February 10, 2003

Saddam Hussein and his regime must be driven from power, but the United States should not do it unilaterally and the American people should have no illusions about the cost they will be required to pay if the country goes to war with Iraq, according to U.S. Senator Joseph Biden.

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-

capacity 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.

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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' position

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 Church forum

President of the United States to tell the United Nations, 'I am running out of patience'? He sounded like a petulant rich kid."

There is 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.

He hinted 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.

"I've 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.

He 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 Vietnam.

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 Korea."

If $100 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.

"The President has the absolute obligation to come clean with the American people about what will be expected of them."

Biden 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."

Powell "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."

With no 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.

Biden 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.

Enforcing the agreement, he said, comes down to a choice by the United Nations "whether it is going to be relevant or irrelevant in the 21st Century."

Because it is the preeminent world power, the United States "needs the United Nations" if it is to be respected, he said.

Biden 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.

While the 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.

How the 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.

2003. All rights reserved.

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