Monday, November 28, 2005

Biden, New Found Realist?

Senator Joe Biden last year warned about the return of the realists. Now, he sounds a lot like Brent Scowcroft, that he preferred containment unless the intelligence showed conclusively that there was an imminent threat. From yesterday's Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: You saw that information and you still voted for the war.

SEN. BIDEN: But remember--no, remember what I voted for was for the president to be able to go to war, if, if--I've got the resolution here--if, in fact, it was to enforce the existing breaches that existed in the U.N. resolution and if he could show there were weapons of mass destruction.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the Democrats and you were diligent enough in reading that National Intelligence Estimate and all the caveats and calling the president to task as to whether or not he was being candid about the intelligence and his interpretation?

SEN. BIDEN: Yes. And if I--I'll leave with you because there's no time here all the statements I made at the time laying out my doubts about their assertions. But remember what the resolution said, Tim, it didn't say "go to war." It said, "Mr. President, if you can show these things, then you can use force."

The reason we gave the president the authority was to unite the world in keeping Saddam in a box, not freeing him up from the sanctions, which was the alternative, as you remember at the time. We have selective memories. That was the alternative. It wasn't the status quo, anti, or war, it was whether or not we were going to keep him in a box.

(For his part, Senator Warner gave a much more straightforward answer to Russert's question: "It was a clear authority that the Congress would support the president if he made certain findings. And I'm confident the president proceeded to make those findings on the best intelligence available.")

I think that Hagel's speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on November 15 was more honest; Hagel, in the q and a that followed, made the point that Congress has dropped the ball and not undertaken its constitutional responsibilities of oversight and gave the executive branch a blank check.

In contrast, here you have the standard CYA approach--if the war in Iraq had gone well, Biden could point to his support; now he calls attention to his numerous statements about his doubts and concerns.

I'm still unconvinced. The argument that one voted for the resolution as part of an effort to promote "coerced WMD inspections" makes some degree of sense. But why didn't Biden say anything during the two months or so before the invasion, when the Iraqi regime had allowed the inspectors under Hans Blix back in, and appeared to be complying, yet the Bush administration seemed to be eager to get Hans Blix out of the way, and to be operating on a timetable driven mainly by the need to get the invasion done before the hot summer months? Where was Biden then? The outcome of the war wasn't clear at that point, of course, but it was becoming clear that coercing Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions wasn't the only agenda being pursued.

If I had to name the two Democrats who are presumed candidates in 2008 whom I trust the least on foreign policy, it would be Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, in that order -- not just due to their positions on Iraq, then and now, but also their broader outlook on the purpose of American foreign policy and the appropriate uses of military force.

PS - Thanks for the link.
Greg, thanks, you raise good points.

I think what needs to happen is that serious Democratic contenders for 2008 need to break out of the Kerry "I voted for and against the war" model. A senior advisor to the current administration once complained to me about the sudden spate of "bipartisan" coalitions springing up by noting we had a bipartisan policy up to 2003 called "regime change" in Iraq.

The problem is that there has been no Democratic equivalent of Scowcroft, someone who opposed the military operation yet had impeccable national security credentials and whose opposition arose out of a real commitment to a sound foreign policy strategy. As I had once said on Steve Clemon's blog, the Democrats have been stuck between the (perceived) antiwar, antimilitary stance of Dean and the "all but indistinguishable from Bush" stance of Lieberman.

I'll develop this a bit more later on, but the other problem for the Democrats is that there hasn't been an honest admission that deception and "shading" of facts and events has been a regular part of life in American foreign policy under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Democrats only discover "realism" when it is useful politically, just like the way the Kerry camp did with military issues. (Greg Sheridan's piece in the Australian brought me to the Campbell/O'Hanlon piece in the summer issue of the National Interest.) Biden was singing a different tune last summer when Kerry was leading in the polls and he was on the short list to be Secretary of State. And if there is a change in Iraq--the insurgency is neutralized, the new elections produce an effective government, he'll say that's what he was for all along but that he felt the Bush people were just incompetent.
there is no question (from my perspective on the left) that biden and a number of others are spineless and were afraid to stand up for what was right
the war was a unequivocal mistake from the outset
the terrorist link was a lie altough, sadly, no more
the WMD ? was a sham and anybody with half a brain could see that inspections were soon to answer the WMD ?s and in any case that there was no delivery capability; probably not eevn delivery to isreal, much less to the US
and as to our grasping for oil ??; well, we have poptentially destabilized one of the most strategically critical areas of the world
Its a sign of how messed up the political landscape is that macedc's point is the one most consistently argued by an outlet like The American Conservative. Rich in irony.
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