"As few as a couple thousand troops" could be returning home from America's longest war at the July 2011 target for a "transition" in Afghanistan, Vice President Joe Biden told "This Week" in an exclusive interview.
Biden previously was quoted in Jonathan Alter's new book, "The Promise," as saying, "In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it."
But he clarified to ABC News' Jake Tapper: "If you read three or four paragraphs above that, Jonathan was making a very valid point. He was saying a lot in the military think they outmaneuvered the president to render the July date meaningless. And I was saying that's simply not true.
"The military signed on," Biden said. "[Afghanistan commander Gen. David] Petraeus signed on. Everybody signed on to not a deadline, but a transition, a beginning of a transition."
So what did Biden mean when he said "a whole lot of people" would be "moving out" of Afghanistan? Tapper asked.
"What I was responding to was the idea that the president had been outmaneuvered," Biden said. "I was saying make it clear. And so it wasn't so much numbers [that] I meant. It could be as few as a couple thousand troops. It could be more. But there will be a transition."
The vice president also examined the broader picture of the war in Afghanistan.
Are we losing the war?
"It's too early to make a judgment," Biden said."We still believe that the policy that the military signed onto, put together initially, signed onto, is, in fact, going to work."
What does he mean by "work"?
"We are making considerable progress against al Qaeda, which is our primary target," Biden said. "We're taking out significant numbers of the leadership in al Qaeda. And we are, in the process, which is painfully slow and difficult, of training up Afghani forces in order to put them in a position they can deal with their own insurgents.
"There is, for the first time now, a real attempt and a policy of trying to figure out how to reconcile those in the Taliban who are doing it for the pay, who are not the Mullah Omars of the world, into the government of Afghanistan," Biden said.
But he added a big caveat.
"All of this is just beginning," he said. "And we knew it was going to be a tough slog. But I think it's much too premature to make a judgment [of how the U.S. is faring] until the military said we should look at it, which is in December."
"It's too early to make a judgment," Biden repeated. "We don't even have all the troops of the so-called surge in place yet. That won't happen until August."
Biden also responded to denigrating comments about him in a controversial Rolling Stone magazine interview with former Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his aides that ultimately cause McChrystal to lose his job.
One McChrystal zinger was particularly telling.
"'Are you asking about Vice President Biden?' McChrystal says with a laugh. 'Who's that?'
"'Biden?" suggests a top adviser. 'Did you say: Bite Me?'"
However, Biden was magnanimous in his "This Week" interview.
"I didn't take it personally at all," Biden said. "I really, honest to God, didn't. Compared to what happens in politics, that was a piece of cake."
Biden added that he has met with a "really apologetic" McChrystal.
"I was the guy who, in fact, was their problem, they thought," Biden said. "I'm not their problem. I agree with the policy the president put in place."
Biden said McChrystal's team thought he was the enemy because he had laid out a plan for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan "that was different in degree."
At a future date, Biden promised, his plan would be released and all would become clear.
"Someday, I'll be able to lay out exactly what the plan I offered was," Biden said. "It would be inappropriate to do that because it was so close to what, in fact, the plan ended up being that there was virtually no difference. But I got characterized because I was really very challenging to some of the assertions made."
The vice president recounted a recent side conversation he had with Petraeus during a meeting in the White House Situation Room after Petraeus agreed to become the new commander in Afghanistan.
"I pulled him aside and I said, 'David, there is no daylight between your position and mine.' And he said, 'I know that. Will you tell people that?' And I said, absolutely I'd tell people that," Biden said. "So there's ... a split that has been advertised that far exceeds anything that occurred from the beginning of this reconsideration."
Biden also revealed that after the Rolling Stone article was released, he consulted a number of top generals and they were unanimous: McChrystal had to go.
"It was clear: I was asked to and I did on my own survey, I think, six four star generals, including present and former," Biden said. "Every single one said he had to go.
"So ... the president made the right decision," Biden said. "He changed the personalities, but not the policy. He put the strongest guy in the U.S. military and a counter-insurgency policy in place. It was the absolutely necessary thing to do."
To many Democrats, their prospects this November are looking rather bleak. Respected congressional prognosticator Charlie Cook says that Democrats will lose 30 to 40 seats in the House and five to seven in the Senate. A recent ABC News poll put Americans' confidence in congressional Democrats to make the right decisions for the country at 32 percent.
But to Biden, things are looking up.
"I don't think the [Democratic] losses are going to be bad at all," Biden said. "I think we're going to shock the heck out of everybody.
"I am absolutely confident [that] when people take a look at the what has happened since we've taken office in November and comparing it to the alternative, we're going ... to be in great shape," he said.
"What I believe, what the president believes [is that] we're going to win the House and we're going to win the Senate. We're not going to lose either one of those bodies," Biden said.
Asked if he thinks elements of the Tea Party are racist, Biden seemed to equivocate at first, but then settled on a firm no.
"Well, the truth is that at least elements that were involved in some of the Tea Party folks expressed racist views," he said.
"I wouldn't characterize the Tea Party as racist," he added. "There are individuals who are either members of or on the periphery of some of their things -- their protests -- that have expressed really unfortunate comments.
"And, again, it was all over TV, all over your network, you know. A black congressman walking up the stairs of the Capitol," he said, referring to alleged racist epithets said to an African-American congressmen by alleged Tea Party members during the climax of the debate over health care reform.
"I don't believe, the president doesn't believe that the Tea Party is a racist organization. I don't believe that," Biden said. "Very conservative. Very different views on government and a whole lot of things. But it is not a racist organization."
Tapper asked Biden whether, in retrospect, the $862 billion stimulus was too small given the dismal jobs situation in the country.
Biden said it probably would have been bigger if it weren't for Republican opposition in early 2009.
"There's a lot of people at the time argued it was too small," Biden said, "a lot of people in our administration ... even some Republican economists and some Nobel laureates like Paul Krugman, who continues to argue it was too small."
"But, you know," Biden told Tapper, "there was a reality. In order to get what we got passed, we had to find Republican votes. And we found three. And we finally got it passed."
If it wasn't for the legislative reality, Biden explained, "I think it would have been bigger. I think it would have been bigger. In fact, what we offered was slightly bigger than that.
"But the truth of the matter is that the recovery package, everybody's talking about it [like] it's over," Biden said. "The truth is, now we're spending more now this summer.
"I'm calling this ... the summer of recovery," Biden said.