NBC's Matt Lauer wanted one question to stick in the minds of his Today show viewers, as from the top of Wednesday's show, to his interview with Vice President Joe Biden, the Today co-anchor repeatedly asked was the Iraq war "worth it?" As part of the analysis of the President's Oval Office speech last night, in which Barack Obama announced an end to U.S. combat operations in Iraq, Lauer invited on Biden, in the 7am half hour, to press him about the costs of the war as he asked: "There is a question being asked in homes all across the country this morning, after seven years and 4,400 lives and tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women wounded, some of them horrifically, and of course billions and billions of dollars spent, was Iraq worth it?" [audio available here]
For his part Biden responded that since he had a son who served in Iraq for a year, "I could never say to any of those parents it's not worth it" but that didn't dissuade Lauer from pursuing his line of questioning, from the left, as he cited a New York Times editorial to the Vice President:
I want to read you something from an editorial in this morning's New York Times. Quote: "In many ways the war has made Americans less safe, creating a new organization of terrorists and diverting the nation's military resources and political will from Afghanistan. Deprived of its main adversary, a strong Iraq, Iran was left freer to pursue its nuclear program to direct and finance extremist groups and meddle in Iraq." Do you agree with that assessment?
The following intro and full interview with Biden were aired on the September 1 Today show:
BARACK OBAMA: Now it's time to turn the page.
MATT LAUER: Page turner. In a primetime Oval address President Obama announces the end of combat operations in Iraq. Was it worth it? Especially for the families who lost loved ones. This morning Vice President Joe Biden tackles that question.
MATT LAUER: Savannah Guthrie, thank you very much. Vice President Joe Biden is in Baghdad this morning. Mr. Vice President, good morning to you.
JOE BIDEN: Good morning, Matt, how are you?
LAUER: I'm fine, sir, thank you very much. There is a question being asked in homes all across the country this morning, after seven years and 4,400 lives and tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women wounded, some of them horrifically, and of course billions and billions of dollars spent, was Iraq worth it? How do you answer that question?
BIDEN: My answer, Matt, is that all the sacrifices made by the American people, but particularly by our troops, we have to, in fact, make sure that this transition to the Iraqis works. We have to make sure that when we leave here, there is a stable government that is secure within its own borders, not a threat to its neighbors, in order to, to justify all that sacrifice that, that is taking place because the sacrifice is real.
LAUER: Well so you're saying if we don't ensure the future, it may not have been worth it? In other words, at this stage, is it still unclear whether it's worth it?
BIDEN: Matt, having a son who served here for a year and feeling lucky he came home and thinking about all those parents who didn't have their child come home, I could never say to any of those parents it's not worth it. What I have to say is we are committed to making sure that the sacrifices they made bear fruit and the fruit will ultimately be in a stable Iraqi government that is able to stand on their own and, in fact, is not a threat to its neighbors nor threatened by its neighbors.
LAUER: You said recently that Iraq now is safe. And you know there were some 50 people killed in insurgent attacks, in the days prior to your visit there. From my understanding, since you been there, on at least three occasions, alarms have sounded warning of incoming mortars. So to, to the families of the 50,000 U.S. troops that remain, now that combat troops are gone, are their loved ones safe?
BIDEN: Look Matt, the level of violence is the lowest it's been since 2003 when we got here. There are traffic jams in the street, there are people walking around and the vast majority of the country, there are, been no attacks. The fact of the matter is that there was an uptick in violence, 12 simultaneous attacks that, in fact took place a week or so ago, creating significantly less damage than any kind of coordinated attack has in the past. It's still dangerous. But the fact of the matter is those 50,000 troops are well equipped, well protected and they're in a position where they're much, much, much safer than troops were a year ago, two years ago, and three years ago. As a matter of fact safer than any time since 2003. But there's still, there's still danger that exists in this country.
LAUER: In his speech from the Oval Office last night, Mr. Vice President, the President referred to former President Bush and he said that while the two of them were at odds on this war from the very beginning, he said that no one could doubt Mr. Bush's quote, "support for our troops or his love of country and commitment to our security." I want to read you something from an editorial in this morning's New York Times. Quote: "In many ways the war has made Americans less safe, creating a new organization of terrorists and diverting the nation's military resources and political will from Afghanistan. Deprived of its main adversary, a strong Iraq, Iran was left freer to pursue its nuclear program to direct and finance extremist groups and meddle in Iraq." Do you agree with that assessment?
BIDEN: Well look all I'm gonna focus on today, Matt, is Iraq. The fact of the matter is, that, we are moving in a direction where the Iraqis are better positioned to be able to be successful, free and not a destabilizing force in the world but a positive force. And the question about whether or not credit is deserved, who deserves the credit for this beginning of a fundamental transition, I don't think is worth arguing about. The truth of the matter is there were a lot of mistakes. There's no doubt that the President and I both disagreed with the way in which the war had begun, how it was conducted, etc. But, but the truth of the matter is, that at, by the end of the last administration, a transition was in place, there was a political movement that was afoot. We kept on Secretary Gates, our present, we kept on General Petraeus, we kept on a continuity here to finish the job and that's what we're in the process of doing.
LAUER: Vice President Joe Biden joining us from Baghdad, this morning. Mr. Vice President, I thank you for your time.
BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot, Matt. I appreciate it.