We SUPPORT and ENDORSE JOHN EDWARDS, HILLARY CLINTON , Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Tom Vilsack, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, John Kerry , Wesley Clark and their SUPPORTERS AND OTHER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES




Friday, January 19, 2007

White House Hopeful Biden Bets on Being a Global Expert

White House Hopeful Biden Bets on Being a Global Expert
By Jonathan Broder, CQ Staff
The following story is adapted from an article published in the Jan. 15 issue of CQWeekly.
When Joseph R. Biden Jr. first came to the Senate in January 1973, the consuming issue of the day was the Vietnam War, and its most influential opponent was the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright.
The 30-year-old Biden looked to the urbane Arkansan as a mentor after joining the committee as a freshman.
Biden recalls discussing with Fulbright the role the committee played in shaping anti-war sentiment in the country, particularly the Vietnam hearings that Fulbright chaired in 1971. Many historians say those televised proceedings — where a young veteran named John Kerry said, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” — were instrumental in turning the public against the war.
“The lesson I leaned from Sen. Fulbright is that, if you inform the American public, they’re pretty smart,” Biden said in an interview. “They can form their own opinions.”
Today, a gray-haired Biden is 64, almost as old as Fulbright was then, and as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee he’s conducting his own hearings on an unpopular war.
Last week, he took testimony from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and by month’s end he will have heard from a variety of Middle East experts, former generals and diplomats. Delaware’s senior senator, an outspoken critic of the war, says his aim is to clarify for the American public once and for all that President Bush is taking the wrong approach in escalating the war instead of seeking a political solution.
But by focusing on Bush’s policy in Iraq, Biden also has a stage to demonstrate to the American public — especially Democratic presidential primary and caucus voters — his considerable expertise on foreign policy.
Unlike many lawmakers who can’t tell the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite, Biden is a man who not only knows the difference, but also can speak knowledgeably about the allegiances of different Iraqi tribes, the shifting demographics in the northern city of Kirkuk, and the finer points of the Iraq constitution.In his quest for his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, Biden is banking that his facility with foreign policy will be his principal calling card — or at least set him apart from the perceived front-runners.
Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has been gaining international experience in her own right mainly by spending the past four years on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois before joining Senate Foreign Relations as a freshman two years ago. John Edwards spent just four of his six years as a North Carolina senator on the Intelligence Committee.
Biden is also the only Democratic presidential aspirant with a detailed exit strategy for Iraq at a time when the country is desperately seeking a way out of the war.
• Taking On the Rock Stars: This will be Biden’s second try for the nomination. He withdrew six months before the first primary in 1988, however, amid reports that he had plagiarized passages in speeches and a law school paper and had exaggerated his résumé.
Twenty years later, his handlers say, Biden is a far more mature candidate whose foreign policy skills clearly set him apart. In speeches, he has also begun to outline his domestic policies, including reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil by getting the government involved in promoting the development of alternative fuels.
With about $4 million in his campaign account, Biden is far behind Clinton, who has $14 million. But he says it’s enough to get started and that he’s prepared to go up against the rock stars in his party who are much better-known among the voters. “I’m going to be Joe Biden, and I’m going to try to be the best Biden I can be,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Jan. 7. “If I can, I get a shot. If I can’t, I lose.”
At a time of foreign policy crisis, Biden’s international bona fides will help. But his willingness to assert a plan comes with risks.
Several experts, including members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, have branded his plan for Iraq — which calls for a restructuring of the country into a loose federation of autonomous Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni regions — as a prescription for even wider sectarian violence.
And Biden’s view that Congress can do little beyond passing symbolic, non-binding legislation to change Bush’s war policies puts him at odds with many in his party. In a primary, Biden will need liberal base voters who are more passionate about the need for stronger action.
And there is the problem of his habit of holding forth with a long-windedness that’s unusual even for a politician. “He has a tendency to over-explain that doesn’t inure to his political benefit,” acknowledges Larry Rasky, who will be communications director for Biden’s presidential campaign.
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But Biden’s verbosity tends to be overlooked by those who watch his frequent appearances on the Sunday talk shows. There he generally impresses audience with his ease in discussing international affairs both obscure and obvious.
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And many colleagues recall how relieved they were to have Biden chairing Foreign Relations after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Using his expertise and his previous turn at the helm of the Judiciary Committee, he deftly drafted the law, enacted a week later with just one dissenting vote, that gave Bush the authority to wage war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan but also protected congressional oversight of foreign policy.
He was less successful in his effort to slow down Bush’s determination to go to war in Iraq. Biden insisted that military action required both congressional and United Nations approval, and he took credit when the president chose to seek a congressional nod for the war. But in 2002, Bush outmaneuvered Biden by bypassing his panel and instead cutting a deal with the House Democratic leader at the time, Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.
Biden voted for the resolution authorizing the Iraq War but has since renounced his vote, castigating the administration for its poor intelligence on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, its lack of planning for the post-invasion occupation and its refusal to send enough troops.
As the ranking minority party member on Foreign Relations from 2003 through 2006, Biden became the principal Democratic critic of Bush’s war policy, working closely with the panel’s moderate Republican chairman, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, and articulating some common positions that Lugar was politically constrained from voicing himself.
• A Place to Preach: Now that he is back at the helm, Biden has already begun to use it a bully pulpit — and as a proscenium for his presidential bid.
Opening a hearing Jan. 11, the morning after Bush announced his plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, Biden looked directly at Rice, who was waiting to testify, and dismissed the plan in scathing terms: “ I believe the president’s strategy is not a solution, Secretary Rice. I believe it’s a tragic mistake.” Rice defended the plan and appealed to Biden and other critics for patience.
Later, in an echo of Fulbright’s opposition to President Richard M. Nixon’s widening of the Vietnam War to Cambodia in 1970, Biden bluntly told Rice that the administration would require congressional approval for any military moves against Syria or Iran as part of Bush’s larger war against terror. “I just want to set that marker,” he warned.
Biden’s plan for Iraq — recognizing the country’s disintegration into sectarian warfare that has driven Sunni, Shiite or Kurds to their respective regions — centers on giving broad autonomy to the three sectarian enclaves.
Under his plan, the central government in Baghdad would be responsible only for common interests, such as border security and the equitable distribution of Iraq’s oil revenue. The autonomous regions would be responsible for all other government functions, including police, taxation, even foreign policy. Meanwhile, most U.S. troops could withdraw from Iraq by the end of this year.
Biden insists that the plan is not a partitioning of Iraq, noting that it complies with the country’s constitution, which permits the 18 provinces to join together into regions, with their own security forces and control over most day-to-day issues. He says it is the only idea on the table that deals with the problems posed by Iraq’s militias, which would probably retreat to their respective regions under the plan.
The Biden plan has its critics. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, says it would provoke more violence as Iraq’s sectarian groups fought to ensure the most advantageous borders for their enclaves. “Who is going to protect the seams?” Iraq expert Phebe Marr asked Biden at a Jan. 10 hearing of Biden’s committee.
Biden says he has an alternative if his plan doesn’t work: Withdraw most remaining U.S. forces and meet with Iraq’s neighbors at a regional conference with the aim of containing the fighting. He says the self-interest of the neighboring states would virtually guarantee that such containment efforts would succeed.
Biden brought up his plan during last week’s hearings, and he plans to discuss it further — contrasting it to Bush’s policies — at the hearings scheduled for the next two weeks. His agenda, like Biden himself, is ambitious and aimed at a large audience.
“It’s only when there is overwhelming public opinion that you’re able to get overwhelming bipartisan congressional opinion” against the war, Biden said. “And that’s the only thing that moves this president.”
© 2006 Congressional Quarterly
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