Joe Biden, out Loud

Article excerpt

Byline: Leslie H. Gelb; Photographs By Khue Bui

The United States won't spend a dime to bail out Europe. The Taliban is not our enemy. And nobody's easing up on Iran's nukes. The vice president lets fly.

On Thursday, Dec. 15, Vice President Joe Biden sat down in his sunlit White House office adjoining the Rose Garden to do what he loves best--talk about foreign policy--with Leslie H. Gelb of Newsweek/The Daily Beast. What follows are excerpts of their exclusive review of the year's hotspots.

NEWSWEEK: I know you feel strongly and correctly that economics is really at the heart of not only our country's future, but our power in the world. You have a bank crisis in Europe right now. And Goldman Sachs just said that at a minimum this means a 1 percent drop in our gross domestic product. And it's likely to be much worse, as you know, because the Europeans can't seem to conjure up the courage to tackle their problem seriously. What are we planning to do about it?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: We're using every bit of influence,cajoling--from my getting in a plane, to the president appearing, talking to [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner, engaging, and being very blunt. I was in Greece [earlier this month]. The president has been meeting with our G8 partners and specifically--very, very specifically on the phone with everyone from [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel to [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy, [British Prime Minister David] Cameron. I mean we are engaged in making it clear to them that there is an answer. They've got to step up.

NEWSWEEK: But they're looking to us for something we can't give anymore, which is cash to bail them out.

BIDEN: We're not going to. These guys at the end of the day are going to have to choose: they either lose now or lose later. And if they lose later, they lose real, real big.

NEWSWEEK: And it's got to be their bailout, not ours?

BIDEN: Exactly right. We did our bailout. They've got to do their bailout.

NEWSWEEK: What are our vital interests in continuing to fight a major war in Afghanistan?

BIDEN: We were in Afghanistan for two reasons. One is to deal with, curtail, begin to dismantle, and eventually eliminate al Qaeda. Not only from being able to come back into Afghanistan and control Afghanistan but from the region--to decimate al Qaeda.

NEWSWEEK: Almost an impossible goal to achieve.

BIDEN: No--to fundamentally alter their capacity to do damage to American allies and vital U.S. interests, to fundamentally alter that. We have done that. It doesn't mean they're not capable.

NEWSWEEK: It means we've done it for the time being, but depending upon who comes to power in Afghanistan in the future, they can come back. I know you don't favor staying there ad infinitum to prevent that.

BIDEN: I would argue they are not able to come back. I would argue that there has been serious damage done to their infrastructure in a way that the coherence of this thing called al Qaeda and their ability to metastasize has been severely damaged.

NEWSWEEK: So we no longer have to stay in Afghanistan to fight for it?

BIDEN: No, let me finish. That is not fully achieved, it is close. The second reason for us to be in Afghanistan was to make sure that a country with tens of millions of people and nuclear weapons called Pakistan did not somehow begin to disintegrate or fall apart. That is a hell of a lot tougher job.

NEWSWEEK: Mr. Vice President, I just don't see the links. Because in the first place, whatever happens in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis have an interest in protecting their nukes and seeing that extremists don't take over the country. Secondly, the Pakistanis don't agree with your logic, because they have been doing almost everything they can to hurt us in Afghanistan. And finally, that's a country of 180 million people that has its own profound problems that won't be fixed or made worse by whatever happens in Afghanistan. …