As part of our #Transcripts2020 project, we are pleased to release the transcript of Joe Biden’s Town Hall in Davenport, Iowa on 10/16/19. An editable version is available here. All transcripts of this series are available here.
00:05 Joe Biden: Hello folks. How are you?
00:13 JB: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
00:18 JB: Folks, Roxana and I’ve known each other a while, and I have to tell you, she’s right about how she’s serious. It means a great deal to me up to this time, she would endorse me. And I mean it sincerely. It means a lot. And I’ve got a great, great friend who, as we keep in touch with one another, and we lost one of our good friends Doc when he passed away. But Jim Lykem. Where are you Jimmy? You’re somewhere in here.
00:54 S?: Right here.
00:55 JB: There you are. Jim. Thank you. You know, and Mayor Bill Gluba, excuse me. I know you know this, because a lot of you have been involved in politics for a while. But, one of the things that is one of the great honors, as much of a repetition running for President is and going all over the country, and talking about how tough it is, the thing that people don’t realize is, you end up in the process making friends for life. You make friends for life. No matter whether you win, lose, or what happens, you become friends for life. And so, the folks that I just named have been friends, and they know, Roxanne and I were just talking about, we shared a lousy occurrence on the same day. She lost her husband. I lost my son. But we knew about each other. We cared what was happening to the other person, not just to ourselves, and a lot of the people in this room were an excuse, as we used to say in the Senate, a point of personal privilege, so good to my son Bo. My son Hunter.
02:14 JB: I mean, you really were. You reached out. You embraced him. And I know some of you know, I won’t mention the gentleman’s name, but I was on the other side of the state. Good guy, haven’t seen him in a long time, walked up and said, “Joe, I’m still for you.” But he said, “I would rather have been able to vote for your son for President. But I’m gonna vote for you.”
02:34 JB: My dad used to have an expression, he’d say, “Mr. Mayor, you know, you know your success as a father when you turn to look at your child and realize they turned out better than you.” The way you embraced my son, the way you embraced me, when things happened, and like you embraced Roxanna when she lost her husband, means a lot. I didn’t plan on saying any of this at the outset, but I look out at so many familiar faces, and to have Cindy Winkler here, state representative, I wanna thank her for being here and of all the roles the President of the United States has to fill, there is one that is more consequential than any other role, and that’s to be Commander in Chief of the United States of America, the United States military. It’s a sacred duty. It’s not something that is done, or looked at in a whim. And so I’m gonna, I hope you understand, I think it’s important that I make a serious speech. It’s gonna take about 25 minutes for me to do it about American Foreign Policy, and why I am so concerned about our security and the deployment of the might of the United States military.
04:00 JB: The power to deploy the might of the most powerful military in the history of the world, and that’s not hyperbole, in the history of the world, there have never been greater or more competent warriors or a larger or more powerful military than we have. It is not an ego-booster. It’s not a ratings booster. You take an oath of office to serve and swear responsibility: A; to our troops and their families. Only sacred obligation we have. There are a lot of obligation, only sacred one, is to protect those we send to war, care for them when they come home and care for their families while they’re gone. They risk their lives so their government will actually be able to work. Another responsibility is that we not risk their lives pointlessly. That when a Commander In Chief puts them in harms way, it’s for an overwhelming national security purpose. But also, that Commander In Chief has a responsibility to our allies and to our partners, that the United States of America will stand by its word and stand with our allies in times of need. And there are adversaries, our adversaries, know that the United States seeks peace, peace, but will not hesitate to defend our national interest or the interest of those we’ve sworn in sacred alliances to work with.
05:42 JB: By misuse of others, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, I believe is, and it’s not comfortable to say this about a President, but he is a complete failure; a complete failure as Commander-in-Chief. It is the most reckless and incompetent Commander In Chief we have ever had, and he’s failed repeatedly. You know, he doesn’t understand. Part of it is he’s just incompetent. No, I really mean it. He’s just incompetent. But he repeatedly fails to foresee the consequences of his impulses, and they’re impulses that he has, not based on any theory. And when the utterly predictable occurs, he seems not to care. He blames somebody else. It’s always somebody else’s fault. The buck never stops at his desk, in his view. Talks with North Korea collapsing, because they were based on nothing more than a delusional promise by a bloody dictator which he is prepared to accept.
07:03 JB: Erratic trade war with China caused huge pain, huge pain, including here in Iowa. 160 workers in a quiet city laid off indefinitely at Deere. Not to mention the pain it’s caused for manufacturing, with virtually no gain, no gain at all in the strategy. Iran, growing more, and more provocative and restarting it’s nuclear program, because Donald Trump chose to renege on a diplomatic agreement with the world powers, including our allies, on an agreement that was working. It was the most intensive in his regime, in being able to know what someone was doing in an inspection that ever has occurred in modern history. And now, Turkish forces invading and attacking our Kurdish allies, partners, because Donald Trump tweeted, tweeted their withdrawal. According to Admiral Stavridis, our former head of Naval Operations, he went on to say that without any notification to the military. The events of this past week have brought Syria, that he initiated in Syria, have had devastating clarity on just how dangerous this President is to our national security, to our leadership around the world and to the lives of the brave women and men serving in uniform.
08:56 JB: Building and maintaining the confidence of our allies has been a critical element that every single President has engaged in, Democrat and Republican, some with more or less success since the end of World War II. But by precipitously withdrawing a small number of American special forces in Syria, Trump managed in one felled swoop to betray our Kurdish partners who helped defeat ISIS, to create a humanitarian crisis with innocent civilians and ethnic and religious minority communities caught in the crossfire, with up to 160,000 newly displaced persons, run out of their homes. Forces, forcing our troops into retreat. They’re in retreat. The United States military is in retreat from Turkey. Russia and the murderous Asad regime is flowing in to fill the vacuum.
10:15 JB: He’s given ISIS, formerly Al-Qaeda, a new lease on life by forcing the Kurds to leave from continuing to fight ISIS and hold the 10,000 ISIS prisoners they have, and flee North to try to protect their sons, their daughters, their families, instead of fighting the remnants of the so-called caliphate that ISIS had set up, and leaving guarding 10,000 ISIS terrorists and supporters, some of whom have already escaped, and to throw the global confidence in American leadership into a complete free fall. I’m gonna say something very self-serving. This is something I know a lot about. I spent a lot of time in that area. I know all of these leaders. I’ve been engaged, because that was my job as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and doing major national security and intelligence matters for President Obama. All the consequences I’ve mentioned, every single one, can be laid at the feet of Donald Trump.
11:38 JB: He green lighted Turkey’s invasion. Now, he’s left asking Turkey to stop it. But the damage is done. You don’t get do-overs when it comes to national security. The decisions have deadly serious consequences, and yet, the dynamics in Syria are incredibly complicated. And yes, the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds dates back decades; decades. But before Trump’s tweet, a very small number of US forces, working together with our Kurdish partners, was actually keeping Northern Iraq relatively stable, people weren’t dying, while keeping the pressure on what was left of ISIS. Now, they’ve been blown apart. Imagine how demoralizing it is, demoralizing it is to the troops, our troops, as Russia pours in, mercenaries, taking literally victory laps inside of former US camps and facilities. And President Trump ordered them to… They’re the very ones President Trump ordered them to abandon.
13:05 JB: And Turkey attacking the very people they fought alongside of. That’s why we need someone in the Oval Office who understands the gravity and the consequences of their decisions. Trump’s quote, “His great unmatched wisdom.” My God. What a delusional man.
13:32 JB: His great unmatched wisdom. That great unmatched wisdom has undone the hard won progress across two administrations in a matter of days, including our fight against ISIS, in Syria. As I said, as retired admiral, he quote, “Everyone was absolutely flabbergasted.” He went on to say, “In the Pentagon throughout.” Our military do not sign on to this. Republican Congress know how irresponsible this is. It’s about the only thing they’d mustered up enough backbone to criticize him on.
14:30 JB: That’s how outrageous it is. Even Mitch McConnell knows he’s wrong.
14:42 JB: I mean think about it. Lindsey Graham, who used to be a friend of John McCain of mine and others, is now being attacked by Trump again. Trump tried to justify his decision to abandon the Kurds and our Kurdish partners by making the absolutely ridiculous, uninformed, crazy comment. “They didn’t help us in the Second World War.”
15:20 JB: “They didn’t help us in Normandy.” I mean, can you believe it? I mean, when you think about it, what a global embarrassment. Well, guess what? They helped us smash ISIS, a direct threat to the United States America and our friends all around the world. And that didn’t happen during World War II, but some of it happened during Trump’s first term. You’d think he’d remember. He bragged about it at the time, he said, “The Kurds stood with us to accomplish a vital national security objective of the United States.” He goes on to point out, “The destruction of ISIS and they’re temporary Caliphate.” He talked about it. He said, “We achieved this without sending tens of thousands of troops, without spending a quarter trillion dollars, as we did in the Iraq surge. Indeed the Obama/Biden administration worked with alongside our partners in Syria, the Kurds, the Syrian democratic forces, with just a few hundred Americans stopping tens of thousands of local fighters to take the fight to ISIS on the ground.
16:43 JB: The strategy was so successful, it turned out that Trump’s secret plan to defeat ISIS… You remember that? The secret plan to defeat ISIS was to just keep doing what we had put in place, until last week. Those brave Kurdish and Arab forces paid a steep price. In defeating ISIS in the caliphate, they lost over 10,000 soldiers. Hear me? 10,000. 10,000 dead. They made the ultimate sacrifice and then Trump sold them out. All it took was one phone call from the President of Turkey, who I know very well. So now, instead of being a reliable American partner helping to maintain stability and keeping the lid on terrorism, the Kurds have had to make the only Faustian bargain they could make to avoid being wiped out, and their the women and children being wiped out, by the onslaught of the Turkey military. They made a deal with two devils, Bashar al-Assad, a murderer who heads up the government of Syria and Vladimir Putin, for their protection.
18:21 JB: That’s the deal, and that the President. He always calls when I get to this part. I’m joking. That’s not a problem, it happens. Look, they’ve now handed over to those two people, control of Northwest Syria, back to the brutal Russian and Iranian backed regimes, and I say, Iranian backed regime. How does this keep America safe? How does it advance our interests around the world? The answer is quite simple. It doesn’t. It devastates us. How does it benefit anyone other than our adversaries? Russia, which is now at the table, to further expand it’s influence throughout Syria, encourage Iran to be more engaged on the western shore or eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Russia again, which gets to sit back and watch one NATO ally impose a sanction on another NATO ally, furthering Putin’s goal of fracturing the NATO alliance. That’s what Putin’s about.
19:41 JB: Iran and Hezbollah now are going to be more emboldened to use Syria to launch attacks against Israel from the Golan and other places. ISIS, ISIS, which has clearly seen it regroup and now has hundreds of supporters released back into the region. Every single strong man, autocrat and dictator around the world, who has just learned what President Trump has done, that will abandon our partners under the smallest amount of pressure, what do you think they’re gonna do? What do you think they’ll attempt to do now?
20:24 JB: All we’re left with is Donald Trump, a Donald Trump shaped hole in American credibility; more chaos, more instability, more threats, threats to the American people, our partners and our allies in the region. It was pointed out these people will flee, these ISIS will flee to Europe along with all those people displaced, what was his comment, “Don’t worry, they’ll go to Europe, they won’t come to the United States.” That’s being a real partner, isn’t it. They’re going to go to Europe, it’s okay, they’ll take care of them, the Europeans. Don’t be fooled by Trump’s argument that he’s pulling US Troops out of the Middle East, by the way, or ending the forever wars. He may have caved to Erdogan and to Putin, forcing our troops to retreat under fire, but he’s also authorized a deployment of thousands of additional troops, thousands of additional troops into the Gulf and Saudi Arabia to deal with another crisis of his making, one with Iran.
21:35 JB: But this time, the crisis we have to deal with in Iran, we have to go it alone. None of our partners want in on the deal. America, you caused the problem, you deal, you deal with the Quds Force. You deal with the terrorists coming out of Iran, not us. So don’t believe Trump’s con here. This is not American leadership. This is bending to the will of a strong man and this is not a end of forever wars. It’s a recipe for more forever wars. He’s still more than a year in office and, God forbid us, fours years after that. Look, as erratic as he becomes, the more he’s certain that I’m gonna beat him like a drum, look what he’s doing, no really. No, but think about it, have you ever heard of a time, did you ever think you’d see a time when they’re spending 10 million dollars on ads this far out in another party’s primary to try to pick who the candidate’s gonna be? There’s the reason for it.
22:58 JB: Over 70… Can you turn that off, please? Over 70 polls in a row show me defeating him. I’ve become the new object of his attention. Maybe the reason why he’s gonna be impeached. Imagine what damage he could do in the time he has left, either intentionally or because of his total incompetence. The more under pressure he is, the more erratic things he does, things that, even for him, are worrisome. We can’t let that happen. I’m not gonna let it happen. Folks, the next President is gonna face enormous challenges of picking up the pieces of American foreign policy, salvaging our reputation and rebuilding, rebuilding confidence in the comments made by the United States around the world. Used to be what we say, we do, we keep our word. The next President is gonna have to address the world as he or she finds it on January 2021, whatever the state of disarray Trump leaves it in, and there not gonna be time for building relationships from scratch. We’re gonna need a leader who can, on day one, pick up the telephone, call our NATO allies, know them by their first names, and know and have them know, there’ll be no question about the word of the next President of the United States. None.
24:41 JB: And that the United States will maintain our treaty obligations, will stand by democracy and freedom. I personally met and built relationships with almost every single world leader that’s still on the stage. I’ve negotiated with Erdogan. I know how he operates, I’ve spent more time with him alone, I predict and I believe, than the President has. In fact, the reason the United States partnered with the Kurdish militia in Syria, in the first place, is because Turkey dragged its heals on helping us defeat ISIS. Remember all the people they were letting across the border from Europe to go to fight with ISIS; the Turkish border? I spent hours, hours with my security team in going over proposals with Erdogan. He wanted us to leverage, in order to deal with our concern over ISIS in the rest of the world, he wanted us essentially to declare war and send hundreds of thousand troops into Syria to take down Assad, and we would not do that. The Syrian government, which neither our administration or the American people wanted to have another endless war, in fact, occur. So unlike President Trump, the President gave me the authority to tell everyone, “No”, but we kept working with Turkey, helping them to cope with millions of Syrian refugees who were fleeing out of, out of Syria.
26:33 JB: Design as much humanitarian aid as we could to alleviate much of the suffering as possible while also welcoming those fleeing violence to our shores. And we put in place a successful strategy for the Kurds to ultimately bring down ISIS, while preventing Turkey and the Kurds from coming to blows. We shouldn’t fool ourselves folks. There may never be a solution in Syria that suffices and satisfies our best hope for a region of peace within itself. No one wants American troops to be forever embroiled in conflict in the Middle East or in nation-building. There’s a big difference between sending tens of thousands of troops, combat troops, to the Middle East indefinitely, which I oppose and will end, and using small numbers of special operatives to support local forces doing the fighting, and advancing our common interest. I have to tell you a surprise last night in the debate, one of my colleagues said she’d remove all troops from the Middle East. You know, we can be strong and smart at the same time. And when we do draw down, there’s a right way and a wrong way. And what Trump has done in Syria is disastrously wrong. So this Trump created crisis devolves further into chaos. What should we be doing? It’s the logical question for the press and you all ask me, “What should we be doing?” What would I be doing now?
28:19 JB: First, we should begin to work again closely with our NATO allies and the United Nations to bring more responsible parties to the table. The United States and Turkey are allies, even if Turkey is not acting like one. So we should be inviting a broader coalition of countries to pressure Turkey to pull back its operations, refrain from ethnic cleansing and targeting religious minorities, as well as cease its callous disregard for civilians. The international community should make it clear, the UN, that we intend to investigate any reports of war crimes or violations of international humanitarian law, and to hold accountable those who are responsible when it occurs. The second thing we should do, we should actively work to mediate a resolution between Turkey and the Kurds to end the violence. There is a way. There was a negotiation initially going on. The United States should be willing to set up and facilitate those talks and engage all sides. Leading the free world requires us to show up, to have some skin in the game.
29:35 JB: We shouldn’t be delegating this to Putin. Third thing we should be doing. We have an obligation to provide critical humanitarian support to mitigate the new refugee crisis that’s going to be occurring; unfolding before our very eyes. The Trump administration released $50 million humanitarian aid to Syria. But that’s only a quarter of the $200 million in aid that already has been accommodated, but he suspended last year. And how will it be distributed? When front line humanitarian groups, and they’re all through that region. How are they gonna do this when they’ve suspended their services, pulled their staffs out of the areas where they’re fighting? We should be willing to carry out airlifts of food, water, critical aid first supplies as they’re needed. And fourthly, we have to remain laser-focused on preventing the resurgence of ISIS. As the Kurds withdrew to defend their villages from Turkish attack, it’s easy to imagine ISIS regrowing and filling the void. We can’t let that happen for our own safety’s sake. Because no matter how much Donald Trump tweets that it may be easy for Europeans to recapture escaped ISIS fighters, or for us to go back and blast ISIS, that hadn’t worked before. That’s not how it worked the first time and it certainly won’t be how it works now if we have to fight ISIS again.
31:21 JB: During our administration we built a global coalition to take on ISIS that eventually grew to 81 partners. It was part of my responsibility to put that together. Not just us. We got 81 other nations to participate with us in curtailing ISIS’s expansion and caliphate and rendering them not a threat. Nations and organizations from all around the world stood with us because they trusted the word of the United States of America under the Obama-Biden administration. So ask yourself, after everything Trump has done, after every international treaty that Trump has pulled out of, after every ally that Trump has attacked, after leaving partners to be slaughtered with no discernible strategy, after embracing some of the most outrageous thugs in the world, from Kim Jung Un to Putin, who’s going to stand with us today to get this done? And if they don’t stand with us, how many more brave sons and daughters will we have to send to fight alone in the future to protect ourselves?
32:47 JB: And that brings me to my final point that I wanna make today. As President Trump’s doing, what he’s doing in Syria, is much bigger than Syria. It’s more insidious, insidious than the betrayal of brave Kurdish partners. It’s more dangerous than taking our boot off the neck of ISIS. Trump is demolishing the moral authority of the United States of America. I mean that in a literal sense.
33:24 JB: His incompetence is so extreme, his abuse of power so rampant, that he’s torching America’s influence and our ability to get things done around the world. Climate change; we make up 15% of the problem, we’ve gotta get 85% of the world to come back and cooperate with us when we put together the Paris Climate Accord. Mass migrations, out of Venezuela and other places in the world, unfair trade practices, disruptive technologies, nuclear proliferation, the ascendancy of China, the resurgence of Russia. How will we meet any of these real, global challenge we face, if the United States is forever reduced in the eyes of the world to being an unreliable partner. Who is going to stand with us? Diplomacy isn’t just a series of hand shakes and photo opportunities, it’s building relationships that you’re constantly building, constantly maintaining, working to identify areas of common interest, while managing points of conflict. It requires discipline. It requires a team of experienced professionals that you empower, not diminish or demote. It requires a coherent national security process to get everyone on the same page to execute.
35:09 JB: After almost three years as President, Trump still doesn’t understand any of this and he never will.
35:21 JB: Because the only thing, the only thing he cares about is Donald Trump. Not our allies, not our neighbors, not our diplomats, not our values, not our leadership, not our standing in the world, not the incredible human suffering that’s been caused by his decisions, not even the likelihood that ISIS; ISIS, the most coherent and spread and dangerous terrorist group in modern history. Not even that ISIS will regenerate once again, gain strength and threaten the United States of America. There’s so much at stake in this election, issues that matter to every single American family. This isn’t some abstract speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, a group of foreign policy experts. This is about how it affects the lives of everyday Americans, every single family, every one of them, and this is what it is. What does America stand for in the world? Who? Who do we want to be.
36:40 JB: The United States build alliances and works with our partner democracies for the sake of our own national security, our own economic prosperity. No country, even one as powerful as ours, can go it alone against the challenges that respect no borders and cannot be contained by walls. The investment we’ve made, and we make in others, have come back to benefit us tenfold in markets for our products, in partners to help us tackle global challenges, allies to help us deter aggression or to fight alongside us if those deterrents fail.
37:24 JB: I met some gentlemen at the airport, who were Vietnam veterans. At the time, I sat with them for just a moment before I came over here, talking about how we ran against being the world’s policeman. America first means America alone. How do we deal with the crisis that are gonna affect us and every single American in Iowa and throughout the country, with stateless terror, all the things that affect our ability to survive, from global warming to a fair trade policy? How do we do that if we’re out of the picture? Make no mistake, nations will make accommodation to work with those who are in the picture, whether that’s Russia or China or any other country, they’ll make their own deals if they think they cannot be protected and/or be part of an alliance with us. The world’s gonna move on without us. Donald Trump’s vision is antithetical to everything generations of Americans have fought for, sacrificed and defended.
38:50 JB: I believe we’re so much better than Donald Trump thinks we are. I believe we can and must be the nation which the world looks to, mobilizes others for common good, the beacon of liberty, offering refugees and the oppressed options, a bulwark of democracy and self-determination, a champion of human rights, a leader of the free world. That’s not a slight, a throw away phrase. All of this is on the ballot next November, so we have to choose. We have to choose the America we wanna be. We have to choose if we want to retake our place in the world, keep the United States safe and secure, because we built on our alliances, because we choose a president who will rebuild our credibility, restore the value of America’s word. That’s what’s at stake here, ’cause I promise you, I promise you, if we do not, others will make their accommodations.
40:04 JB: Imagine, imagine a world without NATO and a European alliance with us. Imagine a world without alliances in the Pacific. How long will it take some of these nations, who no longer can take our word that we’ll be with them as they will be us, before they decide to go nuclear, before they decide they have to act, before they decide they have to make an accommodation with Putin or China. Folks, this policy has been a disaster. This president has been a disaster. We can change it. It’s totally within our power. We just have to be sure that what we say, we mean, we explain why we’re doing it and we make no apologies, so the World and the American public can look at whomever we pick and say, “I believe that person and I believe on day one, that person is ready to command the world stage, does not need any on-the-job-training and is known by everyone from Putin to our allies, to be what he says or she says that they are.”
41:23 JB: That’s what’s at stake here, folks, if he doesn’t do something totally, thoroughly reckless and cause us to get into a shooting war of consequence, we can overcome four years of this man, but we cannot… We cannot… He will forever change the nation of who we are if, in fact, we do not defeat him this time, and that’s my intention. I thank you, God bless you all and may God protect our troops.
41:58 JB: What am I doing?