Unquestionably the Delawarean best
informed about the situation in the Middle East and the only one
in a position to exert a significant amount of influence
over the course of events, Biden told a near-
audience of about 350 people at a forum sponsored by the First
Unitarian Church on Feb. 9 that "in the next four to six weeks
the tale will be told."
"We are literally on the brink of
war," he said.
While none of the points he made in
his talk or the question-and-answer session which followed were
new to those who, as the senator put it, get their information
from the New York Times, he succinctly laid out for a hometown
audience what could be regarded as the 'loyal opposition'
he has put forward as the
ranking Democrat on the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee
but which, for the most part, has not be broadly
articulated by members of his party in the Congress.
Biden said the fundamental
issue is whether to follow the go-it-alone path advocated
by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld or the internationalist approach favored
by Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Joint Chiefs of
Staff. Biden indicated he feels President George Bush has
all but irrevocably chosen the former and that Biden
agrees with the latter.
Of the President, Biden said, "I
think his instincts are pretty good [but] he has adopted the
rhetoric of the far right."
Several times during his talk at the
church in Talleyville, Biden called on Bush and others in his
administration to tone down the rhetoric. "Who is the
Senator Joseph Biden
chats with attenders after his talk at a First Unitarian
President of the United States to tell
the United Nations, 'I am running out of patience'? He sounded
like a petulant rich kid."
no question, Biden said, that that war will be won, probably
about as quickly and with as few American and British casualties
as most proponents expect. At that point, however, Iraq, a
country artificially created after World War I, will be a nation
with "three large [ethnic] groups that don't want to be with
each other" and hardly likely to embrace democracy. "No matter
how marvelously well the war goes, we'll have to stay there for
a length of time," he said, adding that his best estimate puts
that at a minimum of five years.
that the post-Iraqi war scenario might be a repeat of what he
described as failure to follow through after defeat of the
Taliban government in Afghanistan. "There has been no
'Marshall Plan'. We've turned the country back to the war
lords," he said.
told the President that the reason his father did not want to go
all the way to Baghdad [in the first Iraqi war] was that he
didn't want to stay there for five years," Biden said.
that General Tommy Franks, who presumably will be theater
commander if an invasion of Iraq occurs, has sought assurances
that Congress and the American people will not desert the
military in the event of prolonged involvement, as happened in
response to a question, Biden said that North Korea "is far and
away a bigger threat [than Iraq] by a factor of 10." Although
the United States, could take out that country's nuclear
capacity with a military strike, already positioned artillery
"would obliterate Seoul," the South Korean capital. For that
reason alone, he said, "I believe we should be talking to North
billion and up to pay for a war in Iraq is hard to comprehend,
Biden said the cost of war and subsequent military occupation
can be considered in terms of "Brandywine Hundred without a tax
cut, the East Side of Wilmington without more health care and
all of us with less support for the environment. It's education
vs. Iraq; health care vs. Iraq," he said.
President has the absolute obligation to come clean with the
American people about what will be expected of them."
went on to say that Bush is correct in saying that Saddam's
regime has both the capability to produce nuclear, biological
and chemical weapons of mass destruction and the willingness to
use them. "There is no clear and present threat at the moment,
[but] in five years he (Saddam) will have the capability not to
drop them on the United States but to use them to dominate the
region," he said. "That is not a place I want to go to."
"did not exaggerate" when he described to the United Nations
Security Council the threat that Saddam poses, Biden said. "This
is real; this is not made up; this is a bad guy."
possibility of the threat maturing in the "next 20 weeks or 20
months," however, there is both time and incentive to work
through and with the United Nations to demonstrate to Saddam
that the world is united in opposition to him and that he has to
live up to the agreements he has singed, he added.
said that talk about the United States mounting a pre-emptive
strike against Iraq is harmful to this country's standing among
nations. "It is not a pre-emptive strike, it is enforcement. He
sued for peace. If it was 1939 and not 1991, he would have been
brought to [a peace conference] and signed a treaty. To stay in
power, he signed with the Security Council. Now he has to be
forced to live up to what he signed.," he said.
the agreement, he said, comes down to a choice by the United
Nations "whether it is going to be relevant or irrelevant in the
it is the preeminent world power, the United States "needs the
United Nations" if it is to be respected, he said.
noted that, after the destruction of the World Trade Center,
virtually every nation in the world supported the United States
in its anti-terrorism efforts. "Just 18 months later, 71% of the
French people (in a recent opinion poll) could not think of a
single good thing to say about America," Biden said.
focus has been on opposition by France and Germany to a U.S.
invasion of Iraq, the senator noted that 17 European heads of
state stand in support of this country.
present crisis is resolved, Biden said, will determine for a
long time to come how the rest of the world views the United
States. "At no time in history has a nation been more powerful,
compared to any other nation. Never has there been more
confusion about what we are and what we're about," he said.