I go back to her childhood.  She spent a lot of time in Birmingham, where she's from, talking with the 80-year-old church ladies who are still around who knew her then; spent a lot of time in Denver and at Stanford, and finally in Washington.

I know we don't have much time, so I'm not going to go into much detail about stuff I talk about.  I was going to say, the reason I went back over Rice's life was because I wanted to understand the contradictions of who she is.  Again, I talk about how she's a more fascinating personality than perhaps anyone who's held this job, in my lifetime at least, of secretary of State, and I wanted to understand what the influences were that had made her in many ways contradictory.  And when I say she's a contradictory person, I mean both in terms of policy, in terms of her personal life and in terms of her politics and all those ways; she is not what you'd expect, given her history.  So I wanted to understand how that is.

I first got interested in her actually -- I was at Stanford as an undergrad majoring in Soviet Studies, which -- she of course was at Stanford as a professor teaching Soviet Studies.  And at that point -- I never had her, unfortunately, as a teacher, because she actually -- that is -- I was surprised by, in my research -- and I spent two and a half years researching the book -- I was surprised in my research to come across colleagues of Rice, very, very close and fond colleagues who had worked with her both in a university setting and in a Washington setting who told me she had a mediocre mind.  That shocked me.  Now, we're talking about people who have a pretty high standard of what a non-mediocre mind is, but what is undisputed -- where she's undisputedly supreme is in her teaching.  So I'm sorry I didn't get to do that.

But using the common history we have and the common people we knew at Stanford, that was where I started with the investigation of Rice and who she was as a person.  I think, again, the one note I'll leave you with is the thing that most surprised me -- these are the two things that most surprised me in looking over her life and trying to -- I was trying to extend -- trying to examine the past to understand the present, and because I'm in international relations, you know, person, to use that -- to predictively anticipate, you know, what will be the range of options that she would pursue in the future?

Most surprising to me, I think, was the fact that Rice -- and this was again, why I think it's important to go back and try to understand what makes a person -- a political person they are today -- Rice failed at piano, as you all probably know.  She wanted to be a concert pianist.  She was -- ages from 2 to 17 concentrating on that with a singular discipline more than anything else in her life.  At 17 -- at that point, she's a sophomore at the University -- at 17, at the University of Denver -- she discovers that she's actually not good enough to be a concert pianist.

The first thing -- the way she reacted was incredibly, I think, instructive of who Condoleezza Rice is.  Imagine most 17-year-olds or most people who have spent their, you know, short life, at that point, dedicated to one pursuit, or imagine most artists who are dedicated to a particular art.  People in any of those three categories, if they were to have that taken away from them before they even began, most people would be somewhat upset.  Condoleezza Rice never demonstrated that.  No one in her life talked about -- had told me they ever knew any motive response to that.  I talked to her piano teacher from the University of Denver, Dr. Lichtmann, Theodore Lichtmann, and he said she reacted to it kind of as if it was no big deal.

She -- when I asked Secretary Rice about it, the way she framed it was, "Well, I had to find another major."  (Laughter.)  That was it.  The biggest surprise was that from that day on, Condoleezza Rice never made another long-term plan from the time of 17.  So she never set as a goal to become secretary of State.  In fact, she had told everyone -- all her friends and family she was coming back to Stanford after the first term; she was tired, and the president asked her to, and she changed her mind, because she thought that they had ended the world, and she thought maybe she could do something to help them leave it in a better place, or at least a better foundation by the time she left office.

She never planned to be a professor at Stanford, never planned to be a professor; never planned to be a provost at Stanford, never planned to achieve any of these historic firsts she has.  And she is the most powerful African-American woman in 230 years of American government; that is rather extraordinary for someone who never aimed for any of that.

So I talk in the book about many tragic flaws and triumphs that made that made her who she is today.  And a lot of those tragic flaws -- I'll stop here -- relate directly to why we went to Iraq, why she made the mistakes she made.

I guess the other biggest surprise to me was that I think the rap in Washington on Condi Rice was that she was too weak in the first term to counter Donald Rumsfeld.  I was surprised to find out in my research, I don't think that's true.  I think there are many, many -- again these tragic flaws that -- things that account for both her triumphs and now for her failures, especially on American foreign policy, that were seeds that were planted very early on.  But weakness was never, ever one of them.  It was arrogance.  It was a belief in hierarchy and order that she had obviously taken with her by the time she got to the first President Bush's White House, but also that she saw vindicated under Brent Scowcroft and George H.W. Bush.

All these things led to Rice reacting too slowly to Rumsfeld's destruction of the interagency process.  By the time she reacted -- once she reacted, it made a great difference.  And by the end of the first term already, she was getting into operational things that she always said the National Security Council should never be involved in.  But she saw they were going southward, and she had to get involved and she did.  And it was beyond Rumsfeld's -- it was not what Rumsfeld wanted to happen.  So it was never a question of weakness but it was a question of many of these other tragic flaws that did make a difference and led us to where we are today in Iraq.

Thank you.

SANGER:  Well, thank you very much, Marcus.

Glenn.

GLENN KESSLER:  All right, see if I can put that down.  (Laughter.)  My -- is this on?  Yeah, all right.

My book, "The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy," is, as David described, it's not a full-scale biography like Marcus's book or Elisabeth's books, though I do sketch a personality portrait of the secretary of state with some, you know, key moments in her life.  Instead, my book mostly focuses on foreign policy.  I take readers inside the meetings that Rice has with foreign diplomats, the president and her staff.

On one level, I think, it will appeal to foreign policy specialists, because many of these details have not been written about before.  But I also intended the book to interest readers who knew very little about foreign policy but simply wanted to understand what has happened over the last seven years.  If there are any college professors here, I -- please consider my book as a teaching tool on diplomacy.  (Laughter.)

I also describe the interplay between reporters and the administration.  For instance, I show how Rice and her staff worked hard at the beginning of her term to overcome her image as a weak national security advisor, in order to create the illusion of a powerful diplomat who had possible presidential aspirations.  It was a brilliant strategy that actually worked effectively well, a textbook case in political imagemaking that to this day still gives her the highest approval ratings of any administration figure.

My goal throughout the book was to be clear-eyed and balanced.  It is mostly a work of reportage, though I do make judgments about Rice's successes and her failures, what she's done right, what she's done wrong.  I think the reporting in my book actually backs up those judgments, though I realize some of these conclusions may seem painful to people in the administration.

The president's unflagging support has been crucial to Rice's impact overseas.  Colin Powell never had the trust of President Bush, so foreign officials told me they were never sure if Powell was selling the administration's policy or he was trying to get allies for his own policy battles back home.  Before Rice became secretary, the president paved a way for her influence by pointedly telling foreign leaders, when they came to the Oval Office, Ms. Rice is like my sister, which is a very powerful statement from the president of the United States.  He reinforced that message at home, telling diplomats at one point that he and Rice are, quote, "completely in sync:  When she speaks, you know she's speaking for me."

Now, Rice works hard to keep up that connection with Bush, now that she is no longer in the White House.  If a meeting is not planned that day, she will call him in the morning to check in.  Usually on weekends, she'll call him on Saturday or Sunday to discuss the week.  And every night, she sends him a private note, describing the diplomatic issues that she encountered that day, essentially a foreign policy version of the intelligence or military briefings the president receives daily.

I think, in many ways, the president is the idea generator in this relationship.  Before entering the Bush administration seven years ago, Rice was known as a foreign policy realist:  You deal with states as they are.  Now, she has adopted wholeheartedly the president's nostrum that the characters of states matter and that it is important to change the nature of those states in order to bring peace and security to the globe.  And in fact, I'm very curious to find out what Rice thinks after she leaves the administration, because she has a history of kind of shifting with whoever she is working for at the time.

Rice's close relationship with the president, plus her lack of family obligations, has freed her to become the most-traveled secretary of State since Henry Kissinger, in contrast to Powell, who was the least-traveled secretary of State in 30 years.  Rice, I think, is also a more skillful one-on-one diplomat than Powell.  She has brought new vigor to U.S. diplomacy, quickly repairing relations with Europe, securing a groundbreaking deal with India just months after she took the helm of the State Department.

But I argue in my book that her options and opportunities as secretary of State are deeply limited by one very ironic fact -- she was one of the weakest national security advisers in U.S. history.  Her inexperience and her mistakes in that job have thus shaped the world and colored the choices she must handle as secretary of State.

The invasion of Iraq, the missed opportunities with Iran, the breach in relations with Europe, the North Korean nuclear breakout, the creation of secret CIA prisons in Europe, the failure to bolster Palestinian democracy -- all of these problems were the direct result of decisions that she helped shape at the White House.  Now, as secretary of State, she has tried mightily -- and with limited success -- to unravel the Gordian knots that she tied in the first term.

I'll give one example before I turn it over to Elisabeth -- Israel and the Palestinian territories.  During the first term, though Powell was secretary of State, Rice as national security adviser really had control of the Israeli portfolio.  At the direction of President Bush, she dealt directly with the chief of staff of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a man known as Dov Weisglass.  I spoke at length with Weisglass for my book, gleaning new insights about roles -- Rice's role on Middle East policy.  First, it was Condoleezza Rice who pushed the Israelis to withdraw from Gaza.  She believed that the road map plan officially being promoted by the Bush administration was, quote, "At best a marginal plan and likely wouldn't work."  She told Weisglass to think of what she called "a move of significance," something that would allow the United States to say, look at what Israel has done; now the Palestinians have to do something.

The result was Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, a plan that Weisglass and Sharon carefully shaped with the Americans.  In fact, Weisglass originally brought Rice a plan to withdraw from a few settlements in Gaza, a handful.  Rice told him that the U.S. would support such a move, but she urged the Israelis to think bolder, arguing that withdrawing from all of Gaza would be a political breakthrough.  So the Israelis redrafted the plan along the lines that Rice suggested.

Until I learned of Rice's key role, I hadn't really understood how -- why she was so emotionally involved in the withdrawal from Gaza when there was -- in the face of so much skepticism elsewhere, particularly in Europe.  The problem with the Gaza plan was that it was conceived as a unilateral step because Israel believed Yasser Arafat could not be a partner for peace.  Once Arafat died just before Rice was confirmed as secretary of State, that calculation should have changed, but it didn't.

A new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was elected but he felt he could never get enough support from the Americans to claim any credit for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.  Hamas was able to declare that Israel left Gaza because of terrorist attacks, not because of negotiations.  Moreover, Rice supported the idea of including Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections, even though Hamas had not given up its militia.  She, along with President Bush, wanted to prove there could be a democratic election in the Middle East and militant groups would suffer at the polls.

The Israelis of course were very worried about Hamas's participation in the election.  Sharon at one point threatened to block them.  Tzipi Livni, when she was in the Justice Ministry, in late 2005 flew to the United States and met with Rice and others to express her concerns.  She had looked at the constitutions of dozens of countries and studied the transitions of power in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and elsewhere.  Our militias were always required to give up their arms before participating in elections.  Livni pleaded, don't let Hamas run.

Everywhere she went in Washington, she got the same message:  Don't worry, Hamas won't win.  It's truly what Rice believed.  And, Rice and other officials added, if Hamas gains some seats, look at Lebanon, where Hezbollah appears to be acting like a responsible political party.  (Soft laughter.)  This was 2005, after all.  The Americans said it was important to get Hamas into the political system, and then they would disarm.  Of course now, U.S. officials would recall their comments to Livni with bitter irony.

I should note that parenthetically that Bush had some sage advice for Abbas.  In a private meeting in the Oval Office two months before the election, Bush said, "Don't have an election if you think you'll lose."  (Laughter.)  Anyway, we all know the result -- Hamas won, and Rice's efforts to create a Palestinian state suffered a tremendous setback.  She's tried hard all year this year to make progress, and she's now pushing forward an idea of a peace conference in Annapolis next month, but there were many opportunities lost.

In my book I also write about Rice's policies towards Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Lebanon, the larger Middle East, Sudan, Europe and India.  My bottom line of Condoleezza Rice is that she's a smart, sophisticated diplomat, but she fundamentally lacks a strategic vision.  Her approach has been largely tactical, a series of ad hoc efforts designed to deal with an unfolding series of crises that stem from decisions that she helped make in the first term.  Her closeness to the president has given her tremendous clout in the administration, making her a far more powerful figure than Colin Powell, and in fact you can see now, with the departure of Rumsfeld and the kind of the baiting away of Cheney, that her influence has increased even more this year. But generally, I think she did not use that influence to force a fundamental rethinking of the administration's policy towards the rest of the world.

BUMILLER:  Okay, I'll be quick.

I don't have a book.  I have just a little post-it here.  (Laughs, laughter.)  This is the book, and it'll be out in -- Random House just moved up the publication date to December 11th because -- it was scheduled for the first week of January, which, as you know, is filled with Iowa caucuses and a primary in New Hampshire.

Anyway, thank you very much for having me.  Thank you.  I'm very pleased to be part of this cottage industry of Condi Rice books -- (laughs, laughter) -- and thank you to my competitors here for putting up with me when I haven't even -- the book isn't even out.  But I'm the only one here who's had the advantage of reading all three books, so I can tell you -- (laughter) -- so that's the good news.  But then, I'm a little constrained in what I can say before my publication date, but I'll just talk about my overall theme.

I had two goals in this book.  One was to demystify Condoleezza Rice over 52 years, and the second, and more important, was to try explain what really happened in Washington at the highest levels between 2001 and now.  It's a story of many policy failures, also some successes and of the intense human interactions that led to those.  As you heard from David, it's a soup to nuts biography; it's a, you know, both a personal voyage of a young black woman out of a segregated American South and a very public journey through what I think is an extraordinary half century in American history.

It's the reason I -- the subtitle, there's a reason, "An American Life" -- to me, it's also a very wonderful story about America as much as about Condoleezza Rice.  It's based on 10 lengthy interviews with Condoleezza Rice -- eight solely for this book, which were conducted in 2006 and 2007, and then there were also two earlier interviews I had with her in 2003 for The New York Times for a long profile I did about her.  And much of -- as is often the case of the Times, much of that never got in the paper.  So I also spoke to about 150 other people, friends, enemies, colleagues, administration officials, foreign officials in my reporting.

The book, I'll be very brief.  It starts with Rice's ancestors -- some of whom are white, one of them an Italian, she says, on plantations in 19th century rural Alabama.  It ends last month with General Petraeus, and that is testimony about the war that Rice helped to prosecute and conceive.  In between, there are chapters on her childhood under -- as with Marcus' book -- under Bull Connor's reign of terror in Birmingham when it was the central front in the American civil rights movement.

There's also chapters on her very formative years in Denver.  People skip over Denver, but it's really where she became a lot of who she is.  It's just not as dramatic as Birmingham; it's not as controversial as Stanford, but it's where she got a lot of her ideas.  Also her studies under Josef Korbel, who is Madeleine Albright's father, the Denver professor who produced the only two women secretaries of State -- (light laughter) -- and very two different ones they are.  It's also where she fell in love with a football player for the Denver Broncos, the story of -- Marcus knows about this, but not many other people know.

The second half of the book -- actually, more than the second half of my book focuses very heavily on her years as national security advisor at the White House, on the missed clues to 9/11, on the Iraq war and on her very, very close relationship with the president.  To me, there's also a lot of stories about her very bad relationship with Rumsfeld and her very, very tense relationship with the vice president, which, to me, is not as well-known.  I mean I -- she spoke about that to me, and I think Cheney was in many ways a far more formidable adversary than Rumsfeld was, and we can see a bit of that playing out even in this morning's New York Times.  The -- in any case, I feel you can't really understand what Rice is trying to do now at the State Department unless you look back at those White House years, where some of the most important and dramatic events in her life and in the life of the nation occur.

Finally, the book ends with numerous chapters on her time as secretary of State, not quite as detailed as Glenn's, but obviously the theme here is where she had tried to repair much of the damage that occurred during those years in the White House and also to her own reputation.  I also look at how her relationship with the president has changed since she's gone to the State Department.  For one thing, it's quite obvious she's become far more assertive and has pushed him on a number of issues -- obviously Iran, North Korea, the Middle East -- to do what didn't happen in the first term.  Although, I also argue that the president was going there on his own.  I think people forget that Cheney says this, Rice says this, and Bush is nowhere -- well, Bush actually decides, you know.  (Laughter.)

And then, I also talk about --

MR.     :  The decider.

BUMILLER:  The decider.

I also looked at her political ambitions, which have gone back for decades.  She was talking about running for the U.S. Senate from Colorado, believe it or not, way back at the University of Denver when she was a graduate student.  She's toyed with the race for governor of California.  I -- there's a lot of betting on what she might do when she leaves the White House; she says she's going back to Stanford.

Politically and ideologically, I had to answer the question "Who is she?"  A realist?  An idealist?  A neocon?  I argue that she's a pragmatist, who for four overwhelming years, from 2001 to 2005, got swept away by her devotion to the president and the hawks who held the power.

Personally -- because I think before that and after that, we've seen a pragmatist.  Well, personally I see her as highly intelligent, a rigorous woman, who actually behind the scenes is not the sort of starchy schoolteacher you often see in public.  And in private she can be quite irreverent and vulnerable and human.

And at the end, of course, I have to concludes the jury is still out on her tenure as secretary of State.  You know, she's had success -- some success with diplomacy in North Korea and with Iran, and we'll obviously see what happens next month in the Middle East -- in Annapolis, I should say.  A lot of people say it's too late.  But I think what the story of her life shows is that she -- her ideology is really succeeding, and I think what -- that's her goal.  And I think that what we'll see is that she will throw everything she has into trying to take some success away in these last 12 months of the Bush presidency.

So thank you.

SANGER:  Well, thank you all.

Let me start with a question or two, and then we'll open to everybody.  The end of her time as national security adviser -- I remember going in to see Dr. Rice for some kind of pre-inaugural story or another, and asking her what would be lasting from the Bush administration.  And she said the democracy agenda, the freedom -- you know, the freedom agenda.  After working on these books, while we are still what, 15 months away from the end of the administration, was she right?  Will that be her lasting legacy?  Will it be something else?

You're shaking your head no.

MABRY:  I mean --

BUMILLER:  He wants to --

MABRY:  Do you count that as the success of it or the idea of it or the failure of it, I mean, as a lasting --

SANGER:  As the thing that the next president, whether a Democrat or a Republican, will pick up and run with.

MABRY:  No.  I think the failure of the democracy agenda, the internal contradictions of the agenda, which goes exactly to Rice's life, this kind of long-time realist who suddenly becomes a transformationalist, an idealist, under this president, which means nothing.  And it means nothing because everyone who I talked to, from, you know, Professor Alan Gilbert at the University of Denver, who taught her in grad school, who was a leftist radical, who was convinced Condi Rice was a leftist radical; to Brent Scowcroft, who I talked to before I ever talked to Rice, a few times, and General Scowcroft thought -- was convinced she was a rock-ribbed realist, and then under George W. Bush, she's a transformationalist.

As Elisabeth said, she is -- what she is, is a pragmatist.  And that's what it's all about, the ultimate kind of realpolitik, as it were.  There is no wedding to any ideology.  I think what she was saying to you, David, was what we all have seen:  the phenomenal performer that is Condoleezza Rice, who -- what she believes has nothing to do with what she says, often.  I think that was definitely one of those cases.  So I don't think she believed at that time.

KESSLER:  Well, I mean --

SANGER:  I'm shocked to believe a public official would tell us in an interview something -- (soft laughter) --

MABRY:  I know.  It never happened.

SANGER:  Right.

KESSLER:  Right.  Well, just to follow on that, I mean, Rice had once said to me, you know, that she's a problem-solver, tries to solve problems.  And what I think is that she -- and that's maybe where this pragmatism is -- yeah, but she can only look at the problem right in front of her.  And so I don't think she -- what she can say and believe -- I think she -- when she said that, she believed that democracy -- in the democracy agenda.  But as you look at what has happened over the last couple years since she said that to you, they have completely abandoned much of that.  You know, they've now -- you know, their idea behind the democracy agenda, if you go look at her speech in Cairo, was, you know, we've stood up for 60 years of stability, and it got us nowhere, and now we're going to bring democracy.  And just a few months ago, you know, there were billions of dollars of weapons deals to prop up the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the very countries that a year and a half ago she had said, you know, had to change internally.

But you know, she's going to do the weapons deals, because right now that's the problem she faces, because she's worried about Iran, she's worried about the other things.  And she doesn't necessarily see those -- I don't think she sees those internal contradictions.  She's just kind of like a ship moving forward, and this is where I'm -- not sure where the direction is, but you know, I have to tack this way or tack that way in order to go around that particular iceberg.

BUMILLER:  I'd just add really quickly I think one reason she embraced it -- and it was the president's idea -- was -- or Natan Sharansky's idea -- (chuckles) -- but it resonated with her experience in Birmingham.  I mean, she has talked about this; her very close friends have talked about how she was very offended in her youth when -- that she was told that blacks, African-Americans, weren't ready to vote for their own -- you know, to be in charge of their own affairs.  And I think she was very offended when she -- people would tell her that the Middle East isn't ready for democracy; they can't -- so I think it really goes back to her roots, and she has tied it together in some speeches.  I'm not saying she's right; I'm just saying that's where she grabbed onto it.

MABRY:  See, I don't buy it.  I think that it is exactly her way to pragmatically, brilliantly use that history like any other history, because she is not emotionally wedded to the history in a way, say, most African Americans are, which is where this fallacious view that she's not really black comes from, because that's ridiculous.  The reason I called the book "Twice as Good" is because that was the directive given to her growing up in Birmingham, not by her parents but by other adults -- you have to be twice as good to get half the credit as a white person.

She doesn't talk much about those racial politics in public.  They are incredibly, I think, central to her drive.  And so for instance, the way she so pragmatically uses this whole, oh, blacks can vote, and it's just like doing the same thing in Iraq; people are saying Iraq isn't ready for democracy.

At the same time, a great example of this -- you know, she was talking to, I think, the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, shortly after the Iraqi government had finally been constituted.  And obviously there was great criticism over the government, and how democratic was it, in fact?  And so Rice then says to this largely liberal group of internationalists in San Francisco, well, you know, Iraq has made many mistakes but nothing as onerous as the decision to count my ancestors as three-fifths of a man.

Well, that shut up the audience but it was irrelevant; it had nothing to do with it.  And if you contrast it with -- my first chapter is called Debut.  And it's actually Rice's speech to the Republican National Convention in 2000 -- where she used the secularly sacred history of the civil rights movement, as a little girl growing up in segregated Alabama, in a very, very different way.  She just strategically used it, and it was brilliant.  And I just think, case by case, you know, line by line dissection of it -- she uses it to basically argue for why George Bush and the Republican Party is the liberator of African Americans, and why the Democrats are racist.  That's what she does: twisting political reality of today on its head, erasing 40 years of American history.

And again this is a little girl who grew up in Birmingham and lost a friend, you know, in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.  She is not emotionally wedded to any of these things or any consistency, and feels no emotional connection to that stuff in a way, I think, most people do.  It's extraordinary.  It leads to her discipline and her strength; it also leads to the incredibly bizarre relationship she has often with the truth and with reality.

SANGER:  One last question:  Transformational diplomacy is a phrase we have heard throughout this second term.  On the one hand, it could be considered an effort by this administration to try to equate what it's doing to what, as Dr. Rice frequently said, happened in the Truman administration in 1948, you know, when we created a new national security structure.  Or it could be considered, as one of her aides said not long ago, to be an excuse for saying, we don't have to worry about the first term; the second term -- everything is new; everything is transformed.

Is it either of those?  Is it both?  Is it something different?

KESSLER:  Well, you know, technically, officially tranformational diplomacy is this term that she uses to describe this effort to move -- you know, kind of rebalanced what's going on at the State Department, where you have more people in India rather than so many people in Europe.  And at the same time, they'll completely reshape the way the U.S. delivers foreign aid and decides who should get foreign aid.

You know, it has acquired a somewhat sarcastic, sardonic role with the State Department, where she generally ignores all but about 20 people working in the building, as -- you know, "transformational diplomacy" means you don't have to listen to anyone in the bureaucracy.  (Laughter.)

You know, in terms of, you know, the grander meaning behind that, you know, there is a line in her confirmation statement when she said "The time for diplomacy is now."  And that was actually a line that was suggested by Bob Zoellick, who was -- who became her deputy at the beginning, and that was to indicate there was a break -- there was a break between the first term and the second term.

Now, you can argue -- and I do that in my book -- that for much of the second term, she's been very much still under the constraints that she had placed herself under working at the White House in terms of trying to actually do real diplomacy.  There were moves to, you know, open up Europe; there were, you know, things that were, from a public relations standpoint, were designed to repair those relationships.  But not until this year did you actually see sustained engagement, diplomacy on issues such as North Korea, where you actually, you know, are starting to see some results, though I'm still waiting for the North Koreans to kind of pull the rug out from this effort.

But, you know, I don't think that historians will look back and necessarily see transformational diplomacy as some great buzz phrase that meant as much as it meant when Dean Acheson and George C. Marshall were remaking post-World War II Europe.

BUMILLER:  I -- I was going to say, you want to turn it --

SANGER:  Did you have anything to add on that --

BUMILLER:  I had something to add -- something, yeah.

SANGER:  Let us get questions from all of you.  I think we have some kind -- do we have a microphone around or -- yes, we do.  We have two microphones around.  So when we call on you, please wait for the microphone, tell us who you are and ask a question as opposed to a non-question.  (Laughs, laughter.)  Right here on the --

QUESTIONER:  Charlie Stevens from SAIS.  Would you compare and contrast Rice's leadership and management of the NSC with her leadership and management of the State Department?

BUMILLER:  Yeah.  As you know, there were -- many of her critics said that it was -- the NSC was dysfunctional under her leadership.  She is not a manager, I think.  She had Steve Hadley has her manager under the -- at the NSC, and to some degree that she's got Negroponte now as her manager at State, so that's -- that was never her strong suit.  I mean, I don't think there's -- I think at the NSC, she saw her job principally as the president's adviser and friend.  And that was -- and then there was, as a result, there was a lot of -- as you know, there was a lot of criticism that she didn't manage the process properly, and it became a very critical issue in the run-up to the Iraq war and then during the war, when you had all these different agencies of government and of course the Pentagon all in the mix of this chaos.

I think at State there are some of the same issues.  She has got a small group of aides, and there's a lot of -- Glenn can answer this question better than I -- a lot of complaints in the building about her management.

Do you want take this one away?

KESSLER:  Yeah.  Well -- yeah, I think she was essentially like a body person to the president in the first term.  And I think she has a real inability to kind of honestly figuring out to how to implement things, implement policy or implement ideas, and she was particularly miscast, I think, in the role as national security adviser.

Now, to be fair to her, I think the president got the kind of national security adviser that he wanted.  The president runs -- you know, he has a very corporate management style, and if you're the secretary of State, you're like the vice president for Peace; if you're the secretary of Defense, you're the vice president for War; and staff is staff.  There's this famous story that Paul O'Neill told about him, the president once ordering Andy Card out to get him a cheeseburger because he was, quote, "The White House chief of staff."

And so as a staff person, you don't really have the authority.  And when she became secretary of State, she ended up getting a fair amount of authority in a way that I -- you know -- and she has used that to push policies, to push ideas.  As a manager, she is not -- I mean, she likes to say -- I mean, she's said to me on a number occasions that she loves management; she used to do that.

BUMILLER:  (Laughs.)  Right.  (Off mike.)

KESSLER:  You know, but -- you know, you look at -- you know, no one is quite sure who's really running the store at the State Department.  And you're beginning to see, with the reports of the embassy construction, the mess of the Iraqi embassy construction, the failure to oversee what Blackwater was doing with other State Department contracts, you're beginning to see, I think, some of those chickens come home to roost, that there wasn't -- well, she was flying around the world trying to deal with these individual problems; there wasn't really anyone back home managing the department in a way that I think most people acknowledge, which Armitage did when he was the deputy under Powell.  Because, you know, I haven't gotten a real fix on Negroponte, but Bob Zoellick was not managing the department either.  He had his own little portfolio of issues, and you know, I think you'll begin to see more of these reports, like the embassy or Blackwater, coming out in the coming months.

SANGER:  Anybody else want to take a shot at that?

MABRY:  Just quickly, I'll say -- I mean, she certainly is more suited to this role as secretary than she was national security advisor, and I think her idea of management is that, you know, you delegate and you just deal with this top upper echelon; that's certainly at Stanford, which was, as was said, controversial.  I mean, there were people who talked to me about her time at Stanford, directing them as provost, who cried; they cried, this much later.  It was, you know, kind of extraordinary that, you know, professors would do this and deans given what she did.  She thinks she can manage; she's not an excellent manager.

But I mean, I think the key -- I think the biggest point, though, is -- the biggest question is the national security advisor tenure.  I think that really is it.  I think she brought in lots of Brent Scowcroft, you know, rules, which is the NSC is not operational; the departments are operational.  It's not her job to get involved in policy in that way.  She is to just advise the president; she is to be his back person.  But she didn't take as a -- and Scowcroft told me, he said, you know, in the end, I blame the president.  The national security advisor is not equipped to take down a secretary.  You can't do that.  The president had to do that.  And Scowcroft was very plain about that.

What she forgot of the Scowcroftian model, however, of a National Security Council was the idea that, as Scowcroft said long ago, the national security advisor's job is to be "skeptic in chief."  What Rice brought into the job was the role she had played during the campaign for Bush's first election, which was she took Bush's inchoate gut instincts, which she did think were right.  She thought he combined George H.W. Bush's moderation and intelligence with Ronald Reagan's clarity of vision and right and wrong.  She really did think that.  She thought he'd be an ideal foreign policy president; I think she really did believe that.

But she did not -- unlike Scowcroft's advisors, being skeptic in chief, she -- once she was in office did the same thing.  Whatever gut instinct the president had, she tried to present policy options that matched those gut instincts.

SANGER:  Back row, the gentleman right here.

QUESTIONER:  Jon Alterman, CSIS.  As we look forward to this Annapolis conference, it seems a little bit strange that, on the one hand, this is sort of the capstone of her term; but on the other hand, she doesn't seem very effective bringing her best friend, the president, to support the initiative.  Is there something we should be reading from this relationship that, on the one hand, seems so close, but on the thing that she's becoming so publicly identified with, the president seems to be keeping his distance.

BUMILLER:  That's a really good question.

I don't know for sure, but I -- maybe you know for sure.  But I know she's pushed him on this hard, and I suspect he will turn up in Annapolis.  It's her conference; she's the hostess.  You know, I mean, she's the host of this.  But I think she will get -- he will be there, but I know that she certainly had to push him as she had on any number of other issues.  I mean there's always been debate within the administration from the earliest days of how much political capital to spend on this issue, and from the very first days in 2001, as we know, they didn't want to spend any capital on this.  And they dipped their toe in, they get involved; it turns out badly, they pull back.

But I think she is going to go for broke on this.  I think this is their Camp David, this is their Wye Plantation.  And you know, she -- but even if they get some sort of a(n) agreed -- I don't know what the -- some sort of an agreed frame work or some sort of a statement of principles out of Annapolis, she knows -- has to spend the rest of the next year making it happen.  But I think this is where all her energy is right now.

SANGER:  Glenn, as you -- as national -- let me sort of take the question one layer further, which is in the first term it was pretty clear the president and the secretary didn't want to get involved in Wye Plantation kinds of things --

BUMILLER:  Right.

SANGER:  -- because it seemed Clintonian, and you know, that was in the White House press room for one thing you didn't want to get asked about.

But what's the explanation in the second term for the reluctance and the difficulty she's had dragging the president along, especially given the close relationship with the president that you write about?

KESSLER:  Well, I mean, I'm not entirely convinced she's -- that the president is not part of this.  But I feel that they think that they want to -- you know, there's -- he doesn't want to get involved in the nitty-gritty details.  That is what he leaves to Condi Rice.

I mean, the question that was asked before -- I mean, I actually earlier this year called the State Department like every week for about two months, saying, "When is the president going to say anything about this?"  And they said, "What do you mean?  What do you mean?  Of course he's -- he's completely on board with it."  And then -- because then one day he did say something supportive, and they all sent me the transcript.  They were very pleased that he finally said something.  (Laughter.)

BUMILLER:  (Inaudible.)

KESSLER:  It was -- but you know, the -- you know, what is so strange about this turn that she's made this year is that it's very much kind of, you know, a "Back to the Future" moment.  I mean, the -- you know, the -- and what she's trying to do is come up with a statement that is somewhat -- you know, it's not going to be like the Clinton parameters, but some sort of statement that would, you know, kind of frame the debate in a way that they were always reluctant to do for many years.  And in fact there were advisers to the president that said, "What you need to do is something like the Bush parameters."  It was completely rejected.  And now the secretary will talk about it as if it's some new idea that just came out of the ether, as opposed to something that had always been on the table for so many years.

And I think that she at this point has reconciled herself to the fact that she's not necessarily -- she is not going to be the one that will -- you know, if this goes anywhere in Annapolis, that she's not the one that's going to bring it over the finish line.  That will be some future secretary of State, some future president.  But she has this kind of eye on history, where she hopes that if people will look back, and they say, "Well, when the Palestinian state was created, it began in Annapolis, this particular document; they set the framework," just as, you know, she had once benefited from the decisions made by her predecessors when the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was unified.

SANGER:  Bernie?

QUESTIONER:  Yeah.  (Off mike) --

SANGER:  There's a mike coming up to you.

QUESTIONER:  Oh.  Thank you.  Bernie Kalb.  On the basis of your research, and given the portrait you've drawn of Condi Rice, of shifting loyalties, of a bizarre relationship with the truth, how seriously is she taken by the diplomats of foreign countries that she deals with?  And what are the consequences of that perception?

MABRY:  Well -- and Glenn can answer this best, I'm sure, but ironically -- and maybe not ironically, because politics is a world of power -- that's what it is; that's the currency -- and she wields it, and she has power because of her relationship to this president.  So she's -- I think she's taken very seriously, and certainly the Washington folks who I talked to who had been in those meetings talked a lot about an underestimation when she originally took the job as secretary.  They talked about, you know, particularly in China and in Pakistan, you know, sexist/racist perspectives being leveled at her, assumptions being leveled at her, and how she quickly, you know, set those men -- because they're all men -- right.

So I think she's taken very seriously despite that relation to the truth, because that's not really what matters.  That's not really the currency of diplomacy  It's not relation to the truth, it's relationship to the power, and that's -- and that she has.

KESSLER:  Right.  And just to quickly follow on that, the fact that the president says, "She's like my sister," I mean, that gives her power, that gives her authority, and she is considered reasonably effective in those meetings.

The one relationship she has that is really very, very bad is the one with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, which I -- you have some scenes, which I detail in my book -- it's just a -- and it's a relationship that gets worse and worse.  And a lot of the diplomacy on Iran depends on that relationship.  And it's somewhat ironic that that's where she has the most difficulty, given that she is supposed to be a Russia specialist.

(Pause.)

SANGER:  The mike's coming to you there.

STAFF:  It's coming in.

QUESTIONER:  Mac Destler, University of Maryland.  I want to push just a little more about -- on Secretary Rice as national security adviser.  One way of asking you the question is, could anybody have been a good national security adviser under George W. Bush during the first term?

Or one could ask:  Were there occasions -- say in the run-up to the Iraq war, or in the planning or nonplanning for subsequent activity -- that she actually tried, say, "We've got to have a meeting, we've got to a study, we've got have" -- and she was not supported by the president, or the president basically said, "I know what I'm going to" -- you know, but essentially said, "Look, we know what we're going to do.  We're going to do it.  Why bother with all this stuff?"

BUMILLER:  I think I can answer that partly.

I think that the -- first of all, I agree with you that it was in many ways an impossible situation, and even her severest critics would say that, you know, to be national security adviser with Cheney, Powell and Rumsfeld in the room -- I mean, she was, you know, trying to organize the elephants.  It was with -- and she had, don't forget, only two years of mid-level White House experience before she came in, when she was, you know, a junior -- influential but junior member of the Bush 41 National Security Council staff.

The really critical decision in the run-up to the war that she was part of, as was Powell, was in October of 2002, when the decision was made to turn over postwar Iraq to the Pentagon, to the Department of Defense.  And she did not object, nor did Powell.  And therein lies the seeds of some of its problems later.  And so what happened was, of course, the Department of Defense had never run a postwar occupation since the Second World War and was not prepared, as we all know now.

And it wasn't really until later, after the summer of 2003 -- it's fall of -- October of -- actually, it happened right after Labor Day that she went to the president and said, you know, "I -- we need to change this."  And it was -- Bremer was in at that point, the top civilian administrator in Iraq for the Americans.  And it was at that point that she wrested control of Iraq policy and brought it back to the NSC, where -- and David Sanger here broke that story.

SANGER:  As I remember from my great -- (laughter) -- I still remember that.  (Laughter.)

BUMILLER:  And Rumsfeld --

SANGER:  It was not Don Rumsfeld's happiest day to read The New York Times --

BUMILLER:  Yes, he reacted with a predictable roar.  (Laughter.)

But that was the turning point.  But you could argue by that point, after all the looting, after all the terrible -- the explosion at the U.N. headquarters that summer, after all the problems, it was too late.

KESSLER:  And -- well, and I -- just to follow on that, I don't know if you could argue that she necessarily did it that effectively, either, once she wrested control.  I mean, I don't -- I've never necessarily seen much evidence that even though -- bringing it into the White House back from the Pentagon, that it made that much difference.

MABRY:  It's also interesting that now she has created a unit within the State Department that's supposed to go do this, and they haven't had a chance to actually get out and try it any place.  So it would have to be a -- you know, that would have to be in the future nation-building.

BUMILLER:  No, but she did -- well, let's see, 2005 was the year of the elections.  So -- but she did keep a much -- I mean, you can say it didn't go well, but she did, from Washington, have a much tighter rein on Bremer and the process --

MABRY (?):  Oh, yes, yes.

BUMILLER:  -- and was much more involved in the early decisions about the political process in Iraq.  And -- I mean, because Rumsfeld was not going to, you know, be the mother hen, you know -- (chuckles) -- as bringing Iraq towards, you know, democracy.  I was -- yes.  Sorry.

SANGER:  We have time for just a couple more.  Let's just see if we can get a couple more questions in.

Okay.

QUESTIONER:  You were saying about the president -- saying he doesn't do nitty-gritty.  My name is Dave Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

You say the president doesn't do nitty-gritty.  Does Condoleezza Rice do nitty-gritty?  Can you give me examples of where she can take a lofty idea and turn that into an implementable document, which is what we're talking about for Annapolis?  And by the way, if she would achieve a declaration of principle, in my humble view, that would be a major achievement.  The question is, could she get that?

So what track record does she have in translating it?  Because the image and the reality, I think, of her making these trips to the Middle East for a day and leaving doesn't leave any footprint.  What -- where does she take her confidence from that she could negotiate?

And secondly, in the dynamic with the president and herself -- and you were talking about how -- you all said how in the second term she's undoing what was done in the first term.  What is -- have you noticed a certain pattern of how she's able to persuade the president, or is it all a function of his weakness on Iraq, and she's kind of the default government in that regard?  Or is there a formula?  This is the way she talks to George W. Bush, and this is the way she prevails.  Thank you.

KESSLER:  Well, those were all very good questions.  On the -- in terms of can she negotiate a document, I mean, this will be a really big test for her, because she, even to this day, has let a lot of the discussions rest between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  And you don't even have the sense at the State Department of like a, you know, U.S. government getting ready for a big Middle East push.  You don't see them engaging other parts of the -- you know, there's -- you know, they brought in one or two extra people, but it's mostly just Rice and, you know, Elliott Abrams and David Welch.  You don't see like the -- it doesn't look like a peace process that people have seen before.

But she does have this skill, I think, of focusing on the problem at hand, and it -- which is both her -- to her credit but also where she falls down.  The Rafah accords of 2005, which were designed to open up passages for the Palestinians -- she took a chance, she flew in there, they couldn't reach an agreement -- and I describe this in my book -- she managed to negotiate an agreement, and she did it on her own laptop, and she was trading around ideas with the different parties.  And it was basically her document; she made decisions on the fly without even bothering to check with the White House, because she was convinced the president would agree with everything she had decided.

And then she got on a plane to Asia for the next conference, and the whole thing fell apart within a month because there was no follow-up.  And the real test for this document -- a statement of principles will be something that has never existed before if it's signed, agreed to by both parties -- but the real test is in the next year, and whether or not they can really push these people forward.

And you know, in terms of getting the president to make decisions now, you know, a lot of it, I think, is a function of Rumsfeld's departure, Cheney's great weakness on -- you know, with the loss of his aide Scooter Libby and just in general -- I mean, on so many issues, my sense -- except for Iran -- the Cheney people are just not part of the discussion.  I mean, they're not really part of the North Korea discussion, they're not really part of the Middle East discussion.

And on North Korea, you know, that big turning point came when she flew in to Berlin where, Chris -- you know, Chris Hill was given permission to meet with the North Koreans one on one in Berlin.  She flew in, and she picked up the phone, and she called the president and said, "Mr. President, Chris has come up with a really good deal here.  I'm faxing you a one-page description, which Steve Hadley will walk you through, and I suggest you agree to it."  And he said okay.  And that was the turning point, but it was -- you know, no interagency process, no nothing -- (off mike).

BUMILLER:  (Off mike) -- I mean, she -- her style, at least, for example, on Iran, when they switched policy in spring of 2006 -- we were going to talk to Iran under all these onerous conditions but we were still offering to talk to Iran.  She had gone -- and David, you know some of this.  She had gone repeatedly to Bush, and she -- I mean, he's very stubborn.  He's a very stubborn guy, and she wears him down and she makes her argument.  He argues back.  She goes away and comes back with another argument.  It's a slow process with him.

And -- but she -- among the aides at the White House -- a lot of them are gone now -- she could push Bush in a way the others couldn't.  I mean, she had much more of a give and take with him than the others did.  Although at the end of the day, you know, he was the boss.

MABRY:  (Off mike) -- Bush and Rice are melded at the frontal lobe.  That's the way Chip Blacker describes it -- who, I think, we all talked to and who, you know, knows Rice very well personally, who's still at Stanford, who was my academic adviser at Stanford and, I think, you know, knows Washington very well, because he did what Rice did in the first Bush administration and in the Clinton administration.  But you know, Powell said himself that whoever was the national security advisor in the first term would not have been able to do any better than Rice, and Powell was the guy who was always the odd man out.  And he said that because Rice and the president share -- this is one of the ways they're connected at the frontal lobe -- a great comfort with doing things in a small group, a great arrogance and a great comfort that what they believe is right.

The best example of that to me was, you know, this is Rice at nine years old, standing in front of the White House.  Her dad had brought her up here from Birmingham.  You know, they couldn't stay in any hotels, because it was segregation from -- basically up to Tennessee at that point.  But yet this little girl who stood in front of the White House is that age.  And in this picture on that day said to her father, one day, I'll work inside this house.

Now, at that point, she could not get -- eat a hamburger in downtown Birmingham at a lunch counter, but she was convinced she was right.  That's the kind of conviction in her own beliefs -- all of that led to a lot of these mistakes.  And her and the president share that.

SANGER:  I am told that we are officially out of time.  But I thank you all for coming.  I thank the three of you.  (Applause.)

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