Sunday, February 11, 2007

Biden's foresight on Iraq

Good piece by Gannett News Service columnist Chuck Raasch last week, that speaks of Joe Biden's foresight on the war in Iraq.

"Among Democrats, Biden's crystal ball clearest on Iraq"

WASHINGTON — Nearly four years ago, just days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, then-presidential candidate Howard Dean asked: "What I want to know is what in the world some of these Democrats are doing supporting the president's unilateral intervention in Iraq?"

He was cheered by California Democrats at their convention. At the same gathering, both John Kerry, the party's eventual 2004 nominee, and John Edwards, Kerry's eventual running mate, were booed for supporting the invasion.

Today, Dean presides over a party that is steadily steering toward an anti-war base, while four Democratic presidential candidates who voted to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq, are trying to explain their votes in the context of a war that has turned increasingly bloody and murky.

The four are Edwards, who left the Senate, and Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Joe Biden, D-Del.

Before joining 73 other senators in favor of the resolution in October of 2002, all four had warned of the consequences of not building enough international support for the war and of inadequate post-war planning.

But of the four, Biden was the most prescient and specific in warning about the sectarian violence that has since wracked Iraq, leading to increasing pressure to withdraw American troops. Given the record, Biden's plan to extricate the United States from Iraq could be his biggest selling point in a long-shot battle for the '08 nomination.

"There is a danger that Saddam's downfall could lead to widespread civil unrest and reprisals," Biden said on the Senate floor on Oct. 10, 2002.

Biden warned in that speech that "one-third of that population (in Iraq) hates the other two-thirds of the population. They say Iraq will quickly be able to organize itself politically, economically, and militarily, into a peaceful, unified nation, free of weapons of mass destruction.

The American people need to know that most experts believe Iraq will require considerable assistance politically, militarily, and economically. Indeed, they say we should speak not of 'the day after,' but of 'the decade after.' "

On one point, the four Democrats were in accord with the Bush administration leading up to the war. They all publicly proclaimed that Iraq had an active weapons-of-mass-destruction program and desired more, including nuclear weapons. No WMD were discovered after the invasion.

In a pre-vote speech that October, Clinton went one step further, asserting that while there was no connection between the 9/11 attacks and Saddam, she believed Saddam had given "aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaida members." War critics dispute that claim, saying Saddam saw the terrorist group as a threat to his regime.

Dodd agreed that Saddam posed a threat but couched his vote as a diplomatic tool to force Saddam to allow weapons inspectors, banned for four years, back into Iraq. "My main reason for supporting the resolution is that I believe the chances of avoiding war with Iraq are enhanced substantially if this country is united as a nation," Dodd said on Oct. 9, 2002.

A day later, Edwards called Saddam "a grave threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally, Israel." But, he complained, "We have not heard nearly enough from the administration about its plans for assisting the Iraqi people as they rebuild their lives and create a new, democratic government. The president has said the U.S. will help, but he hasn't offered any details about how."

But five months later, just four days before the invasion commenced, Edwards — by then a prospective presidential candidate — defended the decision to go to war at that stormy meeting of California Democrats.

"I believe that Saddam Hussein is a serious threat and I believe he must be disarmed, including the use of military force if necessary," Edwards said, as assembled Democrats booed.

In the days before the invasion, Biden and Clinton expressed concern that all diplomatic avenues had not been explored but said they were full-scale behind the troops about to go into battle.

Today, Biden, Dodd, Clinton and Edwards are all varying critics of the way President Bush led up to and conducted the war.

Edwards has apologized for his vote and calls it a test of "political courage" to oppose Bush's plan to send an additional 21,000 troops to help quell violence, especially in Baghdad. "We have to stand up against George Bush's escalation of this war," Edwards told the Democratic National Committee earlier this month.

Clinton has been less apologetic, claiming senators get no "do-overs," but said recently that if she had been president in 2002 she would not have launched the invasion. In October 2002, the most explicit caveat she put on an invasion was that "international support and legitimacy are crucial" to any U.S. action in Iraq. But in the same statement, she also warned of the threats of "Saddam Hussein's biological and chemical weapons."

Dodd told the DNC this month that he was disappointed that the Senate was tied up over a non-binding resolution expressing disapproval of Bush's "surge" and that it was "time to send a bill to the president with real teeth in it." He supports a resolution requiring Bush to get congressional approval for any buildup.

Biden's plan may be the boldest. It would partition Iraq into three territories under a national government in an attempt to cool warring Sunni and Shiite factions. He told the DNC that Bush "took us to war unnecessarily ... without letting the weapons inspectors finish their work, without enough troops" and "most of all, without a plan — any plan" for reconstruction.