Senior Senators Share Observations of Iraq Elections

Dec. 15, 2005 — -- No matter what the results of today's elections, the United States will continue to have a major role in Iraq. But the question on many minds is, for how long and in what form? ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas talked to two senior U.S. senators -- Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., -- who traveled to Iraq to observe the elections.

Following is a transcript of the interview as broadcast on "World News Tonight."

ELIZABETH VARGAS: You came here, you observed some polling sites in Hilla. What were your impressions?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: Very well organized. People voting, people anxious to vote, and I thought it was extremely well run.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I saw a lot of people who were excited about the opportunity to pick your own leaders, but we asked enough questions to know that this election is not the end of it for the American presence here. It's really just beginning for the Iraqi people, but today is a good day. We witnessed a well run election. People were very brave to go vote, and every American should appreciate the opportunity to vote because people here do.

VARGAS: In fact, at great risk.

GRAHAM: Joe and I started the morning as a Republican and Democrat with a rocket going off about 300 meters from where we were being housed. So to vote here, you really got to want to vote.

VARGAS: How does what you saw today affect your idea of the time table? Does it make you more optimistic or less optimistic that Americans could be coming home soon?

GRAHAM: We could stay here a 100 years and not solve the problem without a political solution -- where the Iraqi people chart their own destiny. But if we leave anytime soon, that political solution will fail because they don't have the infrastructure or the capacity yet to govern themselves. There's no banking system. Can you imagine living in a country without a banking system? The mail doesn't work. Less than three to four years ago, people lived under the iron fist of a dictator. The police force has a long way to go before it really is able to protect people and their property.

BIDEN: But the bottom line is we're going to have a significant draw down of American troops in '06 no matter what happens. We're either going to be leaving here with Iraq having traded a dictator for chaos, or leaving here having traded a dictator for some stability. And that will be done in the next six months.

VARGAS: I know Gen. [George] Casey [the highest-ranking military commander in Iraq] told me last night that leaving prematurely would be in his words "catastrophic."

BIDEN: Well I'm not talking about leaving prematurely. They either are going to get a political solution through their constitution by this June ... If they get it, we're going to be well on our way to drawing down. If they don't get it, in my view, all the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to hold Iraq together in the midst of a civil war.

GRAHAM: History is going to judge our efforts, not by what we left, but what we left behind. All I ask of the American people is to give the Iraqi people a reasonable opportunity to create a democracy that not only will make Iraq a better place to live but make America a safer nation, and the world a safer place.